Soap Opera History
From Guiding Light to Passions, the enduring appeal of daytime drama and its evolution from the early "soaps".
Soap operas, or daytime dramas as they are currently called, have experienced immense popularity over the past fifty years. The soap opera formula has been expanded, perhaps, but not replaced, and this has assured its enduring success over fifty years in many countries.
Soap opera fans have no demographic or economic bounds. Traditionally, entertainment that targeted stay at home housewives to sell household products, the daytime drama audience now includes professionals of both sexes who unwind after a hard day at the office by watching their prerecorded soaps on tape when they get home. College students also have gatherings in their dorms to watch the latest episode of their favorite drama, and with the focus on youth in today’s soaps, these shows are gaining young dedicated viewers in leaps and bounds. The major sponsors of these programs are still companies such as Proctor and Gamble, and the focus is still on selling dish detergent and diapers, however, the presence of acne medicines and birth control advertising is evidence of this new “captive audience”.
The difference between today’s and yesterday’s daytime dramas are evident in the present day use of exotic locations and diverse storylines. The longest running soap opera, Guiding Light, first aired on the radio and then took the leap to television . The plots were homespun and the action took place around the Bauer’s kitchen table. Domestic problems were in the forefront and much of the action was resolved before they finished their second cup of coffee. Tune into “GL” today and you will still see one of the Bauers, however, she married into a mobster family and is running off to San Cristobel (the foreign but friendly country that residents of Springfield seem to jet back and forth to on a moments notice) to escape the death penalty. And if you tune into a recent soap, Passions that began in 1999, you may think you are watching a sequel to Bewitched as a sorceress named Tabitha wrecks havoc on a quaint New England town called Harmony. It is evident that the storylines have expanded from plain old adultery and the coffee pot.
With all these action packed plots and the addition of exotic locales, its good to know that some consistencies of soap operas remain. Even with expanded travel, you can count on a soap operas action revolving around a small town. Children on soaps still age at the same rate as dog years (born one year, dating two years later) this phenomenon is referred to as S.O.R.A.S. (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). Of course, you can also rely on the people of any age to be beautiful, and families are usually wealthy except if they are brought in as a plot contrast such as Theresa Lopez Fitzgerald’s love for rich boy Ethan Crane on Passions, or the odd couple marriage of Harley Davidson Cooper to Phillip of the Spaulding mansion. Soaps still somewhat follow the “black hat, white hat” formula to designate the good guys from the bad guys. Although there are some blonde schemers on daytime (i.e. Sami on Days of Our Lives), most of the “bad girls” are still brunette. In the standard romantic triangle you will usually have a dark haired women lose out to a fairer haired rival. One exception has been the brunette and beautiful, Erica, played by veteran soap star Susan Lucci. She seems to prove that being blonde may not always be more fun, and although she has been very bad at times, she can be very good at getting what she wants. Whether good or bad, rich or poor, no character on a soap is seen with “bed head” or without makeup. Another oddity you can count on is that everyone who works has a very important job but never seems to be working. This is more so now than in the past, even the hospital setting has become less of a backdrop for the action and more of a meeting place for the characters to react to a tragedy.
So from the 1950s to present day, from Guiding Light to Passions, the world of soap opera takes us to a place where the laundry never needs folding and children never cry. This irresistible escape from reality has been with us over 50 years, and with growing international popularity, will remain for years to come.