Soap opera | united states

United States

Daytime serials on television

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.

In 1988, H. Wesley Kenney, who at the time served as the executive producer of General Hospital, said to The New York Times:[18]

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), Port Charles (1997–2003) and Passions (1999-2008) 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).


See List of longest-serving soap opera actors

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[19] 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.[20]

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, Antony Ponzini, William Prince, Louise Shaffer, and Diana van der Vlis, among many others, have all played multiple soap roles.

Evolution of the daytime serial

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.

Traditional grammar of daytime serials

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:

  • A construct unique to U.S. daytime serials is the format where the action will cut between various conversations, returning to each at the precise moment it was left. This is the most significant distinction between U.S. daytime soap operas and other forms of U.S. television drama, which generally allow for narrative time to pass, off-screen, between the scenes depicted.[5] On occasion, a character or characters involved a conversation earlier in that act may appear in a different setting later in the same act.
  • In U.S. daytime soap operas, scenes often end with a pregnant pause and a close-up on the character. There will be no dialogue for several seconds, while the music builds before cutting to a commercial or a new scene. This kind of segue is referred to in the industry as a "tag".
  • The traditional three-point lighting set-up routinely used in filmmaking and television production is also used on daytime soap operas, sometimes with accentuated back lighting to lift actors out of the background. This is useful in programs like soap operas, which are shot on videotape in small interior sets. The backlight is frequently more subtle on filmed productions shot on location and in larger sets.
  • Domestic interiors are often furnished with stained wood wall panels and furniture, and items of brown leather furniture. This is to give a sumptuous and luxurious look suggesting the wealth of the characters. Daytime serials often foreground other sumptuous elements of set decoration; presenting a "mid-shot of characters viewed through a frame of lavish floral displays, glittering crystal decanters or gleaming antique furniture".[12]
  • Few U.S. daytime soap operas routinely feature location or exterior-shot footage (Guiding Light began shooting many of its scenes outdoors in its final two seasons). Often an outdoor locale is recreated in the studio. Australian and UK daily soap operas invariably feature a certain amount of exterior shot footage in every episode. This is usually shot in the same location and often on a purpose-built set, with new exterior locations for particular events.
  • The visual quality of a soap opera is usually lower than prime time U.S. television drama series due to the lower budgets and quicker production times. This is also because soap operas are recorded on videotape using a multi-camera setup, unlike primetime productions that are usually shot on film and frequently use the single camera shooting style. Because of the lower resolution of video images, and also because of the emotional situations portrayed in soap operas, daytime serials make heavy use of close-up shots. Programs in the United States did not make the full conversion to high definition broadcasting until September 2011, when The Bold and the Beautiful became the last soap to convert to the format; One Life to Live was an exception to this, as it continued to be produced and broadcast in standard definition – albeit in the 16:9 aspect ratio – until the end of its run on ABC in January 2012.
  • Soap operas have idiosyncratic blocking techniques. In one common situation, a romantically involved couple starts a conversation face-to-face, then one character will turn 180° and face away from the other character while the conversation continues. This allows both characters to appear together in a single shot, and both facing the audience. This is unrealistic in real life and is not frequently seen in film or on television outside U.S. daytime serials, but it is an accepted soap opera convention, sometimes referred to as a "Two Shot West".[21]
  • Because of the escapist tone of the genre and due to the large number of cast members employed by each program (usually totaling around 30 to 35 actors for hour-long soaps, and 15 to 25 for those lasting a half-hour), daytime soap operas have traditionally listed all contract cast members (as well as recurring and guest actors) during the closing credits, instead of the opening title sequence. Until the 1990s, these series listed only a few of the principal actors at the end of the episode in certain episodes airing on Monday through Thursdays. Because of the aforementioned reasons, an extended credit sequence featuring a complete list of the show's cast members – listed alongside the characters they portray – typically airs at least once per week (usually on the Friday show; although since the 2000s, most soap operas – with General Hospital as one of the few exceptions – have randomized the day the cast list is shown). The Young and the Restless became the first American daytime soap to include the names of its contract actors in the opening credits in 1999 (although due to the large number of actors on contract with the show at one time, it utilizes different versions of the title sequence with a randomized list of about six actors); The Bold and the Beautiful began listing its entire main cast (as well as some actors appearing on a recurring basis) from 2004 to 2017, with General Hospital following suit from 2010 to 2013.[22]


Statistics and trends

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.[23] 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.[24] Circulations of soap opera magazines have decreased and some have even ceased publication.[25] SOAPnet, which largely aired soap opera reruns, began to be phased out in 2012 and fully ceased operations the following year.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] Both All My Children and One Life to Live were briefly revived online in 2013, before being canceled again that same year.[31] In 2019, Days of Our Lives was put on "indefinite hiatus" and all of the cast's contracts were terminated.[32]


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.[33] 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.[33] The genre's decline has additionally been attributed to reality television displacing soap operas as TV's dominant form of melodrama.[34] An early term for the reality TV genre was docu-soap.[35] 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.[36][37]

