Friday, January 11, 2008

Soaps and the writers' strike

As the WGA strike wears on, I have moments of panic about what it all means for the future of TV. I'm still full up on shows to watch, from those stockpiled on the DVR, the few still trickling across the pipeline, and DVDs too numerous to list. I'm also still getting my daily soap dose. General Hospital, my soap of choice for, well, ever has finally run out of episodes written by the show's regular writing team and is now airing episodes credited to just one writer. This writer is a regular staff member who has presumably gone "fi-core," which I understand to mean officially giving up his WGA membership but still paying guild dues and receiving guild benefits. The LA Times and NY Times have both covered the matter of late, mentioning that some soap writers have taken on this status, including the head writers for ABC's All My Children. Presumably neither the AMC headwriting team (of 2) or the GH writer who has been credited on the episodes I have seen thus far (I'm perpetually a few days behind in my viewing) could write five one hour scripts per week, so I assume other, uncredited writers, a.k.a. scabs, are pitching in.

From a storytelling standpoint, the GH situation is especially fascinating. Audiences have been EXTREMELY disgruntled with the show lately, as these criticisms of the regular head writer show. Now, the internet has made the grumbling of soap fans especially amplified, but the level of vitriol on the part of fans seems stronger than ever to me these days. I myself am religiously devoted to the show--I've probably missed only a handful of episodes over 26 years--and have been so, so unhappy with it lately. The detailed reasons why are too involved to explain in full here, but some of these include storytelling that moves very quickly and without much narrative logic, little to no time on character development, such that it is difficult to understand the characters' motivations for anything they do, and a disturbing amount of misogyny.

That is, until the fi-core writing began. Granted, I've only seen a few days of this so far but . . . I kinda like it. I need to watch more before I figure out exactly why--and see if this impression holds--but the show has incorporated humor again, something sorely lacking of late; it has humanized characters (I'm thinking here primarily of Ric Lansing, for those familiar with the show) whose traits had previously seemed entirely plot-dictated (bad guy one day, without a clear motivation, good guy the next); and, most importantly, I think it has been taking the time to give us scenes about little more than characters interacting, or thinking about one another, or having experiences that are revealing of them as characters but not especially focused on plot development. If indeed this is the case--and I do need more time to be sure--I'm certain it is a deliberate strategy to stretch things out, to fritter away some time until the "real" writing resumes. But it has taken me back to some of the things I've always liked best about soaps, and about my soap and its characters in particular. I like just wandering around their world, knowing it intimately.

I've always said that my favorite days on GH are holidays because on those days nothing really happens. Lots of characters are on and they hang out and celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving or the 4th of July. Sure, they talk about things related to the current stories, but these days are typically just about spending time with my TV friends. I'm starting to think it might be Christmas every day on GH for a awhile.

2 comments:

justin said...

"I like just wandering around their world, knowing it intimately.

I've always said that my favorite days on GH are holidays because on those days nothing really happens. Lots of characters are on and they hang out and celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving or the 4th of July. Sure, they talk about things related to the current stories, but these days are typically just about spending time with my TV friends. I'm starting to think it might be Christmas every day on GH for a awhile."

i am a "young and the restless" diehard, but a lot of this really resonates with how i feel about the television that i love. those rare instances when we're allowed to just see television characters exist, without plot, that old dictator, are truly magical. i really enjoyed this post and part 2, please keep it up.

zarathelawyer said...

The first couple of weeks of the transition into the scab writing were quite painful, but I have to agree that this week and last I've really rather liked it too. Especially, as you say, the injection of the humour and the humanising of several characters. Ric, Lucky, and several others. I feel a definite improvement in small areas, but lots of small areas which together have made the show more watchable for me.