Soap Opera

Joey: Well, I get the medical award for separating the Siamese twins. Then Amber and I go to Venezuela to meet our other half-brother, Ramone. And that's where I find the world's biggest emerald. It's really big—but it's cursed.
Chandler: God, that is good TV.
Friends, "The One Where Doctor Ramoray Dies"

A genre of storytelling that began on radio in the United States in the early 1930's, so named because its high drama was often interspersed with adverts for soap (Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of such products, was the sole sponsor and producer for many of them). But there's no soap radio anymore; with one exception, it has moved on to television. A soap opera is a drama with a large cast experiencing dramatic events in their day-to-day lives, usually broadcast five days a week. Designed to be viewed intermittently, so that a single event may be stretched over three or more days.

Death is not a big concern in the world of soaps (to the point that Friends, after Joey's brain was crushed on Days of Our Lives, joked that he could yet return, and he did), though most shows enjoy pretending that anybody can be snuffed out at any moment – particularly during a commercial or episode break. The truth is that contract re-negotiations are the leading cause of permanent death. Story progression often takes a backseat to what people actually want to see: cat fights and screaming matches and every imaginable configuration of characters sleeping with each other. These habits are widely mocked in other works whenever a soap appears or is mentioned.

There are two main schools of Soap Opera, the "Anglo" School, common to the USA, United Kingdom, and Australia; and the "Latin" School a.k.a. "Telenovela" or "Culebrón" (from "culebra", a word for "snake", which alludes to their length), which is the standard in almost every nation from Mexico southwards. The principal difference between the two schools is how long their continuous production runs: "Anglo" soaps are typically Long-Runners, easily extending themselves for years and even decades when successful (the record-holder being (The) Guiding Light, 1937-2009), while the longest "Latin" soap lasted four years, with the average time being six to ten months. This difference holds globally: for instance, Arabic soaps are quite obviously of the "Latin" School, running for short periods of time (sometimes even just one month: Ramadan, when the fasting requirement means viewers are frequently too tired during the day to do anything other than watch TV). Japanese, Korean, and other Asian dramas also resemble this school. On the other hand, German and other continental European soaps are typically of the "Anglo" school, lasting for years and years, although "Latin" format is not unheard of.

The main difference within the Anglo school is class – American soaps often feature filthy rich characters with big houses and glamorous clothing (think Dallas or Dynasty); Australian ones usually feature middle class suburban white people, often young and healthy (Neighbours, Sons and Daughters, Home and Away); while the British soaps are either lower-middle class (Brookside) or grimly and grimily working class (EastEnders, Coronation Street). These class divides are not 100% certain but tend to dominate: see, for example, The BBC's aspirationally luxurious Howard's Way, which lasted for several years but never achieved the public love that the "kitchen sink" soaps did. The feature common to all three flavours is that there is no one main character; rather, characters drift in and out of focus as the storylines go on. Some characters may be more memorable or have more influence on The 'Verse than others, but nobody can be said to be the protagonist. (See also: Soap Wheel.)

The Latin Soap Opera (a.k.a. the telenovela) has two main styles: the classical, or "pink", and the "modern". The first style centers on classic and melodramatic pure love stories with poor, Naïve Everygirl heroines that are often Too Dumb to Live, while the second tries to use resources from other genres and explore modern social issues without neglecting the love story side. Stereotypically, the pink telenovela is a Mexican and Venezuelan staple, the modern style is predominant in Colombia and Brazil (though Mexicans and Venezuelans occasionally try their hand at it), and Chilean telenovelas are a mix of both. In the United States, the telenovelas brought over to cater to the large (and growing) Spanish-speaking minority tend to be almost entirely of the "pink" variety. Curiously, a variant of the Latin school is also predominant in the Philippines that's partly influenced by Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean dramas.note  These historically tend to be similar to the pink style, though the current batch of series has experimented more towards the modern style, with emphasis towards class conflict, topics normally taboo to Philippine society, and an emphasis of teaching Christian values to the audience.

