‘If Charles Dickens was alive today, he’d be writing for Coronation Street.’
No. No, he wouldn’t, and oh how that statement gets me worked-up. Charles Dickens – famous for creating his own characters – famous for social realism – famous for campaigning to improve the lives of the poor – wouldn’t write for a soap.
Not unless he really, really needed the money.
It’s kind of an extension of the argument that, today, we don’t need one-off TV plays because we’ve got shows like Coronation Street or Holby City or whatever. Which I think, actually, does those shows a disservice.
You see, soaps are brilliant. I love them. The only reason I don’t watch them any more is because I get obsessed. I’ve watched more Eastenders, Casualty and Brookside than is healthy, I know those shows backwards - but they’re not ‘drama’ in the same way as a one-off TV play. They’re doing their own thing, they’re their own genre - domestic melodrama. And the same goes for ongoing series.
Writing for a soap is all about continuing a previously-developed storyline with previously-established characters. Writing for an ongoing series is all about making up a new storyline for previously-established characters. While writing a one-off TV play is about making up a new storyline and the characters. It’s a different ball game.
I’m not advocating a return to ‘Play for Today’, or at least the videotaped, set-in-a-suburban-living-room version of the show that people remember. That died out in the 80’s for a good reason – one-off TV plays switched to film. A Jack Rosenthal TV play from the 80’s looks pretty much identical to a cheap British Channel 4 movie from the same time. So, please, no more ‘Play for Today’. I want ‘Film for Today’.
Oh, and if Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d be called Paul Abbott.