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« Love is a Four Letter Word | Main | (Yester)Day's Dumbest Dialogue »

September 20, 2007

It's the Writing, Stupid

In the latest issue of Soap Opera Digest, there's an article called "How To Save Soaps."  I highly recommend checking it out, because it gives a bit of fascinating insight into the people who run the daytime industry.  Be forewarned, though, that reading it may make you think that So You Want To Ruin Soaps... is an actual book written by soap execs.  Here are a couple of the bigwigs' suggestions for rescuing the genre:

"The hope is definitely to cross-platform and drive people who watch WORLD TURNS to INTURN and vice-versa. . . . That's part of the original concept:  put ourselves out there and reach an audience who don't necessarily watch the show, but are online watching original programming."  - Richard Mensing, VP of CBS Daytime East Coast

"When you talk to viewers, especially women, who've stopped watching, the majority of the time they say it's because their life changed . . . When I look at my business, which is making about 750 hours of soap opera a year, my job is to make sure as many see these shows as possible, whether that's on ABC or DVR of ABC, or SOAPnet, or a DVR of SOAPnet, and hopefully one day online, on your mobile phone or whatever."  - Brian Frons, President, Daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group

I just . . . seriously?!  The problem with soaps, as far as I can tell, and as I've already likely alienated a good percentage of SOD's readership by saying, is that they're just not as good anymore.  They lost the giants of soap writing and are now passing around head writing jobs to the same handful of people over and over again, and unsurprisingly very little fresh and creative stories emerge as a result.   I don't pretend this is scientific, but how many people do you know who would say "I would totally watch soaps, if only I could do so on my cell phone," versus how many would say "I would watch soaps if they didn't suck"?

There were some insightful comments, however:

"Here we are again thinking, 'Well, how are you going to get the kids to watch?'  Just tell great story.  Great story is timeless. . . . I know the numbers are down, but all you need is one person at a time.  And you can't underestimate them or let them down."  - Robin Strasser

"I don't think that it's the lifestyle changes and all of those things that we blamed it on for years. . . . So many of the prime-time shows have become serialized, feeding that hunger for that kind of programming and it just absolutely says the form has not died.  These shows are losing people because the audience just doesn't care anymore.  The product, by and large, has to be fantastic in order to survive." - Michael Logan

I agree with Michael Logan.*  I feel icky.  Quick, someone get me an episode of mid-90s GH to cheer me up.  But only if it's via a mobile phone.  What are you, Amish?

* D'oh!  I'm a moron (with a bad headache) and confused Michaels.  My bad.  Thanks to andemcbeal for pointing out my gaffe.  I don't really know much about Logan.  And I do feel better now that I can continue to loathe the dude on I Wanna Be a Soap Star.  Not that I watch it.

Comments

Psst. You should still feel icky because Michael Logan, soap columnist for TV Guide is a tool, but he's not Michael Bruno, from I Wanna Be a Soap Star.

My life hasn't changed, but my soap viewing habits sure have. Soaps stink and it breaks my heart to say it. I watched and loved soaps from childhood and now can not even watch five minutes of them. General Hospital is just a shell. What a waste!

Maybe they're hoping if we watch soaps on really small cell phone screens, we won't be able to see how crappy the fashions and hairstyles are. And the lack of facial expressions on Botox abusers.

I don't understand why they don't see that the writing is the problem. Oh, wait, I do understand. It's that the people running the genre take zero pride in their work and chose to cater to the lowest common denominator.

They will never admit that the soaps their network air are badly written & produced because that means that they're doing a bad job as a network executive.

Lord Frons just can't pass up an opportunity to show his ignorance can he? Seriously the reason I hardly ever watch (I admit I just can't resist the lure of the weepy eyed Greg Vaughan...sweet sexy love) is not because i can't find them time to watch them...I have even been known to do all day marathons of cleanign my toliet over and over again to avoid SoapNet marathons...its because I can tell the story within three minutes of the storyline starting! Even quicker if Jason Morgan is involved in it!

I go back and forth between trying to figure out whether Brian Frons is evil and manipulative, or just that stupid.

I'm jubilant that your soap happy place is mid-90's GH, Becca.

It would seem to me that the way to revive soaps is simply to bring in people who, you know, care...about soaps. The execs have it totally messed up. It's not about platform, it's not about making gross misestimations about demographics, it's about content.

