A Beginners Guide to International Soaps

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Hollyoaks Logo Circa 2012

To say that the current state of American daily serialized drama is in a state of utter dismay would be probably the biggest understatement of the year. So to help you get your “fix,” TVSource decided to provide a quick beginners guide to international soaps.

While eventually we hope to have a complete beginners guide to each individual soap that we can update accordingly to fit the various casting and storyline changes that occur on a soap, before we get there we have to first be introduced into the entire international (by which I mean Non-USA) soap opera landscape. Specifically this post will be examining the soaps airing in Australia, New Zealand and The United Kingdom.

Here in the United States viewers have become accustomed to their serials, with the exception of The Bold and the Beautiful, airing for one hour five days a week. While there are soaps around the world which experiment with the hour long formula, the typical international soap airs for thirty minutes and airs five episodes a week. Now you will notice I said five episodes a week and not five days a week, I said this because sometimes the scheduling for these various soaps can be a bit tricky as we will delve into a bit later on.

Unlike the daytime dramas that continue to exist today, the international soaps are almost completely grounded in realism. This kitchen sink drama allows viewers to become more encapsulated with the lives of these characters and not have to worry about microchips, aliens, and back from the dead plotlines that leave you scratching your head. With that said you will still get the occasional serial killer, back from the dead, who’s the daddy clichés that you have become accustomed to with the art of soap opera storytelling.

So without any further delay let’s briefly look over what the differences are between these various soaps.

AUSTRALIA

The most important thing to know about the two Australian soaps is that these serials air on a “season” model. By that I mean they air new episodes five days a week, typically from mid January till Mid November, ending on a big cliffhanger and returning with an explosive season premiere like the primetime American soaps that we have come to know and love. This gives creators the perfect time to make any production changes, update opening credits, recuperate the writers and actors, and create an amazing environment full of excitement for the viewers.

Home and Away:

Home and Away is the channel 7 flagship soap opera that has been warming the hearts of viewers for the past twenty four years. The serial briefly appeared here in the USA on FX before being canceled before hitting its stride and captivating the nation’s heart. With that said Home and Away is set on ocean side local of Summer Bay, where the local residence always have each other’s back, no matter what outside force is trying to tear them apart.

Home and Away is a very youth oriented series. While the show does have a few characters over the 30 year old age limit, a majority of the cast consist of people in the teenage demographic, with one of the biggest complaint by long term fans being the lack of storytelling for veteran characters (sound familiar?). The other big complaint against the series is its lack of soul. While the series kicked off its run in 1988 with a very strong foundation showing the positive sides of the Australian foster care system and how family is not created just by blood but by those you associate with as well, the series has moved away from that in recent years going for more adventurous plots from yearlong mysteries, to gangs and overall shallowness that leave some viewers asking for more. With that said a new regime has recently taken a hold of the reins at Home and Away so one can only hope that with the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary season that things might turn around.

Neighbours:

Neighbours is the soap no one thought would still be around! Especially, the executives of the 7 network who canceled the series after a poor performing first season. Now twenty eight years later the series is still going strong! It however didn’t fare well here in the states as the series attempted a six week trial on the Oxygen network in 2004 airing episodes from 1999 (with the arrival of the Scully family) and was quickly pulled due to low ratings.

While a G rated soap, Neighbours still manages to tell creative stories for its tight multigenerational cast, with that said however the focus is once again placed heavily on the teen/young adult characters on the series, and with a G ratings fans that like to see a lot of explicit more soapy content may be let down as the series has a very wholesome vibe that often times turns more new viewers off than turns on.

NEW ZEALAND:

Much like the Aussie soaps, Shortland Street, New Zealand’s sole soap opera, airs seasonally, but in addition to this during the winter season (May-August) the series does special “Hour Long Monday’s” giving viewers an extra episode per week, also starting with the 2010 season the series does an annual feature length episode which has become known for leaving viewers on the edge of their seats until the credits role and their left gasping for more.

Shortland Street:

Have you ever wondered what General Hospital would be like if it didn’t pay so much attention to the mob and took place on an actual hospital? Well Shortland Street is the show for you.  Currently airing its 25th season, the series focuses upon the medical staff at Shortland Street hospital and the surrounding inhabitants of the town of Ferndale. With medical mysteries, breakthroughs, love, and the occasional serial killer, Shortland Street is a must see for all medical soap fans craving their next fix.

THE UNITED KINGDOM:

Much more like the American soaps, the serials in the United Kingdom for the most part all air year round. The only exception to this rule is the BBC Daytime Drama Doctors which takes a break during the summer season.  With that said unlike the USA soaps the UK soaps have a bit of an odd schedule. Coronation Street airs two half hour episodes (with a half hour break) on both Monday and Friday and a single half hour episode on Thursday (soon to be Wednesday). Doctors airs daily Monday-Friday, Emmerdale airs daily but airs two half hour episodes (with a half hour break) on Thursday (during the break Coronation Street airs), EastEnders airs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for a full 30 minutes (No ad’s on the BBC), and Hollyoaks airs five episodes a week, but due to the special digital channel E4, the series airs exclusive “first look” episodes so viewers can actually be a day-ahead of the actual network broadcast. Confusing? We think so to, but once you get the hang of things the schedule at least works its way into your routine.

