Monday, 19 March 2018

For the love of Corrie

 
(This post was originally posted by Graeme N on the Coronation Street Blog in March 2018, reposted to this blog with permission.)


I might receive a fair amount of criticism for writing this but it's been itching away at me for a while now. I've normally restricted myself to writing about Classic Coronation Street as it's the only part of the show I can summon enthusiasm for these days. I've read an awful lot about what's going on in the present day Coronation Street and I really don't like it at all. 

Several people who know Coronation Street well, have watched and loved it for years, have written recently that Corrie just isn't Corrie any more. Nobody I've seen has written that the actors aren't up to scratch or production values have dropped. Corrie is a bit of a miracle really, turning out three hours of television a week in the way that team do. I have nothing but praise for the effort and hard graft involved. I just don't think the show is heading in the right direction.

 

There is a great deal of love out there for this programme, it's cherished by many. A large swathe of the population cannot remember a time when Corrie was not a part of their daily lives. On the outside looking in though, it could be argued that the company that we entrust with the future of this wonderful legacy of drama, comedy and northern storytelling just do not understand what Coronation Street means. In this day and age money, ratings and popularity on social media seem to be the driving forces for success. Advertising revenue, beating the competition and guaranteeing controversial talking points among the hashtag generation on Twitter is the name of the game. 

All long running shows need to adapt and change if they want to survive but I really do think Corrie is in danger of forgetting the main principles on which it was founded. These days I often feel Coronation Street could be set anywhere, the sense of Manchester is all but lost. Many of the characters are also interchangeable with any other show in the genre. As I see it the emphasis now is not on character driven stories or even character development, but issue led dramatic tension. It really is a street of extremes. I know serial dramas are all about heightened stories and action and are only meant to represent aspects of real life, not the daily drudgery. Yet the situations must be believable and the audience must be able to accept that the characters could and would find themselves in these circumstances.

 

At the moment we have so many issues being thrashed about it feels like Coronation Street is a box ticking exercise, not a beloved long-running drama. I don't want to dwell on the recent episodes which managed to cram in OCD, grooming, poledancing, the glassing of a character with a bottle and a vicar using heroin in his own church. I know the idea of the watershed is old fashioned, but Coronation Street really was a family show at one point and I feel that while many of the issues being played out are worthy, they are not Corrie. The soap is encroaching far too much into the subject matter of other dramas which can push the envelope a great deal further.

Many people feel that there has been a definite shift towards sensationalism and despite many of those involved in the programme defending its content to the hilt, I don't think anyone could disagree with that. I don't blame the actors and writers for sticking up for the show, after all their jobs depend on it. I've seen longstanding viewers say they'll stop watching and while that should concern ITV, they seem to be attracting a younger audience for the time being. There is a problem with this though. I don't believe younger viewers today are as loyal to a brand, given the range of channels available these days. Also, people younger than me and mine just don't watch television in the traditional way anymore. Neglecting the long standing viewer is a dangerous game. My mother and grandmother have watched Corrie pretty much since the beginning and although neither of them are prudes, they find much of the recent content inappropriate, depressing and mean-spirited. Any comedy in the scripts is forced. Those are not the foundations Coronation Street was built on.

 

Having discussed this with family and friends, there is common opinion that the Street is now far too sensationalist and issue-led. It's also felt that too much of the action focusses on too few characters. It's no surprise that the actors who gain the most screen time are those with the biggest social media following. I really do think Corrie is missing a trick when they neglect some of the best actors on television - the likes of David Neilson, Barbara Knox, Helen Worth and Sue Nicholls seldom get a look in these days. I'm not going to name the actors I think dominate too many of the storylines but I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. Also, while there is a determination to constantly seek out the latest, biggest social issues and trends, it does feel that the Corrie cast is carrying a lot of deadwood characters who have seen precious little development in years. It's an odd combination.

I had major issues with the long running Pat Phelan storyline. I think the actor who plays Pat is superb and deserves to go on to great success elsewhere but the story has been padded out beyond belief and it's taken far too many nasty, unnecessarily grim twists and turns. I complained about the episode broadcast in October which saw the double murder of Vinny and Andy. At the time various luminaries came out and said Corrie had always tackled violent storylines, the shooting of Ernest Bishop in 1978 being quoted by some. For me the stories are like chalk and cheese. The shock death of Ernest was a rare event at the time and therefore had much more of an impact. The story also focussed much more on the grief and recovery of Emily, Ernest's wife. The deaths in the Phelan storyline have been much more about the shock value gained by the way they were carried out. And yes I know we had the Richard Hillman story a decade or so ago but there was black comedy in that one and almost a lightness of touch compared to the current saga. 

 

As I've said I would never look to criticise individual performances or writers as I think the standard remains gobsmackingly high across the board. Yes there are plot holes and unbelievable twists but that's soap for you. In focussing on the big tabloid issues and stunts, Coronation Street is not finding nearly enough time in its three hours a week to deal with the little details of life, the humour, pathos and development of long standing characters. It doesn't operate as a community on screen anymore and characters don't interact in the way they used to. Perhaps this is just Corrie reflecting society today but I don't like it. I really don't. 

So what would I do to change things? For a start I'd shift Peter and Toyah out of the pub. They are not in the tradition of classic Rovers landlords and the central focus of the show is now beige and bland. I'd also introduce a few older characters to broaden the appeal of the show. There are plenty of more mature character actors out there crying out for a gig. I also think Corrie needs to return to its roots and focus on strong women. For too long the storyliners' idea of a strong woman is a snivelling wreck or an eternal bad decision maker who deserves everything she gets. It's just not on. I'd also suggest the Corrie production machine cuts back on the social media a little - I don't think it does anyone any favours. And finally, for pete's sake give some of the other actors in the show something tangible to do. David Neilson needs a humdinger of a story as does Sue Nicholls and the hugely under-rated Shelley King. Even today, Coronation Street is bursting with top turns and quality talent, a great deal of which it is just not using effectively.

 

Anyway, I'll get off my soap box now and drift back to 1987. You may not like what I've said, you may vehemently disagree with every word I've written, but believe me, any criticisms I have come from a long held, deep rooted love for Coronation Street.

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 but please play nice.






Tvor @tvordlj on Twitter

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AGREED!!
Karen

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