I think Michael Logan, who should never be confused with the icky Michael Bruno, hit the head on the nail. People are increasingly tuning into serial dramas in primetime. The only reason they're not tuning into serialized dramas in daytime is because they suck. And the reason they suck is that the people who are running them aren't the people who should be running daytime.

yup. i totally agree with smirks above.

what's sad is that soap operas can offer what primetime drama can't -- day in, day out mingling with characters, unique longevity and history, and incredibly powerful loyalty. daytime execs have such a unique formula at their disposal, and they're trashing it, utterly trashing it.

as for myself, i'm a new soaps viewer (a year now -- i only watch for one character/actress and the couple she's a part of), and of the younger demographic (very early 20's). if they think that we young'uns like this vile sleaze fest, they're seriously screwed up and out of touch.

i mean to say, we're essentially the YouTube generation. nowadays, with everything archived on the net, we newer and younger viewers can often point out history errors and call BS as expertly as any longtime viewer. i've gone back and watched my favorite character's past (20+ yr) history, and i find it beautiful, entertaining, edifying, inspiring, familial, romantic, and brimming with a type of integrity that is nonexistent on the show today.

today's daytime writers and execs have reduced layered, multi-dimensional, historical characters into nonsensical caricatures, devoid not only of sensible motivation and integrity, but at times even discernible humanity. it's short-changing dedicated and talented actors and making a mockery of an intelligent and loyal audience.

Honestly, in the age of DVRs, You Tube, and message boards, how can Frons justify the erosion of viewers on lack of accessibility? Crap is crap, no matter what medium it's viewed on. Instead of wasting time and resources on how to make sure I can watch Lulu screech at people while on the bus on my way to work, why don't Frons and every other daytime honcho concentrate on the shows themselves? Find show runners who know how to craft a story that people care about instead of a two-week ratings gimmicks that have no lasting effects on the show at hand. Find writers that actually remember that soaps are not about guns and mob vendettas and violence, but romance and families and drama. Make an effort, or at very least pretend like you care. You'll be amazed how many viewers you can get back in your good graces.

Hey smirks...Frons is just that stupid.....add this to the long list of crap he spewed that makes no sense EVER....

I know daytime is the red headed step child of the television industry...but come on...SSW is the second most attended weekend at Disney World behind Christmas.....(You get bored in line at three in the morning and you ask the workers strange questions)...extremely wicked talented people have come through the ranks in terms of actors/actress...Hell both Scott Clifton and Ted King cited the writing of their characters as reasons they left the show! Something is wrong! And its not accessabilty to the media.

Becca I personally would love the mysogyny and mob violence on GH if it were teeny tiny on my pink crystal covered motorola razr screen. It would be cute then, very girlie and not at all offensive. Not to mention Carly's bouncy unsupported boobs would be too small to irritate me. Win Win!

OY! Frons is a mental midget!!!!!! If he and Guza produced an offspring it would be a Sea Monkey.

Are you sure, Beth? Because sometimes I think that he's just evil and hiding behind a veil of a carefully crafted image of stupidity. You can't really believe all of the things that Frons does and somehow rise through the ranks to run a large chunk of a major tv network, (and all of a minor cable network) can you? I mean, I've heard of the Peter Principle, but that's just taking it to insane levels.

Sometimes I think it's all an attempt to confuse his critics by purposely and carefully distributing misinformation.

Well admitedlly I don't give him enough credit to tie his shoes so if that IS his evil plan then congrats it TOTALLY worked for him. As it is...whenever he opens his mouth to speak, I just expect the opposite to happen. Unless it concerns Jason..then I know its fact.

You'll have to settle for good'ol youtube, but here you go, Becca: http://youtube.com/watch?v=1D_kw-CErpw

Better?

I agree that the writing is the problem. And part of it is that the networks have no system in place to train writers how to write soaps which why head writers keep going back and forth from show to show. And why they won't fire Guza from GH. Who would they replace him with McTavish again? What I don't understand is why ABC hired Kay Alden from Y&R as consultants instead of just handing GH or AMC over to her to write. Also the misuse of veterans on the soaps. I might actually care about Jerry Jacks/James Craig if they had actually addressed the fact that he had been engaged to Bobbie, and dealt with the fallout of Bobbie finding out that her ex-fiancee had held her daughter hostage instead of ignoring it completely. And giving the Quartermaines something to do besides bicker over Lulu. They missed the boat by not hooking up Edward with Helena Cassadine. And not using Robert and Anna Scorpio more effectively.

