Pioneers of Television: Primetime Soaps

My exposure to soaps has been minimal. My recollection from childhood is Marlena being possessed by demons and John dying twelve times and then some sort of twin aliens landing on our planet in the addictive Days of Our Lives. I think I was ten the last time I watched and the plot was too far-fetched for me. Let me repeat, I was ten. If a ten year old cannot use her sense of imagination in a story, perhaps it’s time to hire a new scriptwriting team. While I was excited to learn about soap operas, I was a little leery watching this week’s episode of Pioneers of Television. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

The recently deceased Larry Hagman was a delight. I had seen clips of his character on Dallas and automatically assumed that his behaviour onscreen reflected his real-life persona — quite the opposite, but then again, he was Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie and his mother is Mary Martin, so I should have known there was a kind character lurking within. Larry gave a lot of insight into the development of Primetime Soaps and discussed the progression of his character — the infamous villain and oil man,  J.R. Ewing. One of the most interesting portions of the program was the discussion of Bobby Ewing, played by Patrick Duffy, and his role in the series. The “good guy” counterpart to J.R.‘s villain shows key binaries that must exist in story lines in order for audiences to continue watching. I’d like to give away the technique behind his famous dream sequence shower scene, but I would rather you watch the entire episode on KACV! Too good to miss.

Dallas, Dynasty, and Knot’s Landing were airing at a pivotal time in the 1980s. Some scholars call this the era of the gender wars where women were striving for equality as a result of second-wave feminist movements. The female characters had the ability to be, as soaps would call it, “bitchy”. There were a lot of socio-political-historical movements happening during this time which affected the nature of the show. One interesting discussion in regards to Dynasty was the kiss shared between Linda Evans, one of the show’s main stars, and Rock Hudson. Hudson faced ridicule for masking his dire health situation as he had been diagnosed with AIDS. The cast, crew, and country were in an uproar. It’s interesting to see a nation’s response to a formerly beloved actor and their protection of the up-and-coming soap star and how their fandom caused loyalties to changed based on ignorance of the disease. The stars had such a sway over a nation’s opinion.

These stars and shows shaped television today. Can you imagine Lost without the continuing story line over the 6 six seasons? Somehow, Primetime Soaps — and soaps in general — taught viewers how to care for characters longer than thirty minute segments and to live without conflict resolution for the span of entire seasons!  If didn’t get a chance to see it, I urge you to check out Pioneers of Television on KACV’s website and join me again next week for the upcoming episode! I went into it thinking “soap operas… meh” and came out with a true lesson on the nature of television and viewership, so don’t knock it until you watch it!


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