A soap opera is an ongoing drama serial on television or radio, featuring the lives of many characters and their emotional relationships. The term originated from radio dramas being sponsored by soap manufacturers.
BBC Radio's The Archers, first broadcast in 1950, is the world’s longest-running radio soap opera; the world's longest-running television soap opera is Coronation Street, first broadcast on ITV in 1960.
The first serial considered to be a "soap opera" was Painted Dreams, which debuted on October 20, 1930 on Chicago radio station WGN. Early radio series such as Painted Dreams were broadcast in weekday daytime slots, usually five days a week, when most of the listeners would be housewives; thus, the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience. The first nationally broadcast radio soap opera was Clara, Lu, and Em, which aired on the NBC Blue Network at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time on January 27, 1931.
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. While Spanish language telenovelas are sometimes called "soap operas," telenovelas have conflicts that get resolved and a definite ending after (more or less) a year of daily weekday airing. But with soap operas each episode ends with a promise that the storyline is to be continued in another episode". In 2012, Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Lloyd 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 to 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 broadcast 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 (if a soap incorporates a break between seasons) 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 air 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 into hour-long broadcasts 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.
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. Due to the prominence of English-language television, most soap-operas are completely English (or in the case of a foreign soap opera, dubbed into English). However, several South African soap operas started incorporating a multi-language format, the most prominent being 7de Laan, which incorporates Afrikaans, English, Zulu and several other Bantu languages which make up the 11 Official Languages of South Africa (the subtitles are always in English).
In many soap operas, in particular daytime serials in the US, 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 of the soaps produced in those two countries explore social realist storylines such as family discord, marriage breakdown or financial problems. Both UK and Australian soap operas feature comedic elements, often affectionate comic stereotypes such as the gossip or the grumpy old man, presented as a 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. As examples, EastEnders focuses on the tough and grim life in the east end of London; Coronation Street and its characters exhibit the stereotypical characteristic of "northern straight talking".
Romance, secret relationships, extramarital affairs, and genuine hate 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. 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.
As in 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 off screen 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.
The first daytime TV soap opera in the United States was These Are My Children in 1949, though earlier melodramas had aired in the evenings as once-a-week programs. Soap operas quickly became a fixture of American daytime television in the early 1950s, joined by game shows, sitcom reruns and talk shows.
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.— H. Wesley Kenney
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 enter the workforce. 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 (originally titled The Guiding Light until 1975) 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, during which creator Irna Phillips was involved in a dispute with Procter & Gamble, Guiding Light was heard or seen nearly every weekday from 1937 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 the CBS television network. All soap operas broadcast half-hour episodes by the end of the 1960s. With increased popularity in the 1970s, most soap operas had expanded to an hour in length by the end of the decade (Another World even expanded to 90 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 City, 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 U.S. daytime soap operas are not generally rerun by their networks, occasionally they are rebroadcast elsewhere; CBS and ABC have made exceptions to this, airing older episodes (either those aired earlier in the current season or those aired years prior) on major holidays when special event programming is not scheduled. Early episodes of Dark Shadows were rerun on PBS member stations in the early 1970s after the show's cancellation, and the entire series (except for a single missing episode) was rerun on the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s. After The Edge of Night's 1984 cancellation, reruns of the show's final five years were shown late nights on USA Network from 1985 to 1989. On January 20, 2000, a digital cable and satellite network dedicated to the genre, SOAPnet, began re-airing soaps that 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; while TBS and CBN Cable Network respectively aired their own soap operas, The Catlins (a primetime soap that utilized the daily episode format of its daytime counterparts) and Another Life (a soap that combined standard serial drama with religious overtones), during the 1980s. 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 (it did later 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 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 than one show. 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 from the show's debut in January 1970 until it ended its network television run on ABC on September 23, 2011. Erika Slezak played Victoria Lord #3 on One Life to Live from 1971 until the show ended its network television run on ABC on January 13, 2012 and resumed the role in its short-lived online revival on April 29, 2013.
Other actors have played several characters on different shows. Millette Alexander, Bernard Barrow, Doris Belack, David Canary, Judith Chapman, Jordan Charney, Joan Copeland, Nicolas Coster, Jacqueline Courtney, Louis Edmonds, Dan Hamilton, Don Hastings, Vincent Irizarry, Lenore Kasdorf, Teri Keane, Lois Kibbee, John Loprieno, Maeve McGuire, James Mitchell, Christopher Pennock, Gary Pillar, Antony Ponzini, William Prince, Louise Shaffer, and Diana van der Vlis, among many others, have all played multiple soap roles.
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 that were set in fictional towns, The Best of Everything and Ryan's Hope were set in a real-world 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. Search for Tomorrow taped for two weeks in Hong Kong in 1981. 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 an increased emphasis on youthful romance.
One of the first and most popular couples was Luke Spencer and Laura Webber on 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 addition, soap operas were no longer able to go on expensive location shoots overseas as they were able to do in the 1980s. During that decade, 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 his wife Cindy dying of AIDS on All My Children. Other social issues included cancer, rape, abortion, homophobia, and racism.
Some shows during the 2000s incorporated supernatural and science fiction elements into their storylines. One of the main characters on the earlier soap opera Dark Shadows was Barnabas Collins, a vampire, and One Life to Live featured an angel named Virgil. Both shows featured characters who traveled to and from the past.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. daytime and evening soap operas. Similar to U.S. 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 U.S. evening soap operas in this regard.
