Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Is Prime Time Doing It Better?

I've said on more than one occasion that viewers are getting their soap fix these days from prime time. That point has been driven home to me all week long.

On Sunday night, the fascinating introduction of Dave Williams on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES continued to reel me in. His story has impacted everyone on the canvas and I can't wait to find out what he's up to. The show moved ahead five years this season, which could have been a jumping the shark moment. But instead the series is reinvigorated. There is a wonderful mix of humor (Mrs. McCluskey leads the way), drama (Lynnette's sixteen year old son just impregnanted his best friend's mother who is getting beat up by her husband), mystery (Dave) and romance (Susan and Jackson). No daytime soap can seem to find this balance, usually going too dark for too long and focusing on one or two stories to the detriment of the show.

Last tonight I watched another master course in acting from Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Tami wanted to buy a bigger house Eric didn't believe they could afford. Their discussions, arguments and ultimately their resolution was so much more realistic than anything we see on daytime soaps these days. Jason Street's exit story had some holes (was it realistic he would get even an entry level job in New York?) but was full of so much heart and passion that they were easily overlooked. What my favorite soaps (ANOTHER WORLD, GUIDING LIGHT, ALL MY CHILDREN, DAYS OF OUR LIVES, etc) had when I was growing up was heart. That is severly lacking in daytime these days.

And then there's tonight's episode of UGLY BETTY. It's more of a comedy soap, but there are poignant moments that are some of the best of television. One of the side stories in this episode was about fourteen year old Justin and his new best friend, Randy. None of Justin's family has ever said that he was gay but it has been implied. The writers play it up and most fans assume it. Randy liked hanging out with Justin but when his friends at school made fun of their relationship, Randy dropped him in a cold way in front of everyone. It's a story we've seen play out before in many ways, but UGLY BETTY made it fresh and really tugged at the viewer's heartstrings. There were numerous moments from the episode that did the same.

That's all I'm asking from my daytime soaps in 2008 - make me feel something. And not just disgust and anger. I know ratings are down and budgets are tight. I don't expect exotic location shoots or the fanciest of sets anymore. But what I do expect are stories that balance the many emotions of life like on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, or have the heart of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, or make me care like UGLY BETTY. Writing a relatable story that entertains an audience for five days a week may not be easy, but it does require caring about your characters and about your viewers. In my mind, that should be a prerequisite for anyone working on a daytime soap today - to give a damn.

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS has been wonderful lately and the fallout from Katherine's "death" has given me hope for the future of that show. ONE LIFE TO LIVE has had some excellent moments after Marty finally learned the truth. But let's see them keep this up consistently. Not every episode can be a home run but it doesn't have to a strike out either.

And for those who want to make excuses that budgets are cut, actors are being let go and ratings are down, just take a look at FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. They're using the same taping technique as GUIDING LIGHT, have had to let actors go like DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and they are now airing on DirecTV with fewer viewers. But guess what? The show is better than ever. No more excuses. To Passanante, Kreizman, Bell, Carlivati, Guza and the rest - if you need to study the best of prime time and copy it, fine. But somebody please bring good storytelling back to daytime television. The genre is too valuable to let it fade away.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! I was thinking the same thing after watching the last episode of "Desperate Housewives." They hit the notes and play the beats. Characters interact, stories blend and intersect, and usually in a realistic way. History is remembered and respected and used to drive story. Characters are consistent in both flattering and unflattering ways, yet stories are not pointlessly repetitive.

    I get caught up in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and am left wanting more. I don't want to miss an episode. Even when I know or can predict what's going to happen, I still have to watch because the ride is so thrilling. The episodes are so dense, you have to pay attention or you'll miss a clue or something that's fun.

    I used to feel the same way about "Edge of Night," "All My Children" in the early 80s and early 90s, "One Life to Live" in the late 80s, and the latter days of "Loving." Anymore. . . eh.

    There's very little I've found compelling on daytime TV in a long time, although the new Billy and "Kathern"/Marge on "Young and the Restless," Luke on "As the World Turns," and recent "One Life to Live" kinda intrigue me. Thing is, it's not enough to make me watch every day or even watch whole episodes. I mainly view snippets online.