In this special edition of Editor Reports our boss Doug Lambert reflects on the world of soap opera across 2010.
The past year has been an important one for many soaps not just here in the UK but also in Australia and America and several celebrated landmark anniversaries while others aired for the very last time; As The World Turns in the states and The Bill here in the UK. We take a look back on 2010 in the world of soap; a year of big anniversaries but also big departures.
Okay arguably The Bill is not a soap – although it did embrace the soap format in the early 2000’s – but we’ve included in this review none the less because it ties in with other big departures of the year.
We take a look back on 2010 in the world of soap; a year of big anniversaries but also big departures.
The first anniversary of the year to be celebrated was the 40th year on-air for the ABC daytime soap, All My Children. The soap, set in Pine Valley, was created by Agnes Nixon for the broadcaster who had also created fellow daytime soap One Life to Live for ABC two years previous (it’s still on-air as well). The two soaps, along with ABC’s other daytime soap General Hospital, has featured a fair few crossover plots/storylines over the past 40 years.
The 40th anniversary of All My Children was marked behind the scenes between a move in production. For 39 years the soap had been produced in New York but ABC decided to shift AMC to Los Angeles to allow for filming in HD to begin and for bigger studios. As AMC moved out of its New York studios sister soap One Life to Live moved in; also gaining larger studios than it had previously enjoyed. On-screen the 40th anniversary was marked with a special episode structured in the style of a documentary which featured characters – some departed – reflecting on past events. The episode was the last to feature actor James Mitchell in his role of Palmer Cortlandt who died two weeks after the episodes broadcast.
In February EastEnders celebrated its 25th anniversary with the soap’s first ever live episode. The half-hour edition of the soap was the climax to the long-running murder mystery storyline, Who Killed Archie Mitchell? With most of the cast having reason to murder the Mitchell patriarch speculation was rife as to whom had done the dirty deed and in the closing moments of the live episode it was revealed that Stacey Branning (Lacey Turner) was the culprit. Moments before her husband Bradley (Charlie Clements) had fallen to his death from the top of the Queen Vic. In the week leading up to the big live episode former cast members Lindsey Coulson, Natalie Cassidy and Dean Gaffney reprised their respective roles as Bianca (Patsy Palmer) and Ricky (Sid Owen) got married – again!
Later in the year long-standing cast member Barbara Windsor bowed as landlady Peggy Mitchell after 17 years on EastEnders. Peggy left Walford after her beloved Queen Vic burnt down because of troubled son Phil (Steve McFadden). The soap also welcomed the return of fan favourites Kat (Jessie Wallace) and Alfie Moon (Shane Richie) after an absence of five years. New producer Bryan Kirkwood, who took over from Diederick Santer, is continuing to make his mark on the soap.
In February this year American soap General Hospital passed the 12,000 episode mark – an impressive feat. The medical soap, which airs on ABC, was launched in 1963 and was created by Frank and Doris Hursley and in the 1980s was at its peak. Since then, like all other daytime soaps in America, its ratings have declined and it no longer enjoys quite the popularity it once commanded. Over the years several spin-offs from General Hospital have been tested such as The Young Marrieds (1964 – 1966), Port Charles (1997 to 2003) and General Hospital: Night Shift (2007 to 2008). The 12,000 episode was marked by the introduction of a new setting of opening titles.
March of this year saw BBC One’s daytime soap Doctors celebrate its 10th anniversary – next year it will celebrate 2000 episodes. To mark the anniversary the BBC produced a Decade of Doctors mini-documentaries which aired across the week and saw previous cast members such as Christopher Timothy discuss the appeal and early years of the daytime soap.
Also in March Australian soap Neighbours marked its 25th anniversary on-air in a year when behind-the-scenes issues dominated the headlines. For what some should have been a year to celebrate for the soap turned into something of a nightmare with its 25th anniversary and 6000th episode dominated by headlines about its ratings and cast departures. The 25th anniversary itself saw the introduction of new opening titles which were more akin to previous versions; the pool party with the residents of Ramsay Street all gathered. The 6000th episode saw Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) fall victim to a mystery assailant. The soap has also introduced its first regular gay character in the form of Chris Pappas (James Mason).
However, while ratings in the UK have risen to highs of 1.6 million on Channel Five in Australia it hasn’t been the same story. The ratings have continued to fall, on some occasions to under 400,000 viewers, and it has since emerged the soap will leave Channel Ten. Instead Neighbours will air on the soon-to-be-launched digital channel Eleven. What this means for the future of the soap isn’t clear but its ratings have prompted its departure from Channel Ten and they are unlikely to improve on Eleven.
The very end of August saw a television legend end in the UK – police drama The Bill. The London based cop-show had been on ITV since 1983 and, in all that time, had been a firm fixture of the schedules. In its early years The Bill was a drama produced in seasons but in 1988 producers at Thames Television turned it into a weekly series with half hour episodes – the format is fondly remembered for. The 1990s was probably when The Bill was at its height with the 30 minute episodes just the right tonic for audiences and fan favourites such as Frank Burnside, Bob Cryer and June Ackland pounding the beat of Sun Hill.
