where the writers are
2008 scorecard…

Events of 2008 have had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on serialized TV drama, be it daytime or primetime. So, starting with the company that quite literally gave birth to daytime soaps, the 2008 scorecard:

 1:   Procter & Gamble morphs to TeleNext: For the first time in over 70 years, the P&G - actually PGP (Procter & Gamble Productions) - imprimatur does not appear on any soap opera. The history of P&G's involvement in soap opera is a topic worthy of a yet-to-be written book, but the overall impact of this latest move:

minus

2:   Reinventing soap opera part one: In response to a 25% budget cut, Guiding Light moved to new production model that began airing at the end of February. The boards filled with fans' complaints about the shaky camera work and inaudible audio. But while the technical difficulties have been largely resolved, the biggest problem was and, sadly, remains the lack of story (see #12).

Impact: minus.

3:   On the other hand, GL's writing team has managed to lay the groundwork for a potentially powerful storyline involving Olivia, her daughter Emma, Natalia, Frank, Alan and Emma's father, Phillip when Grant Aleksander returns in February: two heretofore heterosexual women, one of whom is devoutly Catholic, fall in love. The relationship between Olivia and Natalia has developed organically; the conflicts between them come out of their differences in life experience and personality. It could be the stuff of great soap opera, but will they do it? And if they do, will it be too little, too late.

Impact: question mark.

4:   Reinventing soap opera part two: For months now As the World Turns fans have been complaining about the amphetamine-fueled story telling. Apparently, TPTB were listening; in an interview with CBS Soaps in Depth, ATWT headwriter, Jean Passanante explained the change - sort of:

We're playing more of a story in a day, and then we're not playing it the next day. We're creating more of a unit within a single episode, so that it feels like it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Given that what she just described is episodic, not serialized television, I had my doubts when she added,

Actually, I've heard a lot of people say they like the pace because the shows have kind of a payoff within the day.

Turns out I was wrong. Media Domain poster MartyB:

The self-contained episodes on ATWT & viewing spoilers for the week makes it so much easier for me to know when I will watch ATWT again. Not sure how or why TPTB have come up with this new concept but it sure is working well. I think I've watched a total of one or two episodes in the last two weeks. The story lines are not capturing any interest out of me even from the characters & actors that I like....

Of course, one must ask if this is what TPTB at ATWT really had in mind... Actually, I'm guessing this "retooling" has got to be coming from TMFIC at TeleNext; Jean Passanate and ATWT Executive Producer, Chris Goutman, have been around soaps far too long not to understand the difference - unless all that amphetamine-laced kool-aid has shorted-circuited their shit detectors.

Impact: minus.

5:   While the P&G (sorry, TeleNext) soaps have been reinventing the wheel, One Life to Live, and, I hear tell, Young and Restless, have returned to classic soap opera storytelling structure and conventions. I can't speak to the specifics on Y&R, but on OLTL, overlapping, interlocking, multi-generational, and at times, controversial, storytelling that includes veteran actors gives viewers compelling reasons to "tune in tomorrow" every single day.

Impact: plus

6:   P&G Classics Soap Channel on AOL canceled. While selected episodes of Another World (along with ATWT and GL) are available on HULU, no more streaming video of Edge of Night or Search for Tomorrow and Texas.

Impact: minus.

7:   Still no cable outlet for P&G soaps. Yes, the internet holds great potential, but maximizing soap viewers, current and future, means maximizing platforms; cable, including on-demand, needs to be a part of that equation.

Impact: minus

8:   SOAPnet's continued abandonment of soap operas. Last year, ABC Daytime chief, Brian Frons, shared this little nugget:

SOAPnet is making strides to expand its "soapy" programming, and movies are the next logical step. We recognize that movies can be just as soapy as daytime drama.

This year, SOAPnet is calling itself, The Home of Celebrity and TV Drama. So, how will actual soap operas fit in? Not very well, I fear.

