where the writers are
what do these shows have in common…

besides being “brilliant, but cancelled?”

ABC

Eli Stone

Dirty Sexy Money

Homefront

CBS

Joan of Arcadia

Brooklyn Bridge

NBC

American Dreams

Fox

Lone Star

WB

Jack and Bobby

CB

Privileged

An eclectic and idiosyncratic list to be sure, and in some cases, going back more than a few years, these are some of the primetime shows I believe contained the essential attributes of the early daytime soaps – which is to say, before General Hospital’s Luke and Laura phenomenon shifted the tectonic plates beneath soap opera.

There are a handful of shows currently on the air that embody these attributes, at least for me – Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Men of a Certain Age and Life UneXpected.  But with FNL in its fifth and final season, and the future of LUX in serious doubt, what I wrote last year is taking on a new urgency:

As storytelling moves into the digital age, programming will transcend the "attracting the right demographic," concept to which daytime programmers at the networks have been so slavishly and damagingly devoted, and it will become more important to understand, at the elemental, even molecular, level, what attracts viewers to a certain kind of storytelling.

So what are these attributes? Not the objectively observable elements that have been well documented in the literature, but the emotional, more subjective, and difficult to articulate, elements.

Here’s what I’ve come up with, so far. In no particular order:

  1. Viewers are able to see characters’ strengths and weaknesses, rather than being told.
  2. Characters’ actions have real consequences that don’t just magically disappear.
  3. Characters exist in a reality that most viewers recognize.
  4. While there may be a single family at the center of the show – the Taylors (Friday Night Lights), Pryors (American Dreams), McCallisters (Jack and Bobby)  it exists within a community.
  5. If there is a title character – Joan of Arcadia, Eli Stone – s/he is surrounded by an ensemble of fully-developed, multi-generational characters.
  6. Conflict is not superficial, but grows out of characters’ emotional complexity.
  7. While viewers expect characters to behave in ways consistent with what they’ve been shown about them, characters are also able to learn from their experience and grow and change.

Email me yours at soap.decoder@comcast.net. And if you think of any shows I’ve missed, let me know.

 

© 2010 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

 

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Lynn, I'm reading The War For Late Night right ow...

and the network chiefs keep on complaining how the 10 PM slots were not working for dramas. It takes all I can to say "Well maybe it's because you don't give the shows time to develop and find an audience!"
For instance I watched last week a couple of old episodes of St. Elsewhere. I had forgotten the fantastic writing and beautiful acting by Ed Flanders, David Morse, William Daniels, Denzel Washington and guest star Edward Hermann. The episodes dealt with St. Eligus' 50th anniversary and told mostly in flashback. It was so well done and then I realized if St. Elsewhere were on today it would've had no chance because it didn't have a "sexiness factor" and gosh darn it, why did Mark Harmon leave? He was a definite Dr. McDreamy!

Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room