Spanish-speaking countries (and Portugese-speaking Brazil) often run their soaps in Prime Time, as do the Brits with their best soaps and favourite Aussie imports, and as do Australians themselves. By contrast, American stations traditionally quarantine soaps into a late-morning or early-afternoon timeslot. That said, daytime soaps were reliable moneyspinners for the American networks from the days of radio all the way into The '90s, and served as a career springboard for many actors and actresses who went on to great success in more "legit" film and TV productions.

Although classic soap operas originated in the United States, the genre there has undergone a severe decline to the point that many media watchers have declared it effectively though not quite actually dead. During the transition to The New '10s, four of the longest running and most successful soaps in history reached their finales – Guiding Light (the longest continuous narrative in human history) was cancelled in 2009 after 72 years; As the World Turns ended in 2010 after 54 years; All My Children ended in 2011 and One Life to Live ended in 2012, both having run for over 40 years. Those were the first, but not the last, casualties. There are several popular, somewhat interconnecting, theories as to why soaps have declined in America:
  • The first is the rise of women in the workforce, brought on by a combination of the feminist movement and massive economic upheaval. When soaps began, women were still primarily housewives who would be home during daytime, which has long been the domain of soaps in America (meaning they had a potential audience of nearly half the American adult population). However, as more and more households became dual-income or woman-primarynote , there simply weren't as many people home to watch. One potential sign of this is that the most successful current daytime soap is The Young and the Restless, which runs most often in a 12:30 timeslot, when people who work a typical 9-to-5 job will be able to tune in during their lunch break.
  • The second is that the TV landscape in general has inverted in America. Originally, soaps were allowed to be edgy while prime time was more conservative – back in the '50s and early '60s, I Love Lucy's Lucy and Ricky Ricardo weren't allowed to say the word "pregnant", and The Dick Van Dyke Show's Laura Petrie was criticized by Moral Guardians for wearing pants. As primetime TV has gotten edgier, daytime TV has conversely become somewhat stodgier. They seem to have intersected during the mid-1970's, when Erica Kane and Maude Finlay both got landmark abortions within a few months of each other. Soaps had a surge during The '80s with the likes of Supercouple Luke and Laura, but at that point, Prime Time was creating edgy shows with topical themes such as Roseanne and The Golden Girls, (which were sitcoms and were still dealing with issues such as HIV and domestic violence, to say nothing of dramas of the time), and soaps began to decline. In addition, the soap opera has become part of the genetics of television drama — it no longer needs to be contained in just daytime serials – shows such as Revenge and the Dallas revival show that people still have a fondness for soaps, it's just that the mechanics of a heavily serialized daily show in primetime can't keep up with modern audiences.
    • This could be related to the above in that, with more women going into the workforce rather than being stay-at-home housewives, the women who do stay home are doing so by choice rather than societal pressure. As such, they're likely to hold more conservative views about gender roles, gay rights, and other social issues, causing the showrunners to make their soaps more conservative in order to retain viewers. It also explains why prime time has taken on the soaps' old edginess — the liberal-leaning housewives who watched soaps before the rise of feminism have changed into liberal-leaning working women who watch prime time shows like the men do.
    • While reviewing the first year of the NBC soap Passions for his web series, TV Trash, Chris "The Rowdy Reviewer" Moore explained that the real problem that people have when watching daytime soap operas in general boils down to pacing. To put things into perspective, whereas on a weekly, one hour episodic television series, there's usually one main central plot and maybe one or two side plots, on a daytime drama that airs five days a week, there's roughly at least five or six plots running concurrently. Because the soaps are trying to cover them all at once, in a single one hour episode, you rarely get a single act of one story-line that runs more than a minute (or approximately ten minutes in total of each plot per episode) before cutting to a whole different set of characters for whom you may or may not care anything about. This means that a single plot point (especially the ones that have the best sort of tension to actually wrap in a viewer) could literally be dragged out for weeks.
  • The third theory cites two specific events in the late '80s and early '90s as the reasons why audiences started tuning out — the 1988 WGA strike and the OJ Simpson trial. The former caused the soaps to run without experienced writers, leading to a sharp decline in quality, and coverage of the latter not only knocked the soaps off the air for several weeks, but it provided viewers with a real life soap opera to enjoy. Declining viewership caused the networks to put less effort into their shows, creating a vicious cycle of sinking quality and ratings.
    • Taking this theory further, the fact that shortly before the first of the legacy soaps was cancelled there was another WGA strike (in 2007-8), might be more than just coincidence.
  • The fourth theory (and a conspiracy theory) is that the networks want to get out of the soap business because they are so expensive to produce compared to talk and reality shows, especially given that the above three factors have been cutting into ratings for upwards of two decades. However, soap opera fans are notoriously loyal (it is often the show that bonds generations of mothers and daughters), so the networks have been deliberately sabotaging their soaps, slashing budgets and hiring writers with contempt for the genre in an effort to drive fans away. Less fans means less ratings means that the soap can be canceled as a "business decision" with relatively minimal blowback... and if they accidentally cause a Springtime for Hitler scenario and the show is a hit, hey, they're not gonna complain.
  • Then there's the rise of cable networks and streaming options. In the past, the lower-tier of scripted television, which included soaps and Made-for-TV Movies, was still pretty limited with only a few networks; even in the 90s when cable was just getting into the originals game, the roles were still limited and you'd be happy to take a soap role to get in the door. Now when you have 450-some primetime and streaming shows looking to cast, taking a three-week role as a nurse on General Hospital to break in or sticking daytime around for years looping through the same plot points doesn't look as good when you can easily get better pay and attention as a recurring character on a Netflix series, not to mention you don't get as much Twitter and fanmail anguish due to a soap writer's creative choice you had no say in nixing (it's often thought the writers can easily scorn and get back at the talent who hates them much more than for actors in primetime series).

