Have Soap Operas Lost Their Credibility?
by Dan J Kroll
Posted Saturday, August 12, 2000 7:45:52 PM
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Are Soap Operas Believable?

To paraphrase a famous quotation, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. If you believe that philosophy, you'll believe that you'll continue to make the same mistakes over and over unless you understand the scope of what made you make the mistake in the first place.

But is it possible to actually rewrite history?

In the real world, there's very little opportunity to rewrite history and correct mistakes that are made. For most people, the best that they can hope for it to right their wrongs. The world of soap operas, however, is markedly different; the writers are rewriting history all the time.

In just the past few years, history has been written, rewritten and re-rewritten over and over again. Two ABC soap operas, General Hospital and All My Children, brought back characters from the dead --- characters that died in other's arms. General Hospital's Roy DiLucca (played by A Martinez) and All My Children's Mike Roy (played by Nicholas Surovy) were both shot and killed, though later storylines would reveal that neither had really died.

For soap opera purists, these rewritings are often frustrating. Some, like Soap Opera Central reader Kim Carlsson, say that these revisions "compromise the integrity of the genre."

According to Carlsson and others who share her viewpoint, the way that writers rework storylines, seemingly on a whim, causes exiting soap opera viewers to lose interest and alienates non-soap viewers who mock the habitual "back from the dead" storylines.

But for every critic, there seems to be someone who doesn't mind the twists and turns.

One-in-three soap fans feel that believable storylines are the most important aspect of good soaps.

Jennifer Dodson, another regular Soap Opera Central user, admits that she enjoys watching the writers work their magic. "[The writers] always know how to keep things interesting," Dodson comments with a slight laugh. "Sure, some things are totally unbelievable, but does anyone question the authenticity of motion picture shoot-'em-ups?"

A recent Soap Opera Central poll found that one-in-three soap fans feel that believable storylines are the most important ingredient for a good soap opera. That response received more than three times the number of votes received by the "love and romance" response.

At a time when the ratings are tumbling on a regular basis, soap operas are trying harder than ever to win back their audience. Recently, an ABC executive admitted that the network was toying with the idea of writing storylines that played out over a shorter period of time. The same executive, however, failed to comment on what the network was doing to address fans' concerns that storylines had drifted from believability.

The question that remains on many minds is how a show like Days of our Lives can continually produce unconventional storylines and still remain near the top of the ratings heap. It was only a matter of a few years ago that Days featured Marlena Evans' (played by Deidre Hall) possession by the devil. There's talk now that the writers are developing a haunted house storyline.

Days' sister soap on NBC, Passions, also features a mixture of atypical soap storylines. One of the soap's main characters is a doll that comes to life. There are also numerous storylines revolving around magic and other trickery.

Both NBC soaps do garner a younger viewing audience than some of the other, more established soaps. Perhaps these younger viewers are less likely to question the credibility of satanic possessions and characters that rise from the dead.

The more outrageous the storyline,
the higher the ratings... sometimes.

A few years back, Guiding Light drew both acclaim and backlash for its decision to feature a cloning storyline. In the saga, Reva Shayne (played by Kim Zimmer) was cloned. That clone was then given special aging drugs to make the infant clone rapidly age. In a matter of a few weeks, Reva had an identical twin named Dolly. Fans were outraged by the science fiction storyline, but the show's ratings soared through the roof.

Through all this criticism, daytime television remains one of the most prominent forums for addressing social issues. In 1973, All My Children's Erica Kane (played by Susan Lucci) underwent television's first legal abortion --- just a matter of weeks after the Supreme Court weighed in on Roe v. Wade. For the better part of a decade, General Hospital's Nurses' Ball has brought awareness to AIDS education and prevention. Just this year, CBS's Guiding Light featured a storyline about cochlear implants and their use in restoring hearing in the deaf. The storyline closely mirrored a real-life operation undergone by Amy Ecklund, whose character, Abigail Bauer underwent a fictional version of the operation on the show. At a time when primetime television has come under fire for failing to show a variety of ethnicity in its programming, The Young and the Restless continues to display prominent African-American performers in its front burner storylines and several shows, such as Passions, One Life to Live and Guiding Light showcase Latino performers. All My Children's provocative storyline regarding a character's inner-conflict with his homosexuality helped earn the show a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1998.

Television is a powerful medium, one that can do equal harm and good. For all its flaws, daytime television has helped to promote positive messages for nearly five decades. As with anything, viewers need to allow the soaps to exercise a little poetic license and take a few liberties while keeping us entertained. At the same time, though, fans should continue to demand the quality writing and storylines. In the end, all viewers need to remember that, above all else, soap operas provide entertainment for millions of viewers daily and it's this bond that's brought us all together at this site.

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