“Another reason for the Eastenders’ eventual success in the ratings was its careful scheduling. ” (24) Eastenders is broadcasted at seven-thirty or eight ‘o clock, which is either after or before other successful soap opera’s such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm so that the ratings would increase and not be threatened by them. This watershed played an important part in terms of “family viewing” (25)as it enforced the pleasure of erasing the worry element for parents as the soaps consisted of no swearing.
The omnibus edition of Eastenders on a Sunday, where most people were on their day off provided those who had not seen Eastenders offers the ensurance that they could see it on their day off. This fixed scheduling format evoked the pleasure of continuing involvement, the anticipation that at a set time and regular basis one will be invited into a world about which one has acquired-often a long period of time and had a considerable fund of knowledge. Being a new early evening package, its audience this time of day tended to be predominantly middle-aged and middle class.
(26) To broaden that audience, Eastenders would have to appeal to all age ranges of viewers, thus, the choice of the working class setting also made a good account in terms of its ratings. Coronation Street fulfilled these requirements and therefore is also known to be one of the major British soap operas. Also, as soap operas traditionally appealed to women, Eastenders developed strong male characters, such as Phil Mitchell, to encourage its continuing popularity with male viewers who were “traditionally suspicious of the genre.
” (27)Evidence of an increase in audience was indicated by the studies of the demographic profile of the audience that displayed that the programme was successfully reaching a genuine cross-section of the population in a way that no soap opera had previously managed to do and that it was particularly popular with ethnic minorities and teenagers, traditionally the “least captive”(28) section of the television audience.
Furthermore, ironically qualitative research suggested that it was “precisely those features which had initially been found alienating and in particular abrasive treatment of social issues, which viewers were now ready to praise. “(29) Eastenders “extraordinary popularity nevertheless means that it enjoys a relationship with the official Reithian definition of public service broadcasting. “(30)
From this, it is popular as it is seen as a tool for “educating its audience”(31) by the means of providing both entertainment and “exploring dramatic conflict”(32) and raising consciousness about issues like HIV (the character Mark displayed this), homosexuality and crucial social issues. However, it can be criticised that at the same time soaps generally tend to restrict them to their personal effects rather than to a need for wider social change-in other words, “they tend to maintain the status quo rather than encourage political action.
“(33) However, it could also be this aspect that actually influences soap’s continuing popularity as it satisfies the norms and values of that particular region of society. Eastenders therefore could be associated with the notion of being a “flagship programme” (34) as it also creates a regional identity for the BBC. Therefore, soap operas possess the significant function for creating an identity for television institutions, as by building a large and loyal audience over a number of years, “they can become a highly significant element in the way viewers perceive the institutions themselves.
“(35) Overall, in terms of realism, it was the “credibility in the form of true to life characters and realistic plots and storylines,” (36) which was found to be the main ingredient British soaps continuing popularity. They offered people the pleasure of being a part of the wider audience involved in viewing and thus offered the enjoyment of being able to “eavesdrop on the characters lives and gossip about them without having to suffer “(37) any of the consequences or difficulties of being involved in real relationships.
They offered the opportunity of therefore also discussing issues which might otherwise be hard to talk about openly and provided a space to explore ideas and values and to compare the dilemmas facing soap characters with those in their own lives. They also offered pleasure in terms of offering a sense of companionship. For many people isolated in their homes, soap offers characters the audience can relate to like members of a family and a reassurance that they are not alone in the world. Most viewers admit to forming relationships with soap characters and identifying with individual personalities over a long period of time.
In the words of the observer, ” for the committed viewer, part of the enjoyment is the assimilation of the fictional world into everyday life… There is special in letting the ephemera of other communities spill into our own homes… Soaps are tailor-made for gossip because of the accessibility of their worlds. ” (38) However, others debate on this notion of “realism” (39) being illustrated in this particular way. According to James Thurber, the notion of “escapism” (40)is vital in determining a soaps continuing popularity in terms of how realistic they appear to be.
Therefore, for many viewers, soap can provide an escape route from a dreary routine existence into a fictional world and therefore “seeks to create the illusion of a reality. “(41) Media theorist and Film Studies Professor Richard Dyer also analysed this concept of what he calls “the aesthetics of escape”(42) and suggested in 1997, “escapism” (43) however is an important concept because it acknowledges the limitations and problems of real life and recognises that there are things that we do justifiably need to escape from. In an influential essay called “Entertainment and Utopia” he argues that entertainment, including soap opera, offers,
” the image of something better to escape into, or something that we want deeply that our day to day lives don’t provide. ” (44) Therefore, British Soaps according to Dyer present us with the everyday problems that he initiates are the problems that need to be escaped from which are, “Scarcity, Exhaustion, Dreariness, Manipulation and Isolation. “(45) The “utopian solutions” or “escapist pleasures” (46) that the soaps provide to these problems in the correct order, in his words are “Abundance, Energy, Intensity, Transparency (honest) and Community.
” (47) For example, the experience of “Community” (48)resolves the problem of “Isolation” (49)in the British soaps and is offered to the audience most explicitly in the rituals which mark their major events. According to Christine Geraghty it is the “women characters who embody the function of community in the form of the matriarchs who hold the community together. “(50) For example, Peggy Mitchell provides a pleasure of community by organising certain events in the Queen Vic, where all members of the community can come together and celebrate, mourn and provide support and friendship to one another.