A soap opera, or simply a soap, is a serial drama, on television or radio, that features related story lines dealing with the lives of multiple characters. The stories in these series typically focus heavily on emotional relationships to the point of melodrama. The name soap opera stems from the fact that many of the sponsors and producers of the original dramatic serials' broadcast on radio were soap manufacturers.
- 1 Origin of the genre
- 2 Story and episode structure
- 3 Plots and storylines
- 4 United States
- 5 United Kingdom
- 6 Australia
- 7 New Zealand
- 8 Canada
- 9 India
- 10 Europe
- 11 Internet and mobile soap opera
- 12 Parodies
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Origin of the genre
The first serial considered to be a "soap opera" was Painted Dreams, which debuted October 20, 1930 on Chicago's WGN. Early radio series such as Painted Dreams were broadcast in weekday daytime slots, usually five days a week, when most listeners would be housewives; thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.
The first national radio soap opera was Clara, Lu and Em, which aired on the NBC Blue Network at 10:30 pm on Tuesday, January 27, 1931.
Story and episode structure
A crucial element that defines soap opera is the open-ended nature of the narrative, with stories spanning several episodes. One of the defining features that makes a television program a soap opera, according to Albert Moran, is "that form of television that works with a continuous open narrative. Each episode ends with a promise that the storyline is to be continued in another episode". In 2012 Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times wrote of daily dramas, "Although melodramatically eventful, soap operas such as this also have a luxury of space that makes them seem more naturalistic; indeed, the economics of the form demand long scenes, and conversations that a 22-episodes-per-season weekly series might dispense with in half a dozen lines of dialogue may be drawn out, as here, for pages. You spend more time even with the minor characters; the apparent villains grow less apparently villainous."
Soap opera storylines run concurrently, intersect and lead into further developments. An individual episode of a soap opera will generally switch between several different concurrent narrative threads that may at times interconnect and affect one another or may run entirely independent of each other. Each episode may feature some of the show's current storylines but not always all of them. Especially in daytime serials and those that are screened each weekday, there is some rotation of both storyline and actors so any given storyline or actor will appear in some but usually not all of a week's worth of episodes. Soap operas rarely bring all the current storylines to a conclusion at the same time. When one storyline ends there are several other story threads at differing stages of development. Soap opera episodes typically end on some sort of cliffhanger, and the Season Finale ends in the same way, only to be resolved when the show returns for the start of a new yearly broadcast.
Evening soap operas and those that screen at a rate of one episode per week are more likely to feature the entire cast in each episode, and to represent all current storylines in each episode. Evening soap operas and serials that run for only part of the year tend to bring things to a dramatic end-of-season cliffhanger.
In 1976, Time magazine described American daytime television as "TV's richest market," noting the loyalty of the soap opera fan base and the expansion of several half-hour series to a full hour in order to maximize ad revenues. The article explained that at that time, many prime time series lost money, while daytime serials earned profits several times more than their production costs. The issue's cover notably featured its first daytime soap stars, Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth Hayes of Days of our Lives, a married couple whose onscreen and real-life romance was widely covered by both the soap opera magazines and the mainstream press at large.
Plots and storylines
The main characteristics that define soap operas are "an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations". Fitting in with these characteristics, most soap operas follow the lives of a group of characters who live or work in a particular place, or focus on a large extended family. The storylines follow the day-to-day activities and personal relationships of these characters. "Soap narratives, like those of film melodramas, are marked by what Steve Neale has described as 'chance happenings, coincidences, missed meetings, sudden conversions, last-minute rescues and revelations, deus ex machina endings.'" These elements may be found across the gamut of soap operas, from EastEnders to Dallas.
In many soap operas, in particular daytime serials in the United States, the characters are frequently attractive, seductive, glamorous and wealthy. Soap operas from the United Kingdom and Australia tend to focus on more everyday characters and situations, and are frequently set in working class environments. Many Australian and UK soap operas explore social realist storylines such as family discord, marriage breakdown, or financial problems. Both UK and Australian soap operas feature comedy elements, often by way of affectionate comic stereotypes such as the gossip or the grumpy old man, presented as a sort of comic foil to the emotional turmoil that surrounds them. This diverges from US soap operas where such comedy is rare. UK soap operas frequently make a claim to presenting "reality" or purport to have a "realistic" style. UK soap operas also frequently foreground their geographic location as a key defining feature of the show while depicting and capitalising on the exotic appeal of the stereotypes connected to the location. So EastEnders focuses on the tough and grim life in London's east end; Coronation Street invokes Manchester and its characters exhibit the stereotypical characteristic of "Northern straight talking".
Romance, secret relationships, extramarital affairs, and genuine love have been the basis for many soap opera storylines. In US daytime serials the most popular soap opera characters, and the most popular storylines, often involved a romance of the sort presented in paperback romance novels. Soap opera storylines sometimes weave intricate, convoluted, and sometimes confusing tales of characters who have affairs, meet mysterious strangers and fall in love, and who commit adultery, all of which keeps audiences hooked on the unfolding story twists. Crimes such as kidnapping, rape, and even murder may go unpunished if the perpetrator is to be retained in the ongoing story.
Australian and UK soap operas also feature a significant proportion of romance storylines. In Russia, most popular serials explore the "romantic quality" of criminal and/or oligarch life.
In soap opera storylines, previously unknown children, siblings, and twins (including the evil variety) of established characters often emerge to upset and reinvigorate the set of relationships examined by the series. Unexpected calamities disrupt weddings, childbirths, and other major life events with unusual frequency.
Much like comic books—another popular form of linear storytelling pioneered in the US during the 20th Century—a character's death is not guaranteed to be permanent. On The Bold and the Beautiful, Taylor Forrester (Hunter Tylo) was shown to flatline and have a funeral. When Tylo reprised the character in 2005 a retcon explained that Taylor had actually gone into a coma.
Stunts and complex physical action are largely absent, especially from daytime serials. Such story events often take place offscreen and are referred to in dialogue instead of being shown. This is because stunts or action scenes are difficult to adequately depict visually without complex action, multiple takes, and post production editing. When episodes were broadcast live, post production work was impossible. Though all serials have long switched to being taped, extensive post production work and multiple takes, while possible, are not feasible due to the tight taping schedules and low budgets.
Daytime serials on television
The first network television soap opera was Faraway Hill in 1946. Soap operas became a staple of daytime television in the United States in the early 1950s. Along with game shows, reruns of situation comedies, and talk shows, the soap opera was traditionally a fixture in the American broadcast networks' daytime schedules. Christina S. Beck argues the significance of soap operas are based on viewers' co-constructing narratives to show how both traditional and online soaps help negotiated the lived experience of people. In 1988, H. Wesley Kenney, then Executive Producer of General Hospital, said to The New York Times:
|“||I think people like stories that continue so they can relate to these people. They become like a family, and the viewer becomes emotionally involved. There seem to be two attitudes by viewers. One, that the stories are similar to what happened to them in real life, or two, thank goodness that isn't me.||”|
Many long-running US soap operas established particular environments for their stories. The Doctors and General Hospital, in the beginning, told stories almost exclusively from inside the confines of a hospital. As the World Turns dealt heavily with Chris Hughes' law practice and the travails of his wife Nancy who, tired of being "the loyal housewife" in the 1970s, became one of the first older women on the American serials to become a working woman. Guiding Light dealt with Bert Bauer (Charita Bauer) and her alcoholic husband Bill, and their endless marital troubles. When Bert's status shifted to caring mother and town matriarch, her children's marital troubles were showcased. Search for Tomorrow mostly told its story through the eyes of Joanne Gardner (Mary Stuart). Even when stories revolved around other characters, Joanne was frequently a key player in their storylines. Days of our Lives initially focused on Dr. Tom Horton and his steadfast wife Alice. The show later branched out to focus more on their five children. The Edge of Night featured as its central character Mike Karr, a police detective (later an attorney), and largely dealt with organized crime. The Young and the Restless first focused on two families, the prosperous Brooks Family with four daughters, and the working class Foster family of a single working mother with three children. Its storylines explored realistic problems including cancer, mental illness, poverty and infidelity.
In contrast, Dark Shadows (1966–1971) and Port Charles (1997-2003) featured supernatural characters and dealt with fantasy and horror storylines. Their characters included vampires, witches, ghosts, goblins and angels.
The American soap opera Guiding Light started as a radio drama in January 1937 and subsequently transferred to television in June 1952. With the exception of several years in the late 1940s when Irna Phillips was in dispute with Procter & Gamble, Guiding Light was heard or seen nearly every weekday since it began, until 2009 making it the longest story ever told in a broadcast medium.
Originally serials were broadcast as fifteen-minute installments each weekday in daytime slots. In 1956 As the World Turns and The Edge of Night, both produced by Procter & Gamble Productions, debuted as the first half-hour soap operas on CBS Television. All soap operas broadcast half-hour episodes by the end of the 1960s. With increased popularity in the 1970s most soap operas expanded to an hour in length by the end of the decade (Another World even expanded to ninety minutes for a short time). More than half of the serials had expanded to one hour episodes by 1980. As of 2012, three of the four US serials air one hour episodes each weekday. Only The Bold and the Beautiful airs 30-minute episodes.
