Mar 5, 2012

Soap Operas, a thing of the past...

By 1930 Radio Networks and their Advertisers recognized the great potential of the Daytime market. It was reasoned that men would be away from home working, and Children either at school or playing. That left the housewife, by herself and she was a powerful market force.

WGN-AM, Chicago, is credited with the very first soap opera, Clara, Lu, and Em, premiering Jun 16, 1930. The act began as sorority sketch by three friends Louise Starkey (Clara), Isobel Carothers (Lu), and Helen King (Em), at Northwestern University; it was popular enough that friends suggested they take it to radio.The trio approached WGN and did the first shows without pay. Interest soon grew and Colgate-Palmolive soon took sponsorship. Originally broadcast in the evening, the show was moved to daytime on Feb 15, 1932.

The housewife was busy taking care of the home, and would have the radio on as company. Irna Phillips, an actress and staff writer for talk shows on WGN, Chicago, was given the assignment of creating a 15 minute daily show "about a family."The result was Painted Dreams, a story of Mother Moynihan and her unmarried daughter. Although originally un-sponsored, Phillips would add an engagement and wedding to the plot in order to maximize product tie-ins.

Painted Dreams enjoyed a good deal of success, but Phillips couldn't talk WGN management into taking it national. While she was suing for the ownership of the show (CBS was eventually the rights to the program) she created Today's Children for rival station WMAQ, which was an NBC affiliate. When Phillips' mother, the inspiration for the lead character, passed away, Irna insisted the show be discontinued. By now she was ready with Woman in White, the first daytime serial to be centered in a hospital.

Many critics begin by defining the soap opera by its sponsors. Indeed the target audience was the housewife, so marketing household and cleaning products towards her seems a natural fit. What is missing is the Operatic tradition within the name. Stories of wealth and glamour appealed to the housebound wife, and the use of serialization held the interest of the audience from day to day.

As time has gone by, Soap Operas as we use to know them are fading and will soon be gone... except on the 'Soap' Channel (if it's still on air). Replacing this genre is talk and reality... or as 'reality' is portrayed today on TV. 


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