Search for Tomorrow
This is not to be taken lightly. I submit to you that the definition of good, solid daytime drama and soaps in general is not simply “compelling character driven stories informed by history.” I counter that is a description of what soap operas can be at their best, but it is not what soaps are at their core. I also submit that plot-driven mechanics are and can be just as important as character-driven stories as long as there is balance in the storytelling. Writer Tom Casiello makes an excellent argument for this position in one of his recent blogs. In the final analysis, I think there is something so fundamental to soaps as a genre and as an art form, so insanely obvious that the concept has been somewhat lost in the debate about soaps and their current evolution or possible/probable extinction: soaps are continuing dramas.
The key word is continuing. Not just literally, as in the show airs every day, either. Harkening back to the long forgotten days of the 70's, the underlying idea of soaps was that multiple stories would unfold over time. The old cliché about soaps was for many years more or less true, in that you could not watch a show for several months or longer and pick up right where you left off. That cliché was a criticism of the pacing of soaps, but the fact is that the pacing of “the stories” provided an entry point for new and seasoned viewers alike.
My mother and her friends certainly came back to soaps during school breaks, vacations, sick days, and whenever they could do so. I, did too, floating in and out of several shows over the years as I defined and redefined my own tastes. I bet that part sounds familiar to many of you, too. With that in mind, I submit the most important argument in this piece: since the 1990's, a fundamental shift in how we literally view soaps has occurred and that shift by soap opera executives, writers and fans account for much of the confusion about what we are seeing on our screens today.
There is no doubt that soap executives are desperate to keep eyeballs on the soaps. Keeping them means competing with iPhones, Blackberries, Twitters, Gameboys, Wii's, Facebooks, news channels, all the court judges, all the talk shows, celebrity gossips sites, original shows on the Internet, the advent of DVR's and other time shifted viewing patterns. This is perfectly understandable.
Unfortunately, executives have lost sight of the narrative forest by focusing on the episodic trees. All My Children's episodes are chopped and screwed ad infinitum with some individual “scenes” seemingly lasting as little as 10 seconds. The Bold and the Beautiful plays the soap opera equivalent of Legos with its entire character roster, mixing and matching pairings into an indecipherable mess of emotional entanglements. A marriage proposal between two soul mates on a Monday can be undone by the end of Wednesday and each partner be with another soul mate by Friday. As has been often lamented, As the World Turns burns through plots, characters and recasts like California wildfires consuming the good, the bad and the ugly in equal measure.
Even when these shows are good, there is no time to breathe or invest in the stories or the issues faced by the characters. The executives and producers are so intent on keeping us on our toes and glued to the screen that they have confused furious tap dancing with engaging storytelling. (continued)