Saturday, May 7, 2011

FLASHBACK: Tuned In; A Sampling of Good, Clean Angst 2002

Tuned In; A Sampling of Good, Clean Angst

By Lee Margulies
Los Angeles Times
February 2, 2002

If anyone has it easy when it comes to counter-programming the Super Bowl, it's public television: Everything they show qualifies as alternative fare to the annual football extravaganza.

Still, the folks at KCET have put some thought into it this year and come up with something that has all the requisite female appeal: a three-part documentary on soap operas.

"Never Ending Stories--How Soap Cleaned Up" (2:30-5 p.m. Sunday, KCET) explores the history, methodology and extraordinary influence of this often denigrated yet enduringly popular dramatic form.

There's just one catch. It's a British program, produced for the BBC in 1999.

The result is that it's divided about evenly between British and American programs and personnel, meaning U.S. viewers are going to find out a lot more about CORONATION STREET and EASTENDERS than most of them ever wanted to know.

Moreover, the American segments are severely limited in scope: The producers chose to focus all of their attention on three U.S. programs--the granddaddy of broadcast soaps, CBS' daytime drama GUIDING LIGHT, and two prime-time serials that are well known in England but--hello!--have been off the air for more than a decade: DALLAS and DYNASTY.

Still, the series covers a wide range of interesting topics, from how viewers often confuse the actors with their characters to the way the public's view of real life has been influenced by soap opera precepts. And while the producers acknowledge that the genre is often mocked, they don't go down that road themselves. In fact, much of the second installment is spent respectfully detailing the difficulties of writing serials.

"That's our challenge every week, every year: to tell the continuing story," says James Harmon Brown, one of the head writers of GUIDING LIGHT. "Because it can't end. It can never end."

Unless the ratings tank, that is.

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