Many in the industry predicted that while the soap opera will live on in American TV, the last of the classic daytime serials would be off the air by 2015… a prophecy that did not come to pass. However, it is true that by then, only four traditional soaps remained – General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful – down from 19 in 1969 and 12 as recently as 1990. SOAPNet, the one cable network dedicated to the genre and where most of the programs repeat, was removed from many cable systems in early 2012 to be replaced by Disney Junior, and its end was used as an excuse by ABC's daytime chief to kill All My Children and One Life to Live.note 

Practically every nation on earth has soap operas (radio and TV), and loads of soaps are one thing you can always count on an expatriate/tourist station for any given country carrying. The U.S. military's Armed Forces Network carries all four current U.S. soaps.note 

For parodies of the soap genre, look up Soap Within a Show. For the modern variant, Prime Time Soap or Supernatural Soap Opera. The Japanese equivalent is Dorama.

Aside from the fantastic elements (and even there, the line is blurry), this is largely the Distaff Counterpart to comic books, although the fans of that medium will never admit it.note  Professional Wrestling has at times been called "Soap Operas for men."

Not to be confused with Soupe Opéra.


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    Anglo School 

    Latin America 
  • La Impostora ("The Impostor"): A rich woman tricks a poor lookalike into taking her place so she can be free to have an affair. One of the most popular novelas ever, it's been remade several times, the most popular version being the one done in The Nineties.
  • Roque Santeiro: An small town in northwest Brazil worships the titular character, a man who according to the urban legend was killed while defending the local church from bandits; what they doesn't know is that Roque is actually alive, just waiting to strike his revenge on the people who betrayed him and the ones who are profiting on his image.. Originally conceived (and canned by censorship) at the height of Brazil's military regime, this one got a new version in the mid-80's, achieving ratings close to 100% in Brazil and some other countries. The largest open-air market in Africa is named after it.
  • Kassandra, a classic tale of Switched at Birth which become the most famous telenovela in the world during the early Nineties.
  • Crystal: two women who raised themselves out of their Cinderella Circumstances, mother and daughter, cross paths; tragedy ensues as the former ruins the life of the latter while unaware of their real relationship. Remade several times.
  • Esmeralda (and its similarly-titled imitators Topacio and Ruby): all are about poor, blind women named after gemstones.
  • El derecho de nacer ("The Right to Be Born"), which was born on the radio and has had countless TV remakes. The plot is centered in Alberto Limonta, a young doctor, and the complications that ensue when he unknowingly becomes closer to his very rich biological family.
  • Senda de gloria (Path of Glory): A historical soap opera. It was one of the first telenovelas that did not shy away from showing how brutal The Mexican Revolution was, and how it shaped modern Mexico. Notable also for the fact that Televisa took a lot of pains to ensure they got everything right. It was Screwed by the Network due to a political problem between the ruling party and the son of one of the presidents shown therenote .
  • Los ricos también lloran ("The Rich Also Cry"), which was the first soap opera that Televisa exported to countries outside of the American continent. It became very famous in the ex-USSR countries and brought fame to Verónica Castro, the actress who played the female lead. María la del Barrio is technically a remake of this one.