Coronation Street:

Coronation Street also known as simply Corrie is the world’s longest running soap opera since the cancelation of As the World Turns and Guiding Light, with the series poised to take the longest running television serial EVER slot from Guiding Light in a few years time.  Serving the more adult demographic the serial pays homage to its veteran cast by continuing to use them in front burner kitchen sink drama storylines to this very day. With one character, Ken Barlow played by the amazingly talented William Roache, driving story since day 1!

While Corrie is known for being grounded in realism, the series isn’t afraid to have a serial killer slay his way through the town or pull off a stunt that would have had General Hospital’s Bob Guza feeling like he was creating a student project in comparison which continue to have ramifications two years after the fact…yea that would happen in the USA hu?

With its multigenerational family/community based setting Corrie continues to break boundaries down telling heartbreaking stories from a Ehlers-Danlos syndrome pregnancy to female to male domestic abuse, Corrie continues to challenge viewers while providing an escape from their everyday life with the standard lying, cheating, romance world that viewers tune in to TV to encounter.

Doctors

The BBC’s Doctors is soap unlike any other. Unlike Shortland Street which continues to tell its stories in a fashion that General Hospital fans would enjoy, Doctors is an episodic soap opera in which most episodes are heavily self contained with a few on-going story threads continuing on throughout the series for character progression sake. With that said it’s daily cases, and big stunts, mixed in with heart hitting Private Practice esque storytelling makes Doctors an interesting ride nevertheless and definitely worth checking out if medical based stories are what your after.

Emmerdale

Set in the rural location of Emmerdale this rugged soap tells the tales of a farming community as they deal with the ups and downs of their environment and their interactions with their local acquaintances. Emmerdale was set for cancelation in 1993, but the network shelled out the money, and allowed the series to do one last ditch attempt to garner some attention with a big plane crash, which in the end paid off as over 18 million viewers tuned in to see the fallout, which is still referenced today. The series also went through a creative resurgence by becoming both critically and fan acclaimed between 2009-2010 as series producer Gavin Blythtook on the series until his untimely death, after which both fans and critics have come down a bit hard on the series as it continues to find its footing and push on towards its future.

With that said the series has a multigenerational cast, but focuses mostly on the characters in the 18-40 year old bracket, and is set to have an explosive 40th anniversary this October as the series is planning an event week which will include a must see LIVE episode that no soap fan will want to miss out on.

EastEnders

What’s that beating of drums you hear? Just what we EastEnders fans like to call a duff duff or rather the cliffhanger ending that happens in almost every episode of the BBC serial (typically the only reason for a non-duff duff episode is a Julia’s theme episode in which a character leaves the series.)

Known for being hip, edgy and skewing younger than Coronation Street, EastEnders is a bit of a depressing soap, but then again when you kick off your series with a dead body in the first fifteen seconds your kind of asking for darker storytelling aren’t you?

With only one original cast member (Ian Beale played by Adam Woodyatt ) remaining on the show, the series is continually building a strong up and coming cast, and rotating its multigenerational stories around them.

Hollyoaks

What do you get when you toss a bunch of pretty people in a room and go after the 90210 demographic? Hollyoaks that’s what! Because this is for sure not your mama’s soap opera. Hollyoaks continually targets the teenager demo by telling stories almost exclusively for characters in the high school/college age bracket, and rotating them in and out of stories until they leave and the next crop of high school/college kids arrive and it’s their turn to go through the trials and tribulations of living in this town.

With that said the series does still have one original character (Tony Hutchinson played by Nick Pickard) but barely uses him to the extent that many long terms fans of the show would like. But nevertheless Hollyoaks isn’t scared to tell any story big (such as dealing with the subject of a homosexual female to male transgender and underage unprotected sex), to dramatic (serial killer Silas Bisset and super villainous Clare Devain) to comedic (Max and OB) to romantic (Amy/Lee), the series will tell it all and do it in a highly unexpected fashion. So if you’re looking for a bit of young drama in your life that would make the kids at Degrassi feel once again like afterschool specials head on over to Hollyoaks and give them a gander, you won’t regret it.

With that you now have at least a working idea of what these international soaps are about! Which ones interested you? Which ones seemed like utter rubbish? Do you already watch any of them? Let us know the answers to all of these questions and feel free to ask us any of your own in the comments below.

 

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  • John

    Ta! I’ve been watching Corrie since 2008, absolutely adored this show! While there are moments I have disliked over the years, even in its bleakest its been leaps and bounds better than the American soaps. Your so lucky that CBC broadcast it! I wish someone here in the states would. Its ‘kinda’ being broadcast online by Amazon but they are months behind and come online at a irregular basis :-/. Anyways thank you for replying!

  • Francis

    What an impressive overview – thank you! I’m a diehard Coronation Street fan (I’m Canadian; CBC has broadcast the show forever), but didn’t know much about the other soaps mentioned here. I can definitely vouch for your Corrie description; it’s perfect. The show is off-the-charts entertaining; everything I wish my struggling North American soaps still were.