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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Cult of Soap Opera

I remember being fresh from college and living in a tiny apartment that I shared with two roommates.  Everyday I would rush home from my entry level job to watch my favorite show.  It was my way of escaping and relaxing after a hard day’s work.  That show was the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the reruns which aired on FX to be exact.  Yes, I was rushing home to watch a rerun.  This is the way fans of cult television behave and this is what I think makes cult television marketable.  Shows such as Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Two and a Half Men were ratings darlings but nobody runs home to watch their reruns on a daily basis.

Cult shows are typically serials that not only draw their viewers in but give viewers the need to continue to watch to see what happens next.  Fans care what happens to the characters on these shows.  While they can focus on fantasy and science fiction elements, they will usually have a hint of relateblity to them that makes their audiences connect.  Soap operas are a form of this type of television.

Anyone who is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will tell you that it wasn’t just about staking vampires.  It was really about how high school is hell.  Many of the monsters and “big bads” that Buffy battle each week were merely metaphors for the teenage experience.  Of course those who didn’t watch, think it is just about a vampire slaying cheerleader.

Something simular can be said of soaps.  While on the surfaces they may seem to be nothing more than sex and scandal, they really are about our relationships and desires.  Instead of high school as hell, soaps are about how love can be hell and, of course, occasionally heaven.

Like their science fiction and fantasy counter parts, soaps are also appointment television.  Fans of the shows will make a point to have time to view these programs. Plus when fans turn the channel to these shows, they are actually watching them!  Nobody turns to a soap for the background noise.

This should appeal to advertisers and, according to a recent comment from ABC President of Entertainment Paul Lee, it does:

Lee says that soaps tend to rake in more money from advertisers. "We tend to be able to sell it more aggressively around the world because it's appointment television," he explains, noting that he began his career producing Brazilian and British soap operas. 

Lee’s comment was a surprise to many fans such as myself not because we disagreed but because this was certainly the opposite of what we have been told in the past.  It was very pleasant for a television executive to state what I have always thought was the obvious.

So why have fans of the ailing soap genre been told for so long that soaps don’t make money?  I wish I knew the answer that question.  All I can say is that some television executives just don’t appear to get it.  They don’t always seem to understand that when it comes to viewership, loyalty can be more important than quantity.  I hope that we can see this negative attitude towards soaps continue to change because with everything that is going on in the world today, we all need the escape.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

General Hospital - My Likes and Dislikes

The last 15 years or so have not been kind to the once beloved General Hospital (GH). At one point GH was at the top of it’s genre but now sadly it is struggling to stay on the air.  I blame this on a total lack of understanding of the audience by the formal creative team.  Now there is definitely plenty of blame to go around but I feel the the greatest weight of this rest on the shoulders of former head writer Bob Guza and former executive producer Jill Farren Phelps.  It was under their rein that GH starting being refereed to as General Mobster after all.  Too much focus was placed on the mobsters with nothing to balance it out.  In additional to this GH became hostile towards it’s female characters deeming it by many the most misogynistic soap on television. As Tristan Rogers posted on his website in an article entitled The Going of Guza“The underlying philosophy of GH had always been one of ‘hope.’ In this General Hospital there was none.”

Now I could go on about the damage that was done to GH and list off the many poor decision that were made but I won’t.  The point is that when Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati took over as GH's executive producer and head writer, they had a huge mess to clean up.  I don’t like everything that they have done but I am a lot happier with the direction of the show right now. When One Life To Live (OLTL) ended it had a balanced canvas with focus on family, friends, lovers, and how they all relate to each other.  I don’t want GH to become OLTL 2.0 but I do want it to be more like OLTL in this respect.  So, roughly six months later, how do I think they are doing?  Here are some of my likes, dislikes, and everything in between:


Anna Devane - Bringing back this character is probably the best decision that has been made so far.  She brings two much needed elements to GH - a good justice seeker to balance out the mobsters and a strong female lead.  Finola Hughes is also a wonderful soap actress and tons of fun to watch.  Anna is exactly what GH needed.

Anna-Luke-Tracy triangle - Luke is nothing for these gals to be fighting over and I think that is the point.  I don’t expect a great romance to come out of this.  That’s not what I like about this storyline.  I like the relatable elements that the story has for me as a viewer.  I think most women can relate to what is feels like when you fall for the wrong guy.  No matter how smart, attractive, and wonderful you are, you end up feeling stupid.  This is what happened to Tracy.  Jane Elliot turned in a great performance when Tracy’s love-goggles came off.  She made a fool out of herself for a guy who didn’t love her back and it hurt.  Meanwhile, Anna had jumped into Luke’s arms after having gone through a big loss.  Luke had been supportive and their are some feelings there but unfortunately not a lot of thought.  After hearing Tracy’s side of things she is definitely questioning if she wants to be involved with Luke.  Another thing I am enjoying about this storyline is that the over 50 cast members were allowed to be fun and sexy in it.  Anna's bedroom romp and Tracy's tongue slip were refreshing.

