Soap opera

[op-er-uh, op-ruh]

A soap opera is an ongoing, episodic work of fiction, usually broadcast on television or radio. Programs described as soap operas have existed as an entertainment long enough for audiences to recognize them simply by the term soap. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers such as Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Lever Brothers as the show's sponsors. These early radio serials were broadcast in weekday daytime slots when mostly housewives would be available to listen; thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.

The term soap opera has at times been generally applied to any romantic serial, but is also used to describe the more naturalistic, unglamorous evening, prime-time drama serials of the UK such as Coronation Street. What differentiates a soap from other television drama programs is the open-ended nature of the narrative, with stories spanning several episodes. The defining feature that makes a program a soap opera is that it, 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". Soap opera stories run concurrently, intersect, and lead into further developments. An individual episode of a soap opera will generally switch between several different concurrent story 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. There is some rotation of both storylines 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 "wrap things up" storywise, and generally avoid bringing all the current storylines to a conclusion at the same time. When one storyline ends there are always several other story threads at differing stages of development. Soap opera episodes typically end on some sort of cliffhanger.

Evening soap operas sometimes differ from this general format and are more likely to feature the entire cast in each episode, and to represent all current storylines in each episode. Additionally, evening soap operas and other serials that run for only part of the year tend to bring things to a dramatic end-of-season cliffhanger.

In the USA, the phrase "soap opera" has also entered the language as a metaphor that can be applied to any narrative, either real or imagined, that appears to be excessively laced with emotion, and contains what appear to be unlikely dramatic twists: "Her life is one big soap opera."

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 meetings, 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 Australia and the United Kingdom 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 soap operas (though most of them are serialized) 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 without an on-camera corpse, and sometimes not even then. For example, the death of Dr. Taylor Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful seemed permanent as she had flatlined on-camera and even had a funeral. But when actress Hunter Tylo returned in 2005, the show retconned the "flatlining" with the revelation 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 (such as a car accident) are difficult to adequately depict visually without multiple takes and post production editing. In the times when episodes were broadcast live, post production work was impossible. Though shows have long switched to being taped, extensive post production work, while possible, is not feasible for the genre due to the high output each week and low budgets. A convincing fight scene usually requires multiple takes, and multiple camera angles, and again the time and effort to adequately capture such a scene is not feasible for daytime soap operas.

United States

Daytime serials

See List of longest-serving soap opera actors
The American soap opera Guiding Light started as a radio drama in January 1937 and subsequently transferred to television. With the exception of several years in the late 1940s when Irna Phillips was in dispute with Procter & Gamble, The Guiding Light has been heard or seen nearly every weekday since it started, making it the longest story ever told. Other American soap operas that have been telecast for more than thirty years (and are still in rotation) include As the World Turns, General Hospital, Days of our Lives, One Life to Live, All My Children, and The Young and the Restless.

Due to the shows' longevities, it is not uncommon for multiple actors to play a single character over the span of many years. It is also not uncommon for a single actor to play several characters on other shows over the years. Actors such as Robin Mattson, Roscoe Born, Judith Chapman and Michael Sabatino have played no fewer than six soap roles. During her fifteen years in daytime Veleka Gray played nine, seven of which were contract roles, including Laura Elliot on "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing", Susan Pritchett on "How To Survive A Marriage," Vicki Paisley on "Somerset," Mia Marriott on "Love Of Life," Lyla Montgomery on "As The World Turns," and the unusual dual roles of Dr. Sharon Reaves and Ruby Collins that played simultaneously on "The Young And The Restless." On the other hand, a number of actors have remained in their roles for decades. Helen Wagner, who has played Hughes family matriarch Nancy Hughes on As the World Turns since its debut on April 2 1956, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the actor with the longest uninterrupted performance in a single role. (Two of Wagner's ATWT cast-mates, Eileen Fulton and Don Hastings who play Lisa Grimaldi and Dr. Bob Hughes, respectively, have each been in their roles nearly as long, both having joined the show in 1960.) In General Hospital, Rachel Ames has been playing Audrey Hardy since 1964 to 2007, and in All My Children, Susan Lucci has played the same role, Erica Kane, since the show's debut in January 1970. Ray McDonald who plays Dr. Joe Martin has been in the role since the show's debut as well. Though as actors transition between soap roles, it is not uncommon nowadays to be dropped from contract status to recurring status, a part of contract negotiations which is almost completely unique to U.S. soap operas.

