A few weeks ago, Kelly Wittmann, who posts regularly on MediaDomain as Mary Hatch – and a kindred spirit who describes herself as a “character-driven writer navigating her way in a plot-driven world” – posted her list of twelve reasons why soap operas are dying. When my good friend, Sam Ford, chimed in with seven more, the list was up to nineteen and I was reminded of George Carlin’s riff on the Ten Commandants, which he whittled down to two.
But, as Carlin so elegantly and profanely explained (Possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. However, and this is just a suggestion, but if you’re reading this post while goofing off at work, you might want to wait until later to watch the video), there’s a lot of overlap and redundancy in the Ten Commandants – even more so in Kelly and Sam’s combined list of what is essentially a recitation of symptoms. Fixing one, or even several, of those symptoms would do little to fix what’s wrong with soaps. Not without first identifying and understanding the underlying causes of those symptoms.
Douglas Marland touched on some of the underlying issues in his classic, How Not to Wreck a Soap Opera, published shortly before he died in 1993. But even Marland’s ten can be reduced to two: Respect the viewer; trust the viewer.
When those who make soaps respect and trust their viewers they can tinker with a show’s history. It was Doug Marland’s respect and trust for viewers that distinguished his rewriting of Kim Hughes’ miscarriage on As the World Turns from that of Erica Kane’s abortion on All My Children.
As for location shoots, Kelly posed what I assume was a rhetorical question:
When you think of the greatest moments on your soap, the ones that really moved you and made you think and feel and laugh and cry, do they ever include adventure stories and/or location shoots?
Actually, yes, at least one did, at least for me. But before I talk specifics, some thoughts from soap opera’s founding mother, Irna Phillips, who shared Doug Marland’s profound respect for, and trust in, viewers (and listeners): In an essay written late in her life, she talked about the storytelling challenges soaps’ move from radio to television presented. For Phillips, “radio was the perfect medium for presenting drama. It was possible to paint almost any scene, construct any set, arrange any situation simply by leaving things to the imagination of the listener.” While Phillips believed that “the result is still not as good as the mental pictures the audience builds for itself from radio,” she also thought that location shoots could enhance television viewers’ experience by allowing soap opera to “break the bonds that have held it to a studio for all these years.”
Getting back to my most memorable location shoot, it was in 1986, in a church on the Venetian island of Torcello, when Frannie Hughes finally came face-to-face with the mirror image she had first seen months before in London: her half-sister Sabrina, Kim’s rewritten miscarriage. Why, and of course, how something’s being done is at least as, if not more, important than simply what’s being done.
© 2010 Lynn Liccardo
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