This was originally posted on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on 27 January 2007.
While on the subject of soap operas, I thought I would point out a really interesting development on the soap opera General Hospital that shows just the kind of interesting television genre crossings (of sorts, in this case) that we've written about before. Michael Newman, who teaches film and media studies at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, recently directed my attention toward a post on theEntertainment Weekly Popwatch Blog by Abby West, following up on a story they wrote last year with the head writer of GH and the producer of the primetime series 24 giving their version of the other's show. Now, apparently, General Hospital is going to turn that fun exercise into action.
The plan is for General Hospital, during sweeps month, to enter into a 24-like plot, showing an explosion at a well-known hotel in town and then making the next 16 episodes the 16 hours before the explosion, so viewers can slowly learned what happened leading up to this event. In other words, more than two weeks of the show's programming is going to focus on telling the story of the events leading up to this explosion in real time, a la 24.
There is certainly a connection between these two shows. Although the connections aren't made often enough, the seriality of primetime shows bear a strong ancestry with the construction of daytime television narratives, as I've written about several times before. Yet, with all the hype about seriality in primetime, very few articles in tthe popular press or even in academic circles link this type of plot back to the long lineage of seriality on daytime.
Back in December, I wrote:
The problem is that, despite still having many million viewers, daytime television is considered on the periphery and almost seems like it doesn't even warrant discussion. How has daytime managed to thrive for more than 50 years with complexity as central to its development? Does the low production values and the stereotypes, the sheer volume of content and the fact that these shows often jump the shark and back several times, cause people to dismiss them?
Several of you interested in daytime have followed my previous two pieces about General Hospital's short-term storyline to bring back Laura and do a reuniting of Luke and Laura. My argument then was that the importance of legacy characters and remembering a show's history is that soaps should bring back their former viewers because they are the greatest chance in recruiting new viewers. I wroteback in November that "the only way soaps are going to build their audience back up is first to get a great number of those people who have watched at some point in their lives back into the fold. And, gasp, the majority of those people need not be in the target demographic. I'm talking about getting grandmas and middle-aged mothers and fathers back into the show, so they can get back to work as your grassroots marketers to the younger generations." And my followup post in December urged the creative forces marketing and writing these shows to think of soaps more as long-term plans than worrying about increasing the ratings from week to week or stealing viewers from another show.
I don't find this genre mixing idea, borrowing from a show like 24, to be a problem at all, but I don't think it's a cure-all, either. No short-term plan is. I think this story could be told really well, as long asGeneral Hospital does this real-time storyline while still emphasizing what soaps do best. The important thing to remember when crossing over these two forms of content is, as I wrote about earlier this month, that seriality is a format more than it is a genre. I wrote:
I think the same issue is happening with daytime television, which I continue to have problems with the way in which all these discussions of seriality overlook the nine shows on daytime that have used this format for years or even many decades in some cases. For soap operas, the problem is again a confusion with form and content, so that people start believing that these shows, because they use a serial form, are all a part of the same genre of content, which is not necessarily true. The problem is that even the people in the industry believe it at this point, so that dramas that would supposedly be set in the workplace--General Hospital; dramas about the rich and famous--The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful; dramas about the spectacular and the supernatural, such as Passions and Days of Our Lives; and shows about the real lives of regular people, like As the World Turns and One Life to Live seem to suddenly become not that dissimilar from each other, as the writers of shows themselves confuse the shows they are writing with each other, falling into this genre trap.
Should we compare Heroes and Grey's Anatomy? Of course, it doesn't hurt to, but are they fundamentally the same type of show? What connects The OC and 24? Seriality, of course, but are they of the same genre, really? What are the traditional markers of genre?
Oh, and by the way, in the EW piece, Abby concludes:
And for all of you out there looking down on us soap heads, take a cue from ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, who will be on the Feb. 2 episode of GH as a reporter covering the hostage situation. He's been a fan since he was five years old. "Let this be a lesson to all the ladies out there," he said. "There are men who love the soaps."
Smith and my husband are man enough to admit their serial love. How about you guys? Who'll admit they're stoked to see if GH can pull this off and keep the proper pacing?
I know I have no problem admitting my love for soaps, but I think fan reservations at this point are not directed toward the format but rather whether they think this storyline addresses the problems they see with the current GH storytelling. Fans comments include a lot of statements like the very first comment about whether the show can pull off the 24-inspired storyline, "This fan has serious reservations given what the last 5-6 months have been like!" Other fans guess that this will provide the show a chance to continue showcasing characters and storylines that they do not approve of, particularly in playing into the celebration of mob characters on the show, which has been a point of contention between various parts of the GH fan community for sometime.
Either way, I think the 24-like plot is just the type of things soaps could do well, real-time drama, but it all depends on the way it's told. Soaps should be able to do this with a character-driven emphasis that24 lacks, if soaps play into the power of their own histories and their connection to the audience. If soaps could tell a much less plot-driven real-time buildup for an event like this, I think it would play both to the strengths of borrowing from primetime while also playing up the strengths of daytime serial drama. Guess we'll see.