Soap Operas vs. Primetime Dramas
Posted by clax10 on February 20, 2008
*ahem* So yeah..I guess this is my first post…
Firstly, I just want to mention how intriguing this class has become for me! I was sure that something like soap operas wasn’t going to attract my attention as much as it has, but to my surprise, I stand corrected! I think my bar of *expectation* out of soap operas keeps raising with each and every week…
But enough rambling..on to the soap analyzations!!
I believe the definition of a soap opera is constantly changing with each and every year of new breakthroughs in the “rules of soaps” But I still believe that despite the evolution of soap operas, there is a pretty clear barrier that separates it from the so-called “primetime soap operas” or just a popular television drama:
1) Frankly, soaps are not cheerful television. As mentioned in Modleski’s piece..(or was it the Newcomb?…eep) soaps are very dark and essentially revolve around misery and detrimental occurrences within the plot. In fact, it seems the writers can never “lighten-up” on the seriousness and dramatics that soap characters must endure. On the other hand, even the most serious of primetime dramas usually are dark comedies, just to offset the grim nature of the plot. For instance, shows such as Desperate Housewives or even Grey’s Anatomy, often implement comic relief to brighten things up when things get grim. Now, don’t get me wrong, soaps use comic relief very well too, but not in the extent that primetime soaps do. Furthermore, seldom does the viewer have a hearty laugh while watching soaps. (Unless, of course, you have a twisted sense of humor that kicks in watching others wallow in misery as they find themselves in one crazy predicament after the other) Contrarily, primetime soaps/dramas use comedy to their advantage, and usually attracts the viewer just as much as the dramatics do.
2) Since soaps are never-ending and air so frequently, if a newcomer to the series seeks to “jump-in” it’s not difficult. Some of the longest running soaps such as Guiding Light and ATWT have been running for decades now. It would be nearly impossible for anyone to have seen EVERY SINGLE EPISODE AIRED from day one. It’s just unlikely and probably very difficult to accomplish. In addition to their long running status (and unlike primetime shows) soaps do not have seasons or any clear boundaries of start and finish; they air year around. This could make it very difficult for new viewers of the show to gain a sense of what is going on, as well as a desire to get into the show (for having missed decades of episodes). As a solution to this, soaps have to stagger multiple plotlines at once, jumping between them fairly quickly. This slows the progression of each sub plot. By doing so, the show is able to build even more intrigue by sometimes weaving two seemingly unrelated stories together, forming a new plot….in possibly a new direction. The plots also must be somewhat easy to follow, and the characters often have to explain a lot of the past and background interactions in order to aid new viewers on the story. Virtually, every show aired has to be treated almost as a “pilot episode” just for the sake of new viewers that want in on soap. Primetime shows, as mentioned previously, have defined beginnings and endings (seasons) and often times a viewer has to start from the beginning to catch every detail. Many times shows such as LOST or Desperate Housewives have brief recaps at the start of each episode, but that is all. Soaps usually rely the recapping upon the dialogues of the characters.
3) This point is more opinion based than the previous two, but I still feel that holds much validity in this comparison. I feel that in order to be on TV, one has to have some level of aesthetic that is *pleasing* to the audience’s eye. (To be frank, no one wants to look at ugly people on TV) It sounds extremely shallow, but what I’m getting at is that many soap stars have to be glamorous in order to capture the for which the show is aiming. The viewer base of a soap opera is also much different from many primetime shows. This fact is dependent on which primetime drama you are speaking of, but I’m sure it holds for a substantial amount of the primtime dramas on TV now. For this reason, soaps have to be glamorous. They have to portray an image of beauty and eliteness, at least when it comes to aesthetics. Shows such as LOST where the survivors of a plane crash have spent 100 days desserted island, the pristine and beautiful nature of the characters is not preserved. (it just can’t be in order for the show to be realistic) But the character development is much more independent from aesthetics in dramas than in soaps. (at least IMO)…which brings me to my last point.
4) Soaps are HIGHLY unrealistic. I could write an entire blog entry on this point, but I’ll condense it for times sake. There have been countless time manipulation and action sequences in ATWT that made me just want to tilt my head to the side, squint and say “HUH?!” Soap plots, just aren’t real, but they aren’t supposed to be. That is the beauty of soap operas. It’s not about the “how” and the schematics of characters managing to carry out each action doing it in a realistic manner. I’ts more about the “what” and the “why,” or rather, the overall scheme of the plot. This IMO is one of the largest differences between primetime TV and soap operas. Their focuses on delivering a great production function upon two different wavelengths.
This is just a few of probably COUNTLESS reasons why soap operas thrive despite being different from primetime television. One could even argue that primetime television is ephemeral while soaps are everlasting for a reason. Why do you think that is? Hopefully this semester I will find out! 🙂