Deep Soap: Will ‘Ugly Betty’ Usher In A New Generation of Soaps?

America Ferrera in Ugly Betty (ABC)

America Ferrera in Ugly Betty (ABC)

America Ferrara And P&G Unite For New Soap

Ben Silverman, this is your chance to redeem yourself.  The man who tanked NBC primetime is creating a new soap opera.  Silverman, who brought the international hit ‘Ugly Betty’ (which has its series finale tonight on ABC) to America, has always believed in the potential of telenovelas for the American audience.   At one point, he was developing an American version of the Colombian series ‘Without Breasts There is No Paradise,’ which, despite its trashy title, was an edgy drama about the way drug cartels exploit young women. (It also looked pretty salacious in the clips I’ve seen.) It retrospect, it would have been a lot better than the ‘Jay Leno Show.’

Now, in conjunction with ‘Ugly Betty’ star America Ferrera he is developing what is described as an interactive telenovela, ‘Pedro & Maria’.  The series will have a highbrow pedigree.  Quiara Alegria Hudes, the Tony award winning writer of the musical The Heights will script what the Hollywood Reporter calls” a contemporary Latino romance.”  The audience will vote on some story points, making it theoretically interactive in the manner of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Procter & Gamble, the company that invented the soap opera genre has even signed on as a producer.   P&G “will create original commercials and branded entertainment opportunities for its beauty and health brands in and around the show.”  In other words, the same thing it has been doing since the 1950s. There is a widely held belief that the end of ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘As The World Turns‘ meant that P&G wanted out of the soap business.  It may just want out of the unprofitable television business.  Their willingness to get involved with a contemporary take on the genre is great news.  Now, more than any time since the 1950s, television shows need corporate sponsors to offset production costs.

I am excited about this show.  It involves a lot of things that soap fans have been clamoring for: diversity, a voice in the storylines, a talented new headwriter who is not burned out on the genre. and could be the first successful original American telenovela. The telenovela is the soccer of television genres.  It is popular everywhere in the world but the United States.    It is insane that the only attempts to bring it here have been the lousy MyNetwork slate and Port Charles.  I hope ‘Pedro & Maria’ will truly be a telenovela, with multiple episodes each week and a finite ending. Maybe I’m just feeling pollyannish today, but if this show is a hit it could revitalize the soap genre and lead to many new cable serials.

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‘Days of Our Lives’ Lacking Teen Scene

‘Days of Our Lives’ has a youth problem.  It is chock full of great characters over the age of thirty — and I include EJ (played by 31 year old James Scott) and Phillip (Jay Kenneth Johnson, age 33) but the teens and twenty-something are sorely lacking.  Melanie (Molly Burnett) is the only one with any personality. Not coincidentally, she mainly interacts with older characters.   This has nothing to do with the difficulties of creating  interesting new characters.  Adrienne (Judi Evans) has been off the canvas for so long, unless you count her brief visits to her brother Steve (Stephen Nichols) that she might as well be a new character.  Her recent scenes playing pool with Justin (Wally Kurth), in which he admitted to letting her win games when they were dating to build her fragile self-esteem were fascinating.  Brand new character Madeline (the awesome Jessica Tuck) is already intriguing and all she has done is be nice to Gabby (Gabriela Rodriguez ) and stare meaningfully at Kate (Lauren Koslow).  I cannot wait to find out what their history is.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Gabby herself or Maddie’s son Chad (Casey Diedrick.)  There is nothing wrong with either one of the actors.  The characters are just underdeveloped and are on their own story island that has nothing to do with the rest of the characters.  Gabby is nice and comes from a working class background. Chad is nice and used to have a drug problem and does not get along with his Dad.  Mia (Taylor Spreitler) used to be a nice girl who had a baby. Now she is inexplicably mean.  Will (Chandler Massey) is Sami’s nice son. Their storyline is something involving mutual crushes and a ski trip that never happened.  It really is forgettable. DOOL used to have three dimensional teen characters. In fact, some of its MVPs including Hope (Kristian Alfonso) and Sami(Alison Sweeney) grew up on the show.  DOOL used to be the teen soap, watched by high schoolers everywhere. Now all of the interesting teen and twentysomething characters are on ABC, playing key roles in major storylines.  DOOL needs interesting young characters not just because it allows for multi-generational storytelling, but because all of its rating gains have come from older viewers.While I hate the concept that young people only want to watch other young people, the generation that was raised on ‘Hannah Montana’ is used to watching stories about their peers.  DOOL needs its newest generation to be as interesting as everybody else in Salem.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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