American daytime soap operas feature stylistic elements that set them apart from other shows:
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. 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 a total of 12 during the 1990–91 season and a high of 19 in the 1969–70 season. This marks the first time since 1953 that there have been only four soap operas airing on broadcast television. The Young and the Restless, the highest-rated soap opera from 1988 to the present, had fewer 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 ceased publication. SOAPnet, which largely aired soap opera reruns, began to be phased out in 2012 and fully ceased operations the following year. The Daytime Emmy Awards, which honor soap operas and other daytime shows, moved from primetime network television to smaller cable channels in 2012, then failed to get any TV broadcast at all in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
Several of the U.S.’s most established soaps ended between 2009 and 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 of that year, after a 72-year run. 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 the genre got its name. As The World Turns and Guiding Light were also among the last of the soaps that originated from New York City. All My Children, another New York-based soap, moved its production out to Los Angeles in an effort to reduce costs and raise sagging ratings; however, both it and One Life to Live, each with a four-decade-plus run, were cancelled in 2011. All My Children aired its network finale in September 2011 with One Life to Live following suit 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 storylines 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 television viewing outside the home. The rise of cable and the internet has also provided new sources of entertainment during the day. The genre's decline has additionally been attributed to reality television displacing soap operas as TV's dominant form of melodrama. An early term for the reality TV genre was docu-soap. A precursor to reality TV, the televised 1994–95 O. J. Simpson murder case, both preempted and competed with an entire season of soaps, transforming viewing habits and leaving soap operas with 10 percent fewer viewers after the trial ended.
Daytime programming alternatives such as talk shows, game shows, and court 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 during the Great Recession, which led shows to reduce their budgets and cast sizes. In addition to these external factors, a litany of production decisions has been cited by soap opera fans as contributing to the genre's decline, such as cliched plots, a lack of diversity that narrowed audience appeal, and the elimination of core families.
|Soap||Network||Premier||Switched to color||Switched to hour||Switched to HD|
|The Bold and the Beautiful||CBS||March 23, 1987||From start||N/A||September 7, 2011|
|Days of Our Lives||NBC||November 8, 1965||From start||April 21, 1975||November 8, 2010|
|General Hospital||ABC||April 1, 1963||October 30, 1967||January 16, 1978||April 23, 2009|
|The Young and the Restless||CBS||March 26, 1973||From start||February 4, 1980||June 27, 2001|
Serials produced for primetime slots have also found success. The first primetime soap opera was Faraway Hill (1946), which aired on October 2, 1946, on the now-defunct DuMont Television Network. Faraway Hill ran for 12 episodes and was primarily broadcast live, interspersed with short pre-recorded film clips and still photos to remind the audience of the previous week's episode.
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 to September 1965. The character of Lisa (and her portrayer Eileen Fulton) 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 – respectively, J. R. Ewing, Alexis Colby, Abby Cunningham and Angela Channing. 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 multi-camera 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, Party of Five, The OC, 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, Nashville, Scandal, Mistresses, and formerly Ringer, which its sister production company ABC Studios co-produced with CBS Television Studios 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 network of Fox, launched a line of primetime telenovelas (a genre similar to soap operas in terms of content) upon its launch in September 2006, but discontinued its use of the format in 2007, after disappointing ratings.
On June 13, 2012, Dallas, a continuation of the 1978 original series premiered on the cable network, TNT. The revived series, which was canceled after three seasons in 2014, delivered solid ratings for the channel, only losing viewership after the show's most established star, Larry Hagman, died midway through the series. In 2012, Nick at Nite debuted a primetime soap opera, Hollywood Heights, which aired episodes five nights a week (on Monday through Fridays) in a manner similar to a daytime soap opera, instead of the once-a-week episode output common of other primetime soaps. The series, which was an adaptation of the Mexican telenovela Alcanzar una estrella, suffered from low ratings (generally receiving less than one million viewers) and was later moved to sister cable channel TeenNick halfway through its run to burn off the remaining episodes.
In 2015, Fox debuted Empire, a primetime musical serial centering on the power struggle between family members within the titular recording company. Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and led by Academy Award nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, the drama premiered to high ratings. The show is strongly influenced by other works such as William Shakespeare's King Lear, James Goldman's The Lion in Winter and the 1980s soap opera Dynasty. Also in 2015, E! introduced The Royals, a series following the life and drama of a fictional English Royal family, which was also inspired by Dynasty (even featuring Joan Collins as the Queen's mother). In addition, ABC debuted a primetime soap opera Blood & Oil, following a young couple looking to make money off the modern-day Williston oil boom, premiering on September 27, 2015 during the 2015-16 TV season.
The telenovela, a shorter-form format of serial melodrama, shares some thematic and especially stylistic similarity to the soap opera, enough that the colloquialism Spanish soap opera has arisen to describe the format. The chief difference between the two is length of series; while soap operas usually have indefinite runs, telenovelas typically have a central story arc with a prescribed ending within a year or two of the show's launch, requiring more concise storytelling.
Spanish-language networks, chiefly Univision and Telemundo, have found success airing telenovelas for the growing U.S. Hispanic market. Both originally produced and imported Latin American dramas are popular features of the networks' daytime and primetime lineups, sometimes beating English-language networks in the ratings.
Some web series are soap operas, such as Degrassi: In Session or 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 (Prospect Park purchased the rights to both series months after their cancellations by ABC in 2011, although it initially suspended plans to relaunch the soaps later that same year due to issues receiving approval from acting and production unions). Each show initially produced four half-hour episodes a week, but quickly cut back to two half-hour episodes each. In the midst of (though not directly related to) a lawsuit between Prospect Park and ABC, the experiment ended that same year, with both shows being canceled again.
Soap operas in the UK 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 first aired in May 1950, and 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.
In the UK, soap operas are one of the most popular genres, with most being broadcast during prime time. Most UK soap operas focus on everyday, working-class communities, influenced by the conventions of the kitchen sink drama. The most popular British television programmes are EastEnders, Coronation Street, 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. Such is the magnitude of the popularity of the soap genre in the UK that all television serials in the country are reputedly enjoyed by members of the British Royal Family, including Elizabeth II herself. Major events in British culture are often mentioned in the storyline, such as England’s participation at the World Cup, and the death of Princess Diana.
