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I happened to catch a bit of a soap opera the other day, and it was like seeing a soap opera for the first time. Character A spoke. We watched him for a second or two after he spoke, looking earnest. Then we cut to Character B, who said her line. Then we watched her for two or three seconds. And I found myself thinking "Yes, that's exactly right, that's just how it's done on soap operas."

I felt that if the dialog were delivered at the normal pace of television sitcoms, the whole show would be half as long and half as dopey. And of course from their point of view, they'd get their revenge that much quicker.

Paulie_D, although I mention this comparison to situation comedies, I have actually seen other acting in other contexts. I don't think that the correct answer could be that quick dialog is for sitcoms and slow dialog is for drama. The pacing of soap opera dialog is different, as I would illustrate with some sort of link if I knew how.

Anthony Grist, this is America.

Jan Doggen, it did occur to me that the purpose was to pad a slender plot to the desired run time. But that explanation seems to fall short. They've made many thousands of hours of soap opera, and I doubt they're about to run out. As far as I can tell it's pretty easy to crank out such stories. People have affairs and medical problems and they conspire to hurt each other... it's just like celebrity tabloid coverage, and it seems like they could produce two or three times as much intrigue per episode without much trouble. For a while my schedule had me at the coin-op laundromat during the broadcast of some soap opera about a woman who had (she thought) a real child that was (everyone else thought) a ventriloquist's dummy. We would sometimes see the one from her perspective or the other from theirs.

My own condescending theory is that for some reason soap opera audiences don't want more incident. They want it like it is, a small amount of incident explained very slowly.

But other more technical explanations seem possible, perhaps because these shows are written and shot for daily broadcasts. I wonder if they sometimes shoot one actor delivering all of his lines without the other actor speaking, or even on set, and the editing process results in this weird feeling. Perhaps an actor sometimes does all of his lines for many episodes at once, lines to be assembled with other dialog later. Maybe it has something to do with how writers or actors are paid. Etc.

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    Because its a drama and the actors need to react to what they hear. In sitcoms, it's the audience reaction that's important. They're going for the laugh, the plot is second. – Paulie_D Aug 15 '18 at 21:01
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    What country is this? I haven't watched a soap opera for years, but I don't remember there being multiple second pauses between every line in any of the British ones. – Anthony Grist Aug 16 '18 at 13:12
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    To allow time for the music to swell and for the camera to zoom in slightly. Basically, "drama intensifies!" – Todd Wilcox Aug 16 '18 at 13:44
  • We have be talking Neighbours production values, rather than EastEnders. Can’t remember the last time Enders didn’t just talk right over each other. It’s part of the style ;) – Tetsujin Aug 16 '18 at 16:13
  • To be able to make dozens of episodes. The less action there is the easier it is to fill those minutes. – Jan Doggen Aug 17 '18 at 12:52
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With apologies for the slight time delay before answering this question...

I'm in the UK, and I don't really notice this happening here (at least in the brief snips of soaps I happen to stumble across).

There are a few explanations as to why this might happen:

  • To allow for dubbing - Different languages might have more dialogue than English, so needs more time to fit that dubbing in without having to edit so much. You might have to also allow time to read the subtitles
  • Time - Some networks might have different time restrictions, and speed-scrolling the credits might not be enough (a weak reason, I know)
  • Dumbing down - Some target audiences might need some time to recognize the end of one person speaking and someone else starting
  • Bad editing - if there's a lack of cameras between scenes, the acting might need to pause between lines so that the camera can be reset for the next line to be said by another actor. Bad editing might leave too much time between one person speaking and another reacting.

Without seeing the scenes in question here (they're on YouTube, maybe?), it's difficult to judge to any degree.

  • These are good ideas that had never occurred to me. Is it true that American soap operas are shown in other languages? I would think that every society that might run American soaps could produce its own, although of course some of our other shows and movies probably inspire curiosity in other countries that would justify dubbing them. – Chaim Aug 19 '18 at 15:25
  • I don't understand the last idea, about bad editing. It seems like you're imagining a process like the one used on talk shows, with one camera on this actor and another camera simultaneously on another actor, and a director telling an engineer "go to camera three," etc. Is that how soaps are done? Why would a given camera, used to show the same actor each time we cut to him, not be constantly in proper focus, given that the actor and the camera are stationary, the lighting is unchanged, etc. – Chaim Aug 19 '18 at 15:28

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