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
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
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
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
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
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!
Page updated 2/28/13
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