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Soap Operas

SOAP OPERAS

SOAP OPERAS are serialized dramas that were presented, usually daily, first on radio and then on television. The name was derived from the fact that manufacturers of soaps and other household products, most notably Procter and Gamble, were frequent sponsors of these programs. The soap opera is broadcasting's unique contribution to Western storytelling art. Although serialized stories had existed prior to the soap opera in printed fiction, comic strips, and movies, none of these forms exhibited the durability of the soap opera. The Guiding Light, for example, started on radio in 1937 and moved to television in 1952. Still airing original episodes in 2002 after nearly seventy years, The Guiding Light is the longest story ever told in human history.


Credit for the first soap opera usually goes to Irna Phillips, who created Painted Dreams for WGN radio in Chicago in 1930. The first national soap was Betty and Bob, created by Frank and Anne Hummert for NBC radio in 1932. Both Phillips and the Hummerts provided a wide variety of soaps for network radio over the next several years; only Phillips, however, would make the transition to television. After many decades, the Phillips-created serials As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, and Days of Our Lives were still on the air.

Although broadcasting was an industry dominated by men for most of its early history, the soap opera was designed for women and women were frequently employed to create, produce, and write them. Besides Irna Phillips and Anne Hummert, other prolific soap opera artists included Elaine Carrington (Pepper Young's Family, Red Adams); Agnes Nixon (All My Children, One Life to Live); and Lee Phillip Bell (with her husband, William Bell, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful). As gender roles changed significantly in the latter half of the twentieth century, the principal audience for soap operas—women who were at home during the day—began to diminish. In the 1970s, many soap operas were redesigned to attract younger viewers and college students. By the 1980s, soap operas like General Hospital were achieving high ratings among these younger viewers as well as among men. While early soap stories focused almost exclusively on romance and domestic home life, from the mid-1970s soaps often borrowed from other genres, integrating glamorous on-location settings and even elements of science fiction. The soap operas of Agnes Nixon became known in the 1970s and 1980s for their frank depiction of social issues in stories about rape, abortion, infertility, depression, child abuse, AIDS, and a variety of other controversial topics.

The problematic future of the genre became clear in the 1980s with the introduction of the daytime talk and audience participation shows. A soap opera is expensive and labor intensive to produce, requiring a very large cast and a production schedule that runs five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. The daytime talk show is, by contrast, simple, inexpensive, and amenable to reruns. While the daytime talk show virtually knocked the game show out of the morning and afternoon network schedules, about a dozen soap operas remained on the air. Several long-running soaps have ceased production since 1980, however, and competition from cable has brought overall ratings of the genre down considerably.

The first soap opera on network television, Faraway Hill, ran on the Dumont network in 1946 as an evening series. As had been the case in radio, however, the TV soap quickly settled into the daytime schedule. It was not until ABC introduced Peyton Place in 1964 that a serious attempt to return the soap to prime time was launched. Like a daytime soap, Peyton Place ran multiple episodes per week (up to three); had a huge cast of over one hundred; and did not broadcast reruns, even during the summer. Despite the commercial success of the series, however, the idea was not imitated again for years. In 1978, Dallas (CBS, 1978–1991) ushered in the era of the prime-time soap opera. Dallas employed multiple ongoing story lines and end-of-episode cliffhangers and, within a few years, became the most-watched series on TV. More prime-time soap operas were introduced over the next few years, including Knots Landing (CBS, 1979–1993), Dynasty (ABC, 1981–1989), and Falcon Crest (CBS, 1981–1990). Although the prime-time soap had begun to wane by the 1990s, its influence was felt in nearly all genres of fictional television series. Before the advent of the prime-time soap, most series episodes were totally self-contained, with little or no reference to events that had happened in previous episodes. Since then, most series have employed some continuing elements from episode to episode.

The soap opera has also become a significant presence on cable. In 2000, Disney/ABC introduced SoapNet, a channel devoted to reruns of daytime and prime-time serials, and another soap channel was expected from Columbia TriStar Television. The Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo offer imported soap operas, telenovelas, which play to very large audiences. Even MTV, the youth-oriented cable channel, introduced its own soap opera, Undressed, in 1999.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, Robert C. Speaking of Soap Operas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Stedman, Raymond William. The Serials: Suspense and Drama by Installment. 2d ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.

Worlds without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera. New York: Abrams, 1997.

RobertThompson

See alsoRadio ; Television: Programming and Influence .

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soap opera

soap opera. Nothing to do with opera. Term to describe long-running, often daily or several-times-weekly serial on TV and radio, e.g. (in Britain) Coronation Street, EastEnders, The Archers. Genre originated in USA on commercial radio and was sponsored by a firm—soap manufacturer, for instance—wishing to advertise its product. Irreverently, one could claim The Ring as the biggest soap opera in the world.

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"soap opera." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"soap opera." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/soap-opera

"soap opera." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/soap-opera

soap opera

soap op·er·a • n. a television or radio drama series dealing typically with daily events in the lives of the same group of characters.

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"soap opera." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"soap opera." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/soap-opera