The 1986 Christmas Day episode of EastEnders is often referred to as the highest-rated UK soap opera episode ever, with 30.15 million viewers (more than half the population at the time). 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 makes the aforementioned Christmas Day 1986 episode of EastEnders the highest-rated single-channel broadcast in the history of UK television. Overall it ranks third behind the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final (32.3 million viewers) and Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 (32.1 million viewers) which were transmitted on both BBC One and ITV.
An early television serial was The Grove Family on the BBC, which produced 148 episodes from 1954 to 1957. The programme was broadcast live and only a handful of recordings were retained in the archives. The UK's first twice-weekly serial was ITV's Emergency - Ward 10, running from 1957 until 1967.
In the 1960s Coronation Street revolutionised UK television and quickly became a British institution. On 17 September 2010, it became the world's longest-running television soap opera and was listed in Guinness World Records. 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, which ran for 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 aired on ITV in the early evening. Crossroads was set in a Birmingham motel and, although the program 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 program 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 was set in rural Yorkshire. Increased viewership resulted in Emmerdale being moved to a prime-time slot in the 1980s.
Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley) is a Welsh language serial that has been produced by the BBC since October 1974, and is the longest-running television soap opera produced by the broadcaster. Pobol y Cwm was originally broadcast on BBC Wales television from 1974 to 1982; it was then moved to the Welsh-language television station S4C when it opened in November 1982. The program was occasionally shown on BBC1 in London during periods of regional optout in the mid- to 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 each 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 moved to a prime time slot. In 1980, Scottish Television debuted Take the High Road, which lasted for over twenty years. Later, daytime slots were filled with an influx of 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 to 1989) and eventually, Neighbours was acquired by the BBC in 1986, and Home and Away aired on ITV beginning in 1989. These achieved significant levels of popularity; Neighbours and Home and Away were moved to early-evening slots, helping begin the UK soap opera boom in the late 1980s.
The day Channel 4 began operations in 1982 it launched its own soap, the Liverpool-based Brookside, which would redefine soaps over the next decade. The focus of Brookside was different from earlier soap operas in the UK; it was set in 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 (8.00 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. on weekdays, around 5.00 p.m. 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 during 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 (throughout the soap's history, there were two armed sieges on the street) and were staged with more violence (particularly, rape) often being featured.
In 1985, the BBC's EastEnders debuted and became 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 in which divorce papers were served to Angie Watts (Anita Dobson) by her husband, Queen Vic landlord Den (Leslie Grantham). Critics talked about the downfall of Coronation Street, but it continued to perform successfully. For the better part of ten years,, EastEnders has shared the number one position with Coronation Street.
A notable success in pioneering late-night broadcasting, in October 1984, Yorkshire Television began airing the cult Australian soap opera Prisoner, which originally ran from 1979 to 1986. It was eventually broadcast on all regions of 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 program 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 rights to repeat the entire rerun of the program, starting in 1997. All 692 episodes have since been released on DVD in the UK.
In 1992, the BBC made Eldorado to daily alternate with EastEnders. The programme was heavily criticised and only lasted one year. Nevertheless, soap operas gained increasing prominence on UK television schedules. In 1995, Channel 4 premiered Hollyoaks, a soap with a youth focus. When Channel 5 launched in March 1997, it debuted the soap opera Family Affairs, which was formatted as a week-daily soap, airing Monday through Fridays.
Brookside's premise evolved during the 1990s, phasing out the politicised stories of the 1980s and 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 that ran from 1993 to 1995, and gave the serial its highest ratings ever with 9 million viewers.
Coronation Street and Brookside began releasing straight-to-video features. The Coronation Street releases generally kept the pace and style of conventional programs episodes with the action set in foreign locations. The Brookside releases were set in the usual locations, but featured stories with adult content not allowed on television pre-watershed, with these releases given '18' certificates.
Emmerdale Farm was renamed Emmerdale in 1989. The series was revamped in 1993 with many changes executed via the crash of a passenger jet 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 audience of 18 million viewers. The revamp was a success and Emmerdale grew in popularity.
Throughout the 1990s, Brookside, Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale continued to flourish. Each increased the number of episodes that aired on a weekly basis by at least one, further defining soap operas 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 BBC One. In 2002, as ratings for the Scottish serial High Road (formerly Take The High Road) continued to decline, 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 the 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 high ratings and was cancelled in 2003. In 2001, ITV also launched a new early-evening serial entitled Night and Day. This program too attracted low viewership 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 ratings leading to several dramatic casting revamps 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.
In 2008, ITV premiered The Royal Today, a daily spin-off of popular 1960s-based drama The Royal, which had been running in a primetime slot since 2002. Just days later, soap opera parody programs Echo Beach premiered alongside its sister show, the comedy Moving Wallpaper. Both Echo Beach and The Royal Today ended after just one series due to low ratings. Radio soap opera Silver Street debuted on the BBC Asian Network in 2004. Poor ratings and criticism of the program led to its cancellation in 2010.
UK soap operas for many years usually only aired two nights a week. The exception was the original Crossroads, which began as a weekdaily soap opera in the 1960s, but later had its number of weekly broadcasts 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 premiered in 1982 with two episodes a week. In 1990, it expanded to three episodes a week; the trend was followed by EastEnders in 1994 and Emmerdale in 1997, In 2000, the soap went five episodes a week. Family Affairs debuted as a weekdaily soap in 1997, producing five episodes a week throughout its entire run. The imported Neighbours screens as five new episodes a week, which are shown once at 1:45 p.m. and repeated at 5:30 p.m. on Channel 5 each weekday.
