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‘People are getting murdered in knicker factories!’: how Coronation Street lost the plot

In Europe
April 02, 2024
<span>Legendary … the cast of Coronation Street in 1989.</span><span>Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/f_gRvQKQfAGwOjIbjJLxiA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/50f88fd509373143c8a2313533747160″ data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/f_gRvQKQfAGwOjIbjJLxiA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/50f88fd509373143c8a2313533747160″></div></div></div><p><figcaption class=Legendary … the cast of Coronation Street in 1989.Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock

Whether it’s Deirdre being sent to prison, Alan Bradley getting mown down by a Blackpool tram or “you should have stayed at the party, Maxine”, Coronation Street has provided some most memorable moments in UK soap history.

At its peak, the world’s longest-running television soap could pull in 26 million viewers an episode and its stories, such as the introduction of the transsexual character Hayley Cropper, helped shape the national conversation in a way Westminster politicians could only dream of. But in recent years, Corrie has faced a backlash from fans who say they are fed up with dark, issues-based plots, an ever-increasing cast and sporadic scheduling of ITV’s flagship soap.

“ITV and Coronation Street seem to have forgotten what made Coronation Street into the beloved institution that it once was,” says super fan Lewis Pringle, who has been watching Corrie since he was five and is now a serial tweeter about the show. “It’s not a Netflix crime series or Line of Duty. They’ve substituted character and heart for endless drama, and sometimes it feels like issue on top of issue, written and produced by people who have never watched Coronation Street before.”

The criticism comes as soaps face an uphill struggle to survive amid plummeting ratings and slashed budgets. Channel 4’s Hollyoaks has recently cut its weekly episodes from five to three and moved to online-first, while Channel 5 controversially cancelled Neighbours two years ago – before it was resurrected by Amazon.

Corrie’s recent reliance on dramatic scenes has come at the price of viewer fatigue. Although some big stunts – the 50th anniversary tram crash or a sinkhole appearing in the Platts’ back yard, for example – have been well-received, a conveyor belt of crime-related plots has left fans disillusioned. In the past year, the soap has featured multiple hit-and-runs, several characters held at gunpoint and various instances of drug lords wreaking havoc on the cobbles.

For Bruce Jones, who played Les Battersby from 1997 to 2008, the storylines have become too unbelievable. “I watched it from day one but now my wife says it’s not worth watching. You can’t have that many murders on one street,” he says. “She’s watched it all her life but she’ll tell you ‘it’s not just me saying it, it’s everyone’.”

“The writers we had were living Manchester city life. It’s not the actors’ faults – they’re all doing a good job for my money – but it’s the writers that have changed. I actually think we’ve lost that element of what Manchester life is all about.”

Contemplating what would improve the show in its current form, Jones says: “Get it back to what Coronation Street was – a community. The comedy was there and the tragedy came after. That’s what it was and the love of the people in the street, that’s gone.”

Jones’s former co-star Beverley Callard, who played Liz McDonald on and off for 31 years, told the How to Be 60 podcast in June 2023 that she walked away because “the scripts weren’t what they were”.

“Years ago, we used to get the scripts and you’d open them and think: oh my goodness, this is amazing, I cannot believe I’m going to be filming this,” she said. “And then I would open the scripts and think ‘well, we filmed that three years ago’. The street originally was very character-driven and story-driven and I think often with a lot of television now and film, it’s issue-led and I hate that.”

For many, Maureen Lipman’s portrayal of Evelyn Plummer has been one of the big positives in recent years but even she has publicly lambasted its recent direction. She told the Beyond the Title podcast in February: “We’ve come to a point in Corrie now where people are getting murdered in knicker factories. We’re having domestic abuse … anything that ticks the box of social problems in the 21st-century is going to be in [it].”

Some fans fear that the soap’s main problem is a lack of funnier moments. “There’s certainly a place for the issue-led storylines and some of them, such as the current one in which Paul struggles with motor neurone disease, have been done particularly well,” says Gavin Broom, co-host of The Talk of the Street podcast. “But historically it’s always been contrasted well with lighter storylines and humour, and the past year or so has been missing that. The hardest thing doing the podcast is when the show is really ambivalent and I just don’t care about it.”

In 2017, ITV increased the soap’s weekly episodes to six, in the form of three hour-long broadcasts each week. The additional airtime has seen the show’s cast increase to about 90 regular characters. Another headache for fans has been sporadic scheduling. Typically broadcast across three hour-long episodes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the first two months of 2024 were interrupted by live sport broadcasts on ITV1, with even the soap’s most famous fans left confused about when the show is due to air.

Veteran broadcaster Tony Blackburn tweeted: “This is now beyond a joke for all us Coronation Street fans. More football this evening on BBC and ITV which means no Corrie. Why can’t they put football on other channels and leave us Coronation Street fans alone or put Coronation Street on say ITV2 we will follow it anywhere!!!”

Another recurring criticism of Corrie is that legacy characters such as Gail Platt, Tracy Barlow and Toyah Battersby have been sidelined in favour of new, often younger, characters in a bid to attract young viewers.

“I think Coronation Street and ITV have to seriously think about who they are appealing to – the long-term fans, those who will abandon the show at the drop of a hat or younger viewers who probably aren’t interested in soaps,” concludes Pringle.

Covid has also had an impact on the soap which it is yet to recover from. Due to lockdown restrictions, cast and crew began filming in “blocks”’, meaning some actors and their character’s stories can go weeks or even months at a time off-screen.

“It ruins the momentum because rather than the plot being presented at a nice pace, it is a constant stop-start situation,” says Caitlin Stewart, whose social media account Script to Scene counts Coronation Street and many of the show’s stars among her followers.

“Often there are several weeks between one point in the storyline and the next, so it’s hard for viewers to stay invested. It is a shame. Hopefully there is a way to fix it.”

Coronation Street remains the UK’s most watched soap ahead of its main rivals Emmerdale and EastEnders – despite the latter’s recent resurgence under senior executive producer (and Corrie alumna) Kate Oates. Corrie producer of six years Iain MacLeod was promoted to executive producer for continuing drama, also responsible for overseeing Emmerdale, in February.

Replacing MacLeod – blamed by many fans for the soap’s recent downturn – is Emmerdale producer Kate Brooks, who was announced this week as Corrie’s new producer. ITV bosses eventually landed on Brooks after reportedly struggling to fill the position, having been turned down by “a number of prestigious TV executives”.

I just wish they’d put some love and care into the show as a whole

Lewis Pringle, fan

The show’s deputy producer Verity MacLeod – also Iain’s wife – had been acting up as producer in the interim; MailOnline reported that external producers were put off by the prospect of working between her and her executive producer husband, as well as the salary. Brooks’ appointment came as Corrie was snubbed for a Bafta nomination for the second year in a row.

While ITV was unwilling to put anybody forward to discuss fans’ concerns, the network’s MD for continuing drama, John Whiston, did provide a written statement. It reads: “Coronation Street is, and always has been, a mixture of characters you love, earthy humour and stories that matter such as the current Liam bullying storyline or the Lauren grooming storyline.

“The show is proud to explore important contemporary issues such as these and our audience research shows that viewers really appreciate these stories and believe we deal with them in an engaging but responsible way. Which is why Coronation Street continues to be the most-watched soap on British TV.”

For the show’s fans, the hope is that things start to turn around for the Weatherfield-set soap – and quickly. “Mostly, it feels a chore watching it, and that saddens me,” says Pringle. “I just wish they’d put some love and care into the show as a whole, and come up with better stories and characters before it’s too late.”

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