Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Come on Corrie, get a grip!

(This post was originally posted by Graeme N on the Coronation Street Blog in July 2014.)

I've been commenting *moaning* on Twitter a lot over the past few days about the current state of Coronation Street. I've been watching Corrie since the early 1990s and mostly I've watched religiously. I'm worried though that I'm now starting to slip away from my favourite telly programme.

I started watching Corrie really just because it was on. My mum always watched it, as did my gran. It was part of life. At the tail end of the pre-digital age it still commanded massive viewing figures without having to resort to desperate measures to encourage people to tune in. Corrie had just gone to three episodes a week but we were yet to experience Sunday episodes, double episodes on a Monday and Friday or entire week long "specials". 

Corrie wasn't repeated on other ITV channels immediately after it was shown, there was no catch-up service and hardly any special documentaries. It was shown at 7.30pm three times a week and that was that. And for us, then, it was enough. Corrie was a treat to watch. It was a viewing highlight. 

Competing in a multi-channel media age is harming my favourite soap opera. Ratings are the most important factor. This means the schedules are saturated with Corrie, still an ITV cash cow. Everything is explosive. There are so many twists and turns I'm left exhausted, but I just don't really care like I did. Opportunities are missed for classic characters like Deirdre, Audrey and Emily while the likes of Tina, Peter and Rob dominate continuously without a let up.

Not every character needs to bed hop. We don't need to be subjected to an explosive exit every time a Weatherfield regular leaves. Every character must experience an extreme, there's no middle ground any more.

Whatever happened to small things happening to normal characters that affected them in a big way? These days massive events happen to characters at such regular intervals that all believability is lost. It was always the simple, quiet, tender moments that made me watch The Street. We, the viewer, tuned in to see things happen to our favourite characters that could or indeed had happened to us. There was empathy, a shared history and truth. The dialogue was sharp, funny and warm. We still get snatches of these wonderful qualities but more often than not we get characters behaving badly, the dialogue spiteful and cruel at times. 

I recently watched two classic Corrie episodes from 1992 on Youtube. Not that long ago really, but the difference in quality, storytelling and all round performances was striking. In the first episode Alma Sedgwick married Mike Baldwin while Don Brennan went off the rails. In the second, Lisa Duckworth gave birth to Tommy while Rita's husband Ted passed away. Both episodes featured big life events - marriage, infidelity, the arrival of new life and the ending of another. Big events for any of us but portrayed realistically and with feeling. 

The other striking aspect of both episodes was that they displayed a quality Coronation Street used to portray so so well. Switching from comedy to tragedy, light to shade, with such ease. Showing one marriage begin while another reaches the end of the road and the creation of new life while another is snuffed out may seem predictable but the combination really does prove effective. 

These days such qualities are far less in evidence as far as I can see. There has been far too much doom and gloom of late and very little humour. The Powers that Be need to enlist the help of the Corrie archivist to demonstrate how cracking working class storytelling used to be done. 

I know times change and many aspects of the old Coronation Street wouldn't pass muster in this more sophisticated modern age but I really strongly believe that the original qualities of Corrie, dating all the way back to December 1960, can still be relevant today. 

I saw something online earlier this week quoting Russell T Davies, creator of Queer As Folk, saying that the future of soap operas was now looking rather shaky and wondering whether they would all survive another ten years. 

I sincerely hope Corrie does survive and goes on to flourish for many more years to come. I do however, think it needs to look back so it can move forward. 

Follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82

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