BBC’s flagship soap, Eastenders, has enjoyed enduring popularity over the past thirty years, winning gongs and awards aplenty, and it certainly looks set to continue to do so for the next thirty.
But have you ever considered what makes the viewers tune in week after week? We sat down with the show’s current creative director, Brian Templeman, for an insider’s insight.
‘It’s a complicated one but broadly speaking there are a few key rules we like to follow, which if handled correctly, ensure good levels of success. These can be broken down into five key areas,’ explains Brian.
Ideally these need to be controversial and preferably mired in misery, with week after week of hollow unremitting bleak despair. Murder, terminal illness and infidelity are all very popular and work well. Anglels on sexual dynamics are a good ratings winner. We’ve tackled most things over the years to be honest, but this Summer standby for major media uproar with our first foray into the murky world of Water Sports – and before the watershed too – when in a new plot Ian Beale goes off the rails big time.
You need a good mix reflecting London’s contemporary cosmopolitan demographics. So we have families from all social backgrounds and ethnicities. That’s important to the show’s writing team, because it allows our sroryliners to then give characters all the normal stereotypical traits our viewers associate with them. You see, quite a high proportion of our viewers take The Daily Mail.
To play a great soap character an actor doesn’t have to be more wooden than Pinocchio, although if they are then that certainly helps a lot. So we have a policy that if we see anyone with real star potential shining through the dross, then we usually have them killed off before they get a chance to highlight just how bad the rest of cast is.
We keep that simple. A bit like the average viewer. Audience surveys have shown that they can’t follow anything remotely complicated. So we operate an SSS policy (simple sledgehammer scripts). Each scene has around only three lines and ideally just two characters. A typical example might be:
Character 1. All right, mate?
Character 2. Wotcher? Wha’s gahin on?
Character 1. Dunno. Mostly misery and that, anyway, gotta go. Laters…
CUT to next scene:
The other stipulation is that male characters are only allowed to speak in a gruff and throaty half-whisper. As if they’ve got terminal laryngitis, like Oliver Reed did in the musical Oliver. Danny Dyer has this down to a fine art which combines extremely wooden delivery with an almost uncannily accurate Reed impression.
Culling characters keeps everyone on their toes. It’s generally handled by bringing in a new producer every few years – as the first thing they do is commission a major disaster like a fairground collapse or plane crash or something like that. It runs the show budget close to the wire, but that’s offset by the amount of cast members that have become too big for their boots we kill off, and this then re-balances the books allowing us to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on…