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The Real Deal




Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Are Soaps And Unscripted TV The Perfect Blend?

By Naomi Rabinowitz

Is your favorite couple finally going to go all the way? Just how long is it going to be before that bitch gets her comeuppance? Boy. is he manipulative!

Before SURVIVOR's premiere in 2000. those statements most likely would have been associated with a drama. These
days, they could just as easily be describ┬Čing many reality shows. In the past few years, we've seen a plethora of unscripted programs emerge, featuring everything from guys looking for love to people swallowing insects. And as reality TV has grown in popularity, daytime has found unique ways to combine audiences.

DAYS OF OUR LIVES. PASSIONS and ONE LIFE TO LIVE offered former reality stars contract roles: AS THE WORLD TURNS and ALL MY CHILDREN worked real-life promotions (a bus tour and sexiest man contest, respectively) into on-screen plots: BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and YOUNG AND RESTLESS brought on reality personalitiy for guest stints, and last fall,
SOAPnet aired I WAN NA BE A SOAP STAR, where participants competed for a part on GH. But does mixing these genres help daytime in the long run?

"I definitely think that combining them is a good idea:' opines Heidi Mueller (Kay, PASSIONS), who made her TV debut on WHO WANTS TO MARRY MY DAD'? "A lot of people like reality shows for the same reasons people like soaps: There are romances and catfights and all this drama. So. if soaps can find ways to get these view┬Čers who might end up watching regularly, they should do what they can to hook them." Such as bringing on popular reality stars. "It's a great way to cross-promote shows." shrugs Mueller. "Why not have them on? A lot of times. soaps use guest stars anyway, so it makes sense to go for people who are well-known."

As for reality stars with daytime contracts, Mueller points out that being on an unscripted show can help prepare for a soap career. "I'd never been on TV before [MARRY MY DAD]," Mueller admits. "I'd done some school plays. but never really thought about acting professionally. But being on MARRY MY DAD taught me how to stay relaxed in front of the cameras. It also exposed me to the industry and got me used to long days. I didn't learn to act from it. but I did learn how to deal with some stressful situations.

Meanwhile. a show like SOAP STAR benefits both worlds, explains Michael Bruno. a judge and manager to several day time stars, including Josh Taylor (Roman. DAYS) and Ashley Jones (Bridges, B&B). "With SOAP STAR, daytime fans can say. 'We've finally gotten our own show.' " he notes. "It appeals to fans of soaps and fans of reality TV It's another way to attract viewers of reality and then get them interested in daytime."

But what about STARTING OVER, the reality "soap" that NBC is running during its daytime line-up? "I think it fits right in;" states the show's co-executive producer. Joan O'Connor. The program features women living together as they attempt to reinvent themselves with the help of life coaches. It's a pioneering hybrid." O'Connor says. "We're used to seeing victories on soaps, so it makes sense that it would resonate with daytime viewers. We've gotten good feedback from fans, who also watch soaps. It seems to be a better fit during the daytime and is a way to get viewers interested din the entire line-up]"

It's about being compatible with a specific audience," says STARTING OVER's supervising casting director, Damon Furberg. "A show like STARTING OVER attracts the same type of viewers who like soaps."

Ultimately, Bruno believes that daytime's powers-that-be should pay attention to the main aspect that makes reality shows so popular: "Reality shows offer a jaded American culture the opportunity to be surprised." he explains. "They have that cliffhanger that soaps have been missing. Recently, soaps have started to have surprises again. but they need to continue to have that unpredictability that viewers love. That's your answer."
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