In the U.S., the shows purely known in the vernacular as soap operas are broadcast during daytime. In the beginning, the serials were broadcast as fifteen-minute installments each weekday. In 1956, the first half-hour soap operas debuted, and all of the soap operas broadcast half-hour episodes by the end of the 1960s. When the soap opera hit a fever pitch in the 1970s, popular demand had most of the shows, one by one, expanded to an hour in length (one show, Another World, even expanded to ninety minutes for a short time). More than half of the serials (and all of the pre-'80s hour-long serials on the air today) expanded to the new time format by 1980. Today, seven out of the eight American serials air sixty-minute episodes each weekday. Only The Bold and the Beautiful airs for 30 minutes.

Also in the early days, soap operas were 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 filmed 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, shows such as General Hospital, Days of our Lives, and The Young and the Restless began taping in Los Angeles, and 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, with As the World Turns and The Edge of Night being 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.

Traditional serials

Many US soap operas, in the beginning of television, found their niches in telling stories in certain environments. 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's 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 endless marital troubles. When her status moved to that of the caring mother and town matriarch, her children's marital troubles were then put on display. Search for Tomorrow told the story, for the most part, through the eyes of one woman only: the heroine, Joanne (Mary Stuart). Even when stories revolved around other characters, she was almost always a main fixture in their storylines. Days of our Lives first told the stories of Dr. Tom Horton and his steadfast wife Alice. In later years, the show branched out and told the stories of their five children.

In contrast to these shows was Dark Shadows (1966-1971) which featured supernatural characters and dealt with fantasy and horror storylines. Its characters included the vampire Barnabas Collins, the witch Angelique, and various ghosts and goblins, both friendly and malevolent.

Evolution of the daytime serial

For several decades US daytime soap operas concentrated on family and marital upsets, legal dramas and romances. The action rarely left the interior settings within the fictional, medium-sized Midwestern towns in which the shows were set. Exterior shots, once a rarity, were slowly incorporated into the series Ryan's Hope. Unlike many earlier serials which were set in fictional towns, Ryan's Hope was set in real location, New York City, and outside shoots were used to give the series greater authenticity. The first exotic location shoot was made by All My Children, to St. Croix in 1978. Many other soap operas planned lavish storylines after seeing the success of the All My Children shoot. Another World went to St. Croix in March 1980 to culminate a long-running storyline between popular characters Mac, Rachel and Janice. Search for Tomorrow taped for two weeks in Hong Kong in 1981, and later that year some of the cast and crew ventured to Jamaica to tape a love consummation storyline between the characters of Garth and Kathy.

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 featured an increased emphasis on youthful romance and began developing supercouples. One of the first and most popular supercouples was Luke Spencer and Laura Webber in General Hospital. Luke and Laura helped to attract both male and female fans. Even 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 favour with producers due to overall lower ratings for daytime soap operas 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 Katherine Chancellor's alcoholism on The Young and the Restless. Other social issues included many forms of cancer, AIDS, homophobia, and racism.

Perhaps to fill the niche, some newer shows have incorporated supernatural and science fiction elements into their storylines. One of the main characters in US soap opera Passions is Tabitha Lenox, a 300-year-old witch. Port Charles has featured a vampire character. Frequently these characters are isolated in one of the ongoing story threads to allow a fan to ignore them if they do not like that element.

