What Daytime Soap Operas are best asks Work at Home Grandma.
Can the Soap Opera Be Saved?
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I recently read an announcement that the classic soap opera – The Doctors was returning to Retro TV. I recall the acting was so outstanding it stood out in my memory.
The Doctors ran on NBC from 1963 to1982 spanning 19 years and 5,280 episodes. It won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Daytime Drama in 1971, 1972 and 1974. The show commanded a wide array of talent which is part of the reason it will be so fascinating to watch it again. The shows storylines revolved around the hospital chief of staff, Matthew Powers, played by James Pritchett. Actress Elizabeth Hubbard was his acting counterpart and many might know her as Lucinda on As the World Turns.
The Doctors launched the careers of some of our most prominent and successful actors of today. A partial listing includes Alec Baldwin, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Ted Danson, Terry O’Quinn, Brook Shields and Kathleen Turner.
I decided to do some research on the daytime soap operas in general and discovered a lot of fascinating trivia. There is an incredible array of very well known actors who had their debut on a daytime soap opera.
We have had our prime time soap operas such as 90210, Dallas, Knots Landing, Desperate Housewives and the current Vampire Diaries or Grey’s Anatomy. Many laugh at the term “soap opera” but in fact most prime time series today seem to continue from week to week blending in facts and events from previous shows (The Blacklist comes to mind) which make it virtually impossible to get the full enjoyment without having watched all the shows in the season. The writers reel in their unsuspecting viewers at the premier episode and keep them watching week to week to find out what happens. Then they follow it with a season finale again enticing viewers to tune in to the fall premier. We are really watching a form of soap opera all the time. Shows which encompass one episode on a stand-alone basis appear to be a thing of the past.
The daytime soap opera began as early as 1937 and there are still four of them running today. There were actually over 30 soap operas on the air at one time or another. You may recall some of them and they may have some special memories for you as they did me. Be sure to let me know in your comments if I’ve missed any.
The Longest Running Soap Opera - Guiding Light
The first daytime drama began on the radio in 1937 and ran for fifteen minutes. In 1952 it made its debut on television and its final episode was September 18, 2009. It was the fourth longest running program in broadcast history on the air for 72 years. As a child, I watched the show about the Bauer Family and grew up with Mike and Ed Bauer. I can still hear Papa Bauer admonishing “Bertha” after Bill’s death. She had lost her husband and didn’t know how to be a single mother.
Trivia first: Guiding Light was the first show to introduce an African American in 1966
The show was created by the greats: Irna Phillips, Agnes Nixon and Douglas Marland and ran on CBS. It launched the careers of Kevin Bacon, James Earl Jones, Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney and Cicely Tyson to name just a few. It won three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Daytime Drama.
So much of what was portrayed in the daytime era was true in the lives of those watching the show. Just as today we live our own fantasies and relive our own nightmares as we watch our heroes and heroines fight to survive.
Mother’s Favorite - As the World Turns
In 1956 I was eleven years old and often sat watching As the World Turns with my mother. It was all about Penny and Bob; Don and Lisa and of course Chris and Nancy. I remember them all and sat in amazement at the graceful aging of the actors portraying these complex characters. Eileen Fulton always comes to mind when I think of aging gracefully. She never lost her flare and zest for Lisa Hughes.
I often think of the talented actors that I watched on the show during its run of 54 years. Created by Irna Phillips the show again comprised all the complexities of life that we all live through but brought the warmth and depth of feeling to all its characters. Maura West and Roger Howarth didn’t join the show until its later years but their incredible acting was a fascination that is now enjoyed again on General Hospital today. I will never forget the outstanding performances of Mark Pinter and Colleen Zenk as well as Don Hastings and Kathryn Hayes.
The show won a total of 82 Emmys, four of them for Outstanding Daytime Drama and launched the careers of Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, and Jason Biggs.
My Favorite – Another World
Created by Irna Phillips and Bill Bell, Another World was hands down my favorite soap. There was just something about the show that pulled me in. I was a teenager in 1961 and the romance of Steven Frame (George Reinholt) and Alice Matthews (Jacqueline Courtney) was like watching a fairytale to me. I hated mean old Rachel (then played the incomparable Robin Strasser) Later when Victoria Wyndham took over the role Rachel was suddenly a little nicer and even tolerable at times. Vicki took the role and made it her own. She changed Rachel into the heroine she would be until the show’s end in 1999.
