Continuing Drama


As everyone knows, a while back the BBC decided to stop calling soaps ‘soaps’ and call soaps ‘continuing drama’ …

Except, hang on, does everyone really know this?

TV, newspapers, magazines and everyone I know who’s not a writer still calls them soaps.

Do ITV and Channel Four still call them soaps?

Do Channel Five even have any soaps?

Have I ever watched Channel Five?

For the life of me, I can’t think of one program I’ve ever watched on Channel Five … how odd.

I don’t know when the BBC made its decision to change from soaps to continuing drama. For all I know they may have always referred to soaps as continuing drama and it’s only recently come to my attention; but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume it’s a relatively recent memo which was circulated around BBC staff. A memo which went something like this:

“Stop fucking calling them soaps, you bastards. It’s continuing drama, got it? Continuing fucking drama. Fucking deal with it.”

But presumably on headed paper.

And here’s the point.

Yes folks, that’s right: today I have a point.

Who is this change aimed at?

People who like soaps, call them soaps. People who don’t like soaps call them long names with lots of swearing in them.

The people who like them, the viewers, aren’t really aware the name has changed. Presumably, they have no interest in what they’re called anyway – as long as the shows continue to get made.

The people who don’t like them … is it an attempt to curry favour by pretending they’re not soaps? Lots of companies and organisations do this, in an attempt to distance themselves from the food poisoning/nuclear contamination/child molestation they’ve dumped on their consumers. It’s a move made by someone who knows what they do/produce is bad and want to distance themselves from it.

Again, since this information isn’t widely known, it would appear not to be the case.

So who is actually aware of this name change?

Writers, directors, producers … basically, anyone who works or aspires to work in TV.

Ah, interesting.

Being as I’m a writer, and only really read information by other writers, the only people I’ve heard refer to soaps as continuing drama are other writers. I’ll talk about this because it’s the only real reference point I have, and I’m presuming it’s a microcosm for how the industry has reacted as a whole.

New writers who like soaps and want to write for them are quite happy calling them soaps. They frequently refer to them as soaps and then guiltily correct themselves as if they’ve used a bad word. So the name change isn’t aimed at them.

New writers who don’t like soaps and don’t want to write for them (and possibly have no hope in hell of making a living in the UK) think the name change is a desperate attempt to pretend the shows aren’t a pile of shit. The name change might be aimed at tricking them into writing for something they don’t want to, but I doubt it. These still seem to refer to them as soaps without feeling the need to kow-tow to a weird form of non-political correctness.

Established writers who don’t like soaps and don’t want to write for them (are there many of these?) may be aware of the name change, but again, I doubt this will suddenly change their mind about the nature of the shows. I can’t see many suddenly turning around and deciding it’s okay to be a continuing drama writer, but not a soap writer. These guys seem to delight in referring to them as soaps just to annoy anyone who calls them continuing drama.

Established writers who like and already write for soaps … these are the only people I’ve heard consistently refer to them as continuing drama. They are the only ones who seem never, ever say ‘soap’.

Maybe they’re following a BBC mandate which might otherwise cost them future employment?

But since these are the same group of people who regularly berate writers who don’t want to write for soaps as snobs, it just smacks to me of embarrassment. Whenever I read of some writer piling into a discussion in defence of continuing drama by accusing anyone who doesn’t like them of being up their own arse … it just sounds wrong. It sounds very Mrs. Bucket.

It’s not like people still calling Emmerdale ‘Emmerdale Farm’. It’s not an obvious name change which is branded on the product, in the same manner people refuse to abandon names like Opal Fruits, Marathon or Jif – fucking get over it, these products don’t exist any more and haven’t for years.

Since it’s not a widely used term and it’s not written down anywhere where the average member of public can read it, it’s a pointless correction.

“I’m a continuing drama writer.”

“What’s that then?”

“You know, Eastenders, Casualty, Holby … that sort of thing.”

“You mean soaps?”

(Embarrassed shuffle) “Maybe.”

“Why didn’t you just fucking say so?”

It’s like ‘Life on Mars’ writers refusing to admit the show was a Sci-Fi show. Will you just fucking get over yourselves?

As far as I can work out, the change from soap to continuing drama might be an attempt to rebrand the shows to attract new talent who would otherwise be reluctant to work on a soap; but seems more likely to be for the people who already work on the shows and are embarrassed about it.

If that’s the case, why write for them?

And where does this end?

Will Doctor Who be rebranded as a non-reality based drama?

Will documentaries become narrated factual drama?

Is it just because you can’t call a BBC department the ‘Soap Department’?

Am I wrong and have completely missed the point?

Have any of you worked out I don’t really care what they call these shows and I’m merely ranting to avoid doing any real work because I don’t know how to fix the current draft?

Oh, and I lied. I don’t have a point – just a LOT of meaningless words.

Categories: BBC, Bored, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Continuing Drama

  1. “…the name change is a desperate attempt to pretend the shows aren’t a pile of shit.”

    I said much the same thing here. Which probably means I have little chance of making a living in the UK…

  2. Running with the ‘not science fiction’ element of your post…

    It’s a bit like Jeanette Winterson saying that her latest book ‘The Stone Gods’ isn’t science fiction. Or Margaret Attwood saying ‘Oryx and Crake’ isn’t sf because there are no ‘talking squids’ in it.

