Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Beauty of Soap Operas

In an industry where Showtime and HBO television series get all of the spotlight (with good reason), sometimes we forget how to appreciate all of the “bad” television there is out there. More specifically, I am talking about soap operas. Yes, you read correctly.

Now, I am not an avid soap opera watcher, in fact, I think I may have seen only one episode of General Hospital and that was because James Franco was on it—but I must admit that over the summer, I became obsessed with a Spanish soap, una novella called “La Casa de al Lado.”

This is not an entry about the differences between Spanish and English soap operas, but rather about soap operas themselves. With so much fantastic television out there, soap operas get the short end of the stick and don’t get as much recognition—particularly by us students who are preparing to enter this industry or some variation of it. I believe it’s important to take a close look at soap operas and see why sometimes they’re so good, and sometimes why they’re just so darn awful.

Here is what stands out to me:

1. One of the best things about soap operas, in fact the most admirable—is the short amount of time that it takes to put on the production of one episode. Usually, it’s one day per one episode. Now that is just crazy! When you think about it in context, it is quite impressive. After all, how long does it take us to shoot a scene that is merely five minutes?

This creates an atmosphere of constant pressure because of the lack of time. This is the reason that a lot of soap operas aren't that visually exciting or impressive. A lot of their scenes are shot once, using three cameras so the lighting has to be able to work for all three angles simultaneously. Also as a result of the quick production time, the settings aren't always as believable as they could be if it were a production on a larger budget. Take a look below at the hospital scene and awful car crash in La Casa de al Lado.

2. The actors on soaps of course may not be the most groundbreaking actors to ever have been on television, but, they are very good at what they do. Since soaps have such a short production time, the actors are usually in the position of having to memorize their lines in an incredibly short amount of time-sometimes a day before the actual episode or scene is shot. This presents a huge challenge to the actors and it is highly respectable that they take their craft so seriously. After all, how many times do we hear of “serious” actors in Hollywood showing up to sets and not having their lines memorized?

Also, soaps feature up and coming actors quite frequently, usually giving a completely new actor their first role. Many times, great actors have had their start acting in a soap opera. Some examples include: Demi Moore who worked on General Hospital, Meg Ryan (As the World Turns), Christopher Reeve (Love of Life) and Susan Sarandon (A World Apart) – all of these actors have had successful careers after their initial soap-spot. They are just a few of many.

3. The best aspect of soap operas in my opinion is the writing (yes, I really did just write that.) Now, let me explain myself. When I say writing, I am well aware that there is far better writing on television than what ends up on One Life to Live, but that’s not my point. Soap opera have absolutely no limitations. None whatsoever. There is nothing impossible within the realms of a soap opera. Characters can die and come back from the dead because in fact, they were never really dead at all. Characters have shady pasts and can end up being evil even when they’ve been pretending to be good. It must be pretty fun to work in a writers room for a soap opera. Anything you suggest or think of can actually happen.

Granted, not much of it might logically make sense but that’s why it’s fun—it’s creative.

Like I mentioned before, I do not watch soap operas, however, I think it’s important to take a look at the shows that we truly admire and the kind of series that we don’t because we can learn a lot from both. Soap operas are extremely popular all over the world, with even their own award shows (Daytime Emmys). They last for years, even decades so even if it’s not something that you ever want to get into, it’s still interesting to know their production process.

1 comment:

  1. In the US they are called "soap operas" because the early radio shows that broadcasted these "serials" were financed by soap manufacturers ( Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive). So they actually have their early beginnings in radio.

    Later on, the concept extended to film and later television. BTW you probably know that Ithaca is one of the birthplaces of serials in film, when they were called "cliffhangers".

    An example of one of those early serials is The Exploits of Elaine, shot at the Whartons Studios in Cayuga Lake, following the success of The Perils of Pauline, a 20 episode 1914 serial. This last one was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey when the center of the film world had not yet moved to Hollywood.

    Although soap operas have somewhat declined in viewership in the US, they are probably the most successful form of entertainment in the rest of the world, so I agree with Elizabeth that we must pay attention to them, if at least to learn from their mistakes but also their achievements.

    One of the most popular latin american soap operas of recent times was of course the Colombian Yo Soy Betty La Fea which was remade (as all successful foreign films are) in the US as Ugly Betty. In the US it did not have the same impact, I believe because it actually broke the paradigm that main characters must be "beautiful" according to what the media considers that to be.

    Betty La Fea was remade in 18 countries around the world, including China, India, Russia, Brazil etc. which just shows the power the original story and plot line had for very different cultures.