Page 10, 31st January 2003

31st January 2003
Page 10
Page 10, 31st January 2003 — Can we hope for the death of soap?

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Can we hope for the death of soap?

Media Matter

Nick Thomas

so we await the response. Every day this week, at 2.05 in the afternoon, BBC1 ran a specially commissioned one-off drama, the idea being to establish whether there is a large enough market for one-hour plays. If the figures look good there will be more, though not for about a year. Still, it's a brave start.

l write fresh from watching the first example, Turkish Delight by Rowan Joffe, and I hope the daytime audience gave it a go and tuned into its successors (forgive the confusion of tenses; writing on Monday for a Friday paper can make you feel like Dr Who), for the project needs all the support it can get.

It has to be said that the play was utterly predictable and straight off the shelf. Bored, unfulfilled middle-aged housewife with insensitive husband becomes a belly-dancer, and ends up flying off to Turkey. Sherbet Valentine, if you like. There was even the glamorous friend and hubby's violence with food to reinforce further the debt to Willy Russell's plodding weepy. But in truth Joffe did a rather better job of making the material entertaining, with just enough sharp one-liners and sight gags to maintain the interest and stop the thing taking itself seriously, without getting too demandinf. And that observation is not meant to be patronising; even I prefer gentler humour at 2.00prn than I might at 8.00pm, and I'm a critic.

So on the whole I gave this one the thumbs-up, for a witty script and fine performances, especially from Denise Welch in the lead as Carol. But the commissioning process itself was also nicely judged. Again, one doesn't wish to be snide, but one missing detail was the huge role daytime television itself would surely have played in Carol's life; she spoke directly to her audience, and it would be interesting to know not only how many people watched Turkish Delight but how many then fished out the Yellow Pages in search of belly-dancing classes.

But there was deeper thinking at work than merely addressing the personal concerns of as large a slice as possible of the potential audience (hubby losing his job had something to do with that, as well). For the alternative to the one-off drama is, of course, the soap. Not only was Turkish Delight infinitely superior in every department to, say, Emmerdale, let alone all the Aussie pap, it also pursued the run-ofthe-mill soapy themes in a way dictated by its genre. So instead of the couple on the brink of divorce indulging in adulterous affairs (or nearly, in order to create a cliff-hanger), they both resisted the temptation and resolved their misunderstandings in a cliched but thoroughly satisfactory climax. Yes, it was lightweight, but it was never sentimental, it never dragged, and the happy ending left the viewer with a pleasant glow. And anything that can work at that level and still get belly-laughs (sorry) out of an old cynic like me can't be all bad. Would you want to watch Antigone straight after lunch?

If not, I suggest you lend your support to this, the first hint of a possible beginning of a new commitment by the Beeb to providing a popular service without treating its customers like morons. Even if you didn't add personally to the figures, you can still email the Corporation or write to Radio Times.

Of course, maintaining the quality will be the key. But if that can be done we might live to see the end of the Age of Soap, followed by a return to the great days of prime-time new drama written specifically for television, Pinter one week, Stoppard the next.

For now, though, we need to penetrate the notoriously impaired hearing of the BBC with a massive national chorus of "More!" The daytime audience has been short-changed and insulted for far too long.

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