BBC's Blues

Scandal, shriveling audiences and tight budgets are forcing the vaunted network to reinvent itself

REX USA

Staff watch the studio monitors at the BBC News 24 television program in London, Britain, on July 20, 2006.

There's no surer sign of a fading soap opera than a lurid plot twist. Unlike their glossy American counterparts, British soaps like the long-running, top-rated EastEnders traditionally aim for stolid social realism, depicting ordinary folk pursuing humdrum lives. Now, though, dwindling audiences are spurring EastEnders' producers to unleash implausible killers and gothic disasters on their workaday protagonists. In a recent plotline, a character was taken hostage by his deranged stepson and saw his wife shot as she came to his rescue.

In the past few months, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has itself resembled a superannuated soap, with the long-term future...

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