I even sat through the re-runs on the Soap Network and was again devastated when that too ended. I recall when Douglass Watson died suddenly in 1989 and it had to be written into the script. I cried right along with the family as I did when Victoria Wyndham gave a tribute to him at the Emmys shortly thereafter. Who could ever forget Felicia Gallant played so dramatically by Linda Dano? I can still see her sitting at the typewriter with her red boa strung around her neck and pecking away finger by finger with her long nails tapping one key at a time.
Another World was ahead of its time and had many notable firsts in daytime.
First to talk about abortion
First crossover with other soaps
First hour long soap to go to 90 minutes
First to launch two spin-offs – Texas and Somerset
First to have a celebrity sing their theme song. Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris sang their hit song Another World which reached number four on the Billboard Hot Country Singles. The song was used in the opening show credits. Crystal Gayle also appeared on the show as herself.
Sadly, Another World was canceled in 1999 but not before launching the careers of such acting greats as Ray Liotta, Kelsey Grammer, Morgan Freeman, Charles Durning, Lindsay Lohan, Rue McClanahan, Alicia Coppla, Kyra Sedgwick, Susan Sullivan, Mark Valley, Brad Pitt and Anne Heche. Along with its 43 other Emmy wins, Another World received an Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama in 1976.
Passions ran from 1999 to 2008 and much to the dismay of fans replaced Another World. Created by James Reilly, Passions had a flair for the paranormal. Along with this dalliance into the world of physic phenomenon came the reprisal of two characters from the TV series, Bewitched: Dr. Bombay played by Bernard Fox and Esmerelda played by Alice Ghostley.
All Those Hits Long Forgotten
The Edge of Night
It ran on CBS from 1956 to 1984. Based on the fictional city of Monticello, the story revolved around District Attorney Mike Carr and his aggressive stance against crime. The show won an Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama and brought us one of the all time great actors, Larry Hagman.
Love of Life
This show ran on CBS from 1951-1980. Some unique trivia about this one is that it is the only daytime drama to air without commercial interruptions as all advertising was done at the beginning and ending of each episode. The soap opera launched the career of Christopher Reeve and ended its run on February 1, 1980, with a cliffhanger episode. Seems it was befitting considering it set the stage for one of the most immortalized actors of all time.
Search for Tomorrow
The series ran on CBS from 1951-1986. This daytime soap starred the unstoppable Mary Stuart. As the show did not have glamour of big city life, it was axed by CBS in 1982 to put Capitol in its place. Although NBC picked up the show for an additional four years it aired its final episode in December 1986. Some of the actors launching their careers during the 35 year run included Don Knotts, Ken Kercheval, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Kline, Morgan Fairchild, Kevin Bacon, Olympia Dukakis, and Viggo Mortensen.
Its run was short lived running from 1982 to 1987 but spring-boarded the careers of Teri Hatcher, Carolyn Jones and Tammy Wynette.
The Secret Storm
It ran on CBS from 1954 to 1974 and took place in the fictional community of Woodbridge, New York. In the movie, Mommie Dearest, you will see Joan Crawford taking her daughter’s place due to Christina’s illness. The incident really happened and Joan’s alcoholic problems had a great impact on her acting ability in the soap opera.
The story of an Irish American family ran on ABC from 1975 to 1989. Ilene Kristen is currently reprising her role as Delia from Ryan’s Hope and appearing on General Hospital.
Created by two of the greats, Douglas Marland and Agnes Nixon this soap opera originated as a two hour Sunday night movie on ABC. The character Cesar Faison played by Anders Hove originated on Loving and is still a part of the cast on General Hospital today. Loving ran from 1983 to 1995.
It ran from 1995 to 1997 and was supposed to pick up where Loving left off but sadly the show only survived less than three years.
This popular drama aired from July 1984 to January 1993 on NBC and during its prime it ran in over 40 countries. It received three Emmys for Outstanding Daytime Drama. The show was bogged down by constant cast changes and numerous re-casts were unavoidable. Every cast member but Eden, Lionel and Augusta was eventually re-cast contributing to poor ratings and thus the cancellation of the show in 1993.
Somerset / Texas
These soaps were spin-offs of Another World and both having limited runs of two and four years.
