Are soaps pointless TV?

Millions watch them, and follow the characters avidly, but have soaps got a purpose?


A long while ago I decided that I would not watch soaps any longer. Why? Because their entire premise, to go on indefinitely, makes them pointless in the extreme. With a film or play, or even a series there is a sense of start, middle and end. Even if not all the characters we like survive the story, there’s a degree of closure at some point – they are finite.

But a soap has no ending, unless like Brookside we stop watching, it’s intended to go on indefinitely reaching no objective or end. They’re the televisual version of PI, the mathematical number that just keeps on going.

Now, I know there are some people reading this site who will invest time in soap and enjoy watching them, but can anyone tell me what the point actually is? Given that it was a book for example, is there any point in starting it knowing that you’ll never finish it, ever?

Occasionally, when I’m in the pub, people around me start a conversation about a soap, and a couple of things strike me about what they talk about. The first is that some people, and I’m not sure what the physiological reasoning is here, talk about Soap characters in a manner that suggests they are ‘real’ people!

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‘I wish she could be happy!’. Err…I’m sorry? She might be playing a women on the edge of sanity, propelled through an ever implausible list of personal trauma, but in reality she’s a highly paid actress who’s bought a new house on the back of the last year’s efforts. So worrying about her happiness makes no sense whatsoever; it’s like hoping Santa has enough help this year to make all the toys! And when her character is finally killed off, which unless they die for real they inevitably are, she’ll appear in other things or retire to the Algarve. Wouldn’t it be better is people’s thoughts and concerns where directed onto actual people, than fictional ones?

The other somewhat quirky thing I’ve realised is that when you start asking questions about the events portrayed in soap, you’re drawn to conclude that there isn’t anything believable in any of the plots, and the same ideas circulate, again and again.

The calculations made by soap production companies seem simple, if not cynical. Based on what I’ve been told, here are some simple tactics for keeping people watching a soap:

– At the end of the summer, when the ratings are low have a wedding between two popular characters. Then let them divorce in the spring!

– If a character has either explored all the plot avenues you intended for them, have them brutally killed, preferably by a new ‘evil’ character or by ‘tragic circumstances’.

– If the actor/actress refuses to shoot a death scene, have them called away to Australia or some remote location, and then only communicate by phone until people forget about them. Use flashbacks if you must refer to them.

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– Turn a long standing, and previously stable character into a psychopath.

– If people are entirely bored with your show, have a massive incident with multiple fatalities! The more you kill, the bigger the audience! Younger stars are cheaper and moan less, perfect to replace the old ones that get the chop!

– Lost for ideas? Go back five or ten years and repeat entirely the same events on a different person, or even the same person, it doesn’t matter.

– Pump ratings with evil twins, mistaken identity, secret relationships, life-threatening illness, jealous partners, comatose characters, alien invasion or an unexpected lottery win.

– Never, ever consider what you’d put in the last episode.