Heather Webber - Robin Mattson definitely knows how to play a villain not to mention a complete cuckoo.  She’s Annie Wilkes from Misery with a dash of Norman Bates’s mother.  Not only is she a riot to watch but she has a dangerous unpredictability to her that can make her seem pretty darn scary at times.  Mr. James Franco, this is how it’s done.

The addition of some good guys - When you have mobster verses mobster, the “good guys” are really just the whoever is the lesser of two evils.  Sonny and his coffee importing crew really needed some genuine good guys to butt heads with and the women of GH needed some non-mobsters to pair up with.  John McBain is a good addition to Port Charles because of this and I am actually enjoying him more on GH more than I did on OLTL.  I also like that we have characters such as Ewen, Patrick, and Steve who are getting some good airtime now.

Jackal & McCall - Watching Spinelli and Sam putting the pieces of the Heather Webber puzzle together over Chinese take-out is fun.  I’ve always enjoyed these type of adventures on soaps and I’m happy to see that Sam w/the help of Spinelli is getting close to figuring this out on her own.  It’s also particularly enjoyable because before beginning their new case, both Sam and Spinelli were given backbones.

Spinelli decided he had enough of Maxie’s mistreatment and told her he was done being her whipping boy.  The last creative team seemed to think good guy meant “whimp” in Spinelli’s case so I’m glad that is over.  It was a nice touch also when Spinelli risked getting a smack down from Todd in order for Sam to get safely out of Todd room.  See, guys can be gentlemen without having to pull out a gun!

Sam’s slowly being moved into the heroine archetype.  The transition was pretty rocky and the scenes between Jason and her were really hard to watch.  I did not enjoy watching a mob hit-man yell at his pregnant raped wife at all.  Her turning point came when she finally told Jason off and said all the things that fans were saying.  Kelly Monaco did a great job in that scene and I’m starting to really like Sam.  She still has a long way to go but I am enjoying the spunky PI a lot more than the mob wife.

Todd Manning -  I admit the main reason for my liking Todd is that I like the actor.  The character is also very complex and layer which makes him interesting to watch.  Todd’s not a good guy by any means but the difference is he knows he’s not the good guy.  The problem with GH’s anit-heros and mobsters is that they don’t seem to always realize they are bad guys.  Plus he adds a smarter foe for Sonny, some dark humor, and has great chemistry with the cast.

On the Fence:

The Baby Switch - I was not looking forward to this story line.  It is a dark and upsetting at times.  I can’t say that I completely hate it though for many reasons.  One is the acting.  The actors brought their A game to this story line and made me really feel for the characters.  Another thing I liked is that it is an umbrella story line that touches multiple characters in very different ways.  It isn’t center on one character.  I also like the writing.  Baby switches have been done before but this is smarter version.  Stuff such as the mother’s medical histories and the appearances of the babies were touched on.

The DID Story - I love Kelly Sullivan’s acting in this story line and Connie can be a riot.  However sometimes things can get a little campy and I don’t really like the idea of Connie having a long lost son.  I also don’t want Sonny to use violence as a way to deal with this but I have a feeling he is going to do just that.

The Mob Three - I like Maurice Benard, Steve Burton, and Laura Wright but I don’t always like the characters they play.  This is really the result of years of the show focusing too much on the mob and trying to play them as the romantic heroes instead of complex anti-heroes.  A lot of viewers wanted the mob to go away all together.  Instead the goal seems to be to try to make these characters likable again.  Carly has actually grown on me a lot.  I like her budding friendships with both Todd and Sam.  Laura Wright also has good chemistry with both Roger Howarth and Brandon Barash.  Sonny is being given a less mob focused story line w/Kate’s DID but he still needs a lot of growth.  I would have like to see him do a little jail time or something.  Jason has had the least about of moment and I would have really liked him to have woken up as Jason Q after his last operation.  I’m having trouble seeing why either Liz or Sam would love him.


Mob Princess - This may be one of those stories which I end up liking once I see where it is going but so far it’s just annoying.  NuKristina comes off as a brat.  Having your father go all mobster to get you into Yale is not really that great of a thing.  I could understand Kristina not wanting to be controlled and feeling embarrassed.  This is what the focus should be.  I can’t understand why she would want to drag her siblings and others into this though.  I don’t care how good Trey looks in a towel.

The Young Adult Scene - This has a lot of potential that isn’t being used.  Starr as a Disney pop princess isn’t interesting for me.  I like the badass that tells people not to call her girlie.   There was a missed opportunity to give Starr’s character some much needed movement when she was brought onto GH.  I would have liked for her go to medical school, get a pet snake, and tap into her inner trickster that she inherited from her parents.

Michael needs to actually get mad at his parents sometimes instead of having this unconditional loyalty.  He needs more depth.  Have him question whether Sonny and the mob are actually good guys.  Maybe have him spend some time with the Quartermaines.

Trey and Kristina are in that annoying stage where I can’t really relate to them or like them.  I would like it if Kristina’s crush turn out to be gay.  It would be an interesting story for GH to have and I would love to see Kristina’s reaction when she finds out she has been doing a horrible reality show to impress a guy who will never like her back.  This will also give Trey a story line other than being just a jerk.