Scene from As the World Turns

Daytime dramas have been around since the beginning of television.  At the height of their popularity, there were more than a dozen of them appearing on only three networks.  Today, there are only four of them left.  The very long running serials As the World Turns, One Life to Live, Guiding Light and All My Children have been cancelled in the last few years. They have been replaced mostly with talk shows.   

At one time it would have been unthinkable to wonder if daytime dramas will eventually become a thing of that past, but the above mentioned cancellations have shown that no drama is safe.  Two of them had been on the air since the 1950s.  I think it is unlikely that they will entirely disappear in the next few years.  However, it's possible that they might all be gone at some point.  

The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital are the daytime serials currently on TV.  It seems to be out of the question that any new ones will be made.  Other types of programs are a lot cheaper to produce. Those of us who still like to watch these shows have to hope they don't permanently end some day.

Why Daytime Dramas Aren't As Popular As They Used To Be

There are a few reasons why daytime dramas aren't as popular as they were several years ago.  Probably the main reason is because we live in an age where there are literally hundreds of channels to choose from.  The last twenty years in particular has seen a very rapid growth in cable channels.  

With so many choices now, even prime time TV programs have lost a lot of viewers over the years.  When NBC, CBS and ABC were about the only choices we had, popular evening shows often had an audience of at least twenty million.   Now a series is a success if it can draw half that number, and there are a lot more people watching TV.  Major events like the Super Bowl still have a huge audience, but not much else these days.  

These dramas likely have a lot less appeal to younger viewers than they did a couple of decades ago.  Many of them likely prefer other programming instead.  In recent years there have been many reality shows, and this is a trend that will likely continue.  I personally don't like those programs at all, but they are cheap to produce, and many of them get great ratings.  

The History of Soap Operas

Soap operas had their beginnings on the radio.  The genre proved to be popular, so when television started in the 1940s it made a lot of sense to include these dramas.

The very first one to be televised was called Faraway Hill.  Guiding Light started on the radio in the late 1930s and moved to TV in 1952.  It was cancelled in 2009, and holds the record as being the longest running TV program of all time.  

For several years the shows were limited to fifteen minutes.  Commercials targeted the viewing audience, which at that time was almost entirely women at home.  As a result, most advertising was for detergents, laundry soaps and so on.  This is how they ended up with the nickname of soap opera.  

Organ music was used and the early dramas were filmed live in New York.  As time went on, they became half hour programs, and eventually the organ was replaced by other music.  

The genre was particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s.  Another World made a daring move by being the first to add another half hour of programming each day.  Producing an hourly show five days a week must have been  a daunting challenge.  However, it wasn't long before most other serials that were on at the time also made the change.   A few remained with 30 minute episodes, including The Bold and the Beautiful, which remains on CBS today.  

For a brief period Another World went to an hour and a half, but this experiment didn't last long.  

Serials on Prime Time Television

There were several evening dramas that followed a similar format and were very successful. These were known as the prime time soaps.

Peyton Place was the first one and was considered quite scandalous at the time.  It looks quite tame now, but 1960s programs did not typically include topics that were common with this show.  

In the late 1970s, Knots Landing had its debut, followed shortly after by Dallas.  The 1980s were the most successful years for evening soaps.  The Dallas episode that revealed who shot J.R. Ewing was one of the most watched episodes ever.   In addition to Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest were also on.

All of these shows had characters that were fabulously wealthy.  Since they were evening dramas, they had much larger budgets to work with.  As a result, they had much more elaborate sets and did some filming on location.  This was one huge advantage the prime time dramas had over their daytime counterparts.  

Today, we really don't see this type of programming, although to some extent Scandal and Revenge could be considered serials.  There also is an updated version of Dallas that features a few of the original cast members. It's on the cable channel TNT.  

50th Anniversary For General Hospital

General Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, and The Young and the Restless celebrated its 40th.  These shows still have a loyal audience, although certainly they don't have nearly as many viewers as they did even just a few years ago.

For those of us who still enjoy these serials, the characters seem almost like family. It's not unusual for actors to remain with a program for many years.  Susan Lucci was Erika Kane from 1970 until All My Children ended a few years ago.  Jeanne Cooper, who passed away in 2013, played Katherine Chancellor on Young and Restless for almost 40 years.  A successful show must have characters that the audience cares about, and that certainly has been the case for daytime dramas.  

Some of the stories are quite far fetched, but the same can be said about almost every other drama on TV.  We watch programs to be entertained, not necessarily to learn something new. It's a harmless escape.   I believe there is a place for this type of entertainment, at least for the next several years hopefully.  Those of us who grew up with daytime soaps and still watch them today would miss them very much.