So where did it all go wrong for the Police drama? Well by the 2000’s ITV felt the series needed modernising and so a series of revamps happened over the decade to make the series more appealing to younger viewers. In 2002 the soap embraced a more soapy format with longer-running storylines and the personal lives of the officers driving the drama; affairs, drugs, murders, abortions, gay relationships and gambling addiction now featured. Sun Hill blew up twice in the space of as many years and slowly the audience ebbed away.
In 2009 The Bill was averaging 5 million viewers per episode but ITV once again decided the series needed shaking it. The drama found its episode order per year reduced by half and was moved to a 9pm slot adapting a CSI style look. Ratings fell to lows of 2 million viewers – the revamp was a disaster. Rather than admit the errors of their ways and reverse the damage the broadcaster opted to cancel The Bill. Some more cynical viewers argued the objective of the exercise was accomplished.
September saw arguably the biggest departure of the year with CBS’s As The World Turns ending after 54 years and 13,000 episodes. The broadcaster has cancelled the soap last year for similar reasons it cancelled Guiding Light – low ratings. The two were bottom of the ratings for quite some time and despite revamps on GL – and new modern storylines on ATWT – ratings remained low. As The World Turns was created by Irna Phillips in 1956 and its most high profile storyline of recent years was the gay romance between Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) and Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann). ATV Today marked the departure of As The World Turns with a five-part feature on the romance between Luke and Noah which gripped fans, and won praise, across the world.
It was a huge year of change at Hollyoaks with the soaps 15th year on-air undergoing its biggest overhaul since…the last big overhaul. For a soap that reached its 15th year there was very little in the way of celebration – but that is coming next year. However, given all the drama on-screen and behind-the-scenes it could be argued the 15th anniversary has been one of the most eventful of the teen-soaps existence. In January new producer Paul Marquess was brought in to turn around Hollyoaks fortunes after ratings dropped below 1 million. Marquess had a reputation for his work on Brookside, The Bill and Family Affairs – he was the axe-man.
In true form half the cast found themselves axed as Marquess set about his tasking of re-freshing the soap. New characters were introduced and storylines such as the gay domestic between Ste (Kieron Richardson) and Brendan (Emmett Scanlan) were started. Then came the Marquess convention of blowing something up – a fire ripped through several of the buildings in Hollyoaks culling several cast members. The soap is pulling in more viewers and critics are once again taking notice of it – the soap in its 15th year underwent a radical revamp and came through the other-side.
Days of our Lives celebrated 45 years on air in November with the news that its future was secured for a few more years. The last remaining NBC soap had looked extremely venerable a few years ago especially when it was written off as “lasting no longer than 2009”. Well its 2010 and the soap will remain on-air until 2013 under its new deal. Days of our Lives has successfully cut costs (via axing a few characters) and boosted audience levels. So what better way for the soap to celebrate such an anniversary than to be renewed by NBC for several more years? The anniversary was also marked by its switch to HD which is seen as another show of confidence in Days by NBC – due to the costs involved in upgrading to HD.
2010 was rounded off by the 50th anniversary of Coronation Street and it is perhaps fitting that following the departure of As The World Turns in September the Granada soap is now the longest running television soap on-air. (The Archers is the longest running soap overall now Guiding Light has gone). The 50th anniversary of Corrie was a landmark that had to be celebrated in style and it certainly was.
On-screen the anniversary was marked with a lavish stunt costing millions of pounds as an explosion at The Joinery Bar caused a tram to come off the line and crash into the street demolishing the Corner Shop, The Kabin and Number 13. The aftermath of the crash was dealt with via a special one-hour live episode and three characters were killed off. The storyline was promoted as “four funerals and a wedding” in advertisements but that was something of a cop-out. Anniversary or no anniversary fans were quick to slam Coronation Street for misleading viewers.
BBC Four aired a special drama which charted Tony Warren’s battle to get his creation on-air in The Road to Coronation Street while a play chartering the 50 years of drama was also produced. There’s been various other tie-ins with the anniversary but by far the biggest behind-the-scenes news came in Mid December when it was announced production was to relocated to Salford Quays in the near future. The outdoor set would be rebuilt at ITV’s new production centre allowing it to be built to scale, add new features and finally shake off its “toy town” reputation.
Finally we end this feature with brief mention of The Bold and the Beautiful and Shortland Street. CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful left UK screens once again after several years of being at home on UK digital channel Diva TV where it was the highest rated programme on the broadcasters rather limited line-up. The Bold and the Beautiful aired two episodes every weekday allowing viewers to quickly catch up with more recent events in the soap but in the Autumn all that changed when Diva took the soap off-air.
Fans were unhappy and appealed to Channel Five and Living, both previous UK broadcasters, to pick up the soap but as yet no other UK broadcaster has. Meanwhile New Zealand soap Shortland Street returned to the UK after being dumped from the few remaining ITV regions still airing it in 2003. Shortland Street was brought back to the UK by Living but low ratings saw it demoted to Living Loves before disappearing all together.