Soap operas were originally broadcast live from the studio, creating what many at the time regarded as a feeling similar to that of a stage play. As nearly all soap operas were originated at that time in New York, a number of soap actors were also accomplished stage actors who performed live theatre during breaks from their soap roles. In the 1960s and 1970s, new serials such as General Hospital, Days of our Lives, and The Young and the Restless were produced in Los Angeles. Their success made the West Coast a viable alternative to New York–produced soap operas, which were becoming more costly to perform.
By the early 1970s, nearly all soap operas had transitioned to being taped. As the World Turns and The Edge of Night were the last to make the switch, in 1975.
Port Charles used the practice of running 13-week "story arcs", in which the main events of the arc are played out and wrapped up over the 13 weeks, although some storylines did continue over more than one arc. According to the 2006 Preview issue of Soap Opera Digest, it was briefly discussed that all ABC shows might do telenovela arcs, but this was rejected.
Though US daytime soap operas are not generally rerun by their networks, occasionally they are rebroadcast elsewhere. Early episodes of Dark Shadows were rerun on PBS stations in the early 1970s after the show's cancellation, and the entire series (except the single missing episode) was rerun on the SciFi Channel in the 1990s. After The Edge of Night's 1984 cancellation, reruns of the show's final five years were shown on the USA Network's latenight schedule from 1985 to 1989. On January 20, 2000 the SOAPnet network began retransmitting soap operas originally aired on ABC, NBC and CBS.
Newer broadcast networks since the late 1980s, such as Fox and cable television networks, have largely eschewed soap operas in their daytime schedules, instead running syndicated programming and reruns. No cable television outlet has produced its own daytime serial, although DirecTV's The 101 Network took over existing serial Passions, continuing production for one season. Fox, the fourth "major network," carried a short lived daytime soap Tribes in 1990. Yet other than this and a couple of pilot attempts, Fox mainly stayed away from daytime soaps, and has not attempted them since their ascension to major-network status in 1994. (They did attempt a series of daily prime time soaps, which aired on newly created sister network MyNetworkTV, but the experiment was largely a failure.)
Due to the masses of episodes produced for a series, release of soap operas to DVD (a popular venue for distribution of current and vintage television series) is considered impractical. With the exception of occasional specials, daytime soap operas are notable by their absence from DVD release schedules (an exception being the 1960s-70s supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows, which did receive an essentially complete release on both VHS and DVD; the single lost episode #1219 is reconstructed by means of an off-the-air audio recording, still images, and recap material from adjacent episodes).
Due to the longevity of these shows it is not uncommon for a single character to be played by multiple actors. The key character of Mike Karr on The Edge of Night was played by three different actors.
Conversely several actors have remained playing the same character for many years, or decades even. Helen Wagner played Hughes family matriarch Nancy Hughes on American soap As the World Turns from its April 2, 1956 debut through her death in May 2010. She is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the actor with the longest uninterrupted performance in a single role. A number of performers played roles for twenty years or longer, occasionally on more that one show. In Rachel Ames played Audrey Hardy on both General Hospital and Port Charles from 1964 until 2007, and returned in 2009. Susan Lucci played Erica Kane in All My Children since the show's debut in January 1970 until the show ended an ABC run in September 23, 2011. Erika Slezak has played Victoria Lord #3 on One Life to Live from 1971 until the show ended an ABC run January 13, 2012 and returned April 29, 2013.
Other actors have played several characters on different shows. Vincent Irizarry, Jacqueline Courtney, Milette Alexander, Gary Pilar, Lois Kibbee, Don Hastings, Christopher Pennock, Teri Keane, Diana van der Vlis, John Loprio, Louise Shaffer, Doris Belack, James Mitchell, Maeve McGuire, William Prince, Joan Copeland, Judith Chapman, Jordan Charney, Antony Ponzini, Bernard Barrow, Dan Hamilton, David Canary, and Louis Edmonds have all played multiple soap roles.
Evolution of the daytime serial
For several decades most daytime soap operas concentrated on family and marital discord, legal drama, and romance. The action rarely left interior settings, and many shows were set in fictional, medium-sized Midwestern towns.
Exterior shots were slowly incorporated into the series The Edge of Night and Dark Shadows. Unlike many earlier serials which were set in fictional towns, The Best of Everything and Ryan's Hopewere set in real location, New York City.
The first exotic location shoot was made by All My Children, to St. Croix in 1978. Many other soap operas planned lavish storylines after the success of the All My Children shoot. Soap operas Another World and Guiding Light both went to St. Croix in 1980, the former show culminating a long-running storyline between popular characters Mac, Rachel and Janice, and the latter to serve as an exotic setting for Alan Spaulding and Rita Bauer's torrid affair.
During the 1980s, perhaps as a reaction to the evening drama series that were gaining high ratings, daytime serials began to incorporate action and adventure storylines, more big-business intrigue, and an increased emphasis on youthful romance.
One of the first and most popular couples was Luke Spencer and Laura Webber in General Hospital. Luke and Laura helped to attract both male and female fans. Even actress Elizabeth Taylor was a fan and at her own request was given a guest role in Luke and Laura's wedding episode. Luke and Laura's popularity led to other soap producers striving to reproduce this success by attempting to create supercouples of their own.
With increasingly bizarre action storylines coming into vogue Luke and Laura saved the world from being frozen, brought a mobster down by finding his black book in a Left-Handed Boy Statue, and helped a Princess find her Aztec Treasure in Mexico. Other soap operas attempted similar adventure storylines, often featuring footage shot on location – frequently in exotic locales.
During the 1990s, the mob, action, and adventure stories fell out of favor with producers due to generally declining ratings for daytime soap operas at the time, and the resultant budget cuts. In the 1990s soap operas were no longer able to go on expensive location shoots overseas as they had in the 1980s. In the 1990s soap operas increasingly focused on younger characters and social issues, such as Erica Kane's drug addiction on All My Children, the re-emergence of Viki Lord's multiple personality disorder on One Life to Live, and Stuart Chandler dealing with AIDS and death on All My Children. Other social issues included cancer, homophobia, addiction, abuse, adoption, and racism.
Some shows of the 2000s incorporated supernatural and science fiction elements into their storylines. One of the main characters on soap opera Dark Shadows were Barnabas Collins, a vampire, and One Life to Live featured an angel named Virgil. Both shows featured characters who travelled to and from the past.
Traditional grammar of daytime serials
Modern U.S. daytime soap operas largely stay true to the original soap opera format. The duration and format of storylines and the visual grammar employed by US daytime serials set them apart from soap operas in other countries and from evening soap operas. Stylistically, UK and Australian soap operas, which are usually produced for early evening timeslots, fall somewhere in-between US daytime and evening soap operas. Similar to US daytime soap operas, UK and Australian serials are shot on videotape, and the cast and storylines are rotated across the week's episodes so that each cast member will appear in some but not all episodes. UK and Australian soap operas move through storylines at a faster rate than daytime serials, making them closer to US evening soap operas in this regard.
American daytime soap operas feature stylistic elements that set them apart from other shows:
- A construct unique to US daytime serials is the format where the action will cut between various conversations, returning to each at the precise moment it was left. This is the most significant distinction between US daytime soap operas and other forms of US television drama, which generally allow for narrative time to pass, off-screen, between the scenes depicted.
- In US daytime soap operas, scenes often end with a pregnant pause and a close-up on the character. There will be no dialogue for several seconds, while the music builds before cutting to a commercial or a new scene. This kind of segue is referred to in the industry as a "tag."
- The traditional three-point lighting set-up routinely used in filmmaking and television production is also used on daytime soap operas, sometimes with accentuated back lighting to lift actors out of the background. This is useful in programs like soap operas which are shot on videotape in small interior sets. The backlight is frequently more subtle on filmed productions shot on location and in larger sets.
- Domestic interiors are often furnished with stained wood wall panels and furniture, and items of brown leather furniture. This is to give a sumptuous and luxurious look suggesting the wealth of the characters. Daytime serials often foreground other sumptuous elements of set decoration; presenting a "mid-shot of characters viewed through a frame of lavish floral displays, glittering crystal decanters or gleaming antique furniture".
- Few US daytime soap operas routinely feature location or exterior-shot footage (Guiding Light began shooting many of its scenes outdoors in its final two seasons). Often an outdoor locale is recreated in the studio. Australian and UK daily soap operas invariably feature a certain amount of exterior shot footage in every episode. This is usually shot in the same location and often on a purpose-built set, with new exterior locations for particular events.