Currently, Coronation Street (which began airing two episodes on Monday nights in 2002) and Hollyoaks both produce five episodes a week, while EastEnders produces four each week. In 2002, Brookside expanded from three half-hour episodes on different weeknights to airing one 90-minute episode each week. In 2004, Emmerdale began airing six episodes a week. Doctors airs five episodes a week, and is the only soap without a weekend omnibus repeat screening. It was announced in June 2016 that starting late 2017, Coronation Street would air six episodes a week.
Due to 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 p.m. 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. On 23 July 2009, Coronation Street moved from the Wednesday slot it held for 49 years, to Thursday evenings. Emmerdale reverted to running just one 30-minute episode on Tuesday evenings and the other 30-minute installment was moved to Thursday evenings. Coronation Street has since returned to a Wednesday slot. It now airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 19:30 and 20:30. Emmerdale airs at 19:00 every weeknight, and 20:00 on Thursdays.
UK soap operas are shot on videotape in the studio using a multi-camera setup. Since the 1980s, these programs routinely feature scenes shot outdoors in each episode. This footage is shot on videotape on a purpose-built outdoor set that represents the community that the soap focuses on. During their early years, Coronation Street and Emmerdale used 16 mm film while scenes were shot on location. Later soap operas such as Hollyoaks and Family Affairs started filming on high-definition video, a more modern filming process, as opposed to standard videotape, which features better quality and appears to look more like film than videotape.
UK soap operas do not incorporate recap sequences at the beginning of each episode, which would be appropriate for the fact that when an episode ends, it picks up the story during the following episode. However, in 2012, Hollyoaks began airing a recap sequence at the beginning of each episode. With the exception of Hollyoaks, soap operas in the UK also lack incidental music, although EastEnders would sometimes feature music that plays over an ending scene if it was dramatic, with an alternative EastEnders theme known as "Julia's theme".
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 as two one-hour episodes. Stylistically, these series most closely resemble UK soap operas in that they are nearly always shot on videotape, are mainly recorded in a studio and use a multi-camera setup. The original Australian serials were shot entirely in-studio. During the 1970s occasional filmed inserts were used to incorporate sequences shot outdoors. Outdoor shooting later became commonplace and starting in the late 1970s, it became standard practice for some on-location footage to be featured 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 on radio, as it had in the United States and the United Kingdom. One such radio serial, Big Sister, featured actress Thelma Scott in the cast and aired nationally for five years beginning in 1942. Probably the best known Australian radio serial was the long-running soap opera Blue Hills, which was created by Gwen Meredith and 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) featuring radio personality and Blue Hills star Queenie Ashton making the transition to television. Each episode of this serial ran for 15 minutes and aired each weekday on the Seven Network. Autumn Affair failed to secure a sponsor and ended in 1959 after 156 episodes. It was followed by The Story of Peter Grey (1961), another Seven Network weekday series aired in a daytime slot in 15-minute installments. The Story of Peter Grey ran for 164 episodes.
The first successful wave of Australian evening television soap operas started in 1967 with Bellbird, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This rural-based serial screened in an early evening slot in 15-minute installments as a lead-in to the evening news. Bellbird 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; the daytime soap had a short run of 132 episodes.
The first major soap opera hit in Australia was the sex-melodrama Number 96, a nighttime series produced by Cash Harmon Television for Network Ten, which debuted March 1972. The program dealt with such topics as homosexuality, adultery, drug use, rape-within-marriage and racism, which had rarely been explored on Australian television programs before. The series became famous for its sex scenes and nudity and for its comedic characters, many of whom became cult heroes in Australia. By 1973, Number 96 had become Australia's highest-rated 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 was scheduled 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. The Box also aired on the Ten Network, programmed to run right after Number 96. For 1974 Number 96 was again the highest rating show on Australian television, and that year The Box occupied the number two spot.
Also in 1974, the Reg Grundy Organisation created its first soap opera, and significantly Australia's first teen soap opera, Class of '74. With its attempts to hint at the sex and sin shown more openly on Number 96 and The Box, its high school setting and early evening timeslot, Class of '74 came under intense scrutiny from the Broadcasting Control Board, who vetted scripts and altered entire 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 shifting more towards comedic plots. Class of '74 was renamed Class of '75 and also added more slapstick comedy for its second year, but the revamped show's ratings declined, resulting in its cancellation in mid-1975. That year Cash Harmon's newly launched second soap The Unisexers failed in its early evening slot and was cancelled after three weeks; the Reg Grundy Organisation's second soap Until Tomorrow ran in a daytime slot for 180 episodes.
A feature film version of Bellbird entitled Country Town was produced in 1971 by two of the show's stars, Gary Gray and Terry McDermott, without production involvement by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Number 96 and The Box also released feature film versions, both of which had the same title as the series, released in 1974 and 1975 respectively. As Australian television had broadcast 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.
In November 1976 The Young Doctors debuted on the Nine Network. This Grundy Organization series eschewed the adult drama of Number 96 and The Box, focusing more on relationship drama and romance. It became a popular success but received few critical accolades. A week later The Sullivans, a carefully produced period serial chronicling the effects of World War II on a Melbourne family, also debuted on Nine. Produced by Crawford Productions, The Sullivans became a ratings success, attracted many positive reviews, and won television awards. During this period Number 96 re-introduced nudity into its episodes, with several much-publicised full-frontal nude scenes, a cast revamp and a new range of shock storylines designed to boost the show's declining ratings. Bellbird experienced changes to its broadcast pattern with episodes screening in 60 minute blocks, and later in 30 minute installments.
