Stephanie Smith: Why soap writers need to brush up their ideas

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Funny how great minds think alike.

Take the bosses and scriptwriters of top warring soaps, EastEnders and Coronation Street. In a bid to boost ratings and win the coveted top prize in the British Soap Awards (the industry’s Oscars, don’t you know), both teams have come up with strikingly similar storylines, both involving the murder of a young and beautiful woman.

Astonishingly, both these women have been having relationships with men around 20 years their senior. Neither of these men is George Clooney, nor are they rich or charismatic. In fact, neither one of them has any discernible charm whatsoever. Yet, in soapland, they attract super-models.

To recap, Lucy Beale, played by 19-year-old Hetti Bywater, has been having an affair with her friend’s father Max Branning, played by 41-year-old Jake Wood. Meanwhile Tina McIntyre, played by Michelle Keegan, 26, has been liaising dangerously with local Casanova Peter Barlow, played by Chris Casgoyne, 46.

Last Friday’s EastEnders, which saw Lucy’s lifeless body found on Walworth Common, brought in 6.4 million viewers, good but not good enough to beat Coronation Street’s 7.30pm show, with 6.95m viewers. And Tina’s not even dead yet (I’ve read that Corrie viewers will see who kills Tina, so there won’t be an endless whodunnit, as with Enders).

I like to dip into both these soaps to keep up. The recent Hayley cancer/right-to-die storyline in Corrie was thoughtfully executed and pointed to what soaps can do well – throw light onto key issues in an accessible, engaging way.

But the sight of these improbably beautiful young women in clinches with middle-aged, seedy men… it’s all a bit depressing. And I worry about the wider impressions given, especially to children, who might assume that it is normal for girls and young women to have relationships with dodgy men old enough to be their father. Even watching The Jeremy Kyle Show, youngsters can see the grotesque and inappropriate nature of such relationships, yet in the fictional soaps, it’s presented as ordinary.

Then there’s the question of murdering young women. Perhaps soap bosses looked at the critical success of drama series such as The Killing and The Fall and decided it’s a great hook for the modern audience.

Yes, young women have long been dramatic victims (Maria Martin) but shouldn’t we have moved on?

There is something both distasteful and disturbing about the current murder storylines. They may lead some to wonder whether or not the soap opera has had its day. I suggest the writers get some new ideas, and quick.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