- The visual quality of a soap opera is usually lower than prime time US television drama series due to the lower budgets and quicker production times. This is also because soap operas are recorded on videotape using a multicamera setup, unlike primetime productions which are usually shot on film and frequently using the single camera shooting style. Because of the lower resolution of video images, and also because of the emotional situations portrayed in soap operas, daytime serials make heavy use of close-up shots. Programs in the United States did not make the full conversion to high definition broadcasting until September 2011, when The Bold and the Beautiful became the last soap to convert to the format, except for One Life to Live, which remained in standard definition, albeit in a 16x9 aspect ratio, until the end of its run on ABC in January 2012.
- Soap operas have idiosyncratic blocking techniques. In one common situation, a romantically involved couple starts a conversation face-to-face, then one character will turn 180° and face away from the other character while conversation continues. This allows both characters to appear together in a single shot, and both facing the audience. This is unrealistic in real life and is not frequently seen in film or on television outside US daytime serials, but it is an accepted soap opera convention, sometimes referred to as a Two Shot West.
Statistics and trends
Soap opera ratings have significantly fallen in the U.S. since the 2000s. No new major daytime soap opera has been created since Passions in 1999, while many have been cancelled. The Young and the Restless, the highest rated soap opera from 1988 to the present, had less than 5 million daily viewers as of February 2012, a number exceeded by several non-scripted programs such as Judge Judy. Circulations of soap opera magazines have decreased and some have even gone out of business. SOAPnet, which largely airs soap opera reruns, began to be phased out in 2012. Since January 2012, four daytime soap operas — General Hospital, Days of our Lives, The Young and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful — continue to air on the three major networks, down from 12 in 1990–91 and a high of 19 in 1969–70. This is the first time since 1953 that there are only four soap operas on broadcast television.
Some of America's most established soaps ended between 2009 to 2012. The longest-running drama in television and radio history, Guiding Light, barely reached 2.1 million daily viewers in 2009 and ended on September 18, 2009 after 72 years. As the World Turns aired its final episode on September 17, 2010 after a 54-year run. As the World Turns was the last of 20 soap operas produced by Procter & Gamble, the soap and consumer goods company from which soap operas got their name. As The World Turns and The Guiding Light were also among the last of the soaps that originated from New York. All My Children, another New York based soap, moved its production out to California in an effort to reduce costs and raise sagging ratings, however, it along with One Life to Live, each with a four-decade-plus run, were both cancelled by ABC in 2011. All My Children aired its network finale in September 2011 with One Life to Live in January 2012. Both All My Children and One Life to Live were briefly revived online in 2013 before being canceled again that same year.
As women increasingly worked outside of the home, daytime television viewing declined. New generations of potential viewers were not raised watching soap operas with their mothers, leaving the shows' long and complex story lines foreign to younger audiences. Now, as viewers age, ratings continue to drop among young adult women, the demographic group that soap opera advertisers pay the most for. Those who might watch in workplace breakrooms are not counted, as Nielsen does not track viewing outside the home. The rise of cable and the internet has also provided new sources of entertainment during the day. Part of the genre's decline has even been attributed to audiences' switching to reality TV as an alternative source of melodrama.
Daytime programming alternatives such as talk shows and game shows cost up to 50% less to produce than scripted dramas, making those formats more profitable and attractive to networks, even if they receive the same or slightly lower ratings than soap operas. A network may even prefer to return a timeslot to its local stations to keeping a soap opera with disappointing ratings on the air, as was the case with Sunset Beach and Port Charles. Compounding the financial pressure on scripted programming in the 2007–2010 period was a decline in advertising, a cause of the late 2000s-early 2010s global recession, which led shows to reduce their budgets and cast sizes.
The primetime serial
Serials produced for primetime slots have also found success. The first real prime time soap opera was Peyton Place (1964–1969) on ABC. It was based in part on the eponymous 1957 film (which, in turn, was based on the 1956 novel).
The popularity of Peyton Place prompted the CBS network to spin-off popular As the World Turns character Lisa Miller into her own evening soap opera, Our Private World (originally titled "The Woman Lisa" in its planning stages). Our Private World was broadcast from May until September 1965. The character of Lisa returned to As The World Turns after the series ended.
The structure of Peyton Place, with its episodic plots and long-running story arcs, set the mold for the primetime serials of the 1980s when the format reached its pinnacle.
The successful primetime serials of the 1980s included Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, and Falcon Crest. These shows frequently dealt with wealthy families and their personal and big-business travails. Common characteristics were sumptuous sets and costumes, complex storylines examining business schemes and intrigue, and spectacular disaster cliffhanger situations. Each of these series featured a wealthy, domineering, promiscuous, and passionate antagonist as a key character in the storyline – J. R. Ewing, Alexis Colby, Abby Cunningham, and Angela Channing respectively. These villainous schemers became immensely popular figures that audiences "loved to hate".
Unlike daytime serials, which are shot on video in a studio using the multicamera setup, these evening series were shot on film using a single camera setup, and featured substantial location-shot footage, often in picturesque locales. Dallas, its spin-off Knots Landing, and Falcon Crest all initially featured episodes with self-contained stories and specific guest stars who appeared in just that episode. Each story was completely resolved by the end of the episode and there were no end-of-episode cliffhangers. After the first couple of seasons all three shows changed their story format to that of a pure soap opera, with interwoven ongoing narratives that ran over several episodes. Dynasty featured this format throughout its run.
The soap opera's distinctive open plot structure and complex continuity was increasingly incorporated into American primetime television programs of the period. The first significant drama series to do this was Hill Street Blues. This series, produced by Steven Bochco, featured many elements borrowed from soap operas, such as an ensemble cast, multi-episode storylines, and extensive character development over the course of the series. It and the later Cagney & Lacey overlaid the police series formula with ongoing narratives exploring the personal lives and interpersonal relationships of the regular characters. The success of these series prompted other drama series, such as St. Elsewhere and situation comedy series, to incorporate serialized stories and story structure to varying degrees.
The primetime soap operas and drama series of the 1990s, such as Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Dawson's Creek, focused more on younger characters. In the 2000s, ABC began to revitalize the primetime soap opera format with shows such as Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, Ugly Betty, Private Practice, and more recently Revenge and Ringer, which they co-produced with CBS for the CW. While not soaps in the traditional sense, these shows managed to appeal to wide audiences with their high drama mixed with humor, and are soap operas by definition. These successes led to NBC's launching serials, including Heroes and Friday Night Lights.
The upstart MyNetworkTV, a sister company of Fox, launched a line of primetime telenovelas (a genre similar to soap operas in terms of content) upon its launch in 2006, but ended its use of the format in 2007, after disappointing ratings.
In 2012, a continuation of the 1980s soap opera, Dallas, launched on the cable network, TNT. "Dallas (2012)" premiered June 13, 2012, has delivered solid ratings for cable, and has been renewed for a second season.
In 2012, Nick at Nite launched a primetime soap opera, Hollywood Heights, that airs episodes five nights a week from Monday through Friday, like a daytime soap opera, instead of one episode a week like a regular primetime soap opera. It is an adaption of the Mexican telenovela, Alcanzar una estrella, and has delivered disappointing ratings, always receiving less than a million viewers.
Some web series are soap operas, such as Venice: The Series. In 2013, production company Prospect Park revived All My Children and One Life to Live for the web, retaining original creator Agnes Nixon as a consultant and keeping many of the same actors. Each show initially produced four half-hour episodes a week, but quickly cut back to two half-hour episodes each. The experiment ended that same year, with both shows being canceled again.
In the United Kingdom, soap operas are one of the most popular genres, most being broadcast during prime time. In comparison to US serials which frequently portray romantic storylines in sumptuous and glamorous locales, most UK soap operas focus on more everyday, working-class communities.
The most popular soaps are Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Doctors, and the Australian produced Neighbours and Home and Away. The first three of these are consistently among the highest-rated shows on British television.
The 1986 Christmas Day episode of EastEnders is often given as the highest-rated UK soap opera episode ever, with 30.15 million viewers (in 2007, the UK had approximately 54 million viewers). The figure of 30.15 million was actually a combination of the original broadcast which had just over 19 million viewers, and the Sunday omnibus edition with 10 million viewers. The combined 30.15 million audience figure often sees it attributed as the highest-rated program in UK television for the 1980s, comparable to the records set by the 1970 splashdown of Apollo 13 (28.6 million viewers), and Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 (32.1 million viewers).
Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders are popularly known as the "flagship" soaps, as they are the highest rating programmes for ITV and the BBC respectively. Poor ratings for a UK flagship serial sometimes brings with it questions about the associated channel. The soaps are so popular they are not routinely scheduled against each other. Episodes of serials have clashed only on isolated occasions when extended episodes have been screened.
Soap operas in the U.K. began on radio and consequently were associated with the BBC. It had resisted soaps as antithetical to its quality image, but began broadcasting Front Line Family in April 1941 on its North American shortwave service to encourage American intervention on Britain's behalf in World War II. The BBC continues to broadcast the world's longest-running radio soap, The Archers, which has been running nationally since 1951. It is currently broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and continues to attract over five million listeners, or roughly 25% of the radio listening population of the UK at that time of the evening.
An early television serial was The Grove Family on the BBC. 148 episodes were produced from 1954 to 1957. The series was broadcast live and only a handful of recordings were retained in the archives.
In the 1960s Coronation Street revolutionised UK television and quickly became a British institution. Another of the 1960s was Emergency Ward 10, on ITV. The BBC also produced several serials. Compact was about the staff of a women's magazine. The Newcomers was about the upheaval caused by a large firm setting up a plant in a small town. United! contained 147 episodes and focused on a football team. 199 Park Lane (1965) was an upper class serial with only 18 episodes. None of these serials came close to making the same impact as Coronation Street. Indeed most of the 1960s BBC serials were largely wiped.
During the 1960s Coronation Street’s main rival was Crossroads, a daily serial that began in 1964 and was broadcast by ITV in the early evening. Crossroads was set in a Birmingham motel and, although the series was popular, its purported low technical standard and bad acting were much mocked. By the 1980s its ratings had begun to decline. Several attempts to revamp the series through cast changes and, later, expanding the focus from the motel to the surrounding community were unsuccessful. Crossroads was cancelled in 1988. (A new version of Crossroads was later produced, running from 2001 until 2003.)
A later rival to Coronation Street was ITV's Emmerdale Farm (later renamed Emmerdale) which began in 1972 in a daytime slot and had a rural Yorkshire setting. Increased viewing figures saw Emmerdale being moved to a prime-time slot in the 1980s.
Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley) is a Welsh language serial produced by the BBC since October 1974. It is the longest-running television soap opera produced by the BBC. Pobol y Cwm was originally transmitted on BBC Wales television between 1974 and 1982. It then transferred to the Welsh-language television station S4C when it opened in the November 1982. The series was occasionally shown on BBC1 in London during periods of regional optout in the mid-late 1970s. Pobol y Cwm was briefly shown in the rest of the UK in 1994 on BBC2, with English subtitles. It is consistently the most watched programme of the week on S4C.
Daytime soap operas were non-existent until the 1970s because there was virtually no daytime television in the UK. ITV introduced General Hospital, which later transferred to a prime time slot, and Scottish Television had Take the High Road, which lasted for over twenty years. Later, daytime slots were filled with an influx of older Australian soap operas such as The Sullivans (aired on ITV from 1977),The Young Doctors (from 1982), Sons and Daughters (from 1983), A Country Practice (from 1982), Richmond Hill (from 1988–89) and eventually, Neighbours was bought by the BBC in 1986, and Home and Away was shown on ITV from 1989. These achieved significant levels of popularity. Neighbours and Home and Away were moved to early-evening slots and the UK soap opera boom began in the late 1980s.
When Channel 4 began in 1982 it launched its own soap, the Liverpool based Brookside, on its first day. Over the next decade Brookside redefined soap. The focus of Brookside was different from previous soaps. The setting was a middle-class new-build cul-de-sac, unlike Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm which were set in established working-class communities. The characters in Brookside were generally either people who had advanced themselves from inner-city council estates, or the upper middle-class who had fallen on hard times. Though Brookside was still broadcast in a pre-watershed slot (8pm and 8.30pm on weekdays, around 5pm for the omnibus on Saturdays), it was more liberal than other soaps of the time: the dialogue regularly included expletives. This stemmed from the overall more liberal policy of the channel in that period. The soap was also heavily politicised. Bobby Grant (Ricky Tomlinson), a militant trade-unionist anti-hero, was the most overtly political character. Storylines were often more sensationalist than on other soaps (in the soaps history there were two armed sieges on the street) and were staged more graphically with violence (particularly, rape) being often used.
In 1985, the BBC's London based soap opera EastEnders debuted and was a near instant success with viewers and critics alike, with the first episode attracting over 17 million viewers. The Christmas Day 1986 episode was watched by 30.15 million viewers and contained a scene of divorce papers served to Angie Watts by her husband Den. Critics talked about the downfall of Coronation Street, but Coronation Street continued successfully. In 1994, when the two serials were scheduled opposite each other, and Corrie won the slot. For the better part of ten years[when?], the show has shared the number one position with Coronation Street, with varying degrees of difference between the two.
A notable success in pioneering late-night broadcasting, in October 1984, Yorkshire Television began broadcasting the cult Australian soap opera Prisoner, which was originally produced between 1979 and 1986. It was eventually screened on all regions around the UK in differing slots, usually around 23:00 (but never before 22:30 in any region), under the title Prisoner: Cell Block H. It was probably most popular in the Midlands where Central Television consistently broadcast the serial three times a week from 1987 to 1991. Its airing in the UK was staggered, so different regions of the country saw it at a different pace. The series was immensely successful, regularly achieving 10 million viewers when all regions' ratings per episode were added together. Central bowed to fan pressure to repeat the soap, of which the first 95 episodes aired. Then, rival station Channel 5 also acquired repeat rights for a full rerun of the series, starting in 1997. All 692 episodes are now on release on DVD in the UK.
In 1992, the BBC launched Eldorado to alternate with EastEnders. The series was heavily criticised and only lasted a year. Nevertheless soap operas gained increasing prominence in UK schedules. In 1995 Channel 4 introduced Hollyoaks, a soap with a youth focus. When Channel 5 began in March 1997 it came with its own soap opera, Family Affairs, which debuted as a five-days-a-week soap.
Brookside's premise evolved in the 1990s. It phased out the politicised stories of the 1980s, shifting the emphasis to controversial and sensationalist stories such as child rape, sibling incest, religious cults, and drug addiction, including the infamous 'body under the patio' storyline which broadcast 1993–95, and gave the serial its highest ever viewing figures of 9 million.
Coronation Street and Brookside started to release straight-to-video features. The Coronation Street releases generally kept the pace and style of conventional series episodes with the action set in foreign locations. The Brookside releases were set in the usual series location but featured stories with adult content not allowed on pre-watershed television, with these releases given '18' certificates.
The remodelling of the Emmerdale Farm series, led to the Farm being dropped from the title in 1989. In 1993, many of the changes where executed via a plane crash that partially destroyed the village and killed several characters. This attracted criticism as it was broadcast near the fifth anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing. The storyline drew the soap its highest ever viewing figures of 18 million, and helped massively with the revamp of the series which became a success and Emmerdale grew in popularity.
Throughout the 1990s the soap operas Brookside, Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale continued to flourish. Each increased the number of weekly episodes transmitted by at least one, further defining soap opera as the leading genre in British television.
Since 2000, new soap operas have continued to be developed. Daytime drama Doctors began in March 2000, preceding Neighbours on BBC1. In 2002, as the ratings continued to fall for Scottish serial High Road (formerly Take The High Road), BBC Scotland launched River City, which proved popular and effectively replaced High Road when it was cancelled in 2003. The long-running serial Brookside ended in November 2003 after 21 years on air, leaving Hollyoaks as Channel 4's flagship serial.
A new version of Crossroads featuring a mostly new cast was produced by Carlton Television for ITV in 2001. It did not achieve satisfactory ratings and was cancelled in 2003. In 2001, ITV also launched a new early-evening serial entitled Night and Day. This series too attracted low viewing figures and after being shifted to a late night time slot was cancelled in 2003. Family Affairs, which was broadcast opposite the racier Hollyoaks, never achieved significantly high viewing figures leading to several dramatic revamps of the cast and marked changes in style and even location over its run. By 2004, Family Affairs had a larger fan base and won its first awards, but was cancelled in late 2005.
ITV launched the new soap opera The Royal Today in 2008. The Royal Today was a daily spin-off of popular sixties drama The Royal, which had been running in a primetime slot since 2002. Just days later, soap opera parody series Echo Beach premiered alongside its sister series, the comedy Moving Wallpaper. Both Echo Beach and The Royal Today ended after their initial first season. Due to poor viewing figures neither were picked up for a second run.
UK soap operas for many years usually only aired two nights a week. The exception was the original Crossroads which began as a five-days-a-week soap opera in the 1960s, but was later reduced. Things started to change in 1989 when Coronation Street began airing three times a week. In 1996, it expanded again, to air four episodes a week. Brookside began in 1982 with two episodes a week. Starting 1990 it aired three episodes a week. The trend was followed by EastEnders in 1994 and Emmerdale in 1997. Family Affairs debuted as a five-days-a-week soap in 1997, producing five episodes a week throughout its entire lifetime. The imported Neighbours screens as five new episodes a week, which are shown once at 1:45 pm and repeated at 5:30 pm on Channel 5 each weekday.
Currently Coronation Street (which began screening two episodes on Monday nights in 2002) and Hollyoaks both produce five episodes a week, while EastEnders screens four. In 2002 Brookside went from three half hour episodes on different week nights to airing one ninety minute episode each week. In 2004 Emmerdale began screening six episodes a week. Doctors screens five episodes a week. It is the only soap without a weekend omnibus repeat screening.
In a January 2008 overhaul of the ITV network the Sunday episodes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale were moved out of their slots. Coronation Street added a second episode on Friday evenings at 8:30 pm. Emmerdale's Tuesday edition was extended to an hour, putting it in direct competition with rival EastEnders.
In July 2009, the schedules of these serials were changed again. Starting 23 July 2009 Coronation Street moved from the Wednesday slot it held for 49 years, to Thursday evenings. Emmerdale's reverted to screening just one thirty-minute episode on Tuesday evenings and the other thirty-minute installment was moved to Thursday evenings.
UK soap operas are shot on videotape in the studio using a multicamera setup. Since the 1980s they routinely feature outdoors footage in each episode. This footage is shot on videotape on a purpose built outdoor set that represents the community the soap focuses on.
Australia has had quite a number of well known soap operas, some of which have gained cult followings in the UK, New Zealand and other countries. The majority of Australian television soap operas are produced for early evening or evening timeslots. They usually produce two or two-and-a-half hours of new material each week, either arranged as four or five half-hour episodes a week, or two one-hour episodes. Stylistically they most closely resemble UK soap operas in that they are nearly always shot on videotape, mainly in the studio using a multicamera setup. The original Australian serials were shot entirely in the studio. During the 1970s, occasional filmed inserts were used to incorporate outdoor-shot sequences in soap operas. Outdoor shooting later became commonplace and starting in the late 1970s it became standard practice that there will be some location-shot footage in each episode of any Australian soap opera, often to capitalise on the attractiveness and exotic nature of these locations for international audiences. Most Australian soap operas focus on a mixed age range of middle-class characters and will regularly feature a range of locations where the various, disparate, characters can meet and interact, such as the café, the surf club, the wine bar, or the school.
The genre began in Australia, as in other countries, on radio. One such radio serial, Big Sister, featured actress Thelma Scott in the cast and aired nationally for five years from 1942. Probably the best known Australian radio serial was the long-running Gwen Meredith soap opera Blue Hills which ran from 1949 to 1976. With the advent of Australian television in 1956 daytime television serials followed. The first Australian television soap opera Autumn Affair (1958), with radio personality and Blue Hills star Queenie Ashton making the transition to television. Each episode of this serial was fifteen minutes and it screened each weekday on the Seven Network. The series failed to secure a sponsor and ended in 1959 after a run of 156 episodes. This was followed by The Story of Peter Grey (1961). Again this was a Seven Network series screened weekdays in a daytime slot, with each episode fifteen minutes in duration. The Story of Peter Grey had a run of 164 episodes.
The first successful wave of Australian evening soap operas started in 1967 with Bellbird produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This rural-based serial screened in an early evening slot in fifteen-minute installments and was a moderate success but built-up a consistent and loyal viewer base, especially in rural areas, and enjoyed a ten-year run. Motel (1968) was Australia's first half-hour soap opera. Screened in a daytime slot the series had a short run of 132 episodes.
1970s hit soaps
The first big soap opera hit in Australia was the sex-melodrama Number 96 which began in March 1972, screening on Network Ten in a nighttime slot. Number 96 brought such rarely explored topics as homosexuality, adultery, drug use, rape-within-marriage and racism into Australian living rooms en masse. The series became famous for its sex scenes and nudity and for its comedy characters, many of whom became cult heroes in Australia. By 1973, Number 96 had become Australia's highest-rating show. In 1974, the sexed-up antics of Number 96 prompted the creation of The Box, which rivaled it in terms of nudity and sexual situations and screened in a nighttime slot. Produced by Crawford Productions, many critics considered The Box to be a more slickly produced and better written show than Number 96, and in its first year it was extremely popular. Meanwhile in 1974, the Reg Grundy Organisation created its first soap opera, and significantly Australia's first teen soap opera, Class of '74. Its attempts to hint at the sex and sin shown more openly on Number 96 and The Box along with its high school setting and early evening time slot meant it came under intense scrutiny of the Broadcasting Control Board who vetted scripts and altered whole storylines. By 1975, both Number 96 and The Box, perhaps as a reaction to declining ratings for both shows, de-emphasised the sex and nudity moving more in the direction of comedy. Class of '74 was renamed Class of '75 and also added more slapstick comedy for its second year, but the revamped show's ratings dwindled and it was cancelled in mid-1975.
A feature film version of Bellbird entitled Country Town was produced in 1971 not by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation but by two of the show's stars, Gary Gray and Terry McDermott. Number 96 and The Box also had feature film versions, both of which had the same title as the series, released in 1974 and 1975 respectively. As Australian television was in black and white until 1975 these theatrical releases all had the novelty of being in colour. The film versions of Number 96 and The Box also allowed more explicit nudity than could be shown on television at that time.
Launched on the Nine Network in late 1976 was The Sullivans, a series chronicling the effects of World War II on a Melbourne family. Produced by Crawford's this show was a ratings success and attracted many positive reviews. At around the same time, Grundy's created a new teen-oriented soap, The Young Doctors, which also screened on Channel Nine starting late 1976. This show eschewed the sex and sin of Number 96 and The Box instead emphasising light-weight storylines and romance. It was also popular but unlike The Sullivans it was not a success with critics. Meanwhile in 1977, Number 96 would re-introduce nudity, with several much-publicised full-frontal nude scenes featured in an attempt to boost the show's plummeting ratings.
Australian soaps of the 1980s
Bellbird, Number 96 and The Box were all cancelled in 1977. All had been experiencing declining ratings since 1975 and various attempts to revamp the shows with cast reshuffles or spectacular disaster storylines had proved only temporarily successful. Late that year they were replaced by such successful new shows as the Crawfords Produced Cop Shop (1977–1984) on Channel Seven, which was a meld of soap opera and police drama, and The Restless Years (1977–1981) on Channel Ten, which was another teen soap produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation.
Crawford Productions, achieving success with the popular Cop Shop on the Seven Network, devised a similar series Skyways to compete with popular talk show The Don Lane Show on the Nine Network. Skyways, which debuted in July 1979, was set in an airport and emphasised adult situations such as homosexuality, adultery, prostitution, drug use and smuggling, murder, and showed some nudity. Despite this the program achieved only moderate ratings and was cancelled in mid-1981.
The Reg Grundy Organisation found great success with new serials in the 1980s with women's-prison drama Prisoner (1979–1986) on Network Ten, and melodramatic family saga Sons and Daughters (1982–1987) on the Seven Network. Both shows achieved high ratings in their first run, and unusually, found success in repeats after their original runs ended.
Grundy soap The Young Doctors, and Crawford Production' drama serial The Sullivans, continued on the Nine Network until late 1982. Thereafter Nine attempted many new soap operas, several produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation, including Taurus Rising, Waterloo Station, Starting Out and Possession, along with Prime Time produced by Crawford's. None of these programs were successful and most were cancelled after only a few months. The Reg Grundy Organisation also created Neighbours, a suburban-based daily serial devised as a sedate family drama with some comedy and lightweight situations, for the Seven Network in 1985.
Produced in Melbourne at the studios of HSV-7, Neighbours rated well in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, but not in Sydney. Sydney was the only city where it was shown in the earlier 5.30 p.m. timeslot which put it up against hit dating game show Perfect Match on Channel 10 so Neighbours had low ratings in Sydney, and Seven's Sydney station ATN-7 quickly lost interest in the show. HSV-7 in Melbourne lobbied heavily to keep Neighbours going but ATN-7 managed to convince the rest of the network to cancel the show and instead keep ATN-7's own Sydney-based dramas A Country Practice and Sons and Daughters.
After the network cancelled Neighbours, it was immediately picked up by Channel Ten. They revamped the cast and scripts slightly and from January 20, 1986 aired the series in the 7.00 p.m. slot. It initially attracted low viewing figures however after a concerted publicity drive Ten managed to transform the series into a major success, turning several of its actors into major international stars. The show's popularity eventually declined and it was moved to the 6.30 p.m. slot in 1992, yet the series retains consistent viewing figures in Australia and is still running today, making it Australia's longest-running soap opera.
The success of Neighbours prompted the creation of somewhat similar suburban and family or teen-oriented soap operas such as Home and Away (1988–) on Channel Seven and Richmond Hill (1988) on Channel Ten. Both proved popular, however Richmond Hill emerged as only a moderate success and was cancelled after one year to be replaced on Ten by E Street (1989–1993).
Meanwhile Nine had still failed to find a successful new soap opera. After the failure of family drama Family and Friends in 1990, they launched the raunchier and more extreme Chances in 1991. Chances resurrected the sex and melodrama of Number 96 and The Box in an attempt to attract attention. Chances achieved only moderate ratings, so was moved late-night timeslot and underwent several revamps that removed much of the original cast and refocused the storylines onto science-fiction and fantasy elements. The series continued until 1992 when it was cancelled due to low viewing figures despite the much-discussed fantasy storylines.
Australian soaps internationally
Several Australian soap operas have also found significant international success. In the UK, starting in the mid-1980s, daytime screenings of The Young Doctors, The Sullivans, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours achieved significant success. Neighbours was subsequently moved to an early-evening slot. Grundy's Prisoner began screening in the United States in 1979 and achieved high ratings in many regions there, however only the first three years of the series would be screened in that country. Prisoner was also screened in late-night timeslots in the UK beginning in the late 1980s, achieving enduring cult success there. The show became so popular in the UK that it prompted the creation of two stage plays and a stage musical based on the show, all of which toured the UK, among many other spin-offs. In the late 1990s, Channel 5 repeated Prisoner in the UK. Between 1998 and 2005 Channel 5 ran late-night repeats of Sons and Daughters. During the 1980s, the Australian attempts to emulate big-budget US soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty had resulted in Taurus Rising and Return to Eden, two slick soap opera dramas with big budgets and shot entirely on film. Though their middling Australian ratings ensured they ran only a single season both programs were successfully sold internationally.
Other shows to achieve varying levels of international success include Richmond Hill, E Street, Paradise Beach (1993–1994), and Pacific Drive (1995–1997). Indeed these last two series were designed specifically for international sales. Channel Seven's Home and Away, a teen soap developed as a rival to Neighbours, has also achieved significant and enduring success on UK television.
Teen-oriented serials to the world
Since 1990, most new Australian serials have been based on the successful Neighbours formula of foregrounding youthful attractive casts in appealing locations. An exception to this was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced Something in the Air, a serial examining a range of characters in a small country town; this series ran from 2000 until 2002.
Attempts to replicate the success of daily teen-oriented serials Neighbours and Home and Away saw the creation of Echo Point (1995) and Breakers (1999) on Network Ten. None of these programs emerged as long-running successes and Neighbours and Home and Away remained the most visible and consistently successful Australian soap operas in production. In their home country, they both attract respectable although not spectacular ratings. By 2004, Neighbours was regularly attracting just under a million viewers per episode — low for Australian prime time television. By March 2007, Australian viewing figures for Neighbours had fallen to fewer than 700,000 a night, prompting a revamp of cast and graphics used on the show, and a deemphasis on the action oriented direction the series had moved in with a move to refocus the show on the family storylines it is traditionally known for. However, Neighbours and Home and Away both continue to achieve significant ratings in the UK. This and other lucrative overseas markets, along with Australian broadcasting laws that enforce a minimum amount of local drama production for commercial television networks, help ensure that both programs remain in production. Both shows get higher total ratings in the UK than in Australia (the UK has three times Australia's population) and the UK channels make a major contribution to the production costs.
It has been suggested that with their emphasis on the younger, attractive and charismatic characters, Neighbours and Home and Away have found success in the middle ground between glamorous, fantastic US soaps with their wealthy but tragic heroes and the more grim, naturalistic UK soap operas populated by older, unglamorous characters. The casts of Neighbours and Home and Away are predominantly younger and more attractive than the casts of UK soaps, and without excessive wealth and glamour of the US daytime serial, a middleground in which they have found their lucrative niche.
Neighbours, which is celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2005, was aired on the US channel Oxygen in March 2004, however it attracted few viewers, perhaps in part because it was scheduled opposite well-established and highly popular US soap operas such as All My Children and The Young and The Restless, and due to low ratings it was cancelled shortly afterwards.
New Australian serial headLand premiered on Channel Seven in November 2005. This new series rose from the ashes of a proposed Home and Away spinoff that was to have been produced in conjunction with the UK channel, Five, which screens Home and Away. The spin-off idea was cancelled after Five pulled out of the deal, which meant that the show could potentially screen on a rival UK channel, so Five requested that the new show developed as a stand-alone series and not feed off a series they own a stake in. The series premiered in Australia on November 15, 2005 but was not a ratings success and was cancelled on January 23, 2006. The series broadcast on E4 and Channel 4 in the UK.
After losing the rights to screen Neighbours in the United Kingdom to Five, the BBC commissioned new serial Out of the Blue as its replacement. Out of the Blue was produced in Australia. It began screening on BBC One on weekday afternoons on April 28, 2008 but after lower than desired ratings figures it was shifted to BBC Two from May 19, 2008. Production on the series was not renewed beyond its first season.
Neighbours' continued low ratings in Australia resulted in it being moved to Ten's new digital channel, Eleven on 11 January 2011. Neighbours continues to achieve reasonable ratings on Channel Five in the United Kingdom, and as of March 2013 still reportedly achieved significant international sales.
Shortland Street is New Zealand's most popular soap. It first began airing in 1992. It airs on TVNZ 2.
Relatively few daily soap operas have been produced on English Canadian television, with most Canadian stations that do air soap operas airing American or British ones. Notable daily soaps that did exist included Family Passions, Scarlett Hill, Strange Paradise, Metropia, Train 48 and the international coproduction Foreign Affairs. Family Passions was an hour long, as is typical of American daytime soaps; all of the others were half hour programs. Unlike American or British soap operas, the most influential of which have run for years or even decades, even daily Canadian soap operas have run for a few seasons at most. Short-run soaps, including 49th & Main and North/South, have also aired. Many of these were produced in an effort to comply with Canadian content regulations, which require a percentage of programming on Canadian television to originate from Canada.
Notable prime time soap operas in Canada have included Riverdale, House of Pride, Paradise Falls, He Shoots, He Scores, Loving Friends and Perfect Couples and The City. The Degrassi franchise of youth dramas also incorporated some elements of soap opera.
On French-language television in Quebec the téléroman has been a popular mainstay of network programming since the 1950s. Notable téléromans have included Rue des Pignons, Les Belles Histoires des pays d'en haut, Diva, La famille Plouffe, and the soap opera parody Le Cœur a ses raisons.
India has many soap operas. These started in the late 1980s, as more and more people began to buy televisions. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, soap operas became an integral part of Indian culture. Indian soap operas mostly concentrate on the conflict between love and arranged marriages occurring in India. Many of the soap operas include conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
Many soap operas produced in India are also broadcast overseas in the UK, USA, and some parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia. They are often mass-produced under large production banners, with companies like Balaji Telefilms running different language versions of the same serial on different television networks or channels.
Remakes of Australian serials
Australian serial The Restless Years was remade in the Netherlands as Goede tijden, slechte tijden (first broadcast 1990) and in Germany as Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten (since 1992): both titles translate to "good times, bad times". These remakes are still running although they have long since diverged from the original Australian storylines. They are the highest rated soap operas in their respective countries.
A later Australian serial, Sons and Daughters, has inspired five remakes produced under license from the original producers and based, initially, on original story and character outlines. These are Verbotene Liebe (Germany, 1995– ); Skilda världar (Sweden, 1996–2002); Apagorevmeni agapi (Greece, 1998); Cuori Rubati (Italy, 2002–2003) Zabranjena ljubav (Croatia, 2004–2008).
Both The Restless Years and Sons and Daughters were created and produced in Australia by the Reg Grundy Organisation.
The Norwegian soap opera Hotel Cæsar has been broadcast on TV 2 since 1998, making it the longest running television drama in Scandinavia. Popular foreign soaps are Days of Our Lives (broadcast on TV6), The Bold and the Beautiful (TNT) and Home and Away (TV 2). These series are subtitled.
Serials have included Goede tijden, slechte tijden (1990–present), ONM (1994–2010) and Goudkust (1996–2001).
In the 80s, German networks successfully added American daytime and primetime soap operas to their schedule before Das Erste introduced its first self-produced weekly soap with Lindenstraße, which was seen as a German counterpart to Coronation Street. Like in other countries, the soap opera met with negative reviews but eventually proved critics wrong with nearly 13 million viewers tuning in each week. Even though the format proved successful it took until 1992 before Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten became the first German daily soap opera. Early ratings were bad as were the reviews, but as the network RTL was willing to give its first soap opera a chance, ratings got better and climbed to seven million viewers in 2002. Not long after Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, Das Erste introduced Marienhof, airing it two times a week.
After successfully creating the first German daily soap, production company Grundy Ufa wanted to produce another soap for RTL. Like GZSZ, the format was based on an Australian soap opera from Reg Watson. But RTL didn't like the series' outline about separated twins meeting each other for the first time after twenty years and falling in love not knowing that they are related. The project was then presented to Das Erste and Verbotene Liebe premiered on January 2, 1995. With the premiere of Verbotene Liebe, the network turned Marienhof into a daily soap as well. In the meanwhile, RTL started Unter uns in late 1994 also produced by Grundy Ufa.
The ZDF started a business adventure with Canada and co-produced the short-lived series Family Passions, starring stars like Gordon Thomson, Roscoe Born, Dietmar Schönherr and a young Hayden Christensen. It started on December 5, 1994 and lasted 130 episodes as a daytime serial. After it was canceled, the network introduced Jede Menge Leben to its audience. After a giant crossover with Freunde fürs Leben, Forsthaus Falkenau and Unser Lehrer Doktor Specht, the soap opera got canceled after 313 episodes. Sat.1 tried to get in the soap business as well, after successfully showing the Australian soap opera Neighbours, which got canceled in 1995 to the talk show phenomenon which took over most of Germany's daytime. The network first tried to tell a family saga with So ist das Leben – die Wagenfelds, before failing with Geliebte Schwestern. RTL II made its own short attempt with Alle zusammen - jeder für sich.
The teenage soap opera Schloss Einstein debuted on September 4, 1998, and is still running. As of April 2012, 705 episodes in 15 seasons have aired, a milestone in German television programming. Up to episode 740 is planned for season 15. A 16th season for 2013 has been confirmed. The series describes the life of teenagers in the fictional boarding school Schloss Einstein near Berlin.
In 1999, after the lasting success of Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, Marienhof, Unter uns and Verbotene Liebe, ProSieben aired Mallorca – Suche nach dem Paradies, set on the Spanish island with the same name. After nine months the network gave up, thanks to high production costs and a too little audience. Even though ratings were getting better the show ended its run in the morning hours. The soap opera became something like cult, as its 200 episodes were repeated several times in Free-TV and Pay-TV.
Alles was zählt became the last successfully introduced daily soap in 2006, airing as a lead-in to Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten and also being produced by Grundy Ufa. Since Germany started to produce its own telenovelas, all soap operas had to face a decline in the ratings. Unter uns was in a scare of cancellation in 2009, which was prevented by budget cuts and the firing of original cast member Holger Franke. Fans were outraged by his firing and the character's death, which resulted in a ratings spike in early 2010. After Unter uns was saved, Das Erste was about to make a decision in its soap line-up. Marienhof had to deal with multiple issues in story telling as well as in producing a successful half-hour of television. Several changes were made within months, but in the end Marienhof was canceled in June 2011. Verbotene Liebe was about to get canceled as well, but could convince the network with its changes in 2010 as well as in 2011. The soap opera later was extended to an hour after Marienhof was canceled and the network tried to make up their mind about a new line-up.
While Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, Unter uns, Verbotene Liebe and Alles was zählt are currently the only daily soaps on the air, the telenovelas Sturm der Liebe and Rote Rosen are considered soaps by the press as well, thanks to the changing protagonists every season.
Soap operas have been very popular in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. "Familie" started in late 1991, and with nearly 5000 half-hour episodes, it has the highest amount of episode of a soap on the European continent. The highest rated soap opera is "Thuis", airing at "één" since late 1995. "Thuis" often is in the top-5 of most watched Belgian shows and has over one million viewers (with 6.3 Flmmings in total).
In the 90s, foreign soap operas such as "Neighbours" and "The Bold And The Beautiful" were extremely popular, the latter having achieved a cult status in Belgium and being aired in the mid-90s in prime time. Both soaps are still aired today, along with other foreign soaps such as "Days Of Our Lives", Australian "Home And Away" and German soap opera "Sturm Der Liebe". Efforts of Belgian channel Vitaya to air the Dutch soap opera "Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden" were unsuccessful in 2010. Other foreign soaps that used to air on Belgian television are "The Young And The Restless" (at VTM), "EastEnders" (also at VTM), "Port Charles" (at één, back then called TV1), and "Coronation Street" (at Vitaya). "Santa Barbara" was aired in the 90s at VTM for its entire run.
The only teenage soap opera on Belgian television was Spring (Jump in English), aired at youth channel Ketnet. From late 2002 until 2009, over 600 15-minute episodes were shown. The show got axed after many of the original characters departed and the ratings dropped steadily.
The most successful soap operas in Italy are the evening Un posto al sole (A place under the sun), which airs on the channel Rai 3 since 1996 and the daytime Centovetrine (Hundred shop windows), which began its airing in 2001 on Canale 5. A bunch of other Italian soaps have been produced as well such as Ricominciare (Starting over), Cuori rubati (Stolen hearts), Vivere (Living), Sottocasa (Downstairs) and Agrodolce (Bittersweet). The most popular Italian prime-time drama series Incantesimo (Enchantment), that run from 1998 until 2008, has been transformed into daytime soap opera in its final two years, airing 5 days-a-week on Rai 1.
In the early years of RTÉ they produced several dramas but had not come close to a long running serial. RTÉ's first Television soap was Tolka Row was based in urban Dublin. For a number of years both Tolka Row and The Riordans were produced by RTÉ, soon however the urban soap was dropped for the more popular rural soap opera The Riordans – which began in 1965. Executives from Yorkshire Television visited the on location filming of The Riordans in the early 1970s and in 1972 began broadcasting Emmerdale Farm (now titled Emmerdale) based on the successful format of the Irish soap opera. In the late 1970s The Riordans was dropped with great controversy. The creator of the series would then go on to produce the second of his "Agri-soap" trilogy Bracken starring Gabriel Byrne whose character had appeared in the last number of season of The Riordans. Braken was soon replaced by the 3rd "Agri-soap" Glenroe which ran until 2001. RTÉ wanted a drama series for Sunday nights rather than a soap opera, On Home Ground (2001–2002), The Clinic (2002–2009) and RAW (2010 – Date) replaced the agri-soaps of the previous decades.
In 1989 RTÉ decide to produce its first Dublin based soap opera since the 1960s. Fair City initially went out one night a week in the 1989/1990 season, and similar to its rural soaps much of the footage was filmed on location – in a suburb of Dublin City. In 1992 RTÉ made a major investment into the series by copying the on location houses for an on site set in RTÉ's Headquarters in Dublin 4. Carrickstown is the fictional setting of the series. By the early 1990s it was running two nights a week and it was broadcast for 35 weeks a year. With competition from the UK soap operas RTÉ choose to begin a three night week in 1996, with one night a week during summer, soon this became four nights a week and two nights during the summer. Until the early 2000s when RTÉ had the series produced 52 weeks of the year with four episodes a week. In 2009 Fair City celebrated 20 years on the air. Fair City airs Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.00 pm GMT on RTÉ One. With broadcasts of Coronation Street on rival network TV3 moving to Thursday night, the Wednesday night episode of Fair City broadcasts at 7:30pm each week.
TG4 is the only other Irish broadcaster to produce a soap opera, the Irish language soap Ros na Rún. The programme is set in a fictional village called Ros Na Rún, located outside Galway, and near Spiddal, and centres around the domestic and professional lives of its residents. It is modeled on an average village in the West of Ireland but with its own distinct personality – diverse population that share secrets, romances, friendships etc. While the core community has remained the same, the look and feel of Ros Na Rún has changed and evolved over the years to incorporate the changing face of rural Ireland. It has an established a place not only in the hearts and minds of the Irish speaking public, but also the wider Irish audience. It has dealt with many different storylines, including domestic violence, infidelity, theft, arson, abortion, homosexuality, adoption, murder, rape, drugs, teen pregnancy and paedophilia. It runs twice a week for 35 weeks of the year. "Ros na Run" translates as Headland of the Secrets or Headland of the Sweethearts. Ros na Rún is the single largest independent production commissioned in the history of Irish broadcasting. It was originally broadcast on RTÉ One in the early 1990s before the existence of TG4. Ros na Run airs Tuesday and Thursday nights at 8:30pm GMT on TG4.
Although Ireland has access to international soaps, such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, EastEnders, Home and Away, Hollyoaks, Neighbours etc., Fair City continues to outperform them all, and is Ireland's most popular soap-opera, with the show peaking at over 700,000 viewers.
On radio RTÉ Radio produced its first radio soap Kennedys of Castleross which began broadcasting on April 13, 1955 and ran until 1975. In 1979 RTÉ long running TV soap The Riordans moved to Radio until December 24, 1985. In the mid-1980s RTÉ began a new radio soap entitled Harbour Hotel until the mid-1990s. Konvenience Korner and Riverrun were short lived radio soaps followed in 2004 by Driftwood. RTÉ do not run any radio soaps, however during their night schedule on RTÉ Radio 1 they still broadcast radio dramas.
France had no real tradition of daytime series, until the creation of Plus belle la vie in 2004 for French public television channel France 3. It airs every weekday at 8.00 pm. After initial poor ratings, the show became a huge success and has been one of the most highly rated series on the network. Other attempts were made by competitors to create soaps (including Seconde Chance, Cinq soeurs and Paris 16ème) but have not achieved success.
In Greece there have been several soap operas.
An early serial was Sti skia tou hrimatos (Money Shadows) (1990–1991). September 1991 saw the debut of Lampsi (the Shining) by Nicos Foskolos. This series would become Greece's longest-running soap opera. After the success of Lampsi came the short lived To galazio diamandi (Blue diamond) and Simphonia siopis (Omertà).
Lampsi was canceled in June 2005 due to declining ratings. It was replaced by the new soap opera Erotas (Love) which ran from 2005 to 2008. After that ANT1 abandoned the soap opera genre and focused on comedy series and weekly dramas.
Greece's second longest-running soap is Kalimera Zoi (Goodmorning Life). It premiered in September 1993. It was cancelled June 2006 due to unsatisfactory ratings.
