Saturday, November 22, 2008
Soap Operas Are Boring and Then They Die
Has the death knoll been rung for the entire genre of serialized drama? That's highly unlikely but change is afoot. NBC announced the departure of two of its veteran actors from Days of Our Lives. Wow, I never thought Marlena and John would get the axe. I must confess I haven't watched DOOL in years but my favorite plots were when Marlena got possessed by the Devil and the original Roman came back from the dead. You can download the possession episodes courtesy of Supernatural 66. They're a hoot to watch!
The 'stories' as they're affectionately called in the Black community, are losing viewers left and right. That year they were bumped off the air to show us the spectacle of OJ and the Trial of the Century showed that we could live without them, ha! Executives can't seem to figure out how to retain current viewership or attract a wider audience. Sounds just like the auto industry, still trying to do it the old way instead of being more efficient and paying each executive some fat salary. Well, I can tell you why for free. The plots are contrived, they don't follow continuity and your staff and casts are not diverse enough.
How many Black writers and producers are employed? How many Black actors are prominently featured with equal airtime with a major plot line? Only showing Latino actors who are as white-skinned as possible (doesn't stop Telemundo) to feed some unspoken 'quota' so the networks can claim diversity is far too obvious and a failure. Second and third-tier plots and having a side kick or only pairing PoC with other PoC is majorly lame and doesn't reflect society at large. The other trend is to pair the Latino actor with a white actor who almost always has blonde hair. It's usually the only type of interracial parings you'll see. Don't believe me? Take a look at the casts and get back to me.
The Young and the Restless has been the only soap to have a core Black family consistently, but I still feel they drop the ball when it comes to giving all the characters as good a story line as the white actors on the show - some of whom haven't been on as long but still get more screen time. Also, this is a pet peeve of mine but they can't seem to cast and retain actors who are somewhat racially ambiguous, thereby denying the audience the full representation of the beauty of all Black people. That's something ALL the soaps do - when they cast Black at all.
I used to watch One Life to Live during the years Renee Goldsberry was on portraying Evangeline, the lawyer with a heart of gold and held out hope because her role was expanded and they cast an actress as her sister. I was hoping for a viable, three-dimensional leading lady with a major story. Just when things were leaning towards a Todd/Evangeline coupling, the actress and ABC broke off negotiations for a contract renewal and she left.
Now I will point to one interesting casting choice on the Bold and the Beautiful when they chose an obviously Black male actor to play the long-lost son of Donna Logan. Also General Hospital has the Night Shift series with a zaftig Black actress and Billie Dee! Alas it only airs on Soap Net. I wasn't expecting that. The thing that really gets in my craw is how the actresses are all so bland looking and could be interchanged on so many shows. Almost without exception they're a size 2 now like the rest of Hollywood and it's just....boring and unrealistic.
When Genie Francis expresses concern about her appearance being an impediment to her acting on General Hospital because she's a bigger than a size 6 I think there's a problem with the industry. The audience doesn't care - they just want to see Luke and Laura around to have another adventure. I am tired of being distracted by frozen faces and emaciated bodies.
Finally this push to cast younger actors and incorporate them isn't really working. For one thing, they keep casting people who can't act! If I'm a veteran viewer I don't want to see some contrived teen angst plot with 20-something actors playing 15. This constant dumbing down and pandering to the audience is blatant and insulting. It was great writing and talent that drew an audience not gimmicks. Reality tv may be popular amongst a certain set but trying to turn soap operas into one with lower production values and limited investment will always backfire for those with higher standards.
Update: I know All My Children put out a media blitz to announce the return of Jessie and Angie, the first (and only) Black super couple. I was skeptical because I knew it was a ratings ploy from the get go. I wondered how long they'd stay on before someone was curiously written off for no reason. I also wanted to see if they got a long-term high profile story arc. ABC also added a few other younger Black actors and Mario Van Peebles (yum). Well....can I say color me disappointed - again? They had the chance to pull in a new viewer and blew it. I expect to be engaged, not just see a Brown face. Until they do something about that they deserve to keep losing what little audience they have left.
Also as one of my visitors so aptly put, Black people don't own these shows or a network so we're stuck in beggar mode. There was that unsuccessful bid of Bill Cosby's to buy NBC back in 1992 but he couldn't get the wealthiest Blacks to pool their resources together. Some may be mad at his methods, but at least Mr. Cosby was looking at the big picture. I wonder if Oprah will allocate a budget for a brand new soap on OWN when it launches next year?