In his article “Not a Soap Opera,” Michael Newman compares modern serialized “Quality” television with the serialized soap operas found on daytime television. He argues that there is a major effort on the part of “Quality” TV to distant itself from soap operas, from the feminine, and even from basic television itself, preferring to be thought of as “art television” (89).
There are similarities to note, too—both The Vampire Diaries and Mad Men employ intense serialization, after all. What is interesting, however, is that besides all of the similarities found between soap dramas and “Quality” television, it is the differences in these types of shows that draw their intended audiences.
Newman writes that The Sopranos creator David Chase hates television and did his best to make his show more of a series of films. In distancing itself from its serial cousin of soap, a “legitimate serialization” avoids or rejects “the very subject matter of soaps—that of domestic family drama and romance” (96). In the episode “Masquerade” of The Vampire Diaries, the show plays with not one love triangle but two. Much of the action and character development revolves around Stefan and Damon’s feelings for either Elena or Katherine. The Vampire Diaries embraces romance as a driving force, and with this driving force, it attracts much of its audience.
Serials such as Mad Men or Breaking Bad often employ a slow-burn technique, but this is not the case for The Vampire Diaries. As Carrie Raisler says in her post “Ten Reasons You Should Be Watching The Vampire Diaries,” much of the draw for the show comes from the fact that it “movies like a freight train.”
Additionally, while much of Mad Men or Breaking Bad revolves around the psychology of its main characters, there is no time for similar brooding in The Vampire Diaries. “The characters don’t have time to sit around and simply be sad,” Raisler explains. “They’re too busy fighting the next evil being in town.”
A “Quality” serial would avoid many of the things that The Vampire Diaries employs wholeheartedly, but these differences work to each show’s advantage. The attract different audiences and entertain in different ways, but both use the structure of the serial.