"Soaps" have been around since the 1930s when Proctor & Gamble produced 15-minute episodes of love and drama for radio. Allegedly, the term "soap opera" was coined because these shows were sponsored by a company that made cleansers.
By the early 1950s, soap operas had switched over to television, and daytime TV had no shortage of offerings. As you'll see, captivating story lines and characters are the keys to longevity on daytime television. If you're curious about the shortest-running soap, it was NBC's These Are My Children, which lasted only 24 days in 1949. But for the longest-running soap operas, see the next page to get started.
(The) Guiding Light (1952-????)
Not only is Guiding Light the longest-running soap, at more than 15,000 episodes (and still going), it is also the longest-running non-news program in U.S. television history. Like many of the oldest soaps, Guiding Light began in 1937 as a radio program before making the transition to television on June 30, 1952. Originally, the soap took place in the fictional town of Five Points, then Selby Flats, and revolved around the Bauer family. Now, it's the Spauldings, Coopers, and Lewises who are in the limelight. During the 1960s, "The" was dropped from the show's title to make it sound more contemporary. One of the show's more bizarre story lines involved cloning longtime character Reva Lewis from one of her own frozen eggs! Once the clone was born, she was given aging serum so that she would grow up fast. But she was evil and attempted to take Reva's place.
As the World Turns (1956-????)
Set in Oakdale, a fictional Midwestern town, As the World Turns has been immensely popular since it debuted on April 2, 1956. The show is more reality-based than other soaps, but people do come back from the dead and children grow up far faster than in real life, as is the norm for the soap world. The first soap opera to use a two-family setup, As the World Turns pitted a middle-class family against a wealthy, but troubled, family. The Hughes family remains as the middle-class hero, but the wealthy family that was originally the Lowells is now the Munsons. After more than 13,000 episodes, the world is still turning, and this soap is still going strong.
General Hospital (1963-????)
Named the "Greatest Soap Opera of all Time" by TV Guide in 2003, General Hospital has won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Drama series nine times -- more than any other soap! General Hospital began its run on ABC on April 1, 1963, the very same day that NBC launched its rival medical drama The Doctors. Today, the show revolves around the Spencers, the Cassidines, mobster Sonny Corinthos, and the wealthy Quartermaine family.
The pairing of adventuresome Luke and Laura in the late 1970s sparked the trend of the soap opera super couple. Set in fictional Port Charles, New York, most scenes take place at the docks, or, where else . . . General Hospital. Throughout the show's history, General Hospital has been a jumping-off point for several notable performers, including Demi Moore, Rick Springfield, John Stamos, and Ricky Martin.
Days of Our Lives (1965-????)
"Like sands through the hourglass . . ." faithful viewers have been watching Days of Our Lives since it debuted on November 8, 1965. Days takes place in the fictional midwestern town of Salem, with most scenes shot at University Hospital or the Brady Pub. Today, Salem is home to the respectable Horton and Brady families, as well as the evil DiMeras. Since the show debuted more than 40 years ago, matriarch Alice Horton has been portrayed by award-winning actor Frances Reid. In the 1980s, the "Salem Stalker" and "Salem Slasher" brought romantic adventure to the forefront, while in the 1990s, Dr. Marlena Evans-Black (Deidre Hall) was possessed by the devil.
One Life to Live (1968-????)
When One Life to Live originally aired on July 15, 1968, the wealthy Lord family was pitted against the middle-class Woleks and Rileys and the Siegels, the first Jewish family on a daytime drama. Now it's the Buchanans, Rapaports, Gannons, and Cramers who see most of the action. They live in Llanview, Pennsylvania, a fictional suburb of Philadelphia. Llanview residents have seen cults, time travel, and out-of-body experiences. Incidentally, Llanview is only a 30-minute drive from another fictional soap town: All My Children's Pine Valley. As such, there have been several story line crossovers since both soaps are on ABC.
All My Children (1970-????)
The brainchild of soap opera creator, writer, and producer Agnes Nixon, All My Children has been taking risks since its introduction on January 5, 1970. Set in fictional Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, this soap deals with serious issues and over the years has broached such controversial topics as abortion, drugs, homosexuality, rape, and even the Vietnam War. One of only two actors who have remained on the show for its entire run, Susan Lucci was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for 18 years in a row without a win for her role as Erica Kane. But Lucci was finally victorious in 1999.
The Young and the Restless (1973-????)
The Young and the Restless took to the small screen on March 26, 1973, and more than 10,000 episodes later, it shows no signs of letting up. Home for Y&R characters is Genoa City, Wisconsin, a fictional version of a real village. The TV town is a hotbed of corporate intrigue and grandeur, pitting two wealthy families -- the Newmans and the Abbotts -- against each other.
One of Y&R's most outrageous characters, Sheila Carter Grainger Forrester Warwick (Kimberlin Brown) has switched babies, tried to burn her own mother alive, used paternity results as blackmail, shot people, lived in a mental institution, and escaped from a mental institution by convincing someone to have plastic surgery and take her place. She is currently presumed dead, but in soap world that means nothing -- look for her to menace again! With story lines like that, it's no wonder that Y&R has held the top spot in the ratings war since 1988.
Search for Tomorrow (1951-1986)
For the show's entire run, from September 3, 1951 to December 26, 1986, Search for Tomorrow followed the life of heroine Joanne Gardner. Joanne and her friends lived in the fictional town of Henderson, and many scenes took place at her kitchen table over a cup of coffee. In the mid-1980s, in a last-ditch attempt to bring up ratings before cancellation, the entire town was wiped out in a flood, but even that didn't do the trick. By 1986, NBC decided that searching for tomorrow wasn't nearly as exciting as juicy topics like government scandals, so after 9,130 episodes, the soap was axed in favor of a glitzy new show called Capitol.
Another World (1964-1999)
The subject of abortion isn't exactly unheard of today, but in 1964, it was groundbreaking to say the least. During its first year on the air, Another World came on strong with a bold and risky story line in which a teen has an illegal abortion and ends up a sterile, acquitted murderer who marries her lawyer. In the early days, Another World, which is set in the fictional town of Bay City, started out pitting a middle-class branch and an upper-class branch of the Matthews family against each other. Later, the Randolph, Cory, and Hudson families became part of the show's fabric, but in 1999, after 8,891 episodes, Another World was canceled.
Love of Life (1951-1980)
When Love of Life first aired on September 24, 1951, it did not take commercial breaks. The show was owned by a company called American Home Products and licensed to CBS, so there was no need to break for commercials. Goods from American Home Products were hawked either before or after the show.
The show was first set in fictional Barrowsville, then it moved to suburban Rosehill, New York. The show revolved around the relationship between the good Vanessa Dale and her evil sister Meg Dale Harper. Christopher Reeve's first major role was that of Meg's son Ben Harper, from 1974 to 1976. After ratings plummeted, the show ended abruptly with a cliffhanger on February 1, 1980, and since the show was canceled, fans were really left hanging . . . forever.
The Edge of Night (1956-1984)
From its debut on April 2, 1956, through the 1960s, The Edge of Night was consistently one of the top-ranking soaps on television. Known for its well-staged action sequences shot on location rather than on sets, most of the show's story lines took place in the fictional town of Monticello and centered around Assistant District Attorney Mike Karr and his love interest Sarah Lane. In 1978, The Edge of Night's audience was nearly 50 percent male! This is probably because the soap didn't have a traditional love and drama theme; it was intended to be a daytime version of Perry Mason. After bouncing around different networks and time slots, the show was canceled for good in December 1984, after more than 7,400 episodes.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen