I meant to mention this story from Friday's MediaGuardian.co.uk (log-in required, sorry)
about the sorely troubled EastEnders:
"EastEnders reportedly came close to going off air because of disagreements over plot lines, with scripts being constantly ripped up and rewritten."
Personally, I think 'Enders' problems go back many years, and you could see they were sowing the seeds of the whirlwind back then. Going 4 times a week was a bad move. Sure, you can make hay and catch viewers while they want to watch, but it makes it impossible to go back to 3 times a week when you run short of ideas, however temporarily.
What's always annoyed me has been their method of introducing new characters and storylines. They always do it in the same way, so that it reinforces their problems. The new characters are always introduced as one big family, and for months, all the storylines revolve around them, and it all spirals down the drain.
For example: the Jacksons. Remember them? There was the mother, who had loads of kids by different fathers, her current partner, Alan, and their, ooh, 4 was it? kids, one of whom was a thieving scallywag. And it all got boring and they were written out, except Sonia, who exists in the twilight world of characters without storylines for now.
Then there was that italian family, another extended family, supposed to be running some kind of restaurant, and one of them was a cop, and they were always fighting, except it got boring, so they were written out.
Then came the Slaters, another extended family, grandmother, father, multiple sisters, multiple storylines. Some of them have been written out of it.
Then the Ferreiras, an extended Asian family, and they were derided and mostly written out - I think a couple of them might be knocking around still, in limbo, soon to depart.
Not content with that sequence, another big family has been introduced, the Shelley-like
unemployed father, deluded mother, pregnant teen daughter, thieving scallywag of a son etc.
Can you see the pattern? It's all rubbish. What they try to do, again and again, is parachute plotlines into the square, which is why none of the families is quite what you'd call "normal", balanced, or complete. But drama works best when it takes ordinary people and puts them under stress, into extraordinary circumstances etc. So they should be starting with mostly average people who, over time, develop relationships and storylines in a more organic way.
But that's the other thing. Everything is so rushed. The beauty of a long-running drama serial, it seems to me, is that you have all the time in the world to let things develop, to fester, to come to fruition. Illegitimate children can be forgotten about until they're of plottable age etc. Secret affairs can go on for years without being discovered. Only this morning they were talking on the radio about a bloke who pretended to his wife to be working in the far East for 6 years, while all the time living 2 miles down the road in West Bromwich. Yes, the Dash Hammett Flitcraft plot from the Maltese Falcon
. But in EastEnders, every plot is accelerated to try to pull in the viewers, and guess what? It's a big turn-off.
It's a tired, tired old format. Things that used to be funny about it are no longer funny. Nobody can keep a normal job that takes place of the Square, for example. So if you're cop, like Beppe and then Kate, you have to give it up and go work in a pub or a nail bar. You either work in the arches, one of Ian Beale's businesses, the pub, the club, or on the market. The number of people who magically produce the capital to become a market trader is miraculous.
Why isn't someone working in the city, insider trading, or selling shares short and getting caught out? Why doesn't some Sarah Beany style property developer couple move in and start doing up houses and selling them on, attracting well-paid middle-class people? Why is nobody in a band? What about a busy restaurant with a loud braying celebrity proprietor hot and noisy kitchen, full of hungry sous-chefs and desperate waiting staff looking for love? None of this would be hard to achieve within the constraints of the format. Someone moving in who owned their own washing machine and shopped at a supermarket would be a start.
Still, they know where I am if they want to call me in.