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Afternoon Delight: Delightful Take on Soap Operas

August 5, 2011

Afternoon Delight
Carolyn Hinsey
4th Street Media
July 2011 317 pages

I’ve watched maybe 4 or 5 episodes of a soap opera in my lifetime. When you consider that soaps have been broadcasting their ongoing stories since the 1930’s, that’s a tiny percentage of understanding a beloved genre. I read Carolyn Hinsey’s book because I was curious, and because I’ve known Carolyn for years- since she and my dad worked together at the Daily News.

I had a terrific time reading Afternoon Delight. Carolyn weaves dishy behind-the-scenes stories through a well-researched and informative history of soaps as a business and a genre. Reading this fun, gossipy, book is like having a delightful afternoon chat with a friend. A friend who really knows her stuff about soaps, and loves the shows, the people who work on them, and her fellow fans. There couldn’t be a better guide for a soap opera newbie who can’t tell All My Children apart from As The World Turns.

Hinsey’s sense of humor shines through the writing as well. She pokes affectionate fun at some of the stranger storylines that are a staple of the soap genre. Paternity test surprises! Amnesia! Coming back from the dead! Evil twins! In soaps, these plot twists are played for maximum, earnest dramatic impact. Hinsey does a great job of capturing the way a fan’s reaction embraces both the drama and the ridiculousness of it all.
I was also intrigued by the way the mechanics of filming enter into the way stories are plotted. There’s lots of having sex on the couch in soap operas, which sounds like furtive, temporary flings are going on. But as Hinsey points out, it’s also a device to save money by not having to build a character’s bedroom stage on the set! Covering actresses’ pregnancies, dealing with vacations and contracts of who kisses whom- these realities are all reinterpreted in the soap world. In clever ways that impressed and intrigued me, both with the craft of managing them, and with Hinsey’s account.

For a genre that draws so much drama from backstabbing and rivalries between characters, it’s interesting to see how close-knit and respectful the cast and crew will be. Things like not spreading mean gossip in interviews, having romances, and being a really supportive group. Hinsey describes As The World Turns as “the biggest love fest of a cast,” with actors falling in love, marrying, and buying houses in the same neighborhood, so they could throw barbecues together.

Of course, the past few years haven’t been kind to soap operas as an industry. “Soap operas aren’t dying; they’re being murdered!” Hinsey fumes at the industry decisions that have led to the cancellation of shows like Guiding Light and One Life To Live. Backed up by viewer numbers and industry information; her arguments are also solidly grounded in the soap fan base. Hinsey offers some solid ideas for revitalizing soaps. Revamp an antiquated ratings system that relies on numbers from a show’s first airing, and make it take rebroadcasts and the Web into account. Do smart, savvy product placement that’s a seamless part of the story. Use social media to the fullest. And above all, go back to the basics of telling good stories the audience will love. (I might add: Hire Hinsey as a consultant- between her knowledge and passion for the genre, she has me convinced, and I don’t even watch soaps!)

One Comment leave one →
  1. SRS permalink
    August 5, 2011 10:50 pm

    as a soap viewer of many diff soaps for 50 years, I completely agree with your review of Miss Hinsey’s book, but it begs the question – why haven’t you watched soaps? I honestly can’t imagine my life without them. Love in the Afternoon!!

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