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Daytime Opinion Article


By Suzanne

Last week I wrote about why soaps are failing...the writing sucks. Primetime TV has improved, but daytime has not. There are some really good primetime dramas that are like soaps, and viewers now watch those instead of daytime. There doesn't have to be an "instead of", but why would you watch something bad when you can watch something good?

Some of the castThis week I will make the case for "Brothers & Sisters", which airs Sunday nights on ABC and is in its fifth season. This show has a strong following. It is a "family drama" - another name for soap opera. The show is about the Walker family in California. They had a family business, Ojai Foods, which made food and wine. Their patriarch dies in the first episode, and from then on the family has to struggle to figure out how to manage life after his death and deal with all of the assorted family crises that occur. It is a lot like Dallas or Knots Landing in a lot of ways. The family is not poor, although not Dynasty-rich, either.

Brothers & Sisters has some really great actors and writers. It has former movie star (Oscar winner) Sally Field as the mom, Nora Walker. TV veteran Ron Rifkin and star Calista Flockhart are two main characters, as is another movie star, Rob Lowe. Everyone on this show is stellar. You might think, there is no way that daytime can possibly measure up to this type of acting talent. You know what? You'd be wrong. The soaps have a lot of great actors. Their casts are just as good as the ones on Brothers & Sisters. They are just not as famous. I would pit Erika Slezak or Maurice Benard up against Sally Field any day.

The writing in Brothers & Sisters is really good. The characters are very boldly drawn. They are all different individuals with their own traits (just like real people!), their own voice. And what a great set of characters. Nora is a very strong woman struggling to find her identity after her husband dies. She was a sort of throwback to the 1970's type of housewife because she spent her life taking care of her family and suddenly found that not only was she a widower, but her husband had cheated on her for years and lied to her in many ways, and her family business was not thriving. She is the leader of the family, even though she has all these internal struggles. She whips them into shape. All of the characters, like Nora, are very well written.

The way that this show is much better than any soap opera is that it has a lot of humor, the characters are varied, and the stories keep you coming back. You really want to know what happens next. There are no clichés in these stories. People act more or less like real people. Sure, sometimes they may not act exactly like you or I might act, or their dialogue is way better than ours, but that's just TV. You want it to be better than real life, or it would be boring. They don't rely on tired old soap opera plot devices to keep their stories going (for instance, William Walker has not returned from the dead). Daytime soaps rarely have any intentional humor like they do on this show. These are people that we would actually want to know, too. They might be a little annoying sometimes, but they are not going to literally stab you in the back, shoot you, or sleep with your husband (well, most of them wouldn't--Holly might).

Besides having such good writing and acting, the show has three main characters who are gay (soon to be a fourth if Saul gets a boyfriend). They discuss politics often, but not in a preachy way like soaps do. They even have party labels (most of them are Democrats, although Kitty and her dead husband Robert are Republicans). The Walkers are Jewish. Nora dated a black man (they could use a little more color on the show, to be honest). Their characters are not perfect, either. Tommy committed crimes and cheated on his wife. Justin was a drug addict and couldn't hack it in medical school. Holly was "the other woman" for a long time and was quite a liar. They don't have to be perfect to be good and likable people.

Soaps rarely say anything about politics or political parties, and they underplay any gay and other minority characters. Soaps play it safe, not wanting to offend anyone. This is precisely the time they shouldn't be playing it safe. What do they think they have to lose, anyway? Soaps have way too many bad people doing bad things. General Hospital is the best example, since mobsters are the heroes on that show. Even their "good guys", though, do some pretty terrible things. The writing is so bad that they have no idea how to write good people doing interesting things, or married couples being interesting. Brothers & Sisters proves that you can do that.

Now, Brothers & Sisters has some things going for it that soaps don't. Their budget is much bigger. That gets them A+ TV actors and writers and production values. It also only airs about 22 episodes a year. Soaps have to have shows about 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. However, daytime soaps use these excuses far too often. Even given the number of shows and the budgets, they don't even come close to being as good as Brothers & Sisters, or any other primetime drama (even bad ones that get canceled, like the primetime show "Titans" from 2000, or last year's "Melrose Place").

As I said last week, they use the same bad writers over and over. One soap fires the writer, and another soap picks them up. I am positive there are some good, unemployed, untested writers out there that would love to get their start on daytime soaps. Pay them the lowest fee you can, daytime soap producers, and they will still be very grateful for the job. Even with having to churn out so many episodes, it doesn't mean that they have to be lame, boring, tired shows with awful characters. The networks need to step up now before it's too late. Fans, write in and tell them that they need to improve the writing on soaps now!

Part One Part Three

Page updated 12/27/11

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