    I worked in a book shop for a while and used to delight in putting Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ in the Science Fiction section only to see some poe-faced spoon put it in general fiction over and over again.

    It’s amazing how small minded intelligent folk can be.

    Personally, I’d relish the chance to write for a soap.


    It’s not SF – he’s in a coma.

    Really, I swear to God, I’m not making this up. Not SF. In any way, means, shape, manner, or form. Not SF. Not even one tiny little itty-bitty-bit.

    Not. SF.

    He is dreaming the whole damn thing. Because he’s in a coma.

    (And nor’s Doctor Who. It’s Children’s Fantasy. Even though it sometimes does SF as part of that.)

    Right. Now that’s over:

    Continuing Drama.

    For me, there’s a difference between Casualty and EE. Casualty, I’d argue, is a drama while EE is a soap.

    Now I’ve got no problem with either of those series. But I’d say they’re not the same. It’s to do with the stories they tell – a drama relies on an external agency to cause the dramatic problems, while in a soap all of the drama is created by the interaction of the regular characters.

    As to why they’re both Continuing Drama? My understanding is that it’s purely and simply because they’re made year-round and therefore need to be commissioned and staffed differently to other shows.

    And that’s it. Nothing to do with plot, character, or arena. It’s just a production thing.

    And that’s why you never hear it used outside of TV – because it’s a purely TV term. To everyone else, a show is either a drama or a soap.

  4. Oli: you said it a lot more concisely than me.

    I prefer your title too.

    As for making a living, this is a question which plagues me daily.

    Rob: I suppose, if we wanted to get really picky, most science fiction isn’t science fiction anyway – on the grounds there’s precious little science in them; but then you end up sub-dividing genres until you run out of shelf space.

    I don’t know what the issue is with SF, why so many people consider it to be less worthy than any other genre. Especially since most of the nay-sayers have never read any.

    And you’ll never write for a soap with that attitude, young man. It’s Continuing Drama, get it right.

  5. Piers: the voice of reason.

    Life on Mars, there’s a grey area there; but Doctor Who not science fiction? That’s crazy talk.

    I guess I think of a soap as show which doesn’t have self-contained episodes: plot lines which run across several episodes with no real structure. I’d say Casualty is 50% soap since there’s a significant portion of the show which is incomprehensible to a casual viewer – it refers to events and plot lines which happened in the previous episode or series.

    In this respect, I guess most Sci-Fi has wandered into soap territory in recent years – and is all the better for it; but it does mean you have to watch it from the beginning in order to make sense of it.

    This is possibly why I watch less TV now than I once did. I frequently miss the first couple of episodes of a show and feel it’s pointless joining in halfway through.

  6. I attended a soap conference in Birmingham as a youth several years ago. It had the writers, actors and producers from Brookie and Emmerdale.

    There was no Easties because it didn’t exist and there was no Corrie because they objected to the word “soap” in the title of the conference as they were “continuing drama” not a “soap”.

  7. That’s interesting, I would have thought Corrie was the most soap-like of them all.

    I don’t know why I think that, I just do.

    Kind of blows the whole rant out of the water though, doesn’t it? Since it’s a term which pre-dates Eastenders.

  8. There’s no way soaps can improve their profile by referring to themselves as Continuing Drama as long as they religiously follow the births-deaths-marriages format.

    In ANY of the current soaps, if there’s been a wedding, the plot-line never follows on with another wedding – it’s either a death or a birth. Same if you mix any combo of the three. That’s why they’re soaps – pure melodrama.

    For instance, in Coronation Street there’s just been a wedding this week. As one of the other characters is heavily pregnant it’s a fair bet, the next plot-line to engage the viewers interest will be that birth. But as the pregnant character has some months to go, it’s possible to fit in a quick death. So, I have a one million dollar bet here, that says there will NOT be another wedding on Corrie before one of the characters either dies or gives birth, (or both art the same time during childbirth), but no way another wedding, before one of the other two ‘laws-of-the-soaps’ have occurred.
    – Continuing drama my arse!

    I think my million dollars is safe, (can get them off eBay for 50p if I’m wrong anyway).

    The amount of incidents that happen to one character’s life, if transferred to real life would have them on the front pages of any newspaper, as the most cursed/unluckiest person in Britain. They’re soaps – and they’ll bloody well stay that way, (he said melodramatically).

  9. I’m not quite seeing how the match, hatch and dispatch thing makes it automatically bad. That Corrie death may be predictable and inevitable but it is likely to be well-written and entertaining. In fact, two soaps did the wedding thing this week and a critic called one good and the other one bad. Whatever the genre it all comes down to the quality of the writing in the end.

    For soaps, the problem is drama isn’t real-life, they have to make life hard for the characters because that’s what the audience wants and expects – constant conflict and misery.

    Yes, the characters are bloody unlucky but I think the audience suspend their disbelief willingly for the soap genre as they would for another genre like sci-fi or a thriller. John McLane is *really* unlucky.

  10. Jessica Fletcher witnessed nearly 300 murders, that’s beyond unlucky and into downright suspicious

    I always thought the last episode should reveal she was a mass murderer who cleverly framed all the people she ‘caught’.

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