Impact: minus

9:   Hallmark Channel to broadcast The Doctors. I must have been deep into my holiday cookie baking to have missed this when Roger Newcomb first reported it last month, but this is fabulous news. Growing up, The Doctors was one of my favorite soaps. No details of how the money will work, but as Mark Harding points out,

Hallmark is an interesting venue. Their voters ( I'm guessing Mark  meant viewers:) skew old, and that doesn't seem to bother them. Indeed, they seem to want to be a niche market for women just beyond the desirable demographic.

A big step towards a proper cable presence for classic soaps, she said hopefully.

Impact: plus.

10:  Soap media, print. Two words: Carolyn Hinsey. Hinseygate, as it came to be known, became a sad, not to mention, farcical symbol of the increasing irrelevance of soap opera's print magazines.

Impact: minus.

11:  Soap media, on-line. If you're reading this, it shouldn't surprise you that the soap blogsphere has raised the bar for soap criticism and analysis in ways that print simply cannot match. 

Impact: plus.

12:  Last February's rollout of Guiding Lights's new format generated a fair amount of coverage in the mainstream press, most of it superficial at best. So last month Telenext invited a group of soap bloggers (Sara Bibel, Partick Erwin, Michael Fairman, Roger Newcomb, Matt Purvis) to visit GL's new shooting location in Peapack, NJ.

The good news was that fans got an up-close-and-personal look at day-to-day workings behind GL's new look. The bad news... Where oh where to begin? I'm still wading through the voluminous postings and there's a great deal more to say. But here are my immediate impressions, which let's just say, give me pause.

The transcripts gave voice (literally, thanks to the audio clips Roger Newcomb posted) to what has been all too apparent on the screen: when GL made the decision to go to this new format, every bit of TPTB's energies were focused on the technological challenges of getting the show on the air. It was only after they mastered the logistics that they turned their attention to the storytelling.

And while many of the conversations with GL's producers and writers focused on the intimacy and camaraderie the new format has generated among cast and crew, none of those interviewed seemed to realize that the intimacy they're feeling isn't penetrating the camera lens to engage viewers. TPTB's message to fans: "We know a lot of the stories have sucked, but we appreciate your patience and hope you'll stick with the show."

I don't envy GL's executive producer, Ellen Wheeler, the task of putting on a show with double-digit budget cuts. And frankly, P&G executives should be ashamed of themselves. Yeah, I know, TeleNext; GL and ATWT have always and will always bear the P&G imprimatur. With 2007 profits of $8.7 billion on revenues of $67+ billion, if P&G were serious about keeping these shows on the air, they would have already freed up the petty cash (relatively speaking) needed. But they haven't, and likely never will; that sad reality lies just below the surface of the bloggers' posts.

That said, all the money in the world can't fix a soap opera when TPTB don't understand that technology and logistics are there to serve the storytelling, not the other way around. That in soap opera, the storytelling is not an afterthought, but rather, the genre's raison d'être. That expecting fans, some of whom have been watching GL for decades, to continue watching for the better part of a year before putting even a hint of a longterm story in place is folly. How could Ellen Wheeler have gotten it so backwards?

Impact: minus.

On to primetime:

13:  Good NBC. Of all the primetime serialized drama, Friday Night Lights is the one that most evokes the ethos of the daytime soaps of old. A darling of the critics (an irony that demands forthcoming amplification) since its 2006 premier, the show has struggled in the ratings. While Virginia Heffernan was speculating why in The New York Times, NBC was putting together a deal with DIRECTV, to share production costs. In exchange, the satellite network would be permitted to broadcast FNL's third season before NBC.

I don't have DIRECTV, and I've been vigilant about not reading recaps and spoilers, so I won't know for sure until next Friday, 16 January, when NBC begins airing FNL's third season. But the general vibe has been that this deal not only extended the life of FNL, but, more importantly,  protected the integrity of its storytelling.

Impact: plus.