Daytime programming alternatives such as talk shows, game shows, and court shows cost up to 50% less to produce than scripted dramas,[38] 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.[39] 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.[40]


Soap Network Premiered Switched to color Expanded to hour First HDTV broadcast
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


Soap Network Premiere Finale Switched to color Expanded to hour First HDTV broadcast
All My Children ABC January 5, 1970 September 23, 2011 From start April 25, 1977 February 3, 2010
Another World NBC May 4, 1964 June 25, 1999 June, 1966 January 6, 1975 N/A
As the World Turns CBS April 2, 1956 September 17, 2010 August 21, 1967 December 1, 1975 March 31, 2008
The Best of Everything ABC March 30, 1970 September 25, 1970 From start N/A N/A
The Brighter Day CBS January 4, 1954 September 28, 1962 N/A N/A N/A
Capitol CBS March 29, 1982 March 20, 1987 From start N/A N/A
The City ABC November 13, 1995 March 28, 1997 From start N/A N/A
The Clear Horizon CBS July 11, 1960 June 15, 1962 N/A N/A N/A
Dark Shadows ABC June 27, 1966 April 2, 1971 August 11, 1967 N/A N/A
The Doctors NBC April 1, 1963 December 31, 1982 October 17, 1966 N/A N/A
The Edge of Night CBS/ABC April 2, 1956 December 28, 1984 September 11, 1967 N/A N/A
The First Hundred Years CBS December 4, 1950 June 27, 1952 N/A N/A N/A
First Love NBC July 5, 1954 December 30, 1955 N/A N/A N/A
From These Roots NBC June 30, 1958 December 29, 1961 N/A N/A N/A
Full Circle CBS June 27, 1960 March 10, 1961 N/A N/A N/A
Generations NBC March 27, 1989 January 25, 1991 From start N/A N/A
Golden Windows NBC July 5, 1954 April 1, 1955 N/A N/A N/A
Guiding Light CBS June 30, 1952 September 18, 2009 March 13, 1967 November 7, 1977 February 29, 2008
Hawkins Falls NBC June 7, 1950 July 1, 1955 N/A N/A N/A
Hidden Faces NBC December 30, 1968 June 27, 1969 From start N/A N/A
How to Survive a Marriage NBC January 7, 1974 April 17, 1975 From start N/A N/A
Love Is a Many Splendored Thing CBS September 18, 1967 March 23, 1973 From start N/A N/A
Love of Life CBS September 24, 1951 February 1, 1980 March 13, 1967 N/A N/A
Lovers and Friends/For Richer, For Poorer NBC January 3, 1977 September 29, 1978 From start N/A N/A
Loving ABC June 26, 1983 November 10, 1995 From start N/A N/A
Miss Susan NBC March 12, 1951 December 28, 1951 N/A N/A N/A
Never Too Young ABC September 27, 1965 June 24, 1966 N/A N/A N/A
The Nurses ABC September 27, 1965 March 31, 1967 N/A N/A N/A
One Life to Live ABC July 15, 1968 January 13, 2012 From start January 16, 1978 December 6, 2010 (EDTV)
Our Five Daughters NBC January 2, 1962 September 28, 1962 N/A N/A N/A
Passions NBC July 5, 1999 September 7, 2007 From start From start N/A
Port Charles ABC June 1, 1997 October 3, 2003 From start N/A N/A
Portia Faces Life CBS July 5, 1954 March 18, 1955 N/A N/A N/A
Return to Peyton Place NBC April 3, 1972 January 4, 1974 From start N/A N/A
Ryan's Hope ABC July 7, 1975 January 13, 1989 From start N/A N/A
Santa Barbara NBC July 30, 1984 January 15, 1993 From start From start N/A
Search for Tomorrow CBS/NBC September 3, 1951 December 26, 1986 September 11, 1967 N/A N/A
The Secret Storm CBS February 1, 1954 February 8, 1974 September 11, 1967 N/A N/A
Somerset NBC March 30, 1970 December 31, 1976 From start N/A N/A
Sunset Beach NBC January 5, 1997 December 31, 1999 From start From start N/A
Texas NBC August 4, 1980 December 31, 1982 From start From start N/A
These Are My Children NBC January 31, 1949 February 25, 1949 N/A N/A N/A
Three Steps to Heaven NBC June 27, 1960 March 10, 1961 N/A N/A N/A
Where the Heart Is CBS September 8, 1969 March 23, 1973 From start N/A N/A
A World Apart ABC March 30, 1970 June 25, 1971 From start N/A N/A
The Young Marrieds ABC October 5, 1964 March 25, 1966 N/A N/A N/A

The primetime serial

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.[41] 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 first long-running prime time soap opera was Peyton Place (1964–1969) on ABC. It was based in part on the eponymous 1957 film (which, in turn, was based on the 1956 novel).

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.[42] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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 Oscar 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.[43]

Online serials

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).[44] Each show initially produced four half-hour episodes a week, but quickly cut back to two half-hour episodes each.[45] 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.[31]