What are SOAP notices

What actually is a docu-soap?

The name "Doku-Soap" is made up of the two terms "Documentation" and "Soap-Opera" (soap opera). A mixture of both terms is actually what defines the core of the docu-soap: It is about the representation of real people, animals, things or events (i.e. documentation) - but with dramaturgical means similar to those of a soap opera (soap) are similar.

So often several storylines are told at the same time. Not just watching and depicting events on film, but telling them as interesting, funny or exciting as possible is also a characteristic of soap operas. The fact that in documentary soaps the boundaries between observed reality and what is narrated or even invented is now simply part of it.

Because "real", hitherto unknown people are shown in their everyday lives in a docu-soap, the viewers can identify with them: Regardless of whether the viewers sympathize with them or are upset about them - the stories are often easy to follow compare to your own life. But just as the tastes and interests of the audience change, so do the content and style of the docu-soap.

Examples of documentary soaps are "The Wollnys - a terribly large family" (RTL II), "We Are Family! This is how Germany lives" (ProSieben), "Goodbye Germany! The emigrants" (VOX), "Attention, control! - Use for the law enforcement officers "(Kabel 1)," Die Fussbroichs "(WDR), or" Elefant, Tiger & Co. " (MDR) and "Dresdner Schnauzen" (ZDF).

Review: This is how it all started

"Die Fussbroichs" was one of the earliest documentary soaps on German television. From 1990 to 2001 the everyday life of a Cologne family was shown in series: whether at dinner, in the fitness studio, at the hairdresser's or on vacation - father Fred, mother Annemie and son Frank were accompanied with the camera in all possible situations.

Entertainment in series

A documentary soap is not only characterized by the fact that it shows the everyday life of "normal" people: As with its namesake, the soap opera, this is an entertaining sequel series - recognition guaranteed. The trick is to tell everyday stories in such a way that they remain exciting for the viewer at the end of an episode and make them want to see the next episode. To do this, the filmmakers use very specific cinematic means.

This is how it gets exciting

One of these means is the "cliffhanger": a so-called "hanging end". The cliffhanger is supposed to get the audience to tune in again the next time: Either an episode breaks off shortly before a climax or a short scene is set at the end of an episode that shows something new in terms of content - in both cases tension is created and curiosity aroused. The audience really wants to know what happens next.

Another means of creating tension is to show an entertaining preview of the next episode: Exciting scenes from the next episode are usually cut in quick succession and accompanied by upbeat music - you get curious about how it all happened and switches on again next time.

Everything evolves: music, moderation, voiceover

Not only the plot of the individual episodes, but also the docu-soap as its own TV format, is being further developed by the creators with new ideas. One sees more and more documentary soaps in which the action shown is also commented on and rated directly. This happens through the use of cinematic means such as music or voice-overs. Such means make it easier to differentiate between different narrative strands: for example, when a certain person can always be seen and heard with the same song in the background. Music can also serve to evaluate what is shown: For example, if someone is shown (unsuccessfully) learning to swim and at the same time Xavier Naidoo sings: "This path will not be easy". Off-commentary can provide the viewer with background information and provide more orientation. For example, when switching between two storylines, the most important information can be summarized again. But they can also influence the viewer's view of the things shown. The amount and type of voiceover provide information on how strongly a docu-soap is staged, i.e. artificially designed. With the "Fussbroichs" there was still no voiceover - with "We Are Family!" he is indispensable.

What is shown also changes

Observing average people in everyday life can be pretty boring for the audience in the long run. At least that's what many TV makers think and are increasingly showing average people in extraordinary situations - for example in life crises, when emigrating or in competitions.

There are now documentary soaps about education ("My child, your child - How do you educate?", VOX), pregnant teenagers ("Teen mothers - when children have children", RTL2) or family experiments ("Wife Swap") , RTL2; "Stone Age - The Experiment - Life like 5000 years ago", SWR).

In contrast to the classic docu-soap, many of these programs are not real sequels: each episode is self-contained - so new main characters always come into play. What remains the same is always the "knitting pattern" of the program.

Artificial worlds and staged reality

Programs in which the main character is exposed to an artificial extreme situation are particularly popular. This creates a lot of tension and explosive substance - and sometimes the audience also learns something worth knowing.

In 2006, for example, the project "Stone Age - The Experiment" was produced, in which 13 people tried to live exactly like people in the Stone Age - including two families with a total of six children. The cameras followed her for eight weeks in her everyday life in the Stone Age. There were problems with the grain harvest and too little to eat - and not everyone from the Stone Age clan coped equally well with the extreme situation ...

At first glance things are not that extreme with "Frauentausch": Here two families exchange their mothers with each other. But even at the casting stage, care is taken to ensure that, if possible, opposing swap families meet: A very decent mother comes into a particularly chaotic family, the villa dweller has to get by in a mini-apartment or the mother of several independent children meets a spoiled one Only child. Who is doing better? Who do the viewers find particularly likeable or unsympathetic? What is documentary about the series is that it is about real people and real locations - the families and the private apartments shown actually exist. But how real are the conflicts shown? They are partly fueled by stage directions - at least that is what some of the women swap participants claim. And they are partly brought to a head in the post-production process: For example, when a comic thought bubble "Blah blah" or "Can't you talk to your family?" floats while she is arguing with her swap mother, then either the swap mother looks ridiculous or the daughter disrespects.

It is clear that in every docu-soap the reality can be influenced to a greater or lesser extent through the editing of the footage, through voiceovers or through sound and graphic effects. Voice-over comments were also used in the Stone Age experiment and a conversation between the fathers about the harvest was announced in advance as a dispute. It is also clear that the broadcasters are constantly developing new documentary soaps in order to keep viewers interested or to win them over. The question is whether the audience can still see how much documentary there is in a docu-soap.