DANGER ZONE Soaps are in crisis but the real issue is bigger than anyone realises – and could spell the end for TV drama

BRITAIN’S top soaps are in crisis – and it’s worse than you think.

Coronation Street, Emmerdale, EastEnders and Hollyoaks are part of the national identity – especially Corrie.

For more than 60 years it has entertained, informed and amused millions upon millions – and shaped the course of television throughout the world.

But the days of soaps pulling in tens of millions of viewers is over – and though they remain the most-watched shows on television, the economic challenges they face puts the future of our TV industry in serious harm.

BBC daytime soap Doctors wrapped production earlier this year and shut down what was an incredibly important part of the television ecosystem in this country.

Through it the BBC provided a training ground and entry-point into the industry for mainly working class talent.

Talent that may now never get the chance to prove themselves.

And I’m not just talking about actors – but about every part of television production.

Writers, producers, costumers, make-up artists – they all play roles in making the television that people love to watch but if they can’t get into the industry, where does that leave us?

It would be very easy to focus on the well-known success stories – the Sarah Lancashires, Suranne Jones, Michelle Keegans of the world.

They all got their start on soaps – Corrie to be precise – a soap that has historically and still to this day casts many of its actors from local theatre groups.

It could be argued that their talents would find a way to succeed even if Corrie didn’t exist.

But what about the writers and producers? The ones who honed their craft by working on the soaps.

Or the costumers, or directors? Props people, set builders… it all starts on the soaps.

For all the critics who sneer at soaps – and my god there are a lot of them – usually people whose proximity to working class people begins and ends when they get waylaid and accidentally wander into Aldi instead of Waitrose – without the soaps, there would be no prestige television.

Big budget high-profile shows like Happy Valley or It’s a Sin are the darling of critics – but the writers who dreamed up those shows came from soaps.

Sally Wainwright and Russell T. Davies are two of the brightest talents on British television – and they have soaps to thank for their careers.

Both have been open about how their work on the Corrie taught them how to tell stories so successfully.

And so with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 shrinking the soaps where it matters, the television industry is sleep-walking into a crisis of its own making.

With Doctors gone and Hollyoaks’ budget and episodes slashed – the ever-shrinking pool of opportunities for working class talent to be nurtured and grow is dying.

Budget cuts at ITV and the BBC are having a real-world impact on Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders.

And viewers are smart enough to notice.Emmerdale, like the other soaps, provides a fertile training ground for working class talent both in front of and behind the lens

The soaps – particularly Corrie and Emmerdale – are still the most-watched shows in Britain. Viewing habits have changed but the soaps remain.

But if they are allowed to wither and die then we will all be poorer for it.

The future will be packed up for people called Willow and Tarquin making dreadful – but cheap – reality shows about dreadful – but cheap – people.

And do we really need more of that?

 

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