Alan Ayckbourn’s Play Foreshadowed AI-Created Soaps

Alan Ayckbourn's Play Foreshadowed AI-Created Soaps

TV director James Hawes believes artificial intelligence (AI) could produce soap operas in three to five years. Alan Ayckbourn’s 1998 and 2023 plays projected this trend by pointing out possible problems.

Looking ahead, the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) writing the scripts for our evening TV soap operas doesn’t feel like science fiction as much as it does like an impending reality.

Also read: Movie Studio Expansion Halted Over Fears About OpenAI’s Sora

TV director James Hawes recently highlighted this fascinating change in the entertainment sector in a presentation to the parliament’s culture, media, and sports committee. Though it may appear new, the concept originates in the imagination of playwright Alan Ayckbourn, who explored related subjects decades earlier, most notably in his plays “Comic Potential” from 1998 and “Constant Companions” from 2023.

Alan Ayckbourn's Play Foreshadowed AI-Created Soaps

Artificial intelligence (AI) may write British soap operas like “EastEnders” and “Coronation Street” within the next three to five years.

Although AI may be able to recreate these “Bot Cotton’s adventures” before the end of the decade, director James Hawes warned MPs that they would not be as “polished” as TV episodes made by humans.

Soaps through generative AI

Hawes said that they at Directors UK held a forum about Doctors, the BBC show that’s been canceled. According to the director, one of the members there started talking about AI, and it sent him investigating how long it would be before a show like Doctors could be made entirely by generative AI.

Furthermore, he said he took a poll with various VFX people and spoke to some of the legal team members who advised SAG [the Screen Actors Guild] and the Writers Guild over the summer. He said the best guess is within three to five years.


According to Hawes, AI will produce the scripts and the footage, possibly eliminating the need for writers and actors. He used Sora, the OpenAI tool that instantly creates video, launched last week, to explain the latter.

Hawes stated that the expert he was talking to said that he thought this might happen in 18 months to two years, and suddenly, it’s here. Hawes said it’s not live-action perfect, but it’s pretty damn close; there’s a video of a dragon festival—it’s hard to tell if it’s real. According to Hawes, this makes him think the changes are coming dramatically and significantly soon.

Navigating the future

Although AI’s introduction into TV soap opera production promises greater efficiency and creativity, there are also reasonable worries. The recent move by filmmaker Tyler Perry to halt a large-scale studio expansion highlights the concern that many in the business have.

Perry’s caution reflects broader concerns about job displacement and the need for regulatory measures to mitigate negative employment impacts. Perry may have been influenced by the capabilities of OpenAI’s text-to-video model, Sora. It still needs to be easier to balance appreciating AI’s potential to transform the content creation process with preserving human creators’ positions in the business.

Furthermore, the conversation between technology and creativity becomes more vital with this new frontier just around the corner. Visionaries like James Hawes and Alan Ayckbourn provide valuable insights that remind us that although algorithms will likely write stories, the human touch in storytelling remains irreplaceable.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.

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