Current characteristics

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 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. However, 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 soap operas since the 1980s have shared many common visual elements that set them apart dramatically from other shows:

  • Overhead spotlighting, or back lighting, is often placed directly over the heads of all the actors in the foreground, causing an unnatural shadowing of their features along with a highlighting of their hair. Back lighting was always a standard component of film and television lighting, though the back light itself was largely deemphasised in the mid-to-late eighties due to its somewhat unnatural look. The technique has nevertheless persisted in soap operas.
  • The rooms in a house often use deep stained wood wall panels and furniture, along with many elements of brown leather furniture. This creates an overall "brown" look which is intended to give a sumptuous and luxurious look to suggest the wealth of the characters portrayed. 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"
  • Most US daytime soap operas do not routinely feature location or exterior-shot footage (a exception to this is Guiding Light). Often they will recreate an outdoor locale 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, although they do include new exterior locations for certain storylines.
  • The visual quality of a soap opera is usually lower than prime time television shows due to the lower budgets and quicker production times involved. 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 closeup shots. The Young and the Restless is the only US daytime serial shot in High Definition resolution.
  • Soap operas have idiosyncratic blocking techniques. In one common situation, a romantically involved couple start a conversation face-to-face, then one character will turn 180° and face away from the other character while conversation continues. Both characters can appear together in the same shot, both directly 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.
  • In US daytime soap operas, when a scene is about to reach a temporary conclusion and the episode is to cross to a new scene or take a commercial break, one character in the currently concluding scene will often be shown in extreme closeup and deliver a jarring announcement. No other character will respond and 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."
  • 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.

The primetime serial

Primetime serials were just as popular as those in daytime. The first real prime time soap opera was ABC's Peyton Place (1964-1969), based in part on the original 1957 movie (which was itself taken from the 1956 novel). The popularity of Peyton Place prompted rival network CBS to spin off popular As the World Turns character Lisa Miller into her own evening soap opera entitled Our Private World (originally titled "The Woman Lisa" in its planning stages) in 1965. Our Private World ended in the fall and the character of Lisa returned to As The World Turns.

The structure of the Peyton Place with its episodic plots and long-running story arcs would set the mold for the prime time serials of the 1980s when the format reached its pinnacle.

The successful prime time 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, the presence of at least one glamorous bitch-figure in the cast of characters, and spectacular disaster cliffhanger situations. 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 much 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 would be 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 also began to be increasingly incorporated into major American prime time television programs. 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 and situation comedy shows such as St. Elsewhere to incorporate soap opera style stories and story structure to varying degrees. The legacy continues in more recent series such as The West Wing and Friends.

The prime time 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 by premiering shows such as Alias, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Ugly Betty. These shows managed to appeal to wide audiences not only because of their high melodrama but also because of the humor injected into the scripts and plot lines. In the fall of 2007, many new primetime soaps premiered on U.S. television such as Dirty Sexy Money.

United Kingdom

See List of longest-serving soap opera actors
In the United Kingdom, soap operas are one of the most popular genres, most being broadcast during prime time. Most UK soap operas focus on working-class communities. The four most popular soaps are EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, and Hollyoaks are consistently the highest rated shows on British television. The 1986 Christmas Day episode of EastEnders was the highest-rated UK soap opera episode ever, with 30.15 million viewers (consider that in 2007, the UK has approximately 54 million television sets). This episode was also the highest-rated program in UK television for the 1980s, comparable to the records set by the 1970s splashdown of Apollo 13 (28.6 million viewers), and Princess Diana's funeral in the 1990s (32.1 million viewers).

The four soaps are known as the "flagship" soaps, as they are the main programmes for the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, so much so that poor ratings for the soaps usually brings along with it questions about the channel associated with it. The soaps are so popular that they are never scheduled against each other except in the case of extended episodes and omnibuses or another extreme circumstance, and this always attracts media attention as to which soap will win if the flagships go head-to-head.

