Evolution Of The Daytime Soap Opera

Culture | November 4, 2017

Originally, television programming was mostly conservative. Programs mimicked the likes of radio melodramas that were so very popular. Early on in the history of television broadcasting, the most racy subjects on air were stories on the evening news. Television was commonly used as entertainment, rather than an informational tool. Before too long, controversial programming reared its ugly head. One of those controversial television programming formats included what was, and is still, known as, “Soap Operas.”  

soap opera [op-er-uh, op-ruh] NOUN: a radio or television series depicting the interconnected lives of many characters often in a sentimental, melodramatic way.

The origin of coining certain daytime television shows as “soap operas” dates back to the 1930’s. Television has always been known for having financial sponsors and it wasn’t long before soap manufacturers caught on. They were clever enough to realize that the people who were tuning in to daytime television were housewives. After all, men left the home each day to earn a living for their wives and families but the women were the ones home during the day. Not only were they at home, but they were also usually responsible for the household maintenance and economics of the household. Theoretically, women would tune in to the program, see a commercial ad for a product, and want to try it out. If the product was all it was billed to be…. BINGO!

By the 1960’s, many American homes had at least one television. One of the most popular, and longest running, soap operas was General Hospital. It first aired in 1963. As the program gained popularity, women who didn’t have access to a television during the day, usually had a nearby friend that did. Being a voyeur into the lives of others was the BEST! It was a way to escape!

General Hospital, much like most soap operas, in general, followed the sensational, day to day lives of fictitious families. Many ordinary women at the time could not personally relate to the mostly privileged and exciting lives of these people, but nobody cared. It was fun, if not therapeutic, to get lost in a fantasy world. Luke and Laura captured our curiosity as well as our hearts. They are probably being mentioned in a conversation somewhere as you read this!

Throughout the evolution of soap operas, the scenes got racier and steamier as the years passed. Early on, shows depicting (fictitiously) married couples didn’t portray they in the bedroom. Later on, they were shown in the bedroom but not in bed. A little later, they were shown in the bedroom, in bed, but in separate beds. Even later on, they were shown in the same bed, but at least one of them had one foot on the floor. It got more provocative as time went on! If critics were to be believed, we may have gotten pregnant of contracted an STD just by watching!

Housewives across America would sit on the edge of their seats from day to day to see what happened next. Unfortunately, if they missed an episode they had to rely on a friend that watched the same show to fill them in. Ironically, even if an episode or two (God forbid) was missed, it didn’t take long to catch up.  

From the beginning, soap operas have always been thought to be provocative in nature. Dirty laundry just didn’t get aired in public, much less on television! After all, what would the neighbors think? Much like now, people like to drown themselves in the troubles of others. Not that anyone has a perfect life but it was, and still is, so much easier to focus on the drama of others’! Men and women, alike, know of the phenomenon of the soap opera. Even if you have never watched one, chances are your mother or grandmother did!

Tags: Rare Facts And Stories About History | Soap Operas | The 1930s | TV In The 1930s | Commercials

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.