Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Soap Operas, When and Where Did They Start?

Susan Lucci, Actress, Television HostFor the longest time, there has been a certain type of programming that launched many an actors career. This particular programming has been around for a very long time, first on radio, then on television. It has been around since the early 1930’s when it began as a way to reach an underserved niche. You might be wondering what I’m talking about but the minute I mention soap opera’s you’d know.

Back in the 1930’s, both the networks and advertisers realized there was an underserved market available. There were thousands of women who spent the day working around the house. Many had husbands who worked at an office everyday while their children attended school. So WGN-AM out of Chicago started the first “Soap Opera” by broadcasting Clara, Lu, and Em on June 16, 1930. The show was made up of three friends who began the show at Northwestern University but were encouraged to approached the radio station. At first they did it for free but then Colgate Palmolive provided support of the show and in 1932, it moved to daytime to reach the female market.

Then one of WGN’s female staff writers created a 15 minute radio show about the family titled Painted Dreams. This same writer also started several different programs including a couple for other stations because of disagreements with WGN.

Since the targeted audience for these shows were the housewife, various laundry soap producers supported them through advertising a variety of cleaning products. Through the history of soap operas, cleaning products provided the main support financially for these shows.

In addition to Irna Phillips creating lots of early shows, Anne Hummert and her husband also created a company to produce radio serials including Ma Perkins, a show where the lead character is a widow who dispensed advice to her family and friends who needed it. The Hummerts produced shows that lasted into the 1960’s while others had a limited run. Anne typed over two million words a year and used voice talents to produce these shows.

Irna Phillips is credited with creating the style of the modern soap opera with music used to transition from scene to scene, writing “cliff hangers” so people would return for the next episode just to find out what happened. She also created The Guiding Light, a show that ran for 15 years on the radio and another 57 years on television. The original show was based on her early life and her experiences with the People’s Church in Chicago. Her last show The Brighter Day” survived the transition to television but due to its overtly religious themes never acquired high ratings.

It took a while for soap operas to transition to television because the stations preferred to concentrate on prime time programming. When they did start daytime programming, they used news and variety shows. It wasn’t until 1950, they finally had the first television soap opera premier and it was a success because within 10 years, all radio soaps had been dropped and they focused only on television shows.

Eventually, there were a ton of daytime soap operas which still offered cleaning products to women who could see how great they were. Unfortunately, as more women entered the job market, the number of viewers dropped and soap operas went off the air until there are only a few left. According to the Soap Opera Ratings people, there are only four soap operas left and and their viewership is continuing to drop Most soap operas have been replaced by talk shows, court shows, and the occasional news show.

One of these days I’ll look at the soap operas who set records for being on television. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear. Have a great day.

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