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Daytime Opinion Article


By Suzanne

I will keep harping on this until someone listens. The main reason that people don't watch soap operas is that they are badly written. This has probably always been true, to a certain extent, but in the old days, there weren't a lot of things to watch on daytime TV. The soaps had a captive audience (non-working people, especially women). Nowadays, even if you don't work, you are likely to have at least basic cable, or the internet, so you have other choices. People are not going to sit and watch this type of drivel if they have other alternatives.

I'm not saying that everything is bad about soaps or that they have always been 100% bad. They have many good things going for them (especially in the past). Primetime TV was not all that good before the 90's, either, for much of the same reason. They only had a few channels, and no internet or video games, so the quality of TV didn't have to be so good. Shows didn't get canceled as quickly as they do now, either.

Primetime TV, however, stepped up their game. Once they started losing viewers, and once the networks started canceling shows so quickly, the quality of most of the shows went up (especially dramas). Comedy is apparently very hard to write, and we all have different senses of humor, so I can't really include that in the same discussion about quality.

Drama started getting more complex and in-depth in the 80's, and the acting also improved. If you doubt it, go back and look at any TV show before 1980. I'm not saying that there weren't a lot of very bad shows in the 80's, too, but that's when they started improving. Before then, most TV shows were episodic, meaning they didn't carry the stories over from one episode to the next. Everything had to be neatly wrapped up in the one hour. This not only prevented long, complex stories, but also character development. It worked well for TV in some ways because you knew that you could miss an episode and not be lost as to what was going on. They did have a very primetime soaps, like Knots Landing, Peyton Place, and Dallas, but those were the exceptions.

Starting in the 80's with shows like St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, Moonlighting, Cheers, etc., they started having more serialized shows. This was good for the networks because they could hook you and get you to come back and see what happened next. Just like a soap opera, but without as much romance.

Back in the 70's, soaps were very slow and had a lot of scenes of people sitting around and chatting over coffee while organ music played (I'm only slightly exaggerating here). They did have some good writing, but by today's standards, they were a bit boring. They brought in more action in the 80's, starting with General Hospital. They had stories about spies, scifi stuff, detectives, and things like that (not just doctors and lawyers and housewives).

Soaps have always had a lot of stories about romance and family, and this is just fine. That is what soap opera fans want. Somewhere along the way, however, someone decided that daytime fans would put up with anything and they no longer needed to write new or exciting stories. The worst thing you can do in any kind of writing is be boring.  The second worst thing you can do is annoy your audience. Soaps do both nowadays.

If you are a daytime fan, when is the last time something truly surprised you and made you go, "Wow!"? Probably not in a long while. When they do something shocking, it is usually so stupid that it just aggravates me. Like when Brooke on Bold & Beautiful had sex with her daughter's boyfriend during a party. They were both wearing masks and costumes, and each assumed that the other was someone else. Sure, because if I am going to have sex with my husband of 20-something years, I can't tell the difference between him and a 21-year-old boy because he's wearing a mask! I can't feel, smell, or taste any different. And of course the boy is going to think that this woman in her 40's or 50's is his young girlfriend. Uh-huh!

This is just one example. Soaps do very stupid storylines all the time. And within each storyline, they do very stupid things, too. Like every time someone dies, they are bound to come back to life within a week. And there will always be a long-drawn-out, boring whodunnit storyline after the person dies (to the point where you don't care), and the person who did it will either be some minor character, or it will have been an accident, or some other stupid twist, and they will not go to prison.

And while I'm on that subject, soaps really should almost never kill characters off. It's not realistic. In real life, especially in white middle class America, very few people die under the age of 60, and almost never from murder. So that plot device should be used sparingly, and then maybe they will actually shock us occasionally. And if they do kill someone off, they should be dead and never come back. Just like on a good primetime show.

And if two people who are wrong for each other sleep together once, the girl should not get pregnant and wonder who the father is. That is a really overdone plot device.

It would be nice if characters stopped talking out loud to themselves. It would be nice if two people were talking about something important and kept their voices down, and the person they were talking about didn't walk in just then. It would be nice if secrets took years to come out. It would be nice if they knew ahead of time who the murderer was and it was not someone obvious.

It would be nice if characters were complex and interesting, and not just flitting from one place to another with no real purpose except to drive the story. The best soaps are character-driven. That means the characters are well written and stay true to themselves unless there is a darned good reason. They don't just go overnight from being good to bad or smart to stupid.

It would be nice to have heroes and heroines again on the soap, and not just flawed people who do bad things and then claim they are good. It would be nice to have strong female characters who don't need a man but just happen to fall in love (and don't need rescuing, either). It would be nice if they had characters of all sizes, colors, and sexual preference who are not stereotypes. This will be better if they hire more female writers and more writers and executives of color.

Sure, to a certain extent, soaps are going to be exaggerated from real life, and you might have a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. For instance, people don't talk about romance or love as much in real life. They don't switch bed partners as much, either. You need those things in any good soap. But that doesn't mean that you have to keep watching the same boring crap over and over and say, "Well, it's only a soap". It doesn't mean you have to be embarrassed to tell people that you watch soaps.

Soaps today have nothing but overused plot points. We have seen it all happen before. And why? Because they keep hiring the same untalented hacks over and over. If you look at the credits, someone who gets fired from one soap just goes to another. I don't know of any other business where this happens. Bring in some talent, bring in more diversity.

They have done it successfully in the past, like with Michael Malone, who was a novel writer. I'm sure there must be tons of unemployed writers out there who would love to get there start in showbiz by writing for soaps. One of the best writers ever was Claire Labine, who wrote for Ryan's Hope and One Life to Live. If she is still available, bring her back, or have her train someone else who is good.

If they do bring in new writers, though, they need to make sure that they do not bring in any new characters for six months, and anyone they bring in has to be done gradually (and hopefully related to someone in town). Also, they need to make sure they know all about the past of the shows and have fact-checkers and continuity people so that they don't mess with the show's history or irritate fans needlessly.

They also need to step back and let the writers do their thing, not tell them to write more for teens or what-have-you. The executives should only interfere when necessary; at least give them a chance to write for a while, and see how fans react, before they decide to mess with things.

There are some very good web soaps out there, like Venice (admittedly, there are some bad ones, too). So it can obviously be done on a small budget.

I know a lot of fans think that TV producers just want to kill off soaps, but I don't really think that is it. I think they just don't realize why they are losing so many ratings or how to fix it. Fixing the writing is a good start. It can't cost that much to get new writers! Otherwise, soaps are going to keep dying, for no real reason, and it's very sad to watch.

If you don't want soaps to die, I urge you right now to write a letter to your favorite TV network and tell them that you want them to improve the writing of the soaps before they die!

Part Two Part Three

Page updated 12/27/11

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