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How Long Do You Give The Soaps?

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After Another World's cancellation, and certainly the demise of Port Charles, it always seemed to me that this was the decade that might go down in history as the time of our soaps slow and painful death. Even with the budget constraints, bad writing, low ratings, etc., things can always get worse by 2010. Nobody wants to take a chance and infuse the genre with new talent and ideas, so the old network of insiders continues to ruin everything. Mediocrity is the order of the day, so I'm anticipating 6 hours of the Today show. :D How about the rest of you?

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What a cheerful thread.

I don't think any of the soaps are going anywhere right now. If there was no life left in the genre, why would DirecTV pick up PSNS? Why wouldn't they just let it die? I think someone will pick up DAYS, too, when it leaves NBC.

You're right, things could get worse...but there's always the chance they could get better. ;)

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Why do we always need the gloom and doom thread? The fact that the lowest rated soap gets picked up is a good idea that there is a future home for soaps elsewhere. Time will tell how Passions does on DirectTV.

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I think Soaps will be changed (probably for the worse). When Disney bought ABC they began to change the direction of those soaps, repeatedly trying to bring in youthful "stars" and phase out the vets... I think their goal is to remove the soaps from ABC and move them, in cheaper form, to Soapnet eventually. We'll get things like Nightshift... soaps in different form, weekly or a few times a week. I believe this has been their goal for some time.

Y/R is strong still, so I don't see it in immediate danger but it may be the last one around. If CBS recommits to daytime they might be able to pull up some of their other soaps ratings wise when ABC and NBC's soaps leave the daytime airwaves. Everyone doesn't want to watch six hours of gameshows or psuedo-news.

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I'd say the safest shows right now, for a few more years at least, is Y&R, B&B and GH, amd MAYBE AMC and OLTL. The rest, lol, well yens seen the ratings. It just doesn't look good. GL below 1.9 I mean true Passions got picked up but I mean come on, I hardly doubt it will be very sucessful.

The better question to be asking is how long the NETWORKS give soaps.

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The Big Question: Are soap operas on television too often, and is the quality suffering?

By Ben Chu

Published: 11 May 2007

Why are we asking this now?

The former chief scriptwriter of EastEnders, Tony Jordan, told The Stage newspaper this week that his old programme is in "the doldrums" artistically and he attributes this to the fact that it is on television too often. "If you're producing two and a half hours of television a week, it's basically a movie a week, and some things suffer," he said.

What constitutes a soap opera?

A proliferation of multi-layered, long-running, drama series with ensemble casts such as The Bill, Casualty and Shameless have blurred the lines between the format of soap opera and drama serial. But there remains a crucial distinction: A soap opera is broadcast constantly and indefinitely, with no gaps between series. So, on the radio, The Archers, qualifies as a soap opera. And on British television, it applies to the likes of Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, Neighbours and Home and Away.

But the two "big beasts" have long been EastEnders, which began in 1985, and, of course, Coronation Street. The latter was first aired by Granada Television in December 1960. It has remained more or less consistently at the top of the British television ratings table ever since.

But are they worth watching?

Critics of the format say they are cheaply produced, poorly written, and reliant on ludicrous plot devices designed to satisfy the constant need for "cliff-hanger" endings. The supporters of soaps say that, at their best, they can be fine entertainment. The former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley argues that Coronation Street "is living proof that popular entertainment and high quality drama can go hand in hand". It is often asserted that if Shakespeare were around today he would be writing for the soaps.

So are the soaps on television more often nowadays?

Yes. UK soaps traditionally aired on two nights a week. But this began to shift in 1989 when Coronation Street began airing three times a week. EastEnders followed in 1994 and there has been a contest ever since as to who can produce more drama each week. Today EastEnders and Coronation Street are broadcast on four nights a week.

And there are actually two episodes of Coronation Street on Monday evenings. The producers of EastEnders are said to be considering adding an extra weekly episode. Meanwhile, Hollyoaks is broadcast five nights a week. And in 2004 Emmerdale began screening six episodes a week.

Why are the reasons for this?

Commercial pressures. According to Robert C Allen, the author of Speaking Soap Operas, these half-hour dramas are "the most effective and enduring broadcast advertising vehicle ever devised". The ailing ITV is heavily reliant on the popularity of Coronation Street to pull in advertisers.

There is nothing particularly new in this naked commercial partnership. The "soap" in soap opera is a reference to the fact that detergent manufacturers such as Procter and Gamble used daytime radio serials in 1930s America to advertise and promote their products.

But why is the BBC so keen on them?

The BBC lacks a commercial motive like ITV, but it does feel under pressure to retain its share of the viewing audience and thus justify the licence fee.

