When did Corrie become a soap opera? Here I mean that in the derogatory sense of the phrase, denoting melodramatic, formulaic and often illogical storytelling. About four months ago. That’s when Coronation Street went to six episodes per week.
Maybe it’s coincidence. There have been a lot of changes at the Coronation Street production site in the past year or two. The actual site itself moved and expanded. They are working on further expansion of the set. Actors have come and gone. A new producer, Kate Oates, took over in August 2016.
But only that last one, a new producer, is something that can cause changes that are apparent on the screen. With good producers, historically, changes are seamless. Watching the show, you shouldn’t be able to tell right off the bat that a new person is in charge. That seemed to be Kate Oates’ style. She kept the Corrie tradition going while also doing some spectacularly dramatic stories.
Six episodes per week
Then we added the sixth episode. Storylines began to be very gloomy and dark. Some, like Phelan’s move into murder, were spell-binding and truly horrifying. But others were just horrifying in their petty nastiness. A change in volume, even, people yelling at each other seemingly all the time.
Oh, the humour was there. Dropped in like a brick once in a while, apropos of nothing, amid the snarling and weeping. The necessary flow and balance of mood was not there.
Things will sort themselves out, I tried to convince myself. Accept the stories as what they are, and assume there is a good reason that will become clear down the road.
But I started noticing something else: soap clichés. Too many private conversations overheard by someone lurking nearby. Actions that make no sense for a character until you see the result. Aha, they needed to get to B from A and that stupid move provided the most direct route. Characters jumping to conclusions out of nowhere. Oh, we needed a misunderstanding so that x and y could happen. Or we needed something mentioned so that a character could return or be introduced.
Script clunkers, contrived situations. These are not uncommon in soap operas. Also not uncommon in movies, television series and novels. They are more excusable in soaps. American soap opera production people say that they create the equivalent of two movies a week. Five hours of screen time, year around.
Writing and producing this amount of material so quickly also has to take into account real life circumstances of actors. Illness, decisions to quit, being fired, even death – expected and unexpected events crop up and must be dealt with somehow in the story. The show will go on regardless. It is a testament to the skill of actors, writers and production staff that American soaps are as good as they are.
Therefore, the writing and production method is a kind of machine. It’s a system that continues to produce regardless of the specific individuals involved at any one time. That machine keeps the identity of the show, its look and feel, consistent over decades.
The Character of Corrie
Coronation Street is a soap opera in its production and storyline. Multiple episodes per week, year around, with no end foreseen. Stories focussed on personal relationships and emotion.
But Coronation Street has never really looked like a soap, at least not the American kind. That’s due both to its production schedule and its ethos.
In its stories, Coronation Street has more comedy and more characters with whom the average viewer could identity. Less dreams coming true, more chuckling through the bad times.
In production, attention to details. History of the show, its people and places, is remembered. And characterization stays true. Characters don’t have to stay static, but changes in behaviour occur in such a way that makes sense to viewers.
There is the time to take that care. Writers have time to say ‘hmm, maybe there’s a better way to do that.’ More rehearsal time, more time for retakes. Coronation Street‘s air time is half that of American soaps. So there’s that bit of time to reflect, to redo.
Adding another half-hour of air time exponentially increases the preparation time. Maybe there has to be more reliance on the formulaic part of the writing machine. The process must speed up. I haven’t noticed glitches in acting. I assume that’s due to the expertise of the actors and directors and long, long hours of rehearsal and taping. The clumsy bits I’ve seen are in the plotting of stories, that creative imagination where time for reflection and rewrites is so necessary.
Maybe it will get better? Coronation Street has faced this challenge before, and risen to it. They went from two to three, then four, then five episodes a week. Each time, there were complaints and fears. The quality couldn’t be maintained. But it was. If there was a period of not-so-great adjustment, I don’t remember it. And I’ve been with the show since it was two episodes per week. I don’t remember feeling like I do with this change to six.
Time to take a break?
Just fitting that extra episode into my Corrie routine has made watching feel like work. So that plus dissatisfaction with the stories? Maybe time to take a break. Remove Coronation Street from my pvr record settings. That’s a big decision after having lived with a show for so long, gone through highs and lows with it. But when you’re watching and thinking you’d rather be cleaning out a closet?
Since the new year, in Canadian air time, it’s been a bit better. Still some cringe-worthy moments. But I’m not looking at the clock every couple of moments, wondering how much longer I have to endure.