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The Trouble with Context in Archiving Soaps' Pivotal Moments

by Ethan Tussey

by Sam Ford for IN MEDIA RES

As a number of long-running U.S. soap operas are canceled, many people are trying to figure out not only new ways for soaps storytelling to evolve but also to properly archive the iconic shows, characters, actors, and performances of daytime serial drama. In her piece in The Survival of Soap Opera, Mary Jeanne Wilson documents why archiving these shows can be such a challenge, though. Daytime dramas are designed so that individual episodes are less important than in primetime series. Instead, the show's meaning and richness can only be fully understood through long-term accretion. That makes archiving material from these shows which really demonstrates the power of soap opera storytelling especially tricky.

Take's efforts to capture key moments in the history of As the World Turns. Their 4-disc boxed set included 20 episodes of the soap. For fans who watched the original run and could fill in the gaps, the episodes were shorthand reminders of a wide range of powerful and well-written storylines. To those watching the set who weren't fans or who weren't watching in the era of a particular episode, though, the scenes raise a variety of questions and leave many others unresolved.

For instance, look at the short segment above, featured in the ATWT set. Not only are multiple storylines featured, but one moment--Iva Snyder blurting out "She's your baby" as she sees Rod and Lily struggling in the barn--is a single sentence that culminates many months' worth of storytelling and launches many more. That one moment simultaneously revealed to Lily that she was adopted; that the adopted sister of her boyfriend--and someone who had become a trusted friend--was actualy her birth mother; that a local farm hand she'd come to know was her father; and that her mother had known she was adopted. Rod learned who his daughter was. And, later in the episode, adopted mother Lucinda (who appears in the first scene) learns Iva's pregnancy had been the result of Rod raping Iva. And, for Iva, she discovered that her reason for revealing everything--a fear that Rod was intending to rape Lily--was a misunderstanding.

While the episode was compelling and a pivotal moment in the show's history, little of its overall power can be conveyed through this single episode, a significant challenge for those looking to preserve soaps' history in a way that is intelligble to new generations of viewers.

Lily's adoption revealed on ATWT

Lily's adoption revealed on As The World Turns

from As the World Turns (1987)
Creator: CBS
Posted by Ethan Tussey