Although the daytime and/or primetime soap opera genre isn’t uniquely American, it can easily be argued that nobody does them better. In the days before women were active and enthusiastic members of the daytime workforce, soap operas were as much a part of daily life as breakfast in the morning. Viewership patterns, show allegiances, and coffee table gossip were legendary among the soap fan. Soap operas were perhaps the most addictive, non-narcotic product consumed in America during the mid to late 20th century. Let’s put aside the campy melodrama, comical acting, painfully predictable story lines, and the occasionally extraterrestrial dialogue, and concentrate on the fact that fans had a truly visceral connection to these characters. People loved these programs. It meant something to them. As a child I witnessed my mother jettison flatware into the sink out of frustration, and at other moments, exude shrieks of joy, for the sake of All my Children drama. It wasn’t very long after beginning my journey into intellectualism that I came to realize the absurdity of this genre. Nevertheless, I couldn’t then, and can’t now, ignore the popularity, and yes, societal impact these programs had on millions of American viewers, as well as fans the world over. This list highlights some of the best of them.
#15. As the World Turns / CBS / 1956 -2010
This soapy soap was created Irna Phillips in 1956 as a spin-off/sister show to another legendary soap, The Guiding Light. This show appeared on television sets across America for the better part of 50 years! Which gives the phrase ‘show of a lifetime’ some context, and places it among the longest running shows of all-time.
#14. Knots Landing / CBS / 1979 -1993
This soap was a popular and predictable family drama spin-off, of the national obsession primetime soap, Dallas. It followed the lives of four married couples, and cul-de-sac neighbors as they lived their melodramatic lives in 1980’s-1990’s suburban Los Angeles.
#13. Santa Barbara / NBC / 1984 – 1993
Did you know famous film actors such as Robin Wright Penn, and Leonardo DiCaprio performed in this soap? True story. The plot revolved around the lives and times of the Capwell family and their dramatic feuds with their rivals, the Lockridge family. The city of Santa Barbara was never big enough for these families, or any of the others.
#12. Melrose Place / FOX / 1992 – 1999
Creator Darren Star’s primetime soap Melrose Place was a monster hit, with the location being as big a star as any of the actors. The plot line follows the glamorous, and sometimes ridiculous lives of a strikingly good looking group of 20 and 30 somethings as they co-habited an apartment complex named ‘Melrose Place’ located in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The beautiful women and hunky men were an easy mask for this insufferable weekly melodrama. Stars such as Heather Locklear, Alyssa Milano, Brian Austin Green, and Courtney Thorne-Smith carried this show to great soap opera heights.
#11. Falcon Crest / CBS / 1981 – 1990
Viewers were given a whimsical look inside the California wine industry and the wealthy families involved in it, on Falcons Crest. The weekly feuds between the Gioberti and Channing families brought viewers back time and again (227 times) to get a glimpse.
#10. The Bold and the Beautiful / CBS / 1987 – Current
Bold and Beautiful was created for CBS by William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell as a spin-off/sister show to the popular ‘Young and the Restless‘ property. This show was set in, you guessed it, Los Angeles, with some of the characters from ‘Y &R’ crossing over. The plot line followed the Forrester family and the issues surrounding their successful fashion empire, Forrester Creations.
#9. The Young and the Restless / CBS / 1973 – 2012
The ‘Young and the Restless‘ metropolitan characters of fictional Genoa City, Wisconsin were indeed young, and certainly restless. Beautiful also, with stars like Eva Longoria, Shemar Moore, and Tatyana Ali having made their contributions to the cast over time. The plot line followed the trials and tribulations between families of ‘haves’, the Brooks family, pitted against the ‘have not as much’ working class family, the Fosters.
#8. Beverly Hills 90210 / FOX / 1990 – 2000
Beverly Hills 90210 was a worldwide smash hit at the peak of it’s popularity. Many of it’s young actors went on to have very successful careers post zip code melodrama. Including Hillary Swank, Shannen Doherty, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, and Luke Perry. This show followed the lives of upscale suburban Beverly Hills High teenagers (and one James Dean type outsider). Throughout the 1990’s and into 2000, the drama in and around the Walsh family was irresistible.
#7. The Guiding Light / CBS / 1952 – 2009 *Longest Running Soap Opera of all time.
The Guiding Light is currently listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running drama in American television history. In other words, it ran for exactly 57 years. Meaning that a person could have been born, gotten married, and watched the continuing storyline(s) with their grandchildren. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
#6. One Life to Live / ABC / 1968 – 2012
One life to Live was created by Created by Agnes Nixon for ABC television. What made it significant was it’s groundbreaking use and/or portrayal of ethnic characters. In addition it made the leap into portraying characters of varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and spoke to social issues of the day. If for nothing else, kudos to One Life to Live.
#5. General Hospital / ABC / 1968 – Present
General Hospital. Alright, ready for this? It is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running American soap opera in production. Also as the third longest-running drama in American television history. In addition, it is the world’s third longest-running scripted drama series in production. Did you get all of that? The plot line revolves around…you guessed it, a hospital.
#4. All my Children / ABC / 1970 – 2011
Truth be told, this show was my mothers personal favorite. I have her to thank for the reason I am familiar with Susan Lucci. Was it great? Probably. For a soap opera. It was for a time the most widely recorded show in the United States, and in the 1978-1979 season it was ranked No. 1 in the daytime Nielsen ratings. It was created by Agnes Nixon, and set in the fictional suburb of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania.
#3. Days of Our Lives / NBC / 1965 – 2013
The popularity of Days of Our Lives is palpable, it is one of the longest-running scripted television series in the history of the world. It aired every day of the week from 1965 until 2013. It also holds the distinction of being syndicated in dozens of countries. So, yes it was very popular with the kiddies. Husband and wife co-creators Ted and Betty Corday have a lot to be proud of with the success of this soap.
#2. Dallas / CBS / 1978 – 1991
Did we ever find out who in fact, shot J.R.? Sure we did. In fact the 1980 Dallas ‘Who Done It’ episode continues to sit as the second highest rated prime-time episode, ever. Who can forget the Ewing family? All of that oil wealth made for devilishly greedy, self centered characters that American audiences couldn’t get enough of, seemingly ever. Larry Hagman was perfectly cast as J.R. and he truly seemed to enjoy being the man everyone loved to hate. Someone did shoot him, right?
#1. Dynasty / ABC / 1981 – 1989
No primetime soap opera encapsulated the greed, excess, and gross consumerism of the 1980’s better than Dynasty. The Carringtons were unapologetically wealthy and they loved to flaunt it at every turn. Created by Richard and Esther Shapiro for ABC primetime, Dynasty did not disappoint. Neither did the performances from stars such as John Forsythe, Linda Evans, and Joan Collins. Dynasty did more than hold it’s own against it’s competitor Dallas, as it was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series every calendar year from 1981 to 1986. It took home the award in 1984.