Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where Have All the Soap Operas Gone?

 (Erica Kane and Adam Chandler - 1984)

(Luke and Laura - 1981)

And then there were seven...

Back in college, we arranged our class schedules around our favorite soaps.  At the time, mine were all on ABC.  It didn't stop there.  When I worked in the corporate communications department of an insurance company, we had a television room that was packed at 1 o'clock with All My Children fans.  If you showed up a minute after one, you could forget about finding a seat.

(As the World Turns)

Today, the soaps are struggling to stay afloat.  Another bids adieu in the Fall.  I still can't believe As the World Turns will soon stop turning their cliffhanger stories, unless the fans find a miracle.   

(Morgan Freeman - Invictus)

This is hard to comprehend since 95 percent of our prime-time and movie stars began on soaps, and a few were just nominated for Academy Awards--George Clooney for Up in the Air and  Morgan Freeman for Invictus.

The talent is still there, it's the audience that has diminished. Our Generation Y are more interested in the reality shows on MTV, BET and E, than finding out whose zooming who on the soaps. 

(Jersey Shore)

Especially since they can get soap opera drama watching Judge Judy and Maury.  Let's see, you have your baby mama drama, your long-lost twins and of course, the garden variety cheaters.  

So what's a daytime drama to do?  Trim production costs any way they can.  Soap stars are agreeing to pay cuts to stay in production. A few are even bringing back popular characters from the 80s and 90s to give their soap a needed ratings boost.  

A few years ago, the popular couple Angie and Jesse Hubbard returned to Pine Valley and reunited with their son.  Of course, Angie married a Jesse clone during the 20 year interim and had a daughter when she thought he was dead.  

Now, Brooke English recently stopped by for an extended stay in Pine Valley to give Annie a run for Adam' Chandler's money.  I wouldn't be surprised if they made Annie her long-lost daughter. 

 (Blair and Kelly Cramer)

One Life to Live's Marty Saybrook returned a few years ago with her teenage son in tow, and Kelly, Dorian's niece has taken up residence again, not from where she left off several years ago.  She left with an infant, but didn't return with a pre-schooler.  Most likely the kid is away at boarding school.  Soap babies jump out of diapers and go straight to puberty in a few episodes.

And Lauren's dead nemesis Sheila of The Young and the Restless is alive for the 3rd or 4th time, but now her children are doing her evil work as she plays the puppet master.  

Last year, I wrote a bunch of soap scripts to train myself in daytime television writing.  First, I study the show by watching it at night on SOAPnet.  I pay close attention to the show's format and the weight of the scenes.  

I study the foreshadowing and the payoffs.  I research the character's background and study their personalities.  I write a sketch of each character.  I study the beats, the changes in the scenes.  Most importantly, I study the dialogue.  

I find out what motivates the character, what are their distinguishable traits, until I know the characters' dynamics with my eyes closed.  Researching old episodes helps with maintaining consistencies and in creating nicely layered story lines for new episodes. 

 (Luke and Laura)

You can't ignore a show's history.  For example, in General Hospital's current teen abuse story where Ethan, Luke Spencer's son, is falsely accused of beating Sonny's daughter, Kristina Davis--Luke's rape of Laura at the campus disco in the eighties can't help but re-surface.  

(General Hospital - Kristina Davis)

Like in life, a painful experience in our past can return during a challenge in the present, but how we handle this return defines who we are.

Now I'm at a point where I know every twist and turn of the studied soap.  So when I'm ready to write the dialogue, I simply wait for the characters to speak.  This original advice came from All My Children and General Hospital Scribe, Michelle Patrick.   And that's exactly what happens.

(All My Children)

When I finish studying the format, past and current story lines and dialogue, I'm ready to write an outline.  I watch the Cliffhanger Friday episode then write an outline based on that show for the Monday episode.  

First, I write the rough outline off the top of my head, without worrying about grammar or format.  When I'm satisfied, I write the final outline.  From that outline, I write the script.

I wish I had approached this field 15 years ago, but my head was in another writing field.  Though my timing is off, my passion for it isn't.  Sure, the market is extremely tight and the jobs are few, but it only takes one opportunity.  Fresh talent is always attractive to producers, you just have to show your best work.  

(Dramatic Dessert -This is a cake dress 
pink cake

So as I take my polished scripts to the next step, I feel like I'm on an archaeological dig where I'm digging into past ruins to find new gems for the future.  Daytime producers just might find a gem in an Average Joan with a good shovel.

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