In the past ten years, new soaps have come and gone. It's increasingly hard to launch a new soaps. Viewers simply don't have the time to devote to a new show, especially when many are hard pressed to find time to watch the soaps that they've been watching for decades. Gone are The City, Sunset Beach and Generations. And fledgling soaps Port Charles and Passions are at the bottom of the ratings heap.
But high ratings don't necessarily equate to higher quality.
In our very first Soap Opera Central Editor's Choice, we name Port Charles
the Best Soap Opera of 2001.
Port Charles revolutionized the American soap opera genre with the launch of its 13-week story arcs last year. Granted, the format isn't anything new; Spanish-language soaps have been using the telenovela format for quite some time. However, Port Charles decision to use the more rapid fire format was a first for American audiences.
Port Charles didn't immediately capitalize on the storyarc format. Head writers James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten were like any other people thrust into a new position. They needed time to familiarize themselves with the new format and to get themselves into a groove.
The first book, as the show calls the arcs, "Fate
," labored a bit to tell its tale. By the time the second book, "Time In A Bottle," it was clear that the writers knew what they had to do: there had to be a theme, a cohesion to the storytelling. In fact, the show went above and beyond the call of duty to name its storyarcs after popular songs. Using musical themes was a brilliant marketing tool, that resulted in record downloads of the corresponding theme songs from MP3 song-swapping services.
When Port Charles' third book,"Tainted Love
," debuted in June, Brown and Esensten found their stride. Port Charles introduced a storyline not seen on daytime since the days of Dark Shadows: vampires. In doing so, Port Charles cut the apron strings to its sister soap, General Hospital. Until the debut of the storyarc format, Port Charles seemed to strive to nothing more than being nothing more than a mini-GH wannabe.
"Tainted Love" featured surprising plot twists at every turn. Perhaps the shorter timeframe in which the plots play out allows the writers to take more chances or perhaps it forces them to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Gone are the days of storylines stretching on for weeks and months and even years.
To assume, however, that every three months means something entirely new on Port Charles is a mistake. There are common threads that transcend each book and the continuity level is extremely high. New stories are set up during the course of each book so that by the time the next storyarc rolls around, there's already a new story brewing... one that the viewer has already been lured into watching.
A testament to Port Charles' success is a move by ABC to adopt the storyarc format for its three other soaps - All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. The changes, to be phased in during the course of 2002, should re-energize the network's lineup. It is unlikely, however, that the other soaps will adopt the "naming" and "theme song" characteristics of Port Charles.
In the end, though Port Charles remains in tenth place in the ratings, it has captured critical acclaim and its ratings are up substantially from the same period last year. ABC's recent decision to renew the show for another two years shows that the network is committed to its youngest soap and its unique storytelling format. Indeed, Port Charles could very well be the best soap that you're not watching.