  • The "Trilogy of the Marías" (Maria Mercedes, Marimar, and María la del Barrio) , a group of soaps with "Mari­a" in some part of their title with plots based in their titular characters' Rags to Riches, that catapulted their shared main actress, Mexican singer Thalia, from mere local fame to international superstardom.
  • Escrava Isaura ("Isaura the Slave"), a late 1970's soap about a white slave in Colonial Brazil. Exposed the Eastern Bloc to Latin soaps. It is based on a book by Bernardo Guimaraes.
  • Chocolate com Pimenta ("Chocolate with Pepper"), famous Brazilian soap taking place in the 1920's.
  • Vale Tudo ("Anything Goes"), famous '80s Brazilian soap. Raquel, an incredibly honest woman, is the mother of Maria Fatima, an unrepentant Gold Digger who runs out of home after selling the family house behind her mother's back. The plot runs the parallel stories of Fatima trying to get her Meal Ticket thorough betrayal and backstabbing, and Raquel's reinvention and success thorough hard work.
  • O Clone ("The Clone"), Brazilian soap about a guy, his twin brother and his clone, along with some stereotypes of Arab culture and very narmy soundtrack.
  • Pobre diabla ("Poor She-Devil") (In Spanish "poor devil" means "loser"), an Argentinian classic from the 1970's, made internationally famous with a 1990 version (it also has a peruvian and a mexican remake). A young poor woman falls in love and marry with an older, richer gentleman. The guy was secretly dying, and manages to die just before introducing his new wife to his family, but not before changing his will to leave her half of his fortune. The other half he left it to an illegitimate son he had with a servant a couple of decades ago, and the condition for themn to receive their inheritance is that both inheritors must live together for a year. You can see where this is coming.
  • Pasión de gavilanes ("Passion of the Sparrowhawks"): The three Reyes brothers, first looking Revenge against the Elizondo family for their sister's death, end falling in love with the three Elizondo sisters. Complications ensues thanks to the sisters' very uptight and classist mother and Fernando Escandon, the ex-husband of the elder sister who holds a grudge against the Reyes. A Hotter and Sexier remake of Colombian soap Las Aguas Mansas.
  • Yo soy Betty, la fea, a Colombian soap, later remade in Mexico and again revamped in America as the Dramedy Ugly Betty; THE most successful soap in history, it's been imitated all around the world.
  • Café con aroma de mujer ("Coffee with the scent of a woman"), the previous most successful soap and a classic of The '90s, set in Colombian coffee plantations.
  • Amar en tiempos revueltos ("To Love in Turbulent Times") and Calle Nueva ("New Street") are two successful Spanish culebrones ("big snakes"- that's slang for a soap... on account of their being as long as snakes.)
  • La Catrina
  • Corazon Salvaje ("Wild Heart"), a Historical Fiction-based novela about a sensual and rebellious man named "Juan del Diablo" (Juan of the Devil). It has seen a lot of remakes ever since it was made.
  • Rebelde Way (from Argentina) and its Mexican remake Rebelde ("Rebel"), a Teen Drama in soap opera clothing, each one spawning musical groups.
  • Rubi: One of the few telenovelas in which the main character is also the villain, as she's a huge Gold Digger.
  • Teresa: Another Mexican telenovela where the main character, desperate to leave a life of poverty, becomes a manipulative Gold Digger. The original story, aired in 1959, has had one film version and four television remakes (the latest and most popular reamke was aired in 2010).
  • Anjo mau / Angel malo: Another telenovela which has a Gold Digger Anti Heroine, but now set in Brazil (or Chile, if we see its remake).
  • Zorro: La espada y la rosa ("The Sword and the Rose"). Yes, there was a Zorro telenovela (loosely inspired by Isabel Allende's Hotter and Sexier version).
