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Soaps Still Thrive On British Television

For a lot of television fans, the idea of a soap opera has becomes somewhat dated. Soaps will always have their fans, but in the age of Hollywood A-listers dipping their toes into television and the major networks (like HBO producing cinema-quality shows), soaps can feel increasingly cheap, if not lazy. In reality this is somewhat silly — it is merely a different style of storytelling designed for the mass production of episodes — but there’s that feeling when you catch a soap these days that the quality is lagging behind that of ordinary TV programming.

Look through a list of the most-watched TV shows in the U.S. and you’ll reach the likes of “Masterchef Junior” and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” before you find a soap, which pretty much tells the story. Over in the UK, however, some of the long-running British soap operas have retained loyal followings, and as a result they’ve stayed popular against all odds.

In fact, 2016 looks as if it might be a particularly strong year for some of these shows. According to a ratings report from January, when the early performance for the year is gauged for a lot of shows, “Coronation Street” rose to 8.1 million viewers to kick off the year. That’s rather extraordinary for a show that started in 1960 and has since become one of the longest running shows on television. Although, it’s not as if the show fell into obscurity. Just five years ago, a PC game based on the show was released (albeit to minimal enthusiasm), demonstrating part of the ongoing effort to keep “Coronation Street” cool in modern times. And even now, with each new episode, there are debates and spoilers all across the internet.

As “Coronation Street” has shown renewed popularity, fellow ITV soap and chief competitor “Emmerdale” has also been going strong in 2016. This show made an even more recent effort than the “Coronation Street” PC game to appeal to modern audiences through new media, specifically through a slot game hosted at a prominent bingo platform. “Emmerdale Country Capers Slot” is one of several “Emmerdale” games that can be found online, and it uses themes from the show to make a regular slot arcade feel more interesting. But whether because of how things like this game reach out to new audiences or because of an inexplicable boost, “Emmerdale” is enjoying strong ratings as well. The same report that cited 8.1 million viewers for “Coronation Street” back in January had “Emmerdale” hitting a 14-month high (and surpassing “EastEnders” from BBC as the second-most-popular soap in England).

The shows are still somewhat old-fashioned of course, and not every modern television fan can get into this particular style of drama. But before you think of soaps as relics of the past, it’s worth considering that they actually seem to be getting more popular overseas.

Written by Marc Berman

Marc Berman

Marc Berman has been writing professionally since 1999 and is the author of the “Mr. Television” for Campaign US (www.campaignlive.com). Most recently, Berman was the creator and Editor-in-Chief of website and newsletter TV Media Insights for Cross MediaWorks. From 1999-2011, he was the Senior Editor for Mediaweek and has also written for The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Emmy Magazine, among others. Berman has also appeared on “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra,” “Access Hollywood,” “Inside Edition,” “The CBS Evening News,” E!, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and MSNBC.

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  1. Very good article Marc, soaps in Britain do super well and I think it’s because they air in very good timeslots there as they air very close to primetime hours. Overall British TV is still better when it comes to not having a strain on its ratings like Saturday nights are huge there. Americans really need to try to look at what works over there and try it over there. I’ve always stated that American soaps would do even better if they aired close to primetime or even got a run in late night.