Bellbird, Number 96 and The Box, which had been experiencing declining ratings, were cancelled in 1977. Various attempts to revamp each of the shows with cast reshuffles or spectacular disaster storylines had proved only temporarily successful. The Young Doctors and The Sullivans continued to be popular. November 1977 saw the launch of successful soap opera/police procedural series Cop Shop (1977–1984) produced by Crawford Productions for Channel Seven. In early December 1977 Channel Ten debuted the Reg Grundy Organisation produced The Restless Years (1977–1981), a more standard soap drama focusing on several young school leavers.
The Seven Network, achieving success with Cop Shop produced by Crawford Productions, had Crawfords produce Skyways, a series with a similar format but set in an airport, to compete with the Nine Network's popular talk show The Don Lane Show. Skyways, which debuted in July 1979, emphasised adult situations including homosexuality, marriage problems, adultery, prostitution, drug use and smuggling, crime, suicide, political intrigue, and murder, and featured some nudity. Despite this, the program achieved only moderate ratings and was cancelled in mid-1981.
The Reg Grundy Organisation found major success with the 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 original runs, and unusually, found success in repeats after the programs ended.
Grundy soap The Young Doctors and Crawford Productions' The Sullivans continued on the Nine Network until late 1982. Thereafter Nine attempted many new replacement soap operas produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation: Taurus Rising (1982), Waterloo Station (1983), Starting Out (1983) and Possession (1985), along with Prime Time (1986) produced by Crawford Productions. 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 comedic and lightweight situations, for the Seven Network in 1985.
Produced in Melbourne at the studios of HSV-7, Neighbours achieved high ratings in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, but not in Sydney, where it aired at 5.30 p.m. placing it against the hit dating game show Perfect Match on Channel 10. The Seven Network's Sydney station ATN-7 quickly lost interest in Neighbours as a result of the low ratings in Sydney. HSV-7 in Melbourne lobbied heavily to keep Neighbours on the air, 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, which revamped the cast and scripts slightly and aired the series in the 7.00 p.m. slot starting 20 January 1986. It initially attracted low audiences, 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. As of 2015 the series airs on Eleven and is Australia's longest-running soap opera.
The success of Neighbours in the 1980s prompted the creation of somewhat similar suburban and family or teen-oriented soap operas such as Home and Away (1988–present) 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).
Nine continued trying to establish a successful new soap opera, without success. After the failure of family drama Family and Friends in 1990, it launched the raunchier and more extreme Chances in 1991, which resurrected the sex and melodrama of Number 96 and The Box in an attempt to attract attention. Chances achieved only moderate ratings, and was moved to a late-night timeslot. It underwent several revamps that removed much of the original cast, and refocused the storylines to incorporate science-fiction and fantasy elements. The series continued in a late night slot until 1992, when it was cancelled due to low ratings despite the much-discussed fantasy storylines.
Several Australian soap operas have also found significant international success. In the UK, starting in the mid-1980s, daytime broadcasts of The Young Doctors, The Sullivans, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours (which itself was subsequently moved to an early-evening slot) achieved significant success. Grundy's Prisoner began airing in the United States in 1979 and achieved high ratings in many regions there, however the show ended its run in that country three years into its run. Prisoner also aired in late-night timeslots in the UK beginning in the late 1980s, achieving enduring cult success there. The show became so popular in that country 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 U.S. soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty had resulted in the debuts of Taurus Rising and Return to Eden, two slick soap opera dramas with big budgets that were shot entirely on film. Though their middling Australian ratings resulted in the shows running only for 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 distribution. 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.
Something in the Air, a serial examining a range of characters in a small country town ran on the ABC from 2000 to 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. These programs foregrounded youthful attractive casts and appealing locations but the programs were not 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 attracted respectable although not spectacular ratings in the early 2000s. By 2004, Neighbours was regularly attracting just under a million viewers per episode – considered at that time a low figure for Australian prime time television. By March 2007, the Australian audience for Neighbours had fallen to fewer than 700,000 a night. This prompted a revamp of the show's cast, its visual presentation, and a move away from the recently added action-oriented emphasis to refocus the show on the domestic storylines it is traditionally known for. During this period Neighbours and Home and Away continued to achieve significant ratings in the UK. This and other lucrative overseas markets, along with Australian broadcasting laws that enforce a minimum amount of domestic drama production on 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 the total population of Australia) 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 U.S. 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 U.S. daytime serial, a middle-ground in which they have found their lucrative niche.
Neighbours was carried in the United States on the Oxygen cable channel in March 2004; however it attracted few viewers, perhaps in part due to its scheduling opposite well-established and highly popular U.S. soap operas such as All My Children and The Young and the Restless, and was dropped by the network shortly afterwards due to low ratings.
headLand made its debut on Channel Seven in November 2005, the series arose out of a proposed spinoff of Home and Away that was to have been produced in conjunction with Home and Away's UK broadcaster, Five. The idea for the spin-off was scuttled after Five pulled out of the deal, which meant that the show could potentially air on a rival channel in the UK; as such, Five requested that the new show be developed as a standalone series and not be spun off from a series that it owned a stake in. The series premiered in Australia on November 15, 2005, but was not a ratings success and was cancelled two months later on January 23, 2006. The series broadcast on E4 and Channel 4 in the UK. Nickelodeon's H2O: Just Add Water appeared on July 2006 on Network Ten. Since Connie considered this mention as a torrid soap opera, this was mentioned in the Steven Universe episode "Love Letters".
After losing the UK television rights to Neighbours to Five, the BBC commissioned a replacement serial Out of the Blue, which was produced in Australia. It debuted as part of BBC One's weekday afternoon schedule on 28 April 2008 but low ratings prompted its move to BBC Two on 19 May 2008. The series was cancelled after its first season.
Neighbours' continued low ratings in Australia resulted in it being moved to Ten's new digital channel, Eleven on January 11, 2011. However, it continues to achieve reasonable ratings on Channel 5 in the United Kingdom, and as of March 2013 still reportedly achieved significant international sales.
