January 20, 2007
The Convergence Manifesto III: Quality Storytelling in Soap Operas

This is the third part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

It's no surprise that I will fall back on one of the genres of television that I know best: the soap opera. While documentation of the experiments of primetime television and video games and comic books seem to be well-documented, daytime programming seems largely ignored by critics and scholars and even most of the people in the industry.

I think that such media snobbery leaves the industry ignoring important lessons from these marginalized genres. There's some view that soap operas (and pro wrestling, another major lovemark of mine, is also often ignored by "the mainstream," despite the fact that both genres have very large viewership).

I've been following and blogging a lot about the ways in which the soap opera genre has been trying to adapt in our current convergence culture. In particular, soaps have been attempting to use new cross-platform ways of storytelling, usually attempted more as a marketing experiment than as a true transmedia experiment.

For instance, the soap that I am writing my Master's thesis on, As the World Turns, has made several interesting transmedia moves in the past year. A storyline on the show revealed that the son of a prominent family in Oakdale, Ill., is gay. We find out on the show that the teen, Luke Snyder, is blogging about his life online and that his parents don't know much about or understand his blog. Then, viewers are actually able to read the blog online.

In another example, the show released the novel Oakdale Confidential, a fictional book that exists within the fictional world of the show. The characters on the show are livid when the book is published, using many of the people around town as characters in a book that is not in any way true. And viewers can then go buy the book, a cultural artifact from the show, to find out what the fuss is about.

There's no doubt that these are interesting experiments, and I find both to be refreshing steps forward for the soaps industry. But there's one complication: neither the novel nor the blog really added that much meaningful content to the show.

Moderately, they did, and both proved to be a resounding success, particularly the novel. Oakdale Confidential made its way to the top of Amazon's list and the New York Times bestsellers list, despite being from a marginalized television genre and a genre mystery book that is also part of a marginalized part of the print industry.

I don't think these projects were meant as an attack on viewers, but I do think that future examples of transmedia, now that it has proven to be viable commercially, must make better use of the transmedia aspects. In other words, if viewers are to be expected to read a blog, it should provide information that they can't find anywhere else, something that will tell them more about the plot or about the character in question.