An unexpected triumph – Dark Shadows
This gothic story of vampires, ghosts and curses ran for 30 minutes from 1966 to 1971. Barnabas Collins was exquisitely played by Jonathan Frid. The character was originally scheduled for only a few episodes but when the creators made Barnabas into an anti-hero everything changed and the show quickly grew in popularity.
Due to expensive video editing, scenes were often shot in one take leaving room for flubbed and forgotten lines, broken props and crew members walking into shots. For over a year the cast wasn’t even allowed to use the word “vampire” on screen but only referred to Barnabas as “walks at night or one of the undead”.
Surprisingly, like the cult following received by Star Trek for its short three year run, Dark Shadows ranks as number 19 in the TV Guide Top 25 Cult Shows Ever.
Short Lived Dramas
The daytime soap opera was a thriving genre once about a time and many forums were tried and many failed. There were many dramas that should be mentioned when talking about daytime soaps.
The Brighter Day 1954 -1962
Created by Irna Phillips it ran a mere 15 minutes until four months before its cancellation. Its hero was a minister – Reverend Richard Dennis. The show gave us another great actor – Hal Holbrook.
Where the Heart Is 1969 – 1973
Love is a Many Splendored Thing 1967 – 1973
From These Roots 1958 – 1961
Bright Promise 1969 – 1972
A World Apart 1969 – 1971
Sunset Beach 1997 – 1999
Generations 1989 - 1991
Susan Lucci Wins Emmy
The Great ABC Tragedy
In 2011 ABC announced the cancellation of two of its most beloved daytime soap operas: All My Children and One Life to Live
ABC replaced the Daytime Soap Operas with lifestyle shows, one of which was canceled just months after its debut (The Revolution). General Hospital was moved up to sandwich in between The Chew and Katy Couric’s new talk show, but it didn’t help the ratings and Couric’s show has also been canceled.
Amongst the flutter of the stunned soap opera world came rumblings of reprieve, web broadcastings and reprisal for the two canceled soaps. Unfortunately both shows did finally leave the airways and have yet to be revived in web broadcasting. Amid numerous legal entanglements, the end of two of the greatest and best loved shows became a sad reality.
All My Children
The story of Erica Kane and all her many husbands would seem an ample description of one being on the outside looking in. It was the one soap opera I never really watched but was fully invested in the superb talent it offered to the screen.
In 1999 Susan Lucci finally won her Emmy Award for Outstanding Leading Actress after being nominated 19 times. The event was breathtaking.
Created by the talented Agnes Nixon, All My Children ran from 1970 to 2011 and comprised an acting ensemble of incomparable talent garnering them the Outstanding Daytime Drama Emmy three times. They will be missed for a very long time.
One Life to Live
Since 1968 until 2012 the story of the Lord family kept us riveted in our seats telling stories of rich and middle class and how the two intertwined to keep us tuning in week after week for 44 years. One of my favorite storylines was watching Victoria Lord don her alter ego Nicki and all hell broke in the world of Llanview, PA.
Not only was the show’s talent extraordinary with such greats as Erika Slezak and Robin Strasser, but the show gave us such acting giants as Judith Light and Tommy Lee Jones.
One Life to Live received an Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama during its run on network television. Erika Slezak received the most awards for Outstanding Daytime Actress in a leading role than any other female performer.
Daytime Dramas of Today
Barring further cancellation the final four daytime dramas remain alive and well, each of them offering a unique representation of the genre.
The Young and the Restless
This number one rated daytime drama has been running on CBS since 1973. Created by William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell, the show takes place in Genoa City, Wisconsin and stars Eric Braeden as Victor Newman, the egotistical entrepreneur, a self-made business magnate who rules his business and family with an iron fist.
The show recently lost one of the great actresses of daytime television, Jeanne Cooper who starred as Katherine Chancellor since the show’s inception. Her death was written into the show as a tribute to her enduring devotion to her peers and her fans. She brought tremendous empathy to the screen with her portrayal of alcohol abuse and plastic surgery, both of which were a part of her own life.
The Young and the Restless originally began with the Foster Family with William Gray Espy as Snapper followed by David Hasselhoff who made the role his own. Years after leaving the show David reprised his role as Dr. William “Snapper” Foster in 2011. Hasselhoff has suffered for years with a documented addiction to alcohol but he still made an effort to give back to his roots and the show that gave him his career.
