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? 
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8 comments:

Khadija said...

Hello there, Faith!

{excited waving}

I figured that I'd stop by to see what was going on at your place. I'm happy I did!

Back to the topic at hand: I was sitting in a waiting room about 6 months ago, and discovered that the Black couple from 20+ years ago is back on All My Children (Jesse and Angie). I haven't watched All My Children (or any other soap) since I was in college 20+ years ago.

Later on, I read an interview with the actor that plays Jesse and he was talking about the lack of diversity on the show during the 20+ years since he had last been on it. The actor expressed some mild (feigned) surprise that the show's producers would let it get so...shall I say, monochromatic. [Yes, he was being diplomatic. He's a working actor. He knows what the real deal is.]

One thing I have to give Latinos credit for is that: as racist as their Telemundo, etc. networks are [only the Whitest of the White need apply to be on-camera], the language issue ensures that there is a channel devoted to them in every (mid-sized & larger) US city tv market.

Black folks are still scrambling for scraps on White-owned networks & White-produced shows. God blesses the child that's got his own.

Peace, blessings,and solidarity.

Faith said...

Hey Khadija,

Thanks for visiting my little spot in the blogosphere. You make a good point. We want full representation of ourselves but we don't control anything and are still relying on others to do the right thing. They of course don't and a lot of us are willing to settle for sub-standard images rather than nothing at all. Though I think nothing would be better than 24/7 coonery. But there's the issue of previous racism that got in the way coupled with lack of vision we still have today. I'm thinking if Barack planned his Presidential run for 2-3 decades in advance and made measured choices based on that end goal, why can't somebody decide they want to own a Network and do it. Somebody besides Oprah.

Khadija said...

Hi, Faith!

It's an interesting question. I suspect there might be more to it than the previous racism & our continued lack of vision. It seems to me that the amount of ambition that a Black person would need to own a network precludes the amount of altruism needed to do it right.

I think Oprah is willing to do certain things that are right, but generally not at the expense of alienating the mostly White female audience that made her success possible.

Most of the Black folks that I've encountered with that amount of ambition usually have the ethical scruples of a crack dealer. [Which is how we end up with things like the Black Exploitation Network.] There are NO considerations other than whatever will give them the most loot.

So far, the bulk of Black folks' collective consumer choices ("Soul Plane" instead of "The Five Heartbeats," etc.) have demonstrated that showcasing Black dignity will NOT generate the most loot.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith said...

But Oprah did stick her neck out in endorsing Barack. I don't know if she'll feel compelled to do something else that would potentially alienate her white viewers, but I don't think she'll hesitate if necessary. I wrote an earlier post about Oprah inviting Gloria Steinem on and (overly praising imo) her and contrasting that with the debate between Steinem and Melissa Harris Lacewell. My mother told me that Oprah was probably trying to reach out to her and Steinem to Oprah after the contentiousness of the primaries. My question was why should Black women care about Steinem or other white women who were not willing to be our allies? You have a point about what Black people choose to consume. The Five Heartbeats is one of my favorites and soooo good!

Soaprah said...

Hi:

I cover soap operas at Examiner.com, and I was wondering if I could post a link to this article. I totally enjoyed your comments. You can post back here if it's okay or e-mail me at Soaprah@gmail.com.

Thanks for letting me intrude and do keep writing!

Faith said...

Welcome Soaprah,

I sent you a direct email, but yes feel free to cross-post and link away! When is your next article being published? Thanks for the kind words.

pjazzypar said...

Hey Faith,

I just wandered over from "Black Women Blow the Trumpet" and thought I would add my two cent on soaps. I have a long history of viewing the genre (remember the half hour format)? I had not watched in year, but became intrigued when I learned that Angie and Jessie were on board to reappear on AMC. I began watching for that purpose and while they appear to represent real people, the bulk of what I see is the size two diva.

What is Khadija complaining about, we have BET (LOL). But seriously TV One is black owned and operated broadcasting conglomerate, the problem is not all subsidiaries, markets, or cable providers carry the network.

By the way, love your blog!

Faith said...

Hi PJazzy,

TV One is owned by RadioOne and they just lost $300M and have downgraded by Arbitron so the company is in trouble. It's also on the top-tier cable package and honestly I am not paying $136/month for cable. The costs are out of control and I just refuse. Plus they don't do much if any original programming. Their website is atrocious and wasn't updated for months at a time either. I was surprised by how shoddy it was packaged. We'll see what happens. Thanks for visiting!! Feel free to sign up for email alerts through Feedburner.