Beth R.-"It would seem to me that the way to revive soaps is simply to bring in people who, you know, care...about soaps."

So how do we get them to make "I WANNA BE A SOAP WRITER" -the smash hit reality show where the winner gets to join the staff and save his or her favorite show? I've seen a lot of talented fanfic writers out there doing a much better job than what we see on our shows.

Seriously. Someone who knows about such things go ahead and pitch this one. Surely there's a way to sex it up and fill it with half dressed pretty people so one of the networks will buy it.

Beth R.-"It would seem to me that the way to revive soaps is simply to bring in people who, you know, care...about soaps."

So how do we get them to make "I WANNA BE A SOAP WRITER" -the smash hit reality show where the winner gets to join the staff and save his or her favorite show? I've seen a lot of talented fanfic writers out there doing a much better job than what we see on our shows.

Seriously. Someone who knows about such things go ahead and pitch this one. Surely there's a way to sex it up and fill it with half dressed pretty people so one of the networks will buy it.

Beth R.-Crap is crap. My thoughts exactly! What with all of the ways we can watch, how can he justify making a response like that?!

Buttercup-So how do we get them to make "I WANNA BE A SOAP WRITER" -the smash hit reality show where the winner gets to join the staff and save his or her favorite show?

Wouldn't that be awesome? The shows would make sense once again. The veterans wouldn't be spit on. The core characters would matter again. The mob would return to the back burner where it belongs.

Leave it to the uberfabulous Robin Strasser to hit the nail on the head: write great (at this point we'd probably settle for good) stories. That is what people tune in for, not a series of plot points.

Even in primetime episodic shows that do rely heavily on plot points, there is still an underlying reliance on characters and their history and what motivates them.

I agree with everyone else that stated that soaps need people in charge who genuinely care about the genre and respect it. Until then, we're left with the violence and misogyny that the fine folks at ABC Daytime think is riveting entertainment.

ElementaryDays, that's much better, thanks! I wonder whatever happened to that great soap?

FYI: ABC has a program in place to find new writers specifically targeted at Daytime. If any one is interested let me know and I can send you the application (you just have to provide a sample screeenplay, teleplay, etc & resume).

Idiots. That's the problem - they ARE idiots, and they think WE are idiots. The writing is awful. Soaps are supposed to focus on two things - romance and escapism. Adventure/action/drama - that's supposed to happen in the service of the romantic storyline. Romance, UST, angst. Not that hard people.

And yet, on the soap I no longer tune in to, Days, I can count the compelling romances on one hand-- oh, wait. There aren't any. UST? Nope. When Days was at its most popular, back in the late eighties it was about super couples. It was about ROMANCE. Any action that took place was just a plot device to further the romance.

Good heavens Stephanie, please send me the contact info. I know about 20 fan fic writers that write far more compelling stuff than what's on the screen currently. My six year old daughter writes better stuff.

Er, not that I read fan fic. Or write it. Or anything.

You should have a continuing blog post called, Days (or whatever): The Version that Does Not Suck, and we can all post our ideas for variations on the show that would have been a 1,000 percent improvement over whatever happened to air that day.

A few years back, I won a HUGE award in a lawsuit and indulged myself by buying some Disney stock - primarily for the purpose of becoming a gadfly. Then I went to several sites which discussed primarily ABC shows, announced that I had Disney stock and planned to attend stockholders meetings. I promised that I would take EVERY E mail that I received about what was wrong with ABC soaps to the stock holders meeting with me and get whatever Disney official I could find to at least TAKE the E mail (I could not guarantee that anyone besides me would ever READ the E mail but I COULD pass it along to any responsible Disney official I could find at the stockholders meeting.)

My In Box soon filled up with THOUSANDS of E mail. While I received many letters dealing with numerous shows, the major complaints, pretty much in the following order, soon emerged:

1. NOBODY liked the way that soaps push talented veterans off to the side, backburner them entirely or drop-kick them out the back door while filling up the screen with good-looking but untalented newbies who could barely speak - much less act.