The Young and the Restless has remained the number one show in the ratings for the past 20 years and has won eight Emmys for Outstanding Daytime Drama.
The Bold and the Beautiful
First airing March 23, 1987 on CBS the daytime drama is only 30 minutes in length yet easily brings to the screen all the splendor of an hour long show.
The show’s storyline focuses on the trials and tribulations of the beautiful and wealthy men and women who comprise the fashion world of Beverly Hills.
I cannot say enough about the recent retirement of Susan Flannery from the show. The woman is a consummate actress of the greatest caliber and the show will never be the same without her presence.
Created by William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell the Bold and the Beautiful has received 83 Emmy wins, three of them for Outstanding Daytime Drama.
Days of our Lives
Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives. The famous quotation by MacDonald Carey still opens this daytime soap opera just as it has for 49 years. In its debut in 1965 the show was only 30 minutes long but in 1975 was expanded to an hour.
The voice over by Carey that opens the show was kept as a tribute to the actor who died in 1994. After Carey’s passing, Frances Reid remained the matriarch of the show until 2007. Her passing in 2010 was written into the show.
Days of our Lives was the very first soap opera I watched while I was off work and pregnant with my first child. It introduced me to the world of daytime drama on my own level and I quickly bonded with the characters just as my own mother had done years before with Guiding Light and As the World Turns, both classics in their own right.
Some worthwhile trivia on Days boasts of it being the longest running soap opera on NBC. Deidre Hall and Andre Hall were the first real life twins to play in a soap opera.
Deidre Hall has played Dr. Marlena Evans since 1976. She left the show in 1987 only to be lured back in 1991 with a promise she could serve as executive producer of a Days spin-off called "Manhattan Lives". This was contingent upon the cancellation of Another World but it never happened. Days itself has faced cancellation several times but has been pulled from the fire just in the nick of time.
This fall Alison Sweeney will leave the role of Samantha Brady after 21 years. Her on screen partner James Scott who plays EJ DiMera has also taped his final episode on the show. The duo will be greatly missed. Alison Sweeney currently appears on The Biggest Loser, is an accomplishment writer and will be directing on General Hospital.
Hands down the most popular and talked about daytime soap opera on the air. General Hospital has won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama eleven times in its 51 year history.
The story originated in 1963 telling the stories of nurse Jessie Brewer and Dr. Steven Hardy. It has since evolved into a bit of crime drama highlighting the character of mob leader, Sonny Corinthos and his family. Played expertly by Maurice Benard, the part of Sonny is one that could never be recast. In addition, Anthony Geary remains the only actor with the ability to pull off the character of Luke Spencer.
The show has gone from the stark reality of brain dead children to the science fiction of reviving frozen bodies. Yet it remains an intriguing and fascinating watch. The show was in trouble after its debut but when producer Gloria Monty came on board in late 1970’s everything changed from a hospital drama to one engaging the younger generation. Thus Luke and Laura were created. Luke and Laura will always be remembered for their famous wedding that took place in November 1981 and became the highest watched Daytime Soap Opera event garnering close to 30 million viewers.
Today the former producer and director of One Life to Live, producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati, have put General Hospital at the top of the ratings again.
The show had two spin offs during its run: Port Charles 1997 and General Hospital Night Shift 2007.
Not only is General Hospital the longest running dramatic serial on ABC and produced on the West Coast, it catapulted the careers of Demi Moore, Rick Springfield, and Ricky Martin.
Who can live without a good soap opera once a day or even once a week? Now with Hulu, Netflix, TiVo, etc. there is no excuse for not being able to watch daytime television even if you work full time. I certainly do not have the time to watch during the day but let me sink down into an easy chair about 9:00 p.m. and watch a good old American Soap Opera and I’ll take it.
As I’ve watched various ones over the years I have concluded there are the very best and very worst in the acting categories on every soap opera. After all, everyone needs to start someplace. There are, however, some actors that will be in their roles for life as no one could ever replace them. The list is probably too great to encompass everyone but the top of my list would be Eric Braeden, Susan Flannery, Tony Geary, Maurice Benard, Alison Sweeney and Deidre Hall. And of course the accomplished actress Jeanne Cooper; may she rest in peace.