  • ¿Dónde está Elisa? ("Where Is Elisa?") is a Chilean night telenovela (a new telenovela format in which the series is aired around 10 PM so it can be Darker and Edgier/Hotter and Sexier than the standard) about what happens when the daughter of a powerful family disappears. Includes actress Paola Volpato's incredibly scary Yandere Consuelo, bringer of a HUGE twist: Elisa was not only was kidnapped by a lover who is also her uncle as well as Consuelo's husband, but she actually gets shot to death.
  • La Madrastra ("The Stepmother"), another Chilean soap but better known from its Mexican remake, about a woman who, while attempting to solve the Miscarriage of Justice which left her in prison for two decades, ends becoming the stepmother of her own children (who were told she died and were too young to remember her when she was sent to jail). And that's before the plot becomes truly convoluted.
  • Sin Senos No Hay Paraiso ("Without Breasts There Is No Paradise"): The series is based on investigative journalist Gustavo Bolivar's debut novel "Sin tetas no hay paraíso" which has the same title except using a more vulgar expression; it features an attractive young prostitute who desires to have massive breast implants in order to attract a rich cocaine smuggler. It is based on a true story.
  • Los títeres ("The Marionettes"). Classic Chilean telenovela from The '80s in which a Greek girl named Artemisa Mykonos gets thoroughly broken and humiliated by her evil cousin Adriana and her friends in The '60s, and returns twenty years later as a Broken Bird — both to have revenge on Adriana and to face her own ghosts. Famous due to the incredibly well-done script (written by Chilean playwright Sergio Vodanovic), the Shocking Swerve of an end that the Big Bad lost her mind when her plans failed, and then mentally reverted to a childish mindset , and the enormously creepy OP sequence.
  • Nada personal ("Nothing Personal"). Made in The '90s. Noteworthy only because it was the first Mexican soap to try and deal with then-current national politics.
  • El maleficio ("The Curse"). A Mexican production from the Eighties. This one is notable for its STRONG supernatural elements.
  • Cuna De Lobos ("Den of Wolves"). Another eighties classic made in Mexico about an aristocratic family fighting among themselves over inheritance (name and money) rights.
  • La Rosa De Guadalupe is a religious-themed Mexican novela with An Aesop learned in every episode. The storylines last one or two episodes and it follows a format that resembles more of a drama series, but it's still called and considered a telenovela.
  • Por Estas Calles (In these streets). A telenovela with social issues about poverty, corrupt government and murders in a poor "Barrio". Almost all the lead characters are poor and struggle for reach a good living way, but the criminality and the corruption don't let them progress. The longest Telenovela in Venezuelan history: Almost three years of duration.
  • Cartas de Amor (Love Letters): A Colombian telenovela, recognizable for its comedy and salsa-based soundtrack. Sweet Polly Oliver Cupido is called to a small Barrio to help people with their love lives but ends falling in love with local ladykiller and owner of "El buen catre" (the good bed), Manuel Tirado, who doesn't love any woman but struggles with his attration towards Cupido.
  • Sos Mi Vida
  • Son De Fierro
  • Floricienta and its various clones
  • Patito Feo
  • Vidas Robadas
  • Botineras, about the wives and girlfriends of soccer players.
  • Herederos De Una Venganza
  • Valientes
  • Los Exitosos Pells, about an actor who, because his extremely similar looks to a famous newscaster, is roped into secretely substituting him while the latter is in a coma.
  • Graduados
  • La Otra
  • Malparida
  • Imperio De Cristal
  • Solamente Vos
  • A Todo Corazon: another Teen Drama
  • La Reina Del Sur, adapted from a novel by Arturo Pérez Reverte, is a telenovela about a poor woman who ends up becoming the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico. It was so popular that it got an English language remake, Queen of the South.

Alternative Title(s): Telenovela, Teleserye