Test Your Soap Opera Knowledge

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What was the world's longest-running radio soap opera?

The Archers

What is the focus of UK and Australian soap operas?

Everyday characters and situations

What is the basis for many soap opera storylines?

Romance and secret relationships

What was the reason for the decline of soap operas in the US?

Rise of cable and the internet

What was the longest-running daytime drama in television and radio history?

Guiding Light

What is the format of soap operas?

Serialized dramas that focus on the daily lives and relationships of a group of characters

What was the first teen soap opera in Australia?

Class of '74

What was the premise of Brookside during the 1990s?

Controversial and sensationalist stories

What was the most popular nighttime series in Australia in 1973?

Number 96

Study Notes

The term "soap opera" originated from radio dramas sponsored by soap manufacturers. The world's longest-running radio soap opera is BBC Radio's The Archers, while the longest-running television soap is Coronation Street. Soap operas feature continuous open narrative with each episode ending with a promise that the story will continue. Soap operas rarely conclude all storylines at the same time and episodes often end on cliffhangers. US soap operas often feature attractive, seductive, glamorous and wealthy characters, while UK and Australian soap operas focus on more everyday characters and situations. Romance, secret relationships, extramarital affairs, and genuine hate have been the basis for many soap opera storylines. Unexpected calamities disrupt weddings, childbirths, and other major life events with unusual frequency. Stunts and complex physical action are largely absent, especially from daytime serials. Soap operas were originally broadcast live from the studio, creating a feeling similar to that of a stage play. Soap operas were initially broadcast as 15-minute installments each weekday in daytime slots. By the early 1970s, nearly all soap operas had transitioned to being taped. U.S. daytime soap operas are not generally rerun by their networks, but occasionally they are rebroadcast elsewhere. Newer broadcast networks since the late 1980s, such as Fox and cable television networks, have largely eschewed soap operas in their daytime schedules.The Decline of Soap Operas in the United States

  • Soap operas have been a staple of daytime television in the United States since the 1950s.

  • Due to the massive number of episodes produced for a series, release of soap operas to DVD is considered impractical.

  • Soap opera performers are typically divided into two main groups: primary characters and secondary characters. It is not uncommon for a single character to be played by multiple actors.

  • Social issue storylines were typically not allowed in the early days of soap operas due to network censorship, but writer and producer Agnes Nixon introduced them in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • During the 1980s, daytime serials began to incorporate action and adventure storylines, more big-business intrigue, and an increased emphasis on youthful romance.

  • Soap opera ratings have significantly fallen in the U.S. since the 2000s, with only four daytime soap operas still in production as of September 2022.

  • The decline of soap operas has been attributed to factors such as changing viewing habits, the rise of cable and the internet, and the popularity of reality TV.

  • Daytime programming alternatives such as talk shows, game shows, and court shows cost less to produce than scripted dramas, making them more profitable for networks.

  • The decline in advertising during the Great Recession also contributed to the reduction of soap opera budgets and cast sizes.

  • The longest-running daytime drama in television and radio history, Guiding Light, ended in 2009 after a 72-year run, and As the World Turns aired its final episode in 2010 after a 54-year run.

  • The rise of streaming services has led to the creation of some new soap operas, but they have not achieved the same level of popularity as their predecessors.

  • Prime time soap operas such as Dallas, Knots Landing, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest were popular in the 1980s and dealt with wealthy families and their personal and big-business travails.A Brief History of Soap Operas

  • Soap operas are serialized dramas that focus on the daily lives and relationships of a group of characters.

  • The genre began on radio in the 1930s and moved to television in the 1950s, with daytime soap operas becoming popular.

  • Prime time soap operas, featuring wealthy and scheming characters, gained popularity in the 1980s with shows like Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest.

  • This format was later incorporated into other drama series, such as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, and later shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Desperate Housewives.

  • In the UK, soap operas are a popular genre, with shows like Coronation Street and EastEnders consistently among the highest-rated shows on British television.

  • Spanish-language networks, Univision and Telemundo, have found success airing telenovelas for the growing U.S. Hispanic market.

  • Turkey is the second-largest exporter of television soap operas, with Turkish dramas having a large following across Asia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.

  • Some web series, such as Degrassi: In Session and Venice: The Series, are soap operas.

  • In 2013, All My Children and One Life to Live were revived for the web by production company Prospect Park but were canceled the same year.

  • The genre continues to be popular with shows like Empire, The Royals, and Blood & Oil, all premiering in the 2010s.Development of Soap Operas in the UK and Australia

UK Soap Operas

  • Central Television broadcasted Brookside three times a week from 1987 to 1991, achieving 10 million viewers.
  • Hollyoaks, with a youth focus, premiered in 1995 on Channel 4.
  • Family Affairs, a week-daily soap, premiered in 1997 on Channel 5.
  • Brookside's premise evolved during the 1990s, shifting the emphasis to controversial and sensationalist stories.
  • Coronation Street and Brookside began releasing straight-to-video features with adult content not allowed on television pre-watershed.
  • Emmerdale revamped in 1993 with a plane crash storyline that attracted criticism.
  • UK soap operas increased the number of episodes that aired on a weekly basis by at least one.
  • Coronation Street and Emmerdale aired six episodes a week in 2004 and 2017, respectively.
  • Doctors airs five episodes a week and is the only soap without a weekend omnibus repeat screening.
  • UK soap operas are shot on videotape in the studio using a multi-camera setup.

Australian Soap Operas

  • Australian soap operas 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.
  • Number 96, a nighttime series produced by Cash Harmon Television for Network 10, premiered in 1972 and became Australia's highest-rated show in 1973.
  • The Box, produced by Crawford Productions, rivaled Number 96 in terms of nudity and sexual situations and was scheduled in a nighttime slot.
  • The Reg Grundy Organisation's Class of '74 was Australia's first teen soap opera in 1974.
  • Bellbird, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, screened in an early evening slot in 15-minute installments as a lead-in to the evening news.
  • The Young Doctors, a Grundy Organization series, eschewed adult drama, focusing more on relationship drama and romance and became a popular success.
  • Prisoner, a women's-prison drama, and Sons and Daughters, a melodramatic family saga, both produced by the Reg Grundy Organisation, achieved high ratings in their original runs.

Are you a soap opera fan? Test your knowledge of the history and development of this beloved television genre with our Soap Opera Quiz! From the origins of the term "soap opera" to the decline of the genre in the United States, and the development of soap operas in the UK and Australia, this quiz covers it all. See how much you know about the characters, storylines, and behind-the-scenes drama of some of the most popular soap operas in history. Take the quiz now and

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