Promoting EastEnders is the most simple way of doing so. The BBC producers also claim there is a strong audience demand for more instalments, although the fluctuating viewerships throughout the week casts some doubt on this.

What has happened to the viewing figures?

Despite the extra episodes, according to the annual report published this year from the regulator Ofcom, the amount of time that we spent watching soap operas on the main terrestrial channels has actually gone down. In 2002, we watched 81 hours a year on average. Last year it was just 70 hours.

A dispersed viewership, due to the growth of multi-channel television, seems to be putting pressure on the soaps. And, ironically, there is also competition from other cheaply produced television, such as quiz shows. But the climax of a big plot line can still pull in substantial numbers of viewers.

Last month 12.6 million viewers tuned in to see Coronation Street's Tracey Barlow jailed for murder. And two years ago 13 million people watched the Mitchell Brothers return to Albert Square.

What do the critics say?

Some agree with Jordan, arguing that the actors have less time to rehearse now. Coronation Street brought back the popular character Bet Lynch in 2002 with great fanfare, but she did not last long. One suggestion for the briefness of her return was the pressure of the filming schedule she endured compared with the old days.

Another criticism is that the greater demand for shocking storylines, created by more episodes, is having a detrimental effect on the quality of the drama. But others say that the golden age of the British soap ended long ago, and that the question of how often they are aired is a red herring.

Unlike the glitzy and glamorous dramas from the United States, such as Dallas, which ran from 1978 to 1991, and Dynasty, from 1981 to 1989, British soaps have tended to be gritty affairs that working-class people can "relate to".

However, most of the old "Cockney" east enders have relocated to Essex. And how many people in Salford still live on cobbled streets in 2007? Even Roy Hattersley complained that Coronation Street has lately become preoccupied with teenage romances.

What does the future hold for soaps?

In some respects the outlook is ominous. Channel 4's Brookside was cancelled in November 2003. Five's attempt at a flagship soap, Family Affairs, folded in 2005. The BBC has threatened to drop Neighbours after 21 years. Whether these programmes have been casualties of the pressure for more episodes, or had simply gone stale, is a moot point.

But there is also cause for optimism for producers too. In an increasingly fragmented television environment, the soaps can still provide large communal viewing figures. They are among the few programmes that families will still watch together. That will always be prized by the advertisers. And despite his criticism, Jordan is optimistic about EastEnders' future. "It will always come back because there's a great team of people working on it," he argued.

Meanwhile, ITV has promised to snap up Neighbours if the BBC gets rid of it. It seems the curtain will not be coming down on the immense popularity of our soap operas quite yet.

Do soap operas make for good television?


* They entertain millions of people every day

* They provide good quality, popular drama

* They can help to prompt public debate and improve awareness of important social issues


* They are a poor use of the BBC's licence fee

* They tend to produce cheap, undemanding drama

* They clog up the television schedules, leaving less space for better programmes

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I tend to disagree about a fragmented schedule like that though. For many fans, they watch the show everyday because they have an emotional investment in the show. They love the characters and want to see how they will progress in the next episode, the next month, year, and so on. Hell, some of the more disgruntled fans hang on simply because the show is a habit that is hard to break. if you get people out of the habit of watching their shows, they aren't going to continue watching.

However, I do agree that soaps should reduce the amount of time that they air. Claire Labine even said at the convention that she felt that soaps were oftentimes better when they were only a half hour long. The only problem is that it would also force shows to pare down the number of cast members and we know that TIIC these days do not have the same priorities of the fans (i.e. GL getting rid of Jerry ver Dorn, yet keeping anomalies like Jeffrey and Ava).

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Well, I can't rest the blame on too much material to produce each week, as far as American shows are concerned. It's no more than they did 20 years ago. Of course the genre competes with cable and the internet now, or anything that's much more groundbreaking. But in our country, there's no way you could realistically get writer's block when you put all the characters over 40 on the back burner for months at a time. It's one thing to burn out when the entire canvas has been used to its fullest extent, but when is the last time that was true for ANY U.S. soap? Doug Marland's day players were as interesting as Lucinda! It's not like soaps started with lavish production values either. Character driven writing will always outdo wild plotting and visual stunts. The last good monologue I saw was Mrs. Chancellor's deathbed goodbye to John Abbot. So I think we all know the potential for a well written program, be it an hour or half. Network interference won't let us have one.

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I think people are being overly pessimistic when it comes to the future of soaps.

People have said so many times before these latest 25 years that soaps will soon die, and everytime they have turned out to be wrong.

I think most of todays Soaps will continue for many more years.

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