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Daytime Opinion Article

What Makes a Soap Great

Written 4/4/04 by Suzanne originally for Bella Online

Right now the best soap operas on the air are As The World Turns and All My Children, followed closely by Young and The Restless. This is the first year that all of the CBS soaps were nominated for Daytime Emmy Awards for best show. It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. ATWT has been going strong for a year or so now, in terms of quality. Last year Bold and the Beautiful was also really good (it's lost some of its focus this year). Young and the Restless has been the top-rated show for over 15 years, and with good reason. CBS seems synonymous with quality, at least as far as its daytime soaps.

All My Children was not great for most of last year, but I'm looking forward to them being nominated next year because they are doing great again. Guiding Light just went through some major changes (the executive producer was replaced and there are major cast changes coming up), so the fans are hoping that it improves as well.

Days of Our Lives has improved, but until it gets a different headwriter, I can't see it winning any awards. Jim Reilly has some great ideas but executes them poorly. The show is exciting and certainly tighter than it used to be, but he still uses his signature "bits" such as having characters talking out loud, too many flashbacks, long and frequent fantasy sequences, predictable plot devices and characters who just act plain stupid. More to the point, no one behaves in a rational or believable manner. It's pure escapist fantasy.

I don't see other shows getting any better. One Life to Live has many ups and downs. General Hospital writers seem more interested in having daily "thrills" such as shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, explosions, etc. than in developing interesting long-term stories or characters. B&B has moved its focus to the Marone family, taking it off the Forresters, and spending way too much story on Nick/Brooke/Ridge. Passions....well, the only bright spot on this show lately has been that, I have noticed its pace picking up for the last few weeks. Otherwise it has all the same problems Days has, without the exciting serial killer storyline.

Why are ATWT, AMC and Y&R so good? Why can't other soaps emulate them? Good writing is hard, apparently. These shows have multiple storylines that somehow intertwine, using most of the cast, without leaving many people out. They have characters of all ages (they don't just focus on teens, or 20-somethings). They mingle new characters with old, so that we care about them. They don't ignore the history of the shows; rather, they build on that history with new, compelling storylines. They have the characters going through emotional trauma in a believable way so that we empathize with them. They don't change the characters' personalities or basic values overnight, just for the sake of the story. If a good guy goes bad, there's a believable reason. They show people actually working at their jobs. They have romance, along with the occasional death or other sadness. They don't show blood and gore gratuitously. They may have some fantasy sequences but don't overdo them. They make the actors happy so they want to stay; they rarely have to recast. When they do recast, they go through a great deal of trouble to find just the right person. They don't base casting, for the most part, on looks. They focus on families and love, rather than sex or violence. ATWT and Y&R hardly ever have changes in writers. AMC has been great since Megan McTavish returned (she has a long history with the show).

Soap execs, take note. This is what good soap opera is all about. Please stop trying to make our daytime shows into primetime ones and just give us good daytime drama.

Page updated 12/27/11

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