The Soap Opera Paradigm: Television Programming and Corporate Priorities

Article excerpt

The Soap Opera Paradigm: Television Programming and Corporate Priorities. James H. Wittebols. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004. 231 pp. $75.00 hbk. $27.95 pbk.

What if television were different? What if broadcasters placed the public interest ahead of corporate profit? When we look back at the birth of the broadcasting industry, it seems possible that television could have taken another direction. To be sure, the television form that exists today is more concerned with delivering viewers to advertisers than in delivering quality programming to its audiences. Understanding how media ownership, deregulation, and profit-seeking influence the content of television is of great importance to our society.

In The Soap Opera Paradigm: Television Programming and Corporate Priorities, James H. Wittebols makes an important contribution to the media studies literature by demonstrating how media conglomeration has influenced all aspects of television content. Wittebols examines the shift from a public service approach to television to the concern for corporate money-making and the resulting impact on programming. He argues that almost all television genres-sitcoms, dramas, sports, and even news-apply the logic of the soap opera to grow audience allegiance. He further suggests that this trend has been escalated by the increase in media conglomeration over the last fifteen years.

Wittebols begins with a history of the evolution of the television industry, starting with the early days of radio. His historical analysis of this era lays the foundation for the rest of the book, where he successfully weaves together qualitative and quantitative methods in support of his argument that the manner of storytelling we see in virtually all genres of television is the serial storytelling of the soap opera format.

Wittebols identifies the elements of soap opera storytelling that are appearing in a multitude of genres. The first is seriality, a tool which Wittebols argues is the primary technique for creating audience loyalty. Other aspects of the soap opera paradigm include the real-time orientation of the stories to the everyday world, the "seeming intimacy" that allows viewers to feel as if they are actually there in the minds of the characters, the multiple perspectives viewers can glean through the story exposition, and general "soap" qualities of good vs. evil, conflict and chaos, and the typical portrayal of an upper-middle class existence. …