On EastEnders

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Victoria Derbyshire’s phone-in on 5 Live (hopefully that’s a link to the listen-again version) this morning included an interesting discussion of the recent EastEnders plotline about Danielle/Amy and Ronnie Mitchell, and Danielle’s attempts to let Ronnie know that she was the baby she’d given up for adoption sixteen years ago.

One thing soaps can do well is run a story over many months, allowing it to bubble along till it reaches a climax and becomes “event TV” just in time for Festivus, or Eostre.

What I found most interesting about the discussion were the number of people who were disgusted with the way the storyline had been finished (with Danielle being run over on the most dangerous stretch of road in Britain). Many felt that they’d been jerked around for a year while they got emotionally involved with the character, only to have the whole thing finish as a kind of in-joke (given the number of roadkill deaths on the Square, you’d think Peggy would have campaigned for some speed bumps by now).

There were also complaints about the “EastEnders Revealed” documentary shown afterwards on BBC3, which featured many of the (male) production staff sniggering about the story. One female caller thought this was indicative that a male-dominated production was unable to imagine a different (i.e. more female) outcome, in which perhaps Ronnie and Danielle spent months/years getting to know each other and healing their emotional scars. One male guest on the show compounded this impression by talking about this as amounting to the two of them “going shopping” and bonding over shoes or something.

So here we have great examples of audience needs/expectations perhaps not being met by an institutional context which holds them in contempt. Why else opt for the road death, which is at least the third time a major character has exited in this way, not to mention Pat’s trauma at running someone over, and all the road accident deaths.

Danielle’s story was an example of EastEnders doing things right (until the end), instead of their previous habit of parachuting whole plotlines into the soap with new extended families moving into the Square. But it seems as if the script meetings came to an impasse once they got to the big reveal. There was so much else they could have done, and it’s clear that in real life, the “reveal” would just be the beginning of a difficult period of emotional growth and development.

Now, emotional growth and development is supposed to be what soaps do well, and why they are so popular with female audiences, but it really does seem as if a rather more cynical approach was taken this time.

Give it a listen while it’s still available. As a related aside, it’s interesting to note that Nicky Campbell’s Breakfast phone-in (male, news-related) is available daily on iTunes, but Victoria Derbyshire’s (female, more general) phone-in is not!

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