Do you watch soap operas? Based on the numbers, there’s a good chance that you don’t. Only four are still running in the traditional sense, but if you closely examine the medium and its evolution, you might change your answer. ABC’s new primetime special, The Story of Soaps, is here to clear a few things up.
During the two-hour event, you’ll meet big name actors who got their start on a soap opera, as well as some famous fans of the format. Bryan Cranston (Loving), Alec Baldwin (Knott’s Landing), Vivica A. Fox (Days of our Lives), and John Stamos (General Hospital) are a few examples. You’ll also hear from some stars of the genre who have stayed with it throughout their careers, including the most famous soap opera actress, Susan Lucci. ABC fanatics are in for an abundance of cast members from their only soap opera still running, General Hospital, including Genie Francis, Laura Wright, Marc Samuel, Maurice Benard, Greg Vaughn, and Donna Mills.
As a fan of TV, The Story of Soaps is a fascinating exploration of a genre that has evolved and inspired the most binge-worthy shows of the modern era. On top of that, it’s also a fabulous look at a format that was designed to appeal to women to sell them household essentials (like soap!) that ended up becoming run by women, for women. As cheesy as the stereotypes of the format are, it was more groundbreaking than it gets credit for.
In the two-hour special, viewers will walk through the evolution of the soap opera from a radio serial to a daytime TV show that housewives looked forward to and how Title IX changed it all in the 1970’s. You’ll discover why OJ Simpson is credited with the rapid decline of interest in soaps in the 1990’s and how reality TV stole its thunder. And once you have a better understanding of the tropes, you’ll come to realize that most of the big shows on TV today are in fact a derivation of the soap opera.
Another interesting highlight of the special is how soap operas were able to use the daily news cycle to inspire relevant storylines that approached issues that were hard to talk about. Because they filmed so close to the air date, they were able to touch on a topic well before primetime could. Long before the Me Too Movement, soap operas were telling stories about rape, harassment, and abortion. No issue was too big, including racism, homosexuality, cancer, AIDS, and eating disorders.
What The Story of Soaps leaves you with is a deeper appreciation for the art of the soap opera and the women in television who pulled the strings. It’s an important part of television history and viewers will appreciate the artistry that went into producing the equivalent of a theatrical film per day to get out five episodes per week. For Disney fans, there are a few shots of “Super Soap Weekend” as well during a discussion about the fandom.
I give The Story of Soaps 4 out of 5 mustache tattoos on a finger on a clapboard.
The Story of Soaps airs Tuesday, May 19th, at 9:00 pm on ABC.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.