soap opera

[op-er-uh, op-ruh]

Broadcast serial drama, characterized by a permanent cast of actors, a continuing story, tangled interpersonal situations, and a melodramatic or sentimental style. Its name derived from the soap and detergent manufacturers who originally often sponsored such programs on radio. Soap operas began in the early 1930s as 15-minute radio episodes and continued on television from the early 1950s as 30-minute and later hour-long episodes. Usually broadcast during the day and aimed at housewives, they initially focused on middle-class family life, but by the 1970s their content had expanded to include a wider variety of characters and situations and a greater degree of sexual explicitness. In the 1980s similar series began to be aired in prime-time evening hours (e.g., Dallas and Dynasty). Seealso Carlton E. Morse; Irna Phillips.

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