transmedia storytelling in soap opera
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Dr Ruth A Deller([email protected] @ruthdeller)
Transmedia storytelling in soap opera
There is television that gets watched and there istelevision that gets discussed: the two do notnecessarily coincide there is a wealth of televisionthat is invisible to what we do as academics; that is,there are programmes that exist, but seem not tobe seen Ratings show that these series are notinvisible to significant proportions of the population.Invisibility, then, aims to capture the notion thatthis is broadcasting which appears to go unseenwithin academia; it is simply overlooked or lookedthrough as though it were not there. . In seekingout the new I am suggesting we downplay thesignificance of the old, the ongoing, the repetitive,the always- there. And in doing so, we inadvertentlyrender a wealth of programming invisible. (Mills2010: 1, 7)
[A]nalysis of soap operas has been limited in recent years preciselybecause it is assumed that all the work that needs to be done has beencompleted and we now have an agreed approach towards theiranalysis. The fact that alternative approaches have not beendeveloped, and changes in soap operas in the last couple of decadeshave not been taken into account, demonstrates how easy it is toignore soaps, precisely because they are always there, part of thefurniture of television, ordinary and invisible (Mills 2010: 8).
British soaps are no longer discussed, or even very much watched, intelevision and media studies. Soaps have become the staple oftextbooks and, if they have a role in contemporary debates, it is as thestandard binary against which other, more significant or engaging,programmes are measured. A similar lack of interest can be found inthe broader television culture online and in the British press... This shiftaway from soap opera pre- dates but is aligned to debates aboutquality and aesthetics. (Geraghty 2010: 82-84)
Soaps are distinct from other media forms due to their longevity the dailyinstalments of primary text their celebration and magnification ofemotional expression, and the possibility of lifelong relationships formingbetween loyal viewers, soap characters, and the communities in which thosecharacters live and work. No other form of media fiction offers comparabledailiness, intimacy, and familiarity over the long haul. Soaps longevity poseschallenges to researchers, who struggle with the sheer volume of textualmaterial produced, as well as to the soap industry, which struggles with stayingtrue to shows long narrative histories and developing characters in real timewhile aligning those narratives with contemporary tastes of both newbies andlifers. (Harrington 2015)
Webisodes, bubble episodes, late-night episodes, VHS episodes and spin-offs (1997 present).
Open casting calls (e.g. 'On the Pull', 'Desperately Seeking). First (only?) UK soap to use music as soundtrack. Spin-off music show. First Look episodes on E4 (2001-present). Summer Strallen - planted promotion for Andrew Lloyd Webbers Sound of
Music (2007-8): As the two Summers' lives head inexorably towards aworm-hole in the space/time continuum, we are all left dealing with theknowledge that, even for a moment, Hollyoaks was real. (Julia Raeside,The Guardian, 2008).
Online soap within a soap, Runners, proposed (2008-09) Non-linear week (2009). Flash-forward episode (2009-10). Flashbacks to 1960s and 1980s to develop back story of characters. Point of view week - one week, one story, five perspectives (2016). Product placement (2012-present) (see Channel 4 2014) and episodes
made with real-life magazines (e.g. Heat, Company).
Hollyoaks: Text and Narrative innovations
Paratexts extend[ing] the invitation to play (Gray 2010: 187) (Also Booth 2010, Deller 2014) According to the team, it [the SnapChat spoiler] received phenomenal feedback for
showing its fans trust and respect Lime has a reputation for delivering talked-aboutyouth programmes, says Little. If youre not looking at it through the lens of a digital eye,your shows are not going to get the traction you need to make it a success. (Lime PicturesMD Kate Little in Campelli 2014)
Extensions may serve a variety of different functions. For example, the BBCused radio dramas to maintain audience interest in Doctor Who duringalmost a decade during which no new television episodes were produced.The extension may provide insight into the characters and theirmotivations may flesh out aspects of the fictional worldTransmediastorytelling practices may expand the potential market for a property bycreating different points of entry for different audience segments Similarly,the strategy may work to draw viewers who are comfortable in a particularmedium to experiment with alternative media platforms. The encyclopedicambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps orexcesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plotswhich can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can berevealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate onthese story elements, working them over through their speculations, untilthey take on a life of their own. (Jenkins 2007)
The Square. Under New Management.
Anniversaries as Pseudo-events constructs formarketing and promotion rather than naturally occurring(Boorstin 1963).
Media events as moments of connection betweendispersed people, privileging the home as a centre ofencounter (Dayan and Katz 1992).
[P]opular media events break with the everyday but in amuch more routine way; they do not monopolize ... mediacoverage in total, but in a certain segment(Hepp andCouldry 2010: 8)
Anniversaries as a site that connects the present, past andfuture and draw upon televisions obsession withnostalgia and remembering/reiterating its ownimportance (Holdsworth 2011)
On 21 February 2014, the BBC EastEnders blog revealed that Lucy Beale would be killed thatEaster in a storyline that would run until the soaps 30th anniversary in 2015 A large part ofthis buildup centred on the importance of viewers finding out the identity of the culprit live,as well as the secrecy surrounding the reveal. Interviews with cast and crew claimed that onlya very small number of people knew the outcome, so spoilers would not be revealed.However, what is interesting is that the production team chose to very publicly spoil the factthat Lucy would be killed two months before it happened. Here they used notions of spoilersin different ways to establish hype: revealing spoilers to initially hook viewers in, then keepingspoilers from them to ensure they continued watching. This is common practice with soapoperas, inducing viewers to watch through the promise of sensational storylines or characterintroductions/returns then rewarding that viewing by inserting surprise twists, revelationsand events. This strategy tends to pay off in increased viewer numbers and social mediadiscussion as happened with big events such as Coronation Streets 2015 fire (Leyfield2015) and Neighbours2016 hotel explosion (promoted as a week of #hoteldeathtrap events),(Nottingham 2016). Viewers are spoiled as to what will happen, but have to tune in to findout the answers posed in promotional questions such as Who will die? or, in the case of EEs30th, Who Killed Lucy? (Bell and Deller, forthcoming)
Theres a killer among them
[F]an speculation and anticipation form a key part of the appeal of the WKLB?' storyline, with such speculationoften intersecting with official show paratexts such as the soap's website and social media channels (Gray2010) the show's production and marketing team deliberately sought to engage fans in this sense ofparatextual play (Hills 2013; Deller 2014) by encouraging speculation on who the murderer was, how it tookplace, and what its impact on other characters would beA few weeks before the climax to the storyline,viewers were invited to take part in a competition predicting the killer, with winners receiving the prize of a settour. The cast also took part in the game, giving interviews in which they predicted whodunit paratextualplay is a common part of soap fandom. However, it is much rarer that such play crosses over into mainstreammedia, which typically do not cover soaps unless there is a particular controversy. However, the Live Weekattracted a considerable amount of mainstream media coverage speculation typically surrounded lists ofsuspects informed by fan theories. (Bell and Deller, forthcoming)
Paratextual anticipation and speculation (Garner 2015, Gray2010)
Mystery narratives extend beyond fictional form (soap itself)to paratextual speculation, not only about storylines, butabout production, actors, audiences.
For anniversaries: Will this please the fans? Will X return?Will the episode(s) be a fitting tribute?
Plural audiences for anniversaries (see Hills 2013, 2015). Media event beyond the episode(s) themselves reveals,
clues as moments of mini-event and inducement to watch. Reveals outside of the text: SnapChat, NTAs
Social media as sites of paratextual play between producers, actors andaudiences e.g. sharing memes, jokes and humourous lists (Deller 2014)
Affective sensibilities of play appealing to audiences nostalgia andrecognition as well as humour.
Social networks dont switch off in the face of contemporary media events:rather, they are energized by, and in turn work to narratively (re)activate, theparatextual prefigurations and after-images of a brand anniversary. (Hills2015: 21)
Television topics that trend highly are generally those considered aswatercooler TV such as reality television programmes, contests and talentshows, or event drama, such as cult television or series finales While soapoperas are discussed on Twitter regularly, the frequency of episodes meansthey do not generate enough traffic to trend regularly unless there is theclimax of a major storyline, they are not considered event TV. (Deller 2011:225-6)
Liveness naturalises the idea that, through the media, weachieve a shared attention to the realities that matter for us asa society. This is the idea of the media as socialframe, the myth of the mediated centre. It is because of thisunderlying idea (suggesting society as a common spacefocused around a shared ritual centre) that watchingsomething live makes the difference it does: otherwise whyshould we care that others are watching the same image as us,and (more or less) when we are? (Couldry, 2004: 97-99)
Maximum liveness: we are watching at the same time as theevent, at the same time as everyone else, and, what is more,with an event taking place in different locations connected bytelevision, as is typically the case with major media events(Bourdon 2000: 534-535).
EastEnders created a further sense of being part of theviewing community in its approach to live week,encouraging audience participation in the event throughlive viewing and simultaneous engagement on socialmedia. The shows Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Facebookaccounts were all updated as the episodes werebroadcast, providing commentary on events as theyhappened. The notion of a live week emphasised theimportance of watching the show as broadcast, ratherthan via catch-up services at a later time. This draws uponthe notion that liveness indicates a sense of commonality,bringing viewers together around one central moment.(Bell and Deller, forthcoming)
Modes of play included: Role-playing accounts (e.g. as Ian Beale,
Mick Carter) Memes Intertextual jokes and references Teasers and speculation Canonisation by producers of fan ideas
(Deller 2014, Veale 2013) and live mishaps.
The key thing I fight for is funny content. The biggest reason people say they don't watch EastEnders isbecause "it's miserable". It is... But it's also very, very funny too. So I use a good sense of humour onsocial to make people who don't watch (or have stopped watching) consider giving the show a chance[on Tamwar tweets] All credit to Himesh. He wrote it, steered it and made it what it was. Can't take anycredit for that. Just getting him the opportunity he needed to be brilliant. And he was! (EE social mediaeditor Stephen Saul)
I tend to tweet as the show is being broadcast & at random times if I think of anything funny that'srelated to Tracey or EastEnders in general my character doesn't have a huge speaking role but I decidedto create my Tracey account because I believe she is looked upon as a EE legend & apart from Ian Beale &Dot Branning, has been in the show from the beginning. Also because so little is really known about herthat that leaves me with more room for expression. (@Traceythebarmaid)
one day I was bored and I thought I'd make a twitter account to post a few harmless jokes and Ian Bealeseemed a random character to base an account on. At the time I don't think there was many soap parodyaccounts on twitter, if I recall there was just a Roy Cropper account from Coronation Street I gained 2-3thousand followers in a couple of days and I was like whoa! people seemed to like what I was tweetingand nearly 4 years on I have 158K followers during those live episodes I did get a lot more retweetsthan usual and I think I gained 4 thousand new followers from using the #EELive hashtag (@_IanBeale_)
Neighbours vs Zombies (2014)
[O]fficial paratexts in the form of the shows website, YouTube channel andsocial media accounts further encourage a sense of playfulness from viewers,recirculating memes, humorous commentary and play along video stories.Even serious storylines such as the hit and run killing of bad boy RobboSlade become rife for meme creation and comedic promotional artwork,often adopting the tongue-in-cheek style found on [fan sites] or referencingfan in-jokes. Although ratings are much smaller than at their peak, the showstill has a high degree of visibility within British culture and its most popularactors, particularly Alan Fletcher (Karl) and Ryan Maloney (Toadfish), oftenappear on British television shows, usually in a humorous capacity, or incharacter, as well as touring university student unions or appearing inpantomime. These acts of promotion for the soap all reinforce the text as a siteof play between production teams, actors and viewers even those viewerswho no longer watch the soap on a regular basis. (Deller 2014: 103)
In part, radio has been absent from these conversations because of itshistorical status as an invisible medium within media studies. Another reasonis simply because the most successful, most popular and highest profileexamples of transmedia franchises The Batmans and the Harry Potters rarely incorporate radio as a major element. This has started to shift in recentyears, as transmedia practices are increasingly adopted by media producerswho are interested less in commercial entertainment experiences and more insocial change and public-interest agendas, who often come from radioproduction backgrounds and who incorporate radio broadcast, genres, stationsand their listening communities as fundamental parts of a multi-platformmedia project. (Edmond 2014: 1570)
The Archers: Transmedia and the Helen and Rob storyline
This is Abuse
The campaign incorporated character Bebo pages in which thefictional characters chatted and discussed the episode content withviewers as the events depicted had taken place, and postedfrequent blogs relating to their leisure time in Manchester. Blogsinitially depicted alcohol use as a positive and fun aspect of youthleisure, before progressively portraying drinking in a more negativemanner over the course of the month Viewers comments relatingto alcohol included references to the characters drinking too muchand viewers trying to persuade them to stop. However, numerouscomments also encouraged characters to drink and have fun, andincluded viewers discussing nightlife, inviting the character to drinkwith them and expressing a wish to join characters in their drinkingand partying. (Atkinson et al 2010: 461)
In our book, we made a distinction between legal ownership over soap narratives and whatwe called moral ownership over themfans sense that soap opera communities andcharacters are theirs, rather than belonging to the writers, actors, directors, or producers.This sense of ownership is rooted in at least three factors. First, soaps very success atcreating and sustaining a seamless fictional world [. . .] creates a space for viewers to asserttheir claims when they perceive continuity is broken (Bielby, Harrington, and Bielby 1999,36). Second, viewers regularly outlast soaps revolving writing and production teams. Manylong-term fans have been invested in their show(s) longer than the people creating them(as, often, have several of the actors playing the characters, leading to interesting ownershipstruggles within the industry [Harrington and Brothers 2010]), and they often do know theirshows history better. (The same point can be made of long-term sports fans or movie-franchise fans, contexts in which transgenerational fandoms outlast coaches, players, actors,directors, etc.) Third, soap production schedules allow the industry to respond relativelyquickly to fan complaints and concerns, giving fans a sense that their opinions can make areal difference. (Harrington 2015)
The likes of Ang (1985) and Spence (2005) note the ironic pleasures inwatching soap opera and using it as a source of humour. Of course, some ofthis is bound up with notions of taste and the idea that soap opera is a lessvenerated form than other media, however, we would argue that this is notthe only salient factor. Bonding over humour and shared social experience isa key part of the appeal of soap, as it is with many other media and culturalforms. The humorous appeal of soap is something producers are keenlyaware of, particularly in the way they use social mediaBy engaging in thesame forms of humorous talk as the fans, and by sharing fan-created media,soaps are able to both build their own hype (Gray 2010: 6) and give theimpression that the producers understand what fans want. (Bell and Deller,forthcoming)
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