Social issue story lines in British soap opera
This thesis examines the factors which influenced how social issue story lines were developed in the areas of sexual violence, breast cancer and mental distress in British soap opera in the mid to late 1990's. The soap opera production process was examined by conducting interviews with members of production teams from different programmes. This core study was contextualised by additional interviews with production personnel working in other areas of television (e.g. documentary). Spokespeople from different organisations who consulted on story lines or lobbied around different issues were also interviewed. In total, 64 interviews were conducted. The influence of soap story lines on public understandings of an issue was explored in an audience reception study of sexual violence in Brookside (12 focus groups). The soap opera production study identified a number of factors which influence story line development (socio - cultural positioning of the substantive topic, broadcast hierarchy and commercial imperatives). The comparative study of mental distress identified some cross genre constraints (narrative pace, commercial imperatives) and some genre specific issues (access to people with mental health problems). The audience study revealed that people bring their social knowledge of an issue to their viewing experience. Research participants 'read' the meanings of Brookside's story line in remarkably uniform ways however some participants responded differently to certain elements of the story (rejecting empathy with the 'collusive' mother). The story line was demonstrated to have made a lasting impact on Brookside viewers (in relation to the conflicting emotions of the abused child). There were also identifiable links between the intentions of the production team, the nature of representation and audiences responses.