Pioneering series Pukemanu aired over two years (1971–72) and was the NZBC's first continuing drama. It followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. Close to Home is a New Zealand television soap opera that ran on Television One (Formally NZBC, later becoming Television New Zealand) from 1975 to 1983. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). Gloss is a television drama series that screened from 1987 to 1990. The series is about a fictional publishing empire run by the Redfern family. Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty, with the Carrington oil scions replaced by the wealthy Redferns and their Auckland magazine empire. It was a starting point for many actors who went on to many productions in New Zealand, Australia and around the world including Temuera Morrison, Miranda Harcourt, Peter Elliott, Lisa Chappell, Danielle Cormack and Kevin Smith. Many of them would go on to star in Shortland Street, which has been New Zealand's most popular soap since its debut in 1992. It airs on TVNZ 2.
Relatively few daily soap operas have been produced on English Canadian television, with most Canadian stations and networks that carry soap operas airing those imported from the United States or the United Kingdom. Notable daily soaps that did exist included Family Passions, Scarlett Hill, Strange Paradise, Metropia, Train 48 and the international co-production Foreign Affairs. Family Passions was an hour-long program, as is typical of American daytime soaps; all of the others ran half-hour episodes. 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, Lance et Compte ("He Shoots, He Scores"), Loving Friends and Perfect Couples and The City. The Degrassi franchise of youth dramas also incorporated some elements of the soap opera format.
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.
Unlike the season based production in most countries, most of Indian television fiction tends to be regular-broadcasting soap opera. These started in the late 1990s, as more and more people began to purchase television sets. At the beginning of the 21st 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, and many includes family melodrama. Indian soap operas have multilingual production.
Many soap operas produced in India are also broadcast overseas in the UK, Canada, the United States, and some parts of Europe, South Africa, Australia and South East Asia. 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.
The Australian serial The Restless Years was remade in the Netherlands as Goede tijden, slechte tijden (which debuted in 1990) and in Germany as Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten (which has aired since 1992): both titles translate to "good times, bad times". These remakes are still airing, but have long since diverged from the original Australian storylines. The two shows 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, 1995–2015); Skilda världar (Sweden, 1996–2002); Apagorevmeni agapi (Greece, 1998); Cuori Rubati (Italy, 2002–2003) and 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 aired on TV 2 since 1998, and is the longest-running television drama in Scandinavia. Popular foreign soaps in the country include Days of Our Lives (broadcast on TV6), The Bold and the Beautiful (TNT) and Home and Away (TV 2), all of which are subtitled.
Serials have included Goede tijden, slechte tijden (1990–present), Onderweg naar Morgen (1994–2010) and Goudkust (1996–2001). In 2016 Goede tijden, slechte tijden spin-off Nieuwe Tijden started airing. U.S. daytime serials As The World Turns and The Bold and the Beautiful have aired in the Netherlands; As the World Turns began airing in the country in 1990, with Dutch subtitles.
In the 1980s, West 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 was not until 1992 before Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten became the first German daily soap opera. Early ratings were bad as were the reviews, but the RTL network was willing to give its first soap opera a chance; ratings would improve, climbing to 7 million viewers by 2002. Not long after Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, Das Erste introduced Marienhof, which aired twice 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 did not like the plot idea about separated twins who meet each other for the first time after 20 years and fall in love without knowing that they are related. The project was then taken to Das Erste, which commissioned the program, titled Verbotene Liebe, which 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 debuted the Grundy Ufa-produced Unter uns in late 1994.
ZDF started a business venture with Canada and co-produced the short-lived series Family Passions, starring actors such as Gordon Thomson, Roscoe Born, Dietmar Schönherr and a young Hayden Christensen. The daytime serial premiered on December 5, 1994, lasting 130 episodes. After its cancellation, the network debuted Jede Menge Leben. Even after a crossover with three soaps, Freunde fürs Leben, Forsthaus Falkenau and Unser Lehrer Doktor Specht, the soap was canceled after 313 episodes. Sat.1 tried to get into the soap business as well, after successfully airing the Australian soap opera Neighbours, which was dropped in 1995 due to the talk show phenomenon that took over most of the daytime schedules of German networks. 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-lived attempt with Alle zusammen - jeder für sich.
The teen soap opera Schloss Einstein debuted on September 4, 1998, focusing on the life of a group of teenagers at the fictional titular boarding school near Berlin. As of July 2014, the series has produced over 815 episodes during the course of 17 seasons, a milestone in German television programming, and was renewed for an 18th season to debut in 2015.
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 canceled the program due to low viewership and high production costs. Even though ratings had improved, the show ended its run in a morning timeslot. The soap opera became something of a cult classic, as its 200-episode run was repeated several times on free-to-air and pay television.
In 2006, Alles was zählt became the last successful daily soap to make its debut, airing as a lead-in to Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten and also produced by Grundy Ufa. Since Germany started to produce its own telenovelas, all soap operas faced declines in ratings. Unter uns was in danger of cancellation in 2009, but escaped such a fate due to budget cuts imposed by the show's producers and the firing of original cast member Holger Franke, whose firing and the death of his character outraged fans, resulting in a ratings spike in early 2010. After Unter uns was saved, Das Erste planned to make changes to its soap lineup. Marienhof had to deal with multiple issues in its storytelling, as well as in producing a successful half-hour show. Several changes were made within months, however Marienhof was canceled in June 2011. Verbotene Liebe was in danger of being cancelled as well, but convinced the network to renew it with changes that it made in both 2010 and 2011; the soap was later expanded to 45 minutes after Marienhof was canceled, and the network tried to decide on whether to revamp its lineup.
While Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, Unter uns and Alles was zählt are currently the only daily soaps on the air after Verbotene Liebe has been cancelled and aired its last episode in June, 2015 due to low ratings, the telenovelas Sturm der Liebe and Rote Rosen are considered soaps by the press as well, thanks to the changing protagonists every season.
In Belgium, the two major soap operas are Thuis ("Home") and Familie ("Family"). Soap operas have been very popular in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Familie debuted in late 1991, and with nearly 6,000 half-hour episodes, it has the highest episode total of any soap in Europe outside of the United Kingdom. The highest-rated soap opera is Thuis, which has aired on "één" since late 1995. Thuis is often one of the five most-watched Belgian shows and regularly garners over one million viewers (with 6.3 million Flemmings in total).
During the 1990s, 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 airing in the middle of the decade during prime time. Both soaps still air today, along with other foreign soaps such as Days of Our Lives, Australia's Home and Away and Germany's "Sturm der Liebe". Vitaya unsuccessful attempted to air the Dutch soap opera "Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden" in 2010. Other foreign soaps that previously aired on Belgian television include The Young and the Restless, EastEnders (both on VTM), "Port Charles" (at één, then known as TV1) and "Coronation Street" (on Vitaya). "Santa Barbara" aired during the 1990s on VTM for its entire run.
The only teen soap opera on Belgian television was Spring ("Jump" in English), which aired on the youth-oriented Ketnet and produced over 600 15-minute episodes from late 2002 until 2009, when it was cancelled after a steady decline in ratings following the departures of many of its original characters.
The most successful soap opera in Italy is the evening series Un posto al sole ("A Place Under the Sun"), which had aired on Rai 3 since 1996 (whose format is based on the Australian soap opera Neighbours). Several other Italian soaps have been produced such as Ricominciare ("Starting Over"), Cuori rubati ("Stolen Hearts"), Vivere ("Living"), Sottocasa ("Downstairs"), Agrodolce ("Bittersweet") and Centovetrine ("Hundred Shop Windows").
The most popular Italian prime-time drama series, Incantesimo ("Enchantment"), which ran from 1998 to 2008, became a daytime soap opera for the final two years of its run, airing five days a week on Rai 1.
In the early years of RTÉ, the network produced several dramas but had not come close to launching a long-running serial. RTÉ's first television soap was Tolka Row, which was set in urban Dublin. For several years, both Tolka Row and The Riordans were produced by RTÉ; however, the urban soap was soon dropped in favor of the more popular rural soap opera The Riordans, which premiered in 1965. Executives from Yorkshire Television visited during on-location shoots for The Riordans in the early 1970s and in 1972, debuted Emmerdale Farm (now Emmerdale), based on the successful format of the Irish soap opera. In the late 1970s, The Riordans was controversially dropped. The creator of that 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 few seasons of The Riordans. Bracken was soon replaced by the third "Agri-soap" Glenroe, which ran until 2001. As RTÉ wanted a drama series for its Sunday night lineup rather than a soap opera, On Home Ground (2001–2002), The Clinic (2002–2009) and RAW (2010–2013) replaced the agri-soaps of the previous decades.
In 1989, RTÉ decided to produce its first Dublin-based soap opera since the 1960s. Fair City, which is set in the fictional city of Carrickstown, initially aired one night a week during the 1989-90 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 houses used in the on-location shoots for an on-site set in RTÉ's Headquarters in Dublin 4. By the early 1990s, it was airing two nights a week for 35 weeks a year. With competition from the UK soap operas, RTÉ expanded Fair City to three nights a week for most of the year and one night a week during the summer in 1996, later expanding to four nights a week and two nights during the summer. Until the early 2000s, the series produced four episodes a week, airing all 52 weeks of the year. Fair City airs Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.00 p.m. GMT on RTÉ One; however, after rival network TV3 moved Coronation Street to Thursday night, the Wednesday night episode of Fair City began airing at 7:30 p.m. each week.
TG4 produce the Irish language soap Ros na Rún ("Headland of the Secrets" or "Headland of the Sweethearts"); set in the fictional village of Ros Na Rún, located outside Galway and near Spiddal, it centres on the domestic and professional lives of the town's residents. It is modeled on an average village in the West of Ireland, but with its own distinct personality – with a diverse population that share secrets, romances and friendships among other things. 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. The program has dealt with many topics, 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, currently airing Tuesday and Thursday nights. Ros na Rún is the single largest independent production commissioned in the history of Irish broadcasting. Prior to TG4's launch, it originally aired on RTÉ One in the early 1990s.
Although Ireland has access to international soaps (such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, EastEnders, Home and Away, Hollyoaks and Neighbours), Fair City continues to outperform them all, and is Ireland's most popular soap opera, with the show peaking at over 700,000 viewers.
January 2015 Red Rock has broadcast on TV3. Red Rock airs twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The series is base in a fishing village in Dublin. The soaps centres around the local Garda station but also includes stories from the village.
RTÉ Radio produced its first radio soap, Kennedys of Castleross, which ran from April 13, 1955 to 1975. In 1979 RTÉ long running TV soap The Riordans moved to Radio until December 24, 1985. In the mid-1980s, RTÉ debuted a new radio soap, Harbour Hotel, which ran until the mid-1990s. The network later ran two short-lived radio soaps, Konvenience Korner and Riverrun, which were followed in 2004 by Driftwood. RTÉ does not run any radio soaps, however RTÉ Radio 1 continues to air radio dramas as part of its nighttime schedule.
In Greece, there have been several soap operas.
An early serial was Sti skia tou hrimatos ("Money Shadows"), which ran from 1990 to 1991. September 1991 saw the debut of Lampsi ("the Shining"), from creator Nicos Foskolos. The 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 Erotas ("Love"), a soap that ran from 2005 to 2008. After that series ended, 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"), which ran from September 1993 until its cancellation in June 2006 due to low ratings.
