The Reality of Ryan's Hope
Soap Opera Verismo
Soap Opera Update, May 23, 1988
by Allison J. Waldman
Article Provided By Wanda
In opera, a movement away from the fantastic and overwhelmingly opulent elements of grand opera occurred in the 1890's with the advent of more realistic, unglamorous productions like La Boeme and Pagiliacci. The movement was called verismo, and it was a welcomed respite to the at times overdone and overblown traditional opera productions. The verismo movement features reality-based shows, poor people singing of everyday struggles, rather than kings, queens and noblemen involved with ghosts, spirts or other fantastic inventions. In the world of soap opera, there exists a verismo-style production today, a small, realistic and uniquely down-to-earth program - Ryan's Hope. Unlike some of today's grander soap operas, like Dynasty and Dallas with larger than life characters like Alexis Carrington Colby Rowan and J.R Ewing, Ryan's Hope is like a friendly neighborhood soap with real people involved in real everyday problems in a real American city - New York.
The heart and soul of Ryan's Hope is the Ryan family, headed by Johnny and Maeve. They are not rich, by any means. Rather, Johnny and Maeve are a working-class couple. They run a family business, a bar and restaurant in the upper west side New York neighborhood called Riverside. They have literally pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, making a better life for themselves and their children in America and they have succeeded.
Their eldest son, Frank, has become district attorney after a political run at the Senate. Patrick, the youngest Ryan, has become a doctor, first in Riverside Hospital, then at Riverside Clinic. Daughters Siobhan and Mary also leaned toward professional lives. Mary was an ambitious journalist, who unfortunately, was killed investigating a story. Siobhan went into public service, like Frank, becoming a police detective. (Another daughter, Kathleen, lives with her family in Pittsburgh). The entire Ryan family, as we have watched them over the years, have been involved in storylines which have taken advantage of the time and place in which they live. We have seen organized crime, international intrigue and political in-fighting on the national and local level - many of the same events that we read about in the morning newspaper. The prospect of a weather-machine plunging the inhabitants of Ryan's Hope into a summer-time deep freeze such as the one that occurred in Port Charles (home of General Hospital) is highly unlikely - how could Johnny watch the Mets at Shea Stadium if New York is snowbound?
Set in a location like New York City, Ryan's Hope is one of the few soaps to face some of today's most realistic problems head on - like housing. There are not penthouses available and waiting as soon as a new character comes to town. Recently on the show, Ryan Finelli needed to find a new place to live. Since her marriage broke up, she had been anxious to make it on her own, but finding affordable housing in Manhattan is not so easy. She needed a roommate. With a friend, Chaz Saybrook, Ryan started looking. Chaz found a small two-bedroom, but realizing that Ryan could not afford half of the actual rent - $1400 a month - Chaz took the apartment and told her that her half of the monthly rent was only $400. Needless to say, this was only too realistic.
The fact that Ryan's Hope is set in an urban environment, and that it is not peopled with glamorous, super-personalities may be one of the reasons the show is not at the top of the ratings pile. The show debuted in the late sixties when relevant and topical entertainment was in vogue. Soaps like All My Children, The Young and The Restless and Ryan's Hope promised viewers a different kind of daytime drama. While AMC and Y&R have prospered over the years, changing from their origins to become less topical and more emotion-oriented, RH has remained closer to its roots. It has never veered from the central nexus of the Ryan family, nor has it ventured very far from subject matter that was not issues-oriented. It has not even changed its format from one-half hour to an hour as the majority of the shows have.
Perhaps the very thing that makes RH unique - its urban origination - is one of the things that alienates it from viewers outside urban areas. Maybe they don't care about the cost of renting an apartment in New York City. There can be no definitive reason behind the lack of support the show has engendered, but to the producers' credit, they have not abandoned their
realistic storytelling in an effort to find an audience. They've remained true to the Ryans. Viva verismo or erin go braugh - here's hoping the Ryan's can hang in there!
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