Big business: soaps and corporate storylines

Many blog posts, columns and books on soaps have outlined the massive changes that most shows experienced in the 80s. If a given show wasn’t trying to reproduce Luke and Laura for their canvas, they were borrowing from nighttime soaps like DALLAS and DYNASTY, which became huge hits and cultural touchstones.

Within a few years, soaps went from Bert Bauer pouring coffee and Ada Hobson sweeping the floors to characters riding an elevator in a previously unmentioned skyscraper so they could discuss BIG BUSINESS.

Sometimes, we knew a bit about the business behind the corporate intrigue. Jabot sold beauty, darlings, and so did Forrester.

But more often than not, these billion dollar companies were conglomerates that did…..stuff. Spaulding Enterprises did….something, I’m sure. Oil. I seem to remember pharmaceuticals. Walsh Enterprises and later WorldWide also did….stuff.

I didn’t care much about those stories on ATWT or GL when they’d be playing onscreen. There were rare moments when business storylines led to something exciting – Phillip taking over Spaulding, the fun “Phillip’s ex-wives” story in later years, and of course the embezzlement story that led to Alexandra tearing Roger to shreds at the country club.

But so many other stories meant to make a splash landed with a whimper. There was often no spark happening when a business story was being told, just airtime filled with a lot of generic talk about “being back on top” and “protecting the family legacy.” (And funny how characters who seemed so preoccupied with “family legacy” always managed to find a way to boink a relative’s spouse or romantic partner!)

I didn’t know who was doing what, and when Harley somehow became CEO of Spaulding it just seemed by that time like random names were being picked out of a hat.

Those big business stories were a trend that should have, for the most part, disappeared with shoulder pads. But no matter how weak they perform, the remaining shows seem to still love them.

Can there be a single ounce of juice left in any Newman or Abbott business story? Honestly, I don’t think so.

The corporate intrigue on DAYS seems to be a purgatory where characters are sent when they have no other story.

We’re just in such an ugly time right now in the real world. Soaps have always been an escape, but the reality of these business heavy stories are so distant to so many viewers that it leaves the audience cold.

I don’t blame writers or even the networks for approving these kinds of stories. It’s an easy way to have characters in an “umbrella” story or in instant conflict.

But I think their usefulness is long past. There’s more to mine with so many characters that has nothing to do with one’s company or one’s job.

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