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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cliche and Over-Worked Plots In television soaps

In my last post I managed to hint at a subject which intrigues me a great deal and that is the subject of cliche, nowhere more prevalent than in the area of films and television soaps. If you watch soaps on television you will no doubt be aware of the over-use of certain story lines, stereotypes etc. I cannot actually see what the attraction of soaps is, although  in the past I have been caught up in the long-running story lines of soaps such as Brookside (long since cancelled), Emmerdale, EastEnders, Coronation Street and the only radio soap left, The Archers. Admittedly, it has to be said, it must be extremely hard to keep a soap going for 52 weeks of a year, and there must be times when there is nothing much happening as regards plot. But then there are big stories that are supposed to hook the viewer, usually at peak times of the year, most notably at Christmas. The cliche of the big Christmas 'reveal' around the dinner table in EastEnders, Den giving Angie the divorce papers in EastEnders was during a Christmas episode and consequently the rating soared to record levels. Some long-running soap story lines do 'hook' the audience, for example the Trevor Jordache 'body under the patio' in Brookside which ran and ran and was a definite 'hook' (I have to admit I was caught up in it during the 1990's.)

It has often intrigued me about soap and that is, why do the characters live and work in such a small area, i.e. a small northern backstreet,  an east-end square that  is run-down, etc etc and not only live and work there, but form relationships with one another in such a small area, why do they never seem to do what the rest of us do and not move away from such a small area?  I know, you're thinking to yourself as you read this, "well, it's not real. It is drama, and it isn't supposed to be real." But that doesn't excuse the fact that it doesn't bear any resemblance to how the 'real' world acts and behaves so we can at least identify with what we're watching. For example, why is it they never seem to move away from that little closed world as the rest of the world does? Some do seem to go outside the confines of this small world, but when they do they never seem to return or are forgotten. Perhaps it's because of the soap format, the restrictions of the soap 'form' because if they do the soap can't work. In that respect I find it so boring, so depressing and unimaginative. I suppose the story lines have to work within such a restrictive format because it is an open-ended form of drama, because it is expected to run several time a week, for 52 weeks of the year. For me, I have to say I prefer something which ties up within one episode or over a set number of episodes. We rarely get single dramas or plays on television as we used to have in the 1960's or '70, with such strands as 'Play of the Month', 'The Wednesday Play', 'Play For Today' or 'Armchair Theatre.' It's a pity that everything seems to fit into a series slot, either crime, mystery, who-done-it, medical, etc etc. There's nowhere to go for a 'one-off' story. The BBC have done daytime drama series, such as 'Moving On' which has a sort of theme, but all the stories are told over a 45-minute running time and don't relate one to the other with stories overlapping or having returning characters. A bit like short stories in the printed form as opposed to long-form writing with, say, novels.

Why do soaps get such high ratings? Could it be that it's actually a habit-forming sort of drama. Soaps are on several times a week and at the same time. Also, people are drawn to the gossipy element, everyone love to 'find out' the latest bit of juicy gossip, which is always carried by the tabloid newspapers. Soap seems to sell newspapers so it's a sort of cyclical thing, soaps drive sales, the audience for soaps soar and round and round it goes.

I do seem to have wandered off the topic of cliche, but never mind. Once I get going on a subject such as this it is always so easy to get onto another area. I'm just interested in why people get so hooked on soap, unfortunately they don't have much else on that they can get their teeth into. Soaps seem to make good topics for the tabloids whenever they use social issues as the basis for story lines. It was usually such playwrights such as Dennis Potter, Mike Leigh and all those who wrote for the BBC series such as 'Play For Today' and 'The Wednesday Play' which used such subjects as homelessness which made those plays so memorable.

EastEnders and Coronation Street are one big cliche without going into too much detail. Corrie is stuck in some sort of late '50's early 60's time warp.  EastEnders is stuck in a sort of 1980's time warp. Do people still live in backstreets like that? Wouldn't that area have been bought up by developers and been bulldozed long ago and been replaced with a retail park, modern houses and business premises? As for EastEnders, can someone please explain how it is no one in Albert Square owns a washing machine? And from experience I have used quite a few laundrettes, but the one near Albert Square has staff who DO YOUR WASHING FOR YOU and the place looks dirty and uncared-for and would most certainly put off customers. Why, whenever the writers want to kill off a character or characters do they have someone run into or run over by a car, when there are surely no more than half a dozen cars in the Square and that person just happens to walk into a car when there are no other cars about and there's no through-traffic? Ludicrous and silly, to say the least. How is it so many of he EastEnders characters can afford to spend so much time in the Vic pub (the same can be said of Corrie in the Rover's and Emmerdale in the Woolpack.) and they drink excessive amounts of alcohol yet can still stand up straight and walk in a straight line. Most people would have permanent hang-overs and be falling all over the place. No one seems to have a job that would earn them enough to be able to afford to buy the homes they live in. Most of the houses in that area of London would be worth far more than they could afford.

I could go on. I may return to this subject in future posts.
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