Soap operas used to lord it over television until the introduction of reality shows in the likes of Real Housewives of Orange County, Big Brother and Survivor. TV viewers became interested on the luxurious lives of some wealthy women and they closely anticipated the final results of competitions.
Soap operas first emerged on American radio in the early 1930’s at the start of the Great Depression. It arguably started from Painted Dreams which was about the life of an Irish-American widow Mother Moynihan, her family and circle of friends.
Soap operas then were the most powerful advertising mediums and it was best described by James Thurber in 1948 as a kind of sandwich where between the thick slices of advertising were 12 minutes of dialogue. To add some spice to soap operas were predicament, villainy and female suffering with a dash of nobility, sprinkle of tears and organ music.
It took the best part of 35 years for soap opera to migrate to the UK. The first was BBC’s 1954 offering The Grove Family which was a clear response to the imminent arrival of television. Viewing episodes of the soap opera was rather strange experience because of the Home Counties accent that was definitely lower-middle-class.
When Coronation Street arrived six years later through iTV the soaps were transformed into what they are today with characters speaking in their strong regional accents that were stereotyped as working class. In Germany, Lime Street was modeled to a certain extent after Coronation Street and it became the first European soap opera that appeared outside the British Isles.
The scene is relatively different now because in the course of the past 10 years, US daytime shows have finally bitten the dust. The longest running TV show Guiding Light came to an end in 2009 after 19,000 episodes.
There were many reasons for the decline of soap operas. Audiences are fragmented because of the presence of more TV channels. Reality TV emerged such as Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity which was cheaper because they were not scripted. On demand TV has also taken its toll particularly among younger audiences.