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Account for the Popularity of British Soap Opera

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Jenni Lewis Account for the Popularity of British Soap Opera The soap opera genre was derived from a format first experimented with through radio broadcast. However as television developed into a more accessible medium soap opera spread its wings and in 1960 the first televised soap opera was born. Coronation Street was the name of the first programme; it offered a nostalgic perspective on northern industrial working-class life. Soap opera presented in a serial format allowed continuation of a theme of narrative that was never before presented. Indeed the genre of soap opera itself has changed the way in which drama is presented to the viewer. The most important element in the genre is the lack of closure to any one of many simultaneous narratives interwoven over a number of episodes. These narratives can be shown from a range of perspectives, contradictive or supportive of one another ultimately allowing the viewer their own interpretation and appraisal of the life of the characters portrayed. Charlotte Brunsdon goes on to argue that the question guiding a soap story is not 'What will happen next?' but 'What kind of person is this?' Tania Modleski (1982) argues that the structural openness of soaps is an essentially 'feminine' narrative form, that pleasure in narrative focuses on closure, whilst soaps delay resolution and make anticipation an end in itself. ...read more.


The storyline or plot of the soap opera is an important factor to attract an audience. No discerning soap opera viewer will watch an unbelievable or boring story unfold. The power of certain storylines to overflow into the reality of everyday life (slippage) has had a large effect in attracting a wider audience. For example two recent storylines that caused much debate included the Coronation Street 'Free Deirdre' campaign, where a soap character was wrongfully imprisoned. This particular storyline created a nationwide press campaign and even intervention from the prime-minister himself. The Eastender's storyline which sparked mass debate was the 'Who Shot Phil Mitchell?' mystery, generating press attention and even t-shirts bearing the slogan 'I shot Phil Mitchell'. The ability soap opera creates to blur reality with fiction is an attractive bubble in itself. This ability to craft debate not only in social situations but also in political or media circles, about a fictional storyline gives soap writers a great deal of power. The British soap opera owes a great deal to the social realist tradition, begun in the late 50's which developed into the kitchen-sink style of theatre. Social realism emphasises the relevance of an event or occurrence, reflecting everyday social problems recognisable to the working class. Within this style plausibility and credibility are also valued. This feature of soap opera, the connection with a working class, ordinary life, and the reflection of ordinary events to construe the realism that its creators strive for creates an interest in itself. ...read more.


This effect is sometimes called hammocking. Recently ITV have been showing Coronation Street in two half hour parts, the break between the two sections was given to a less popular but issue-based news programme, more often shown later in the evening. The desired effect of this hammocking is that the viewer does not bother to change channels between the two sections and therefore become interested in the in-between programme, perhaps choosing to continue watching it when it is moved back to its former position on the channel's schedule. The most important factor that accounts for the popularity of soap opera is the ability of the soap opera to entertain. Without entertainment the soap opera would inevitably fail. The imitation of real life, stereotyped, with the boring bits cut out that allows viewers to escape, re-evaluate the situations and provide them with an acute sense of power over the characters they are watching. The combination of factors such as reality, 'invisible' editing, and cliff-hanger episode closes to ensnare viewers to watch the next episode to find how the story resolves attract the masses of viewers to the soap opera. The Broadcasters Audience Research Board's own research indicates this mass popularity through its insightful ratings polls, with the most popular British soaps like Coronation Street and Eastender's attracting up to �16 million viewers for crucial storylines. ...read more.

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