Soap operas began on radio and consequently were associated with the BBC. The BBC continues to broadcast the world's longest-running radio soap, The Archers, on BBC Radio 4, which has been running nationally since 1951. It continues to attract over five million listeners, or roughly 25% of the radio listening population of the UK at that time of the evening.

In the 1960s Coronation Street revolutionised UK television and quickly became a British institution. Other soap operas of the 1960s included Emergency Ward 10 (ITV), and on the BBC Compact (about the staff of a women's magazine) and The Newcomers (about the upheaval caused by a large firm setting up a plant in a small town). However none of these came close to making the same impact as Coronation Street.

During the 1960s Corrie'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 while the series was popular, its purported low technical standard and bad acting was much mocked. By the 1980s its ratings had begun to decline and several attempts to revamp the series through cast changes and later, expanding the focus from the motel to the surrounding community, were unsuccessful, and Crossroads was cancelled in 1988.

A later rival to Corrie 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. When Channel 4 began in 1982 it launched its own soap, the Liverpool based Brookside, which over the next decade re-defined the UK television soap. In 1985, the BBC's London based soap opera EastEnders debuted and was a near instant success with viewers and critics alike. Critics talked about the downfall of Coronation Street, but this was put to rest in 1994 when the two serials were scheduled opposite each other, with Corrie winning handily. For the better part of ten years, the show has shared the number one position with Coronation Street, with varying degrees of difference between the two.

Daytime soap operas were unknown 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 Young Doctors, The Sullivans, Sons and Daughters, A Country Practice, Richmond Hill and eventually, Neighbours and Home and Away. 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. Later, 1992 saw the BBC launch Eldorado to alternate with EastEnders but it only lasted a year; however, this failure did not stop the ever-increasing prominence that soap operas would have in UK schedules.

During the 1980s ITV acquired the long-running Australian soap Prisoner which was screened around the country, under the name Prisoner: Cell Block H, in differing slots usually around 11pm. The series was immensely successful and led to it being repeated after the series had reached its conclusion in the Midlands. Rival network Five also acquired repeat rights for a full rerun of the series, starting in 1997.

In 1995 Channel 4 introduced Hollyoaks, a soap with a youth focus. Brookside ended in November 2003, leaving Hollyoaks as the channel's flagship serial. When Five began in March 1997 it came with its own soap opera, Family Affairs, which debuted as a five-days-a-week soap. Hollyoaks in spite of being considered a teen soap prior to its success is now winning multiple awards. A new version of Crossroads was produced by Carlton Television for ITV, featuring a mostly new cast, but 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, however 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. This eventually saw the show gain a larger fan base and by 2004 the series won its first awards, however Family Affairs was nevertheless cancelled in late 2005.

In recent years there have been several attempts to create a new soap opera. Daytime drama Doctors began in the spring of 2000, preceding Neighbours on BBC1 for it's first eight years, and in 2002, as the ratings continued to fall for Scottish soap High Road, the BBC aired the first episode of River City. The new show proved popular, and replaced High Road when it was cancelled in 2003.

Not put off by the failure of Night and Day and the revamped Crossroads, ITV continued it's mission to create a new long-running soap opera in 2008. The Royal Today, a daily spin-off of sixties drama The Royal, was their first new venture while just days later, Echo Beach premiered alongside it's sister-series, the comedy Moving Wallpaper. Both series ended after their initial first season, and while Echo Beach has been officially cancelled, the future ofThe Royal Today remains uncertain.

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. In 1989, things started to change when Coronation Street began airing three times a week (later expanding further to four in 1996), a trend which was soon followed by rival EastEnders in 1994 and Emmerdale in 1997. Family Affairs debuted as a five-days-a-week soap in 1997 and regularly ran five episodes a week its entire run. The imported Neighbours screens as new five episodes a week, being shown once at 1:45pm and repeated at 5:30pm on Five each week day.

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 2004 Emmerdale began screening six episodes a week.