Mega Channel began producing soap operas in 1990 with the prime time serial I Dipsa ("The Thirst"), which ran for 102 episodes. Other daytime soaps have included Paralliloi dromoi (1992–1994) and its successor Haravgi ("Daylight", 1994–1995), both of which were cancelled due to low viewership; as well as the serials Apagorevmeni Agapi ("Forbidden Love"), which ran from 1998 to 2006; Gia mia thesi ston Ilio ("A Spot Under the Sun"), which ran from 1998 to 2002; Filodoxies ("Expectations"), which ran from 2002 to 2006; and Vera Sto Deksi ("Ring on the Right Hand"), which ran from 2004 to 2006 and proved to be a successful competitor to Lampsi, causing that show's ratings to decline.
Ta Mistika Tis Edem ("Edem Secrets"), which was created by the producers of Vera Sto Deksi, debuted in 2008 and has eclipsed that show's success. Its ratings place it consistently among the three highest-rated daytime programs.
IENED (which was renamed ERT2 in 1982) was responsible for the first Greek soap operas I Kravgi Ton Likon and Megistanes. ERT also produced the long-running soap O Simvoleografos. Since 2000 and with the introduction of private television, ERT produced additional daily soap operas, which included Pathos ("Passion"), Erotika tis Edem ("Loving in Eden") and Ta ftera tou erota ("The Wings of Love"). These failed to achieve high ratings and were canceled shortly after their premiere.
Alpha produced Kato apo tin Acropoli ("Under the Acropolis"), which ran for 2½ years.
The first daytime soap opera produced by a Cyprus channel was LOGOs TV's Odos Den Ksehno ("'Don't Forget' Street"), which ran from January to December 1996. It was followed by To Serial, which also ran for one year from September 1997 to June 1998. CyBC created the third weekdaily soap, Anemi Tou Pathous ("Passion Winds"), running from January 2000 to June 2004, which was replaced by I Platia ("The Square") from September 2004 to July 2006. Epikindini Zoni ran from 2009 to 2010, and was cancelled after 120 episodes. Vimata Stin Ammo made its debut in September 2010.
Sigma TV first commissioned the weekdaily comedic soap Sto Para Pente, which aired from September 1998 to June 2004, and first held the distinction of being the longest weekday show in Cyprus television history, before it was surpassed by Se Fonto Kokkino, which ran from September 2008 to July 2012. Other Sigma TV weekday shows include Akti Oniron (which ran from 1999 to 2001), Vourate Geitonoi (which ran from 2001 to 2005, and was the most successful weekdaily series, achieving ratings shares of up to 70% of all television households in the country), Oi Takkoi (which ran from 2002 to 2005), S' Agapo (which ran from 2001 to 2002), Vasiliki (which ran from 2005 to 2006), Vendetta (which ran from September 2005 to December 2006), 30 kai Kati (which ran from 2006 to 2007) and Mila Mou (which ran from September 2007 to January 2009).
ANT1 Cyprus aired the soap I Goitia Tis Amartias in 2002, which was soon canceled. Dikse Mou To Filo Sou followed from 2006 to 2009, along with Gia Tin Agapi Sou, which ran from 2008 to 2009 and itself was followed by Panselinos, which has aired since 2009.
The longest-running weekly show on Cyprus television is Istories Tou Horkou ("Villages Stories", which premiered on CyBC in March 1996 and ran until its cancellation in June 2006; it was revived in September 2010 but was cancelled again in March 2011 due to very low ratings), followed by Manolis Ke Katina ("Manolis and Katina", which ran from 1995 to 2004). The most controversial of these series was To Kafenio ("The Coffee Shop"), which premiered on CyBC on 1993 as a weekly series, before moving to MEGA Channel Cyprus six years later in 1999 as a weekdaily show and then moved to ANT1 Cyprus on 2000, which canceled the show one year later. There were plans to move the show back to CyBC as a weekly series in 2001, with the original cast, however this plan was never realised. The most successful weekly shows in Cyprus currently are ANT1's Eleni I Porni ("Eleni, The Whore"), which premiered in October 2010 and CyBC's Stin Akri Tu Paradisou ("At The Heaven's Edge"), which premiered in 2007. The most successful weekdaily soap was Aigia Fuxia, which aired on ANT1 Cyprus from 2008 to 2010.
The only daily Finnish soap opera so far is Salatut elämät (Secret Lives), which has achieved popularity in Finland since its 1999 debut on MTV3. It focuses on the lives of people along the imaginary Pihlajakatu street in Helsinki. The show has also spawned several Internet spin-off series and a film based on the show that was released in 2012.
Other soap-like shows in Finland are YLE shows Uusi päivä (which has aired since 2009) and Kotikatu (which ran from 1995 to 2012), however these programs do not adhere to a five-episode-a-week schedule.
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 six or seven 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 miniseries took on the theme of a 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 teenage character Ciara.
In motion pictures, the 1982 comedy Tootsie has the lead character impersonating a woman in order to gain acting work on a long running television soap opera. Several scenes parody the production of soaps, their outrageous storylines and idiosyncratic stylistic elements.
The 1991 comedy Soapdish stars Sally Field as an aging soap opera actress on fictional series The Sun Also Sets who pines over her own neuroses and misfortunes such as her live-in boyfriend who leaves her to go back to his wife, and the incidents of backstabbing and scheming behind the scenes, some of which are more interesting than the stories on the program.
Another 1991 comedy, Delirious, stars John Candy as a soap opera writer who, after a head injury, has a dream experience of being in his own creation. The dream experience is an increasingly outrageous exaggeration of soap opera plot elements.
On television, several soap opera parodies have been produced: