All Hail The Return of the Prime Time Soap! (For Real This Time)

With last week’s premiere of ABC’s soap-tastic country music saga Nashville, as well as other new and returning shows of the melodramatic flare, it’s safe to say that the prime time soap genre is officially back on the market; and this time, it’s smarter and ballsier than ever.

While the last decade or so has not been without its share of soapy dramas, the landscape at this very moment is more reminiscent to the prime time schedules of the 1980s and early 1990s than it has ever been before. In the past few years, we have had Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy leading the pack of the new generation of primetime soaps, while other dramas of their ilk either came and went. Then there are those dramas with soap opera-esque undertones, but have been dubbed “serialized dramas” to possibly avoid the ugly stigma of being put in the same class of Private Practice, Melrose Place and Dallas to name a few. So the prime time soap has been here, but not in the glory that it is in at the moment.

Plus, shows like Revenge, Once Upon A Time, Nashville, 666 Park Avenue (all ironically on ABC), and others have taken the basic mechanics of the genre and built more intricate and complex stories that exceed the usual boardroom, bed-hopping dramas of yesteryear. The characters are not two-dimensional in their schemes, but rather grayscale in nature to the point where fans find themselves rooting for a character one week and completely despising them by the time the credits roll.

This week’s episode of Once Upon a Time gave a textbook example of the previous statement with one of the show’s central villains/villainess Regina, aka The Evil Queen. At the beginning of the episode, Regina had viewers sharpening their wit sticks and sarcastic baskets as they watched her terrorize the town of Storybrooke with her newfound powers. However, along the way, we got a chance to see another side of her that actually didn’t want to be the evil she had become, and by episode’s end, we actually sympathized with the woman and her plight. Back in the day, we knew Alexis Morrell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan was only being the H.B.I.C. out of anger of losing her spot as Mrs. Blake Carrington and her kids in the process, but her actions always made us forget that important detail of her character. To be honest, I loved Alexis more than sympathetic Alexis, but I digress. The point is that characters like Revenge‘s Victoria Grayson aren’t as cookie cutter as Dynasty’s Alexis was, and that is actually (despite my complete obsession with Alexis) a damn good thing.

The resurgence of the prime time soap has also set new interest in the shows that set the bar to what a prime time soap should aspire to be or improve upon. Dallas came back to TV this past summer like a prized Brahma bull ready for another go in the ring. The former CBS prime time soap’s success has not only earned it a second season, but sales of the original Dallas’s DVDs went through the roof as new viewers were interested in finding out about the show’s history. There is word that Dynasty might get the same treatment, which would make this blogger one happy son of a if it ever comes true.

While Hollywood has dipped into the recycle well for sudsers like Dallas and Melrose Place, there are a plenty of other projects on various networks’ development slate that are of the soap caliber. NBC Universal’s Bravo has several projects in development that I have dubbed, “Prime Time Soap Heaven,” which includes a TV version of the cult classic Heathers. Lifetime has Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids, as well as The Witches of East End and The Secret Lives of Wives on their prospective slates. Finally, ABC is not done owning the genre with the British import, Mistresses, getting an American do-over this spring.

In short, the prime time soap is here to stay and you better get used to it.

As I said above, the prime time soap isn’t your stereotypical melodrama anymore. It’s a viable medium that brings in the bucks while giving its viewers something to gasp about at the water cooler everyday. Prime time soaps are smarter, more complex, and more accessible than in the past. So let’s celebrate the genre in all of its glory and make room for the next crop of sudsers to come.

Photo Credit: ABC, TNT

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