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?
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!
Page updated 2/28/13
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