A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Dial Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers, as sponsors and producers. These early radio series were broadcast in weekday daytime slots, usually five days a week, when most listeners would be housewives; thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.
A crucial element that defines soap opera is the open-ended nature of the narrative, with stories spanning several episodes. The defining feature that makes a television program a soap opera, according to Albert Moran, is "that form of television that works with a continuous open narrative. Each episode ends with a promise that the storyline is to be continued in another episode".
Soap opera stories run concurrently, intersect and lead into further developments. An individual episode of a soap opera will generally switch between several different concurrent story threads that may at times interconnect and affect one another or may run entirely independent of 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 screened 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 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 screen 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 to a full hour 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 couple whose onscreen and real-life romance was widely covered by both the soap opera magazines and the mainstream press.
Famous quotes related to soap opera:
“Ive finally figured out why soap operas are, and logically should be, so popular with generations of housebound women. They are the only place in our culture where grown-up men take seriously all the things that grown-up women have to deal with all day long.”
—Gloria Steinem (b. 1934)
“Commercial jazz, soap opera, pulp fiction, comic strips, the movies set the images, mannerisms, standards, and aims of the urban masses. In one way or another, everyone is equal before these cultural machines; like technology itself, the mass media are nearly universal in their incidence and appeal. They are a kind of common denominator, a kind of scheme for pre-scheduled, mass emotions.”
—C. Wright Mills (191662)
“Television ... helps blur the distinction between framed and unframed reality. Whereas going to the movies necessarily entails leaving ones ordinary surroundings, soap operas are in fact spatially inseparable from the rest of ones life. In homes where television is on most of the time, they are also temporally integrated into ones real life and, unlike the experience of going out in the evening to see a show, may not even interrupt its regular flow.”
—Eviatar Zerubavel, U.S. sociologist, educator. The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life, ch. 5, University of Chicago Press (1991)
“If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role.”
—Boy George (b. 1961)