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Soap Opera
Evelyn: [about a telenovela] So, you see that stripper? She used to be a nun and she's pregnant with the butcher's baby, but she doesn't know that the butcher is her second cousin.
Wilhelmina: A story as old as time.

"People don't want to pay 8 or 9 dollars to go see a problem that they have in their life, on screen. They pay to get away from that. That's why they watch soap operas."
Omar Epps

First there was the radio soap opera, so named because the high drama was interspersed with adverts for soap (and in the case of Proctor & Gamble, the sole sponsor and producer for many of them). But there's no soap radio anymore; 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, broadcast five days a week. Designed to be viewed intermittently, so that a single event may be stretched over three or more days.

Frequently brings characters Back from the Dead (to the point that on Friends, Joey, after being killed off from Days of Our Lives, poked fun that he could come back, and he did), features onscreen screaming matches and has every imaginable configuration of characters sleeping with each other. Soap operas watched by fictional characters always turn this drama Up to Eleven, described by the trope Soap Within a Show.

There are two mains schools of Soap Opera, the "Anglo" School, common to the USA, UK, 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 every Latin nation from Mexico southwards. The principal difference between both 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 their 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 soaps are typically of the "Anglo" school, lasting for years and years.

The main difference within the Anglo school is that US 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). 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 (AKA 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. Curiously, a variant of the Latin school is also predominant in the Philippines that's partly influenced by Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean dramas; these tend to largely be of the classical style albeit with more emphasis on social divides.

You can see the level of respect that schools have for their productions by the timeslot they put them in. Spanish and Portuguese speakers 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, US stations traditionally quarantine soaps in an early 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 Nineties, and served as a career springboard for many actors and actresses who went on to great success in more "legit" film and TV productions.

Nowadays, however, that is becoming increasingly less the case. It would seem that in America, daytime soap operas are at the beginning of their end. Four of the longest running and most successful soaps in history have recently reached their finale: Guiding Light was cancelled in 2009, As the World Turns in 2010, All My Children in 2011 and One Life to Live in 2012, and many are saying that they are the first, but definitely not the last casualties. There are several popular theories as to why this is happening:
  • The first is the feminist movement and the rise of women in the workforce. When soaps began, women were still primarily housewives who would be home during daytime, which is the domain of soaps in America (meaning they had a potential audience of almost half the American population.) However, as more and more families became two-income families, 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, 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 for wearing pants.) As primetime TV has gotten edgier, daytime TV has, conversely, gotten 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 Eighties 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 becoming stay-at-home housewives, the women who still take the latter route are more likely to do so out of choice rather than due to pressure from their husbands and society. As such, they're likely to hold more conservative views vis a vis gender roles, gay rights and other social issues, causing the people running the soaps to make their own programming more conservative in order to hold their 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Many in the industry predict that while the soap opera will live on in American TV, the last of the American daytime serials will be off the air by 2015. 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 US military's Armed Forces Network also carries all four current US soaps.

Also see: Prime Time Soap, Melodramatic Pause, Supernatural Soap Opera, Large Ham. 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."

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    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.
  • Roque Santeiro: 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 woman 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.
  • 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 there.
  • 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.
  • The "Trilogy of the Marías" (Maria Mercedes, Marimar, and Maria La Del Barrio) , a group of soaps with "Mari­a" in some part of their title, that catapulted their shared main actress, Mexican singer Thalia, from mere local fame to international superstardom.
  • Escrava Isaura ("Isaura the Slave"), about a white slave in Colonial Brazil.
  • Chocolate com Pimenta ("Chocolate with Pepper"), famous Brazilian soap taking place in the 1920's.
  • Vale Tudo ("Anything Goes"), famous '80s Brazilian soap.
  • 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")
  • Pasión de gavilanes ("Passion of the Sparrowhawks")
  • 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 Nineties, 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.
  • Rubí: One of the few telenovelas in which the main character is also the villain, as she's a huge Gold Digger.
  • 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).
  • Though not a soap opera, Lorena in The Brothers Garcia loves Telenovelas, and in one episode tries to break the record of most telenovelas watched in one sitting. She barely misses it, giving up when she realizes how melodramatic they are, and decides to become an