14:  ABC, on the other hand, took the opposite tack. Much as I loved and will miss Eli Stone, the most painful casualty of the 2007-08 writers' strike is the loss of Dirty Sexy Money. The strike hit not too long after the 2007 fall season began, so neither show was able to solidify a fan base and ABC's decision to wait until fall 2008 to bring the shows back certainly didn't help matters. I'm not sure that either could have survived. But when it returned for its second season last fall, DSM's unique storytelling - think the glamour, wealth and familial dysfunction of Dallas and Dynasty­ fused with the depth, complexity and ambiguity of FNL and Mad Men (and, at the risk of redundancy: the daytime soaps of old) - had been eviscerated and replaced with simplistic cartoon characters skipping from plot point to plot point.

Kind of like what's been happening on GL and ATWT. In fact, on the boards the shorthand for DSM's evisceration became "soapy" - as in daytime soaps. Ironic, isn't it?

So is the fact that ABC Daytime took the exact opposite approach with One Life to Live (see #4). Wonder what would happen if the primetime dramas and the daytime dramas started talking to each other and realized, not just how much they actually have in common, but that when it comes to dealing with alternate media encroaching on veiwership, for the past 25 years, daytime soaps have been the canary in the coal mine?

Impact: minus.

15:  Bad NBC: Jay Leno, Monday-Friday, five hours of non-scripted primetime programming: less than promising for the future of scripted dramas in general, serialized drama, in particular, on the broadcast networks.

Impact: minus

16:  Nor is the fact that CBS, "most watched network" on broadcast television, has not a single serialized drama in its lineup. Is Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post correct when she speculates that more viewers may prefer "show you can date" (CBS) to the "major time commitments," and "serious long-term relationships" required by the critical darlings, "you have to marry?"

Impact: minus

17:  The growing number of network reality shows popping up like toadstools after a rainstorm. What's to say?

Impact: minus.

18:  Last summer, Mad Men - another example of a primetime drama embracing many of the narrative conventions of the daytime serials past - returned for its 2nd successful, critically-acclaimed season on AMC. The difference between the broadcast networks and cable: on cable, 2± million viewers is not the kiss of death.

Impact: plus.

TOTALS:  

plus: 5

minus: 12

question mark: 1

© 2009 Lynn Liccardo

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only. Lynn Liccardo

Comments
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Hey Lynn, do you know when they are going to start broadcasting

the Doctors? I definitely want to watch it. Although with our luck, they'll start broadcasting the reality show called "The Doctors"
You're pretty spot on with your analysis. Telnext? Dear God. It sounds like an evil company on a soap. "Darling, we have to be careful of Telenext! They're out for blood!"

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happy new year!

and how did your move go?

re "the doctors," according to roger's post, later this year. i think i read somewhere else. this summer.

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Wow, the benefits of your brief sabbatical are manifest!

Lynn, this is a MEISTERWERK, and I'm not being hyperbolic.

 What a careful, cogent analysis of so many trends.  I suspect your plethora of minuses is also correct.

 The one place I might quibble is regarding Jay Leno.  What he has done is "invade" primetime with a relatively low-cost program from another daypart.

 It would make PERFECT sense, IMO, to move a soap (especially Y&R) to early prime.  If it were me, Y&R would debute new episodes nightly at 8 pm, and rebroadcast again the next day at 12;30 or whenever.  Even if the ratings in primetime are relatively low, the marginal costs are almost nil to CBS...and it gives them a chance to grow or even expand the brand.  Internationally, early-prime is an ideal timeslot for soaps...and promotes intergenerational "addiction" as well.  I would encourage CBS to at least explore it during the summer.

 So, for me, if the Jay Leno move is taken as an experiment, it might evenutally encourage someone to try moving a daytime show too.

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Brava!!

Great analysis, Lynn. 

Of course I have to recuse myself from #12. But all these are very insightful.

I think the Leno move is the single biggest threat to drama as we know it, day or night, on broadcast TV.