Keeping it Real in Soaps
Carolyn Hinsey is a journalist who got her start at the Chicago Tribune in 1981, learning the newspaper business from the ground up (starting in sales and promotion), and then moving to the New York Daily News in 1985, where she honed her writing skills. In 1992, she became a columnist, and later editor, at Soap Opera Digest. While there, she also still wrote about soap operas for the New York Daily News, and later at the now-defunct Soap Opera Weekly (where she was also an editor), and at In Touch Magazine. She's been at Soap Opera Digest (AKA SOD) since 1992, except for a brief 2 years period where she had to leave to work at In Touch Magazine (when there was a conflict). Many of us who follow the soaps look forward to her column and read it every week. She writes really well and is often very funny.
Besides writing for magazines, she also wrote a book, "Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter" (2011), and played herself in the web soap "Tainted Dreams." Hinsey has the distinction of being one of only a handful of well-known soap opera critics, along with Lynda Hersch, Michael Fairman and Michael Logan. Video
One of the things that Hinsey values in the soaps is the use of older characters, or fan favorites. Sometimes they're not used as much as the younger actors or the newer characters. Fans are used to watching the same characters for many years, so they know them well. It works better if the soap writers, when they introduce a new character, find a way to tie that person to the existing characters or families on the show. It's also helpful if they write the character really well to make them interesting, and then give us plenty of time to get to know him/her, before introducing more new characters. In the past, whenever writers have introduced a lot of new characters at once (or a whole family), it hasn't worked. One example of this is the Eckert family that "General Hospital" introduced in 1991. Within a year, they had killed off the father, and we never heard from the mother again. They kept around the more interesting characters for a few more years. Even worse, it was the great Gloria Monty who was in charge of this fiasco. She had previously revolutionized GH (and other soaps from that influence) with her ideas.
Because soap operas have made many cuts to their budgets in the past 25 years, the drop in production values sometimes affects the story. The casts are still large, but instead of having most of them on contract, many are only on "recurring" status, so they can only work certain number of days per week. This means that when they have a wedding or other event, only a small part of the cast is there. This makes the story less realistic because weddings usually have large crowds (soap opera weddings used to have almost everyone attend). The sets are also smaller and often a character's house set will only have a living room, which, again, makes it less realistic because we only see them there. Soap operas need bedrooms! These type of problems are pointed out by Hinsey in an entertaining and effective way.
Soap operas used to be written in a more character-driven fashion, but now they're more story-driven. This leads to problems because they have characters who act in way that are unbelievable, just to suit the story. For instance, if they have a serial killer or other villain, and they want to drag the story out for awhile, they have to make the police and other heroes seem really stupid. This happens quite often on all of the soaps, unfortunately. It's been happening lately with the Ryan/Kevin serial killer story on "General Hospital." It's been happening with the police on "Days of Our Lives" as well.
I've been reading SOD since the 1980's, when I first started watching "General Hospital" and then added many other soaps. Now I only watch one regularly ("The Bold & The Beautiful"), but I still keep up on what's going on in all of the soaps, and who's who. SOD helps me me with that, both the online and offline version. In fact, not only do I pay for a paper subscription, but I also pay for an online subscription via Zinio because I used it for my site (and the paper copy is often late). Hinsey is about my age, so she and I both have a long history of watching daytime TV. I've only been writing about them for my site since the 1990's, though. I can only hope that one day I'll be half as good of a writer as she is.
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