Jump to content

What is each show's central question?


Recommended Posts

  • Members

I was originally going to reply in the why do soaps suck thread but I think this topic should get its own thread, especially because some of you might be quite happy with your soaps.

I've done a lot of reading & listening to podcasts about writing and writing for tv. Bill Prady, a co-creator of the Big Bang Theory, talked about how tv series need to ask a central question that keeps viewers coming back. I am vaguely aware of the other writers saying similar things so it's undoubtedly a classic concept. It seems to me though that what's true for prime-time show is also true for daytime.

An example of a central question for a sitcom would be "How do two such different people make a marriage work when they want different things" on I Love Lucy. Or for drama, "Can an ambitious & passionate woman achieve professional success & romantic fulfillment?" on Grey's Anatomy.

I believe the reason why soaps suck right now is because most, if not all, soaps have strayed from their own central question. Without a clear brand, each soap loses its distinctive voice and its particular pull for viewers.

As an AMC fan, the confused state of the show is especially egregious. The theme of the show is stated by Agnes Nixon:

The Great and the Least,

The Rich and the Poor,

The Weak and the Strong,

In Joy and Sorrow,

In Tragedy and Triumph,

You are ALL MY CHILDREN

.

If the characters are all His children, then the characters are all brothers & sisters, an extended family. The central question for AMC is how does this close-knit town, that functions as an extended family, meet contemporary societal issues and challenges and find a way to keep the "family" intact? The Vietnam war, Erica's abortion, Cindy's struggle with AIDS, slow Stuart, Bianca's coming out, Lily's autism, Zarf (I didn't like the story but I got why AMC did it), and the challenges faced by Brot/Taylor/Frankie as Iraq war vets are all VERY much in the spirit of what AMC purports to be about. Whenever AMC got away from it's humanity, the show has faltered. Tad killing Dr. Madden was real nadir for the show, as was the horrible writing for Reese, the "confused" bisexual/lesbian.

I am not sure what Y&R's central question is or was, but I know what I think it should be :) Who will triumph in the contest between the status quo and the usurper? I always saw Jack vs. Victor and Jill vs. Kay as the central stories of the show. And they are basically the same story. The outsider from common roots (Victor, Jill) upends the life of the old guard (Jack, Kay). Very much in the vein of the Magnificent Ambersons or Richard II, though there a countless classics devoted to this theme. Even the Phyllis vs. Sharon rivalry fits this theme with Sharon as the fair cheerleader and Phyllis as the bad girl in leather. And I weep for the great lost rivalry between Dru, who turned herself into one of the "haves", against bad girl Phyllis. The great thing about them is that the came from the same tough place but Dru had happily transformed herself into a lady while Phyllis was still Phyllis, and still able to draw out Dru's inner bitch. IMO, that's why the Scoobies and so much of the show just seems like a side dish and not like an integral part of the show. IMO, MAB has made a huge mistake by focusing so much on sibling rivalry (Billy vs. Cane, Adam vs. the Newman kids). That's not part of the classic Y&R formula, especially compared to other soaps. She should have developed rivalries between Colleen & Victoria, Adam & Billy, Nick & Neil, Chloe & Jill, and hoped that one of them developed into another Jack vs. Victor.

DAYS is an interesting case because the show has changed so much over the years, with a long detour into wild camp. Sami has definitely become the dominant character on the show and the central question is probably "Which man should Sami choose?" ;) While that's fine for now, I guess, DOOL needs a deeper and more inclusive central hook. Not sure what it should be though.

Would love to know if you think there's any merit to this way of looking at shows or if soaps are too specialized & unique to follow the rules of prime time shows?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 40
  • Created
  • Last Reply
  • Members

This is a very interesting perspective on how the core of any television show is derived from a theme and is played out in variation through various character interplay and dramatic situations. I'd say that you're on point with what Y&R has been since the 80s. I didn't watch in the 70s so I don't know if the idea of the status-quo, per se, being usurped, applied back then, but it certainly applied in the 90s, down to short-term characters, Matt Clarke, Grace, Tricia Dennison, Keisha, and early 2000s Isabella, Diane (in her reincarnation in the early 2000s).

Earlier in this decade, this dynamic definitely seemed to have changed. I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing, though. With a prime-time show, there are only so many stories you can tell with one central theme. It's kind of like any show about high-school: if you go on to college, the magic is lost; the central theme has to be readjusted to the characters' new surroundings and then, it's not that show anymore (Buffy, 90210, I'm sure Gossip Girl next season). In that case, it should be canceled because the essence of the show dies and everything that follows is diluted and unfocused.

But soaps should be able to work differently because they are built on a different time-scale: weekdays and decades long.

If the writers come in with a knowledge of what the show was based on upon inception, and who the characters are, of course, that's essential to writing the show from here on out. But we don't have to see Jill and Katherine fight to the end of time, nor do we have to see new characters introduced trying to take something from a character who appears to have it all (Michael and Phyllis from Cricket).

What we do have to see is a writer who has something to say.

And no one has anything to say anymore.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

DAYS is an interesting case because the show has changed so much over the years, with a long detour into wild camp. Sami has definitely become the dominant character on the show and the central question is probably "Which man should Sami choose?" ;) While that's fine for now, I guess, DOOL needs a deeper and more inclusive central hook. Not sure what it should be though.

First off, i love your post. But i dont think the concept of one overall question fits soaps at all. But each moment should provide answers to questions or make you come up with new ones.

Secondly, fo Days i think its much more than who should Sami choose, but esp at this point, what do you do when your heart wants something or someone you know you shouldnt. Esp when it causes so much pain to yourself and your loved ones.

Sami loved EJ, he loves her, but they cause so much pain to eachother they push eachother away, yet cant seem to move on.

Stephanie loves philip, but because of his lifestyle knows she shouldnt be with him.

Nicole doubts herself and is so desprate for love she has lied so much to EJ and is blind to Bradys love.

Chloe is commited to Lucas and does love him, but her passion and desire lays with Daniel. does she throw away her fairy tale with Lucas for a chance with Daniel?

Those are the four central women on this show, all dealing with matters of the heart wanting the wrong things.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Very interesting topic thread. I am having a hard time coming up with a central question hook for some of the soaps I watch -- and maybe that is part of the problem with soaps today. Like, with AMC, I am tempted to say "Who loves Kendall the most?" but that's sort of harsh because the show has been better about cast integration recently.

Y&R is a tough one, but I think cara mia came up with a pretty interesting idea of "usurper vs establishment." I would say this is a common defining theme of both Bell soaps. William Bell seemed to be fascinated by the class system -- though Y&R and B&B tend to be a case of The Haves and the Have-Slightly-Less. When B&B annoys me, I would say the central question is "Why are these beautiful women wasting their time mooning over a few vain, trifling blowhards?"

The central theme for Days which is drawing me in is "Clash of the Titans -- and the people caught up in the middle." I guess that's not really a question. So maybe it should be "Who will win out? The DiMeras or the Kiriakises?" Oh, and "Who is Sami's soulmate? Take your pick and get in line." That hook is gonna run and run.

GH, weirdly, has a VERY defined central hook and yet it is creatively bankrupt and, I think, in big trouble. That's because the "Good Mob" hook is not working.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

About All My Children...

Agnes Nixon stated that, in addition to "The Great and the Least, the Rich and the Poor..." yadda, yadda, yadda... that AMC was also about "an idyllic town full of non-idyllic people." Characters who are often led to do the wrong things for the right reasons, leaving some viewers to wonder how a character could do something so stupid and then realize they've done something just as stupid in their own life as well. I think that, to some extent, is still there -- but these days it's being used to justify horrendous, character slaughtering actions of these characters. There's a difference between Erica lying to Tom about her birth control because she didn't want to get pregnant and Tad burying a man alive and torturing him until he dies because he wants to find out who adopted his daughter. Agree or disagree, I understand both Erica's and Tom's position in that particular storyline. I've lied by omission because I didn't want to disappoint someone, and others have lied by omission because they didn't want me to view them unfavorably as well. And that's what you got with that story -- both sides were expressed and played out. It wasn't just "Oh, that silly Erica!" and that's that. You saw Tom's anger and he was given his moment to express his side. You didn't get that with Tad. He got away with it, felt bad (not for killing Greg, but for torturing him and still winding up with no information), had Dixie and Livia basically tell him it's okay because that's why Jesus Christ was born and died for us, and then proceeded to go on judging and ridiculing everyone else for lesser transgressions.

Nowadays, with the Great Baby Switch, Madden in a Box, Ryan Dogs Annie to Lust After KenLee and Zach Murders Josh to Harvest His Organs... all you get are stories of people doing horrible things to other human beings and acting self-righteous. As if you even dare to mention it as being as heinous as it is, there's something wrong with YOU! It's like, "how dare you not see the beautifully romantic gesture of Zach shooting Kendall's brother in the head to steal his heart?" :wub:

I think if AMC actually got back to that concept, that they are all His children, and the stories became less about catering to Zach's testicles and more about all characters having screwed up in life at one point or another but finding that common thread of humanity no matter how great or least, rich or poor... etc., then I think the show would be a lot more watchable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

About All My Children...

Agnes Nixon stated that, in addition to "The Great and the Least, the Rich and the Poor..." yadda, yadda, yadda... that AMC was also about "an idyllic town full of non-idyllic people." Characters who are often led to do the wrong things for the right reasons, leaving some viewers to wonder how a character could do something so stupid and then realize they've done something just as stupid in their own life as well. I think that, to some extent, is still there -- but these days it's being used to justify horrendous, character slaughtering actions of these characters. There's a difference between Erica lying to Tom about her birth control because she didn't want to get pregnant and Tad burying a man alive and torturing him until he dies because he wants to find out who adopted his daughter. Agree or disagree, I understand both Erica's and Tom's position in that particular storyline. I've lied by omission because I didn't want to disappoint someone, and others have lied by omission because they didn't want me to view them unfavorably as well. And that's what you got with that story -- both sides were expressed and played out. It wasn't just "Oh, that silly Erica!" and that's that. You saw Tom's anger and he was given his moment to express his side. You didn't get that with Tad. He got away with it, felt bad (not for killing Greg, but for torturing him and still winding up with no information), had Dixie and Livia basically tell him it's okay because that's why Jesus Christ was born and died for us, and then proceeded to go on judging and ridiculing everyone else for lesser transgressions.

Nowadays, with the Great Baby Switch, Madden in a Box, Ryan Dogs Annie to Lust After KenLee and Zach Murders Josh to Harvest His Organs... all you get are stories of people doing horrible things to other human beings and acting self-righteous. As if you even dare to mention it as being as heinous as it is, there's something wrong with YOU! It's like, "how dare you not see the beautifully romantic gesture of Zach shooting Kendall's brother in the head to steal his heart?" :wub:

I think if AMC actually got back to that concept, that they are all His children, and the stories became less about catering to Zach's testicles and more about all characters having screwed up in life at one point or another but finding that common thread of humanity no matter how great or least, rich or poor... etc., then I think the show would be a lot more watchable.

CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP

Where does that Agnes quote come from? I can hear her voice saying it, but I can't for the life of me remember where it's from.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I shudder to do this, seeing how almost every general topic becomes all about Y&R, but...

Wasn't Y&R's original intent to show the differences between the Haves and the Have-Nots... as well as show the common denominator that binds them together? At least, that's what I gleamed from the information I've come across while learning about the genre as a whole.

Also, I know that Soap Net now labels General Hospital as a show where "Doctors fight to save lives, while Mobsters fight to defend family honor." :rolleyes: & GAG!!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I don't think a soap has one specific major dramatic question; soaps have more of a central theme connecting characters. For OLTL in 2007-2008, I would say the central theme was fatherhood; several characters went on journeys dealing with either becoming a father, losing a father or connecting with an estranged father. This year, I think the theme is the healing and destructive power of love.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I don't think a soap has one specific major dramatic question; soaps have more of a central theme connecting characters. For OLTL in 2007-2008, I would say the central theme was fatherhood; several characters went on journeys dealing with either becoming a father, losing a father or connecting with an estranged father. This year, I think the theme is the healing and destructive power of love.

IMO, that's the problem. How would we feel if, say, "Friends," for example, stopped being about the six friends and started becoming about the people downstairs from Monica, or the people who lived a floor above from Ross? The show's general idea should always be carried through -- despite changes in writers. Saying that this show that started out this way has now become about this -- and has now become about that -- which leads into this -- is basically saying that it's okay for a show to lose its identity and lose what drew its initial audience in in the first place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members
Also, I know that Soap Net now labels General Hospital as a show where "Doctors fight to save lives, while Mobsters fight to defend family honor." :rolleyes: & GAG!!!!

Heh, at least they included the "Doctors fight to save lives" part in there.

Their taglines for AMC, Y&R, OLTL, and DAYS escape me at the moment. I know Y&R's is something like "See who's clawing to the top in Genoa City," so that kinda goes hand-in-hand with the whole Haves/Have-Nots theme. I'm literally drawing a blank on the other three.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

For me, I don't think anyone got closer to the point about what GL is about than Nancy Curlee in her SON interview. Her quote is below. Because of its theme, I think GL's question is more a statement: How the light of hope can save a soul lost in the darkness. Not just hope in some metaphysical realm, but the hope that one person can bring to another. Irna Phillips once said that "I created Guiding Light with one fundamental theme in mind: the brotherhood of man." She also had the show's first character Rev. Ruthledge preach that "There is a destiny that makes us all family. One family. God's family." Speaking of which, there is also the hope that accompanies religious beliefs, which was heavily emphasized in the early years of the show.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Heh, at least they included the "Doctors fight to save lives" part in there.

True, but honestly, when I first heard that tagline... seriously... I thought they were going to say "Doctors fight to save lives while Mobster fight to take them away."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.



  • Community Posts

    • Honestly, as long as they don't do the shaky cam stuff, I've been thinking it's bad enough now to lean into the Peapack model. Film at a real courthouse on the weekend instead of making a set, a real park instead of Chancellor park....
    • Jon Michael Reed in an Afternoon TV review of GL criticized the 75-81 theme as looking and sounding like a Tampax commercial.
    • RHOM What a chaotic but absolutely great show. Miami just gets better with every episode.  I've always loved Las Cubanas, but they have gotten very mean-girl-clique. Alexia has always been such a great RH, but last season's success has gone to her head. She is disdainful of Adriana (who, though hard to like by some, was 100% in the right( and lowkey threatened by Nicole. Larsa is, too. I can't believe Larsa is swanning around, photographing her feet in lucite heels, thinking that qualifies as work and that this makes her superior to a full-time anesthesiologist. Bringing in the lawyers could have been so contrived (which it was), but it was so breezy and the lawyers were in on the joke of it all.  I can't believe I once found Lenny hot. Those were gaslighting, threatening words the Peacock mics picked up. No wonder those sweet kids are acting out. They are confused and probably feel lowkey abandoned by their father for this new hoe.
    • Nikki is looking better with shorter hair. GP lobby is back. Good to have another meeting place.
    • There's BFTD where the actor leaves the show and so the character is killed off an, as viewers in the know about BTS happenings, we are never sure if that death will stick eg  Hope Days Or when it happens as a plot device -the character is presumed dead but they are still on the show and for whatever reason living elsewhere for a time eg Victor Y&R Days is the worst culprit but it reflects the kind of storytelling Days employs - brainwashing, possession etc Shortcuts that provide plot without having to write character motivations.
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy