Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Survival Of Soap Opera

Ten years and more have passed since the serial Großstadtträume made its brief appearance on German television. Conceived as a spin-off from the long-running soap opera Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten it was cancelled after only seven episodes had been broadcast. However, even if only eleven episodes were produced it can be assumed that the full season of twenty-six episodes had been storylined and even scripted.

One of the reasons for the success of GZSZ is that the writing process has always obeyed the rules set forth by Reg Grundy, the Australian producer and Reg Watson, creator and head writer of The Restless Years, the series which inspired the German production. As Wikipedia notes: The show was remade in the Netherlands as Goede tijden, slechte tijden (first broadcast 1990) and in Germany as Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten (since 1992): both these titles mean 'Good times, bad times' but a more accurate translation would be 'The best of times and the worst of times'. As of 2010, the Dutch and German shows are still running - although they have long since diverged from the original Australian storylines - and are the highest rated soap operas in their respective countries.

Reg Watson was also behind the international soap opera phenomenon Neighbours, (the series launched in 1985 and episode 6,060 was aired last week). 

It can be presumed that Watson knows something about storytelling.

It is for this reason that I see the German scripts and series 'bible' of Großstadtträume as a slumbering asset which the owner of the intellectual property, Fremantle Media, could still exploit.

My thinking is based on my sampling of fiction series produced for audiences in Turkey, Syria, the countries of the Gulf and India. Their audiences have a huge appetite for drama. Their production companies are increasingly capable of delivering shows which look as slick as any made in long established television markets. But what a boon to producers in territories like these it would be to have as the basis of their output to have an input in the form of skilfully crafted scripts, in this instance those of Großstadtträume, sitting on a shelf somewhere in Berlin.

Why, you may ask, is my thinking suddenly going along these lines? Ten years, after all, have passed since the series in question was launched but failed to establish itself as a prime-time one-hour format. But GZSZ came ten years after The Restless Years had ended its run in Australia.

There were two nudges in the past couple of days. One was a lengthy post by Henry Jenkins, his response to the publication of a book with the ominous title The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations For a New Media Era

He gathers some interesting viewpoints concerning the threats and challenges the genre faces, specifically in the United States. Reading his words reminded me how much this much-maligned genre still means to me.

A second prompt was my discovery of the hilarious clip below, from the series Berlin, Berlin produced by Studio Hamburg for three immensely popular seasons. Featured are two actors who made theri screen debuts in GZSZ, Rhea Harder who had a leading role for six years and the ridiculously telegenic Jan Sosniok, who was one of our major talent discoveries during the time when I was fortunate enough to be the series' producer.

And so?

I think I'll try to acquire an option on the Großstadtträume scripts, offering to adapt and translate into English the scripts for production in countries where in my firm opinion the underlying premise... business rivalry, emotional intrigue and dangerous romances... have universal appeal.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Glad the piece resonated with you, Malcolm, and hope you have chance to take a look at the remaining posts in the series this week. This was a great project to work on over the past couple of years...