2. EVERYBODY was sick and tired and fed up to the teeth with the 'ick' factor. Meaning people hopping in to bed with relatives or near relatives. Received a LOT of mail from OLTL fans who were up in arms with the story about Natalie being married to the biological father of Natalie's twin sister, Jessica! But other shows were cited as well- B&B's Brooke hopping in to bed with her daughter's boyfriends/husbands, etc. was right up there. (I knows - it wasn't ABC but, still, you know, so many former ABC honchos ended up on CBS that it sort of seemed like the same network.)

3. EVERYBODY wanted to see MORE love, romance and adventure and strong families - and LESS violence, bloodshed, depression, sorrow, sadness, etc.

4. NOBODY liked 'supernatural nuttiness' - as, for example, Clone Reva, the Port Charles Vampires, Marlena possessed by the Devil, etc.

5. EVERYBODY wanted to see MORE stories that 'just made sense.'

6. EVERYBODY was 'sick, sick, sick' of watching 'good guys' getting trashed while the 'bad guys' 'always got away with everything and NEVER had to pay for any of their crimes.'

7. I got a LOT of letters from people in New York (and from many OTHER states as well) who spoke movingly about the love and respect they now had for the doctors, nurses, police officers, paramedics, firefighters, pastors and counselors, as well as the military personnel who stepped in to the thick of the chaos of September 11, 2001 and performed one heroic feat after another. At the same time, they ALL noted - that soaps seemed to be DOWN on EVERYONE in those SAME professions! Soaps ROUTINELY portrayed doctors, nurses, everyone connected with law enforcement or ANY of the 'helping' professions as uniformly, evil, twisted, corrupt, unethical, devious, underhanded, incompetent, just plain stupid - 0r all of the above! This was most often cited as THE evidence that writers for soaps were woefully out of touch with REAL people - and HAD been out of touch for a LONG time.

Well, I printed out my thousands of E mails and, just by chance - the Disney stockholders meeting was held in Denver that year. NOT ONLY was the meeting held in Denver but LUCK would have it that, on the eve of the meeting, Denver got one of those nice THREE foot blizzards, which pretty much stopped EVERYTHING in its tracks. Well, the bigwigs HAD made it to town BEFORE the snow started. And, by the time that the meetings were taking place, the snow plow had actually made it's way to my street - so I took my couple of boxes of E mails and chugged off down to ye olde stockholders meeting. Lo and behold - it was just the bigwigs and a handful of us hardy few who made it there. So I DID get a chance to hand over my boxes of E mail to the bigwigs. I would like to think that, because everything else in town was shut down - they might have even READ some of the E mail. (I still have copies, by the way!)

My point being that I was not a very important person, I only had a little bit of stock - but it only took me a couple of days to find out what was on the mind of a MAJORITY of viewers of ABC soaps (not to mention - CBS and NBC as well!) So - IF I could do that - bigwigs could do the SAME thing and would probably learn the SAME thing that I learned - about what is going wrong with their product that is causing viewers to tune OUT in record numbers!

Bigwigs do not know what is going wrong because they do not WANT to know what is going wrong with their product!

Sincerely, Deborah

The problem with soaps (abc soaps in particular) is that they have a head of ABCD who's ego is too big to admit that he doesn't know what is good and what is bad! If he did he would FIRE Robert Guza cause that man CANNOT write a good story...nor can most of his merry band of hacks writing under him! He also cannot admit that what he is writing is boring and repetative.

What I'd like to see GH in particular do in February when they have that fan thing is: give the actors (all the actors not just a select few)...maybe for a week...the synopsis of the storyline and no script...just let them wing it live! And I bet we would get a much better show than what we've been seeing on GH these days.

Also wrong with GH is the fact that they don't EXPLORE anything or follow through with anything. We get the "fluff" which in GH's case means repetative conversations with "romantic" couples but we don't get any MEAT to go with those conversations! The stories/romances they should drag out and actually write for (Skylo, Rexis, Luke and Tracy etc) they don't and the ones they do write for and draw out (Jiz, Lulu and her harem, Sonny and Kate) they shouldn't draw out.

They need to find writers who 1. know Doug Marland's rules for writing a soap and follow them. 2. Want to write for a soap. 3. know that core family are just that...the heart and soul of a soap. 4. Will write for family and friends and last but not least by any means 5. Will write for the entire canvas of characters and not just a favored few!

Thank you
Helen

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