In January 2008 a radical overhaul of the ITV network meant that Sunday episodes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale were moved out of their familiar slots. Coronation Street now instead screens a second episode on Friday evenings at 8:30pm, while Emmerdale's Tuesday edition has been extended to an hour, putting it in direct competition with rival EastEnders for the foreseeable future.

Today's UK soap operas are mainly shot on videotape in the studio using a multicamera setup. However UK soap operas feature a proportion of outdoors shot footage in each episode - usually shot on a purpose-built outdoor set that represents the community the soap focuses on.


See List of longest-serving soap opera actors
Australia has had quite a number of well known soap operas, some of which have gained cult followings in the UK 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 actor Thelma Scott in the cast and aired nationally for five years from 1942. Probably the best known Australian radio serial was 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 was Autumn Affair (1958). 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.

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 affects 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.

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. The Reg Grundy Organisation subsequently reached even higher levels of success with women's-prison drama Prisoner (1979-1986) on Network Ten, and melodramatic family saga Sons and Daughters (1981-1987) on the Seven Network. Both shows achieved high ratings in their first run, and unusually, found success in repeats after their original runs ended.

The Young Doctors and The Sullivans ran on Nine until 1982. Thereafter Channel 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, but none 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 20 January 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, a series that would resurrect the sex and melodrama of Number 96 and The Box in an attempt to improve the show's chances of ratings success. However, it too achieved only moderate ratings, although the increasingly bizarre storylines were much-discussed and the series continued into 1992 albeit in a late-night timeslot.

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 Five repeated Prisoner in the UK. Between 1998 and 2005 Five 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.

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, and more recently the Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced the rural-based Something in the Air (2000-2002). 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 networks 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 U.S. 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's Channel Five, which screens Home and Away. The spin-off idea was cancelled after Channel 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 15 November 2005 but was not a ratings success and was cancelled 23 January 2006. The series broadcast on E4 and Channel 4 in the UK.

After losing the rights to screen Neighbours in the United Kingdom to channel five, the BBC commissioned new Australian-produced serial Out of the Blue as its replacement starting 2008.


Due to the economics of television production in Canada, relatively few daily soap operas have been produced on English Canadian television. 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. Short-run soaps, including 49th & Main and North/South, have also aired.

Notable prime time soap operas in Canada have included Riverdale, House of Pride, Paradise Falls, He Shoots, He Scores, Loving Friends and Perfect Couples, North of 60, and The City. The Degrassi series of youth dramas also incorporated some elements of soap opera.

On French language television in Quebec, however, 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.


The modern soap opera in Indonesia takes the form of series of complex intense highly emotional drama with a simple solution, known as "sinetron," an abbreviation of "sinema elektronik," which translates to "electronic cinema" in English.

The sinetron productions are among others made by Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI) and Televisi Pendidikan Indonesia (TPI).

Soap opera parodies

A few soap opera spoofs have been made. Two of the most famous U.S. spoofs were Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Soap. Fresno was a 1986 spoof of the primetime serials of the period. Australia also produced a spoof of glamorous beach-side soap operas in the form of Shark Bay, which featured many former Australian soap stars from Sons and Daughters, Prisoner, Home and Away and Neighbours. From 1990 to 1994, Australian medical dramas, such as A Country Practice and The Young Doctors as well as other soaps, were spoofed in Let The Blood Run Free set in St. Christopher's Hospital. During 2000-2001, Grosse Pointe ran on the now-defunct WB, self-spoofing creator Darren Star's behind the scenes experiences of producing nighttime soaps, notably Beverly Hills 90210.

See also


  • Bowles, Kate. Soap opera: 'No end of story, ever' in The Australian TV Book, (Eds. Graeme Turner and Stuart Cunningham), Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 2000. ISBN 1-86508-014-4
  • Geraghty, Christine. The Aesthetic Experience in Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1991. ISBN 0-74560-489-7
  • Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps, Pluto Press Australia, 2004. ISBN 1-86403-191-3
  • Timeline of daytime soaps

External links

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