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British TV soap opera’s Essay

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How would you account for the continuing fascination that British TV soap opera’s have for such a large and diverse audience? (30 mks) Soap opera is the most popular form of television programming in the world, being the most popular genre in Britain for 35 years, since the very first episode of Coronation Street was screened in 1960. The phenomenon evolved from the radio soap operas of the 1930s and 40s, emerging initially in the United States, and attracting a large following of predominantly female listeners.

The name “soap” opera is so called because of the soap commercials that accompanied the episodes originally on American commercial radio by companies such as Proctor and Gambol. Soap operas differ from other TV genres in that they carry on showing up to 5 episodes a week, in comparison to super soaps which come in series these include programmes such as Casualty, London’s burning and footballers wives. Coronation Street was the first majorly popular soap opera in Britain. Tracking the lives of the people living on a street in central Manchester.

Many more came over the years with the BBC trying to challenge ITV’s dominating grip on the audience with attempts such as Compact (1962-65) and United set in a football team. Finally in 1975 Eastenders appeared tracking the lives of people living in a square in a fictitious suburb of London called Walford. Eastenders challenged Coronation Street and the two have gone head to head over the years for the Crown of Top soap. In 1982 Channel 4 a new channel tried their hand at the soap game with Brookside, set in a housing estate in Liverpool with the only communal point being the post box.

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Brookside never challenged Coronation Street or Eastenders for the soap crown but got close, due to its radical and inventive story lines such as Lesbianism, murder and teenage drug abuse, which none of the other soaps had dare tackled. Many more came and fell probably the biggest known flop being Eldorado only lasting between 1992 and 93. More are bound to come and go, but why do TV companies strive so hard to have a percentage of the soap market? Soap Operas are basically addictive, people get a buzz out of them.

The way they are written and filmed makes the viewer feel like they are part of the story, it is a type of escapism for many. Looking in on other people’s lives gives the viewer a sense of voyeuristic pleasure, some people build emotional links with the characters. E. g. the death of Jamie in Eastenders on Christmas day had some people in tears, the characters are made to be so that people can relate to them like they know them. In all truth every character in the soap probably has similar traits to various people known by the viewer.

Such as Phil Mitchell in Eastenders everyone knows someone who is a bit of a rouge slightly evil, even if not on personal terms. The reason people like the characters are because of the love hate relationship the viewer builds up inside of them. Ian Beale again from Eastenders is a perfect example when things are not going his way you feel slightly sorry for him but when he is successful he rubs it in everyone’s nose and seems like an annoying character. Some people can hold to high an opinion of the characters and even confuse reality with the soap world.

E. g. Release Deirdre from prison actually campaigned by the sun newspaper. There have been reports of people hitting soap actors for the dirty deeds their characters had done. The world created in the soaps is very different to the real world, I believe this adds to their popularity even more. There always seems to be constant bad feelings which ever story line the soap is following, be it adultery, paedophilia, death or even marriage, doom and gloom is never far away.

The fact that these events occur is not unrealistic as they happen every day to people all over the world, but it is the concentration of these bad feelings, in such a small area. The soaps always try and take on real life relevant social issues, and the audience feed off of it. I believe that humans enjoy seeing others fail and how they cope with it. The main draw to these soaps I believe is the sense of community, over many years the feeling of community within the areas that people live has been lost with crime on the rise and more reason to stay in, with multi-channel TV.

It is ironic then, that TV programmes that hold such a sense of community in their main conventions such as soaps, are the things that distance people from their neighbours. People who watch soaps probably know more about who lives at number 5 on Coronation Street than who lives at number 5 on their road. The audience of soaps differs extremely even though the characters are nearly all working class, with some exceptions, the audience spreads across all classes, ages and sex.

Although sometimes soaps are frowned upon as being a lesser genre, and low culture. Even though some may think soaps have no cultural relevance, they are still the most popular type of programming available, and probably the most culturally relevant in terms of the issues they tackle, they are also the flagship programmes for BBC and ITV at the very least. With 100s of channels and TV figures declining, soaps audiences continue to grow showing that soaps are around to stay. Theo Leeds.

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