Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Life without the boring bits

.........Is one of the best descriptions I've heard about soap. And say what you like, Corrie got a 50.2 share last night for the trial of Tracy Barlow.

A lot of writers turn their nose up at soap - or serial drama as the execs prefer to call it, soap paradoxically becoming a dirty word.

But the figures speak for themselves and while they do, any writer who slanders soap in front of a network exec is not likely to get a Christmas card.

And here's the truth - soap is damned hard to write! Think about it, it eats up story like like a machine. You have maybe thirty characters you have to know inside out, each one some viewers favourite, the time pressures are enormous, stories can change several times through the drafts, and the level of interference/collaboration by others is a constant challenge.

The best soaps pull it all together really well. Production needs versus creativity and the right balance of plot, story, humour and drama. And that's why they can get a 50.2 share. And it's damned hard work.

Without wishing to offend anyone's tastes I think Corrie is probably the most loved of the UK soaps because they most often get that balance right. And I think that is largely because the writing team on Corrie have a large degree of influence. For example I flicked over to an ep of EastEnders the other night. Five seconds in a teenage girl came out with a line that was so jarringly incongruous that I flicked away again. I don't actually believe a writer wrote that line. I think it had to be a script ed or producer. And from what I hear about the power of the writing team I don't think that would happen on Corrie.

And that is one of the main reasons why soap writing is hard. The characters are well known and have been loved/hated by the viewers sometimes over many years. One slip in characterisation and the viewer is scratching their head. They don't care if it was an overnight re-write because a story strand disappeared due to an actor being arrested for kiddie fiddling. You screwed up and ruined their night's viewing. Soap requires a combination of fleetness of foot and deftness of touch from everyone involved. Not an easy thing to do when you are on 4 or 5 nights a week.

And who are some of the biggest hitters on UK TV right now? Paul Abbot, Tony Jordan, Jimmy McGovern, Ashley Pharoh. All ex soap writers. It's not everyone's cup of tea but it's one heck of a training ground and introduction to the realities of TV.

14 comments:

Lucy said...

Tracy got what was coming to her an' all!!!

But, on your point - Too right! Lots of hard work goes into soap when you get in - and just getting in is enough to do anyone's nut in. I would SNAP UP a writing job on Corrie. Just so everyone knows -GIVE ME A TRIAL EPISODE YOU MOFOS!! I thank you.

English Dave said...

'Fraid Corrie is harder to get into than a nun's knickers Lucy.

Lucy said...

Don't I know it! Who do I have to kill or sleep with? Or both?? Anyone know??? I'm pretty desperate here...

English Dave said...

Me!

Lucy said...

Name a time and place and I'll bring my frilly knickers and an axe!

Lee said...

I watch maybe one episode of Corrie a year, and there's always some bit of characterisation that makes me laugh. That's a good deal more than I can say about Eastenders/Emmerdale/Hollyoaks.

Britain's best soap by far!

English Dave said...

Great I'll introduce you to my mates George Lucas and Martin Scorcese. lol

Lucy said...

But will you respect me in the morning??! That's what I need to know...

If you still have all your limbs, of course.

Jaded and Cynical said...

I agree that Corrie is the best of its type. As Lee says, at least it has a touch of humour to it.

But the days when soap truly represented 'life without the boring bits' is long gone.

Storylines have been ratcheted up to absurd levels. Every few months a character is murdered, or commits a murder, or both.

The last time I watched Coronation Street, Gail had just married a serial killer, and Mike Baldwin had recruited a transexual. All good fun, but how can you take it seriously?

English Dave said...

jaded I think there is a difference between taking it seriously and suspension of disbelief. It's a very fine line but that's what the best soaps do well. And that relies on believable characters making us believe the unbelievable. We want to go along for the ride. Whacky as it is.

Dave Anderson said...

Once, long before you guys were born, a dream came true. I made it onto the Street writing team.

I'd sent in a spec script, met the then producer (a delightful man called Eric Prytherec, whose name I have undoubtedly misspelled), wrote a trial half episode. And got on the invites list to writing conferences.

I was young, totally inexperienced, had only one published piece of work to my name and knew buggar all about television writing.

I was on the team for a year. Went to conferences every three weeks. Was totally overwhelmed by being surrounded by highly talented, massively experienced, unbelievably enthusiastic and very, very loud writers. The likes of Harry Kershaw, Leslie Duxbury and Adele Rose, to name but a few.

I became totally blase. Huh, another boring conference...

Got my first commission. My first commissioning conference. My first episode screened. There were changes. Of course. A whole section of the script, with Hilda Ogden doing a cleaning job on a cruise liner, was rewritten. But the experience of watching that episode on air was awesome.

Then they changed producers. Someone who couldn't put up with my silence at conference. Someone who didn't believe in second chances.

My second commission. My script came in too long. I did a feverish rewrite. Delivered it by hand to Granada reception. Too late, of course. My fault. Entirely unprofessional. End of story.

Now I have a good mate who's writing for the show and making a damned good job of it. Me, I'm still writing. I've sold a dozen of so short stories. But I have to make a living writing advertising copy.

I've tried to get back onto the Street, but they never reply. They don't even return spec scripts.

Still, I continue plugging away. Just finished another spec feature, and started a new one. I just can't help remembering that once I was handed the keys to the kingdom. And threw 'em away.

Jaded and Cynical said...

That's a great story.

Even one episode is far more than most of us will ever manage.

And I bet there wasn't a dead body in sight.

English Dave said...

Welcome David. I've been canned off a couple of shows. Occupational hazzard. One one, where I done maybe 15 eps I got a letter from the new exec producer welcoming me to the new team, giving me a pretty impressive pay rise and telling me how much she looked forward to working with me. I never heard from them again! lol

Dave Anderson said...

Thanks for the kind words, Lishy and jaded & cynical. Incidentally, just today, the receptionist at the ad agency where I work landed a bit part on t'Street. (She's a young actress with bags of energy and persistence.) It's just a two-liner but, hey, it's the Street! You CAN get there!

To get onto the writing team these days, you really need to have credits somewhere else. My mate Julie Jones had already written successfully for local theatre and other TV shows like Emmerdale and Brookie before getting her break on Corrie.

Although I hated Family Affairs (RIP) it did have a reputation for giving writers new to the telly a break... and those all-important credits.

I'm working on a spec feature just now but, when that's done, I'm definitely going to try my hand at some TV. English Dave has whetted my appetite!