Mega Channel began soap opera production in 1990 with the prime time serial I Dipsa (The Thirst). This series had a run of 102 episodes. Their daytime shows included Paralliloi dromoi (1992–1994) and by Haravgi (Daylight) (1994–1995). The ratings of both shows were low.
Other serials include Apagorevmeni Agapi (Forbidden Love) 1998–2006; Gia mia thesi ston Ilio (A Spot Under the Sun) 1998–2002; Filodoxies (Expectations) 2002–2006; Vera Sto Deksi (Ring on the Right Hand) 2004–2006. Vera Sto Deksi proved a successful rival to Lampsi, causing its ratings to decline.
Ta Mistika Tis Edem (Edem Secrets) debuted in 2008. This new serial was created by the producers of Vera Sto Deksi, and it has eclipsed that show's success. Its ratings place it constantly on the top three daytime programs.
IENED (renamed ERT2 in 1982) was responsible for the first Greek soap operas I Kravgi Ton Likon and Megistanes. ERT also produced long running soap O Simvoleografos.
Since 2000 and with the introduction of private TV, ERT produced further daily soap operas, but these failed to achieve high ratings and were canceled shortly after their premiere. These included Pathos (Passion), Erotika tis Edem (Loving in Eden), Ta ftera tou erota (The Wings of Love).
Alpha produced Kato apo tin Acropoli (Under the Acropolis) which ran two and a half years.
The first daytime soap opera made by a Cyprus channel was LOGOs TV Odos Den Ksehno ('Don't Forget' Street) which premiered on January 1996 but was canceled by December the same year. It was followed by To Serial which was also broadcast for one year from September 1997 to June 1998. CyBC created the third weekday soap which was Anemi Tou Pathous (Passion Winds) beginning January 2000 and finishing June 2004. It was followed on the CyBC daytime timeslot by I Platia (The Square) which premiered on September 2004 and finished on July 2006. Epikindini Zoni was aired on 2009–2010 season but was cancelled after 120 episodes. Vimata Stin Ammo is CyBC current weekday soap aired since September 2010 and will continue for a second season for 2011–2012.
On Sigma TV their first weekday show was the comedy Sto Para Pente which was shown from September 1998 until June 2004 and is the longest weekday show in Cyprus history. Other Sigma TV weekday shows include Akti Oniron (1999–2001), Vourate Geitonoi (2001–2005) (which is the most successful weekday show achieving ratings up to 70%), Oi Takkoi (2002–2005), S' Agapo (2001–2002), Vasiliki (2005–2006), Vendetta (September 2005 – December 2006), 30 kai Kati (2006–2007), Mila Mou (September 2007 – January 2009). Its current soap opera is Se Fonto Kokkino shown since September 2008 and broadcast more than 400 episodes.
ANT1 Cyprus aired the soap I Goitia Tis Amartias in 2002 which was soon canceled. Dikse Mou To Filo Sou followed (2006–2009), followed by Gia Tin Agapi Sou (2008–2009) and then by Panselinos (since 2009).
The longest-running weekly show on Cyprus television is Istories Tou Horkou (Villages Stories, 1996–2006 and 2010–2011) (CyBC) which was premiered on March 1996 but was canceled on June 2006. It returned for a new season on September 2010 but the ratings were so low, that CyBC canceled the show again on March 2011. Second is Manolis Ke Katina (Manolis And Katina, 1995–2004). Most controversial is To Kafenio (The Coffee Shop, 1993–2000) which premiered on CyBC on 1993 as a weekly show, moved to MEGA Channel Cyprus 6 years later (1999) as a weekday show and then to ANT1 Cyprus on 2000 where it was canceled a year later. Plans of moving back to CyBC again as a weekly show for a 9th season, in 2001, with the original cast never realised. Currently the most successful weekly show in Cyprus is Eleni I Porni (Eleni, The Whore) by ANT1 Cyprus (premiered in October 2010) and Stin Akri Tu Paradisou (At The Heaven's Edge) by CyBC (premiered in 2007). The most successful weekday show was Aigia Fuxia shown on ANT1 Cyprus (2008–2010).
The only daily Finnish soap opera so far is Salatut elämät (Secret Lives). It is really popular in Finland and has aired since 1999 in MTV3. The show concentrates on the lives of people along the imaginary street Pihlajakatu in Helsinki. The show has also had several Internet spin-off series and a film based on the show was made 2012.
Other soap-like shows in Finland are YLE shows Uusi päivä (2009-) and Kotikatu (1995-2012), but these don't adhere to the five-episodes-a-week schedule.
Internet and mobile soap opera
With the advent of internet television and mobile phones, several soap operas have also been produced specifically for these platforms, including EastEnders: E20, a spin-off of the established EastEnders. For those produced only for the mobile phone, episodes may generally consist of about 6 or 7 pictures and accompanying text.
On September 13, 2011, TG4 launched a new 10 part online series titled, Na Rúin, (an Internet spin-off of Ros na Rún.) The mini-series took on the theme of mystery; the viewer had to read Rachel and Lorcán's blogs as well as watch video diaries detailing each character's thoughts to solve the mystery of missing teenager, Ciara.
In 2013, canceled US soap operas All My Children and One Life To Live were revived online, but they were canceled again later that same year.
Several soap opera parodies have been produced.
- The Carol Burnett Show (1967–78) featured a recurring skit, "As the Stomach Turns", that spoofed the American soap opera As the World Turns.
- Two of the most famous U.S. parodies were the series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976–77) and Soap (1977–81).
- The recurring "Acorn Antiques" skit on the UK's Victoria Wood As Seen On TV (1985–87) was modeled on Crossroads and other British soap operas of the 1970s.
- " Soap (1977-1981 on ABC Network) was a weekly sitcom/ soap opera parody.
- Let The Blood Run Free (1990–94) was an Australian parody of medical drama series.
- Twin Peaks (1990-1991) was a primetime series that poked fun at the genre. Episodes in the first season of Twin Peaks also included a fictional soap within the stories, titled Invitation to Love.
- Shark Bay (1996) was an Australian parody of glamorous beachside soap operas. It featured many actors who had appeared in Australian soap operas Sons and Daughters, Prisoner, Home and Away, and Neighbours.
- Grosse Pointe (2000–2001, on the WB) was a self-parody of creator Darren Star's behind-the-scenes experiences producing nighttime soaps, in particular Beverly Hills, 90210.
- South African comedian Casper de Vries produced the soap opera parody Haak en Steek (2003-2004), based on South African soaps like Egoli: Place of Gold.
- Dirty Sexy Money (2007-2009) was in a way a soap opera parody but, in actuality, more of a satire that operated in a humorous way similar to a parody. The series was critically acclaimedbut only lasted two seasons.
- American Broadcasting System soap opera One Life to Live would often poke fun at the genre as well, even featuring a soap within a soap, Fraternity Row, which many One Life to Live characters had worked on or watched. Months after One Life to Live's cancellation was announced, Fraternity Row was cancelled on the show and character Roxy Balsom desperately tried saving it, to no avail. A special episode on December 19, 2011 featured the cast of One Life to Live acting out an episode of Fraternity Row in a dream of Roxy's; the episode poked fun at both One Life to Live and the entire genre itself, featuring many soap opera stereotypes such as over-acting, outrageous story lines, bad casting, and incestuous relationships; it also parodied some storylines from One Life to Live. The second-to-last episode of One Life to Live showed characters watching the final episode of Fraternity Row and exposing the show's last big secret: the series' main heroine and protagonist, Lorraine King Vonvaldenburg Baxter Beumont, was really a man.
- Second City TV featured The Days of the Week: "Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. These are...The Days of the Week."
- Desperate Housewives (2004-2012, ABC Network) was a semi-satirical nighttime series that took many elements from the genre.
- Mad Men character Megan Draper, in season six, plays a soap opera character named Carinne, whose popularity with fans (and possibly, the crush her costar - who is married to the head writer - has on Megan), led to Megan's also playing Carinne's twin sister. Scenes from the soap opera are shown onscreen, as are Megan's interactions with fans, her loved one's reactions to Megan's celebrity status, and parallels and interactions between Megan's difficulties on set and in real life.
- British Soap Awards
- Daytime Emmy Award
- List of longest-serving soap opera actors
- List of radio soaps
- List of soap operas
- Love in the Afternoon
- Mobile soap opera
- Indian soap opera
- Philippine drama
- Radio drama
- Radio theater
- Soap Opera Digest
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome
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- Timeline of daytime soaps
- Soap Opera overview – Museum of Broadcast Communications
- SoapCentral.com – Portal for US soap operas
- Soapdom.com – Portal for US soap operas
- SoapOperaDigest.com – Portal for US soap operas
- Soaps.com – Portal for US soap operas
- Soaps of the Past page on MySpace (US soap operas)
- What's on TV – Portal for UK soap operas
- The Aussie Soap Archive – Classic Australian soap operas
- The Soap Show Interviews and news on UK and Australian soaps