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Paul Raven

1983 Article on the Soaps

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Broadcast Week March 1983  Slicker Soaps Awash with Emotion by Dave Portoti

 

"Eight or nine years ago, it was fully realized how profitable daytime was for the networks, which were paying relatively little in license fees and getting more commercial time per hour than at night," said Pat Pleven, director of daytime programs, East Coast, NBC. "The shows were delivering such large numbers of people at higher and higher commercial fees, that competition became keener and production values were increased to gain an edge over the others." "Are we ratings conscious? You bet. Daytime makes a lot of money," said Brian Frons, vice president, daytime programming, CBS. "While externally there has not been the importance placed on daytime that there is now, internally it has always been an important time period to the networks." "It's an important area due to the revenues being brought in, and we continue to try to improve it," Frons said. "Ratings pressure has always been substantial. There are more shows on the air now than when 1 began," said Mary Ellis Bunim, executive producer, As The World Turns (CBS). "We've always been highly competitive, but feel that to achieve the best results, you have to be competitive with yourself." Increased competition and revenues have shown up quite visibly on the screen.

 

"As the importance of the serial form to network profits has become more óbvious, more money has been spent on productions," said Henry Slesar, head writer, The Edge of Night (ABC). "Soaps are richer looking now, and despite the high costs, it's still commonplace that especially in moments of peak drama or during a wrestle to increase ratings, the use of a foreign locale has become more popular." "The sets have become much more luxurious, more numerous and much larger," Frons said. "In the old days of 1967, you'd have four characters on two sets. The first 15 minutes would be two characters on one set, and the second 15 minutes would be the other two characters on the other set. "Today you can have 10-12 elements in a half hour, up to 10 sets, a much broader playing area and location shooting."

 

"There was a time when these shows were done in front of black velour curtains," said Bob Getz, producer, Search For Tomorrow (NBC). "It seemed to work, but one show would pale in comparison to another as production and technical elements were advanced. Studio sets now have to be richer, deeper and fuller." Good serials can tell wonderful stories and have wonderful characters up against a black curtain," Frons added. "All the location does is enhance this and give the show more publicity." Close to home Early remotes took place in neighboring states and counties in Connecticut and New Jersey. As the experience of cast and crew grew, overseas destinations were selected. But no matter where the shows take place, weather is always a factor. "We did a shoot on a riverboat going up the Connecticut River, and it turned out to be pouring rain," recalled Irwin Nicholson, producer, The Edge of Nigh! (ABC). "But we were scheduled to do the shoot, and there was nothing we could do but shoot it—with the rain. You make the best of it, but it's not always easy." "In the mid-'70s we did a very adventurous ski remote. It was particularly adventurous because the actors didn't know how to ski, and it was 20 degrees below zero," Bunim said. Cast and crew of As The World Turns recently returned from location shooting in Spain. They were caught in New York's worst blizzard in 30 years when leaving, and faced Costa Del Sol's first blizzard in 12 years after reaching Spain. "There always seem to be record temperatures in one direction or the other when you're on remote," she said. As The World Turns also has visited Jamaica; Guiding Light (CBS) has gone to the Canary Islands; The Young and The Restless (ABC), produced in New York, has done location shooting in Los Angeles; Capitol (CBS) routinely tapes in Washington, D.C. - "When a story line warrants going outdoors and doing a remote, and warrants the expense, then we do it," Nicholson said. The show followed a character to Switzerland when he decided to do in his wife by pushing her off a mountain in a "skiing accident." "We did it in St. Moritz. It was very exciting, and it paid off," Nicholson said. "You get a gut feeling about whether it will work, and if you get the higher numbers, then it was worth the trouble and money."

 

Segments shot on location can be cut into New York tapings for weeks afterwards. Tape saps energy While remotes have added an element of adventure, many feel that videotape has taken the excitement out of live performances. Edge of Night was the last pap to go to videotape in 1975, after 19 years live. The change came when the show moved from CBS to ABC. The new studio did not have live facilities and the cost of lines to the transmitter was prohibitive. "In the live days, if an actor forgot his lines, we had teleprompters—but a lot of the actors couldn't see them. There was very often some beautiful ad-libbing, because there was no way that we could do the show over again," recalled Night's Nicholson. "Going to videotape really affected the adrenalin of the actors, the technicians, the stage crew, directors and production personnel. Everybody had to deliver when that sweep second hand indicated that we were on the air. It's amazing how little went wrong in the live days." "No matter how difficult the scripts were, or what happened to the actors or actresses, everything was in place and on the air at 12:30 p.m." said Getz.

 

"As soon as we went from live to tape, keeping the same shooting schedule,. suddenly nobody could be there on time. Boom mike shadows that we had to live with on the live shows suddenly increased. We'd stop and do it over aga;n, because . we knew we could. "Psychologically there was something about tape that made people more relaxed and less concentrated. You can really tense up when you're live because you don't get another chance. The energy that came out of the actors and crew was tremendously different," Getz noted. "There are certain advantages to videotape, however," Nicholson added. "It's remarkable how many times guns with blanks don't fire. If you're live, you can't very well _$o 'bang, bang, you're dead.' Even in the days of live television, just after tape was introduced, we do anything complicated, like a shootout or a chase sequence, on tape because too many things could go wrong." Viewers shift Increased frankness has marked the soaps in recent years, reflecting the changes in society. As more and more women enter the workforce, more men and young people follow the stories. "There's a mixed audience, a lot younger, with a lot more males, but it's still predominantly a housewife audience," said Slesar. "The shows have more stories about young people than they used to. But the audience is still so broad that to isolate any one group would be to automatically cut down your interest among all ages and levels of society."

 

"Back in 1974-75, there was a drop of total daytime television viewing audience due to the fact that more women were joining the workforce," Pleven said. "Even though households using television have remained pretty much constant since then, the network share of that daytime viewing audience has seemed to drop every year since then. First the drop was small, but now it's about 5 percent per year. There have not been enough men joining the audience to make up for the loss of women leaving the home." Males made up approximately 10 percent of the audience last year. Pleven said. "Kids are getting hooked on soaps in college," said Jacqueline Babbin, producer, All My Children, (ABC). "They see the shows en masse, boys and girls together. I know of many couples today who tape the shows during the day and watch them at night over dinner." Like the changing audience, the topics of the soaps reflect the changes of society today. "The characters are still what the audience identifies with," said Frons. "Originally, soaps portrayed people just like you. If you look at shows from a decade ago, they all centered on middleclass families. Today you have a broad sweep of characters—the very rich, the middle class and the poor. • "The attraction of these serials has broadened, and you now have characters who show you how to solve your problems in these troubled times, who are involved in situations quite worse than yours. You also have fantasy characters whose lives you wish you could pop into." "All series, with the exception of something like a movie of the week, are soap operas—whether it's Hill Street Blues, Dallas or Dynasty. They do it once a week on film, and we do it once a day on tape," Babbin said. "Soaps have changed as much as the movies and nighttime programming has changed. All television drama reflects the times in which we live." "Obviously the sexual revolution has touched daytime as well as nighttime," Slesar said. "There's less censorship, but also a great deal of self-censorship. The changes in society do hit soaps. We're always with the trends, not behind them, because of our flexibility to change our minds every day."

 

Story lines now vary in ages. There are more younger story lines, and more contemporary issues discussed in the story lines," Frons said. "A current story' on World has a couple battling for custody of their child. The man has kidnapped his son and taken him out of the country. It's very contemporary." "These kinds of stories are more common than someone becoming paralyzed and ending up in a wheelchair, or someone becoming blind or getting amnesia. Those stories still show up, but hopefully in a far lower proportion than they used to," Frons added. "The pace is much faster than it used to be—both the pace of the story lines and the length of the scenes," Slesa r said. "The stories don't last for a whole year, and we use briefer scenes. It's in keeping with contemporary mood and drama. The leisure has gone out of soap-telling to some degree, and therefore there is more story movement." Emotional displays Most agreed that human relationships continue to fuel the soaps. "Stories are emotionally based, derived from people's characters and passions, and that's an ongoing thing," Bunim said. "It's a quality that existed 32 years ago when Search For Tomorrow was on." "It's anything having to do with emotions, or people in conflict with other people. People get pulled asunder, and come together again," said Getz. "The successful shows are about relationships, especially as they spring from family connections," Pleven added. Edge of Night is a mystery, with 'cops and bad guys, said Nicholson. "1 feel that this is more intriguing to both men and women than some of the conventional soaps, while some of them are superb in the way they deal with family relationships. We have relationships, but our primary interest is plot and entertainment."

 

Shows are generally taped two weeks in advance. Long-term story documents are written two to four months in advance. Breakdowns might be edited from that document four to six weeks ahead of taping. From those breakdowns come scripts about two weeks in advance. Bi -coastal comments While New York is home to most soaps, several are produced in California. All envied the studio space, but producers and writers differed on the advantages and disadvantages of each coast. "New York has a larger pool of actors and actresses—it's the commercial capital of the world," Nicholson said. "We've got Broadway. Off-Broadway and Off-OffBroadway, so there's more work for actors here. While there's a lot of work in Hollywood, it's more restricted to nighttime television." "We have real actors in New York, not plastic types who want to get into a television series because they look like beach boys," Babbin said. "There's no real theater on the West Coast—actors are not interested in acting with each other but in acting to an audience in hopes that someone will pick them up and put them into a television series." "The talent pool is shared, and actors are by-and-large bi-coastal," Bunim said. "When we cast major characters, we explore talent from both coasts. Actors are used to going back and forth, to wherever the work is." "Being in New York doesn't mean that we have to use New York actors," Getz said. "We find the best actors available for each part, and if they happen to be in California, we bring them in. It's worth the extra expense." "There are good shows and bad shows, and they can be produced on either coast," Pleven said. "Because they don't have the trucking and scenery storage problems we have in the smaller studios of New York, money budgeted for California shows winds up almost entirely on the screen rather than going into the logistics. "When we shot NBC's The Doctors in Rockefeller Center, just getting scenery in and out of the building was a major expense, and very little of that money showed up on the screen," Pleven added. "There is a genuine desire by people in the soap community to make their shows better," Frons said. "Writing staffs are getting larger, so they can pay more time to details. Casts have gotten larger, allowing actors to prepare more. In any television show, time and money are everything. We're spending time and money to make the shows better."

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On 3/13/2020 at 3:10 AM, Paul Raven said:

The Young and The Restless (ABC), produced in New York, has done location shooting in Los Angeles; show, time and money are everything. We're spending time and money to make the shows better."

You gotta love how, even back then, the mainstream press could so easily, so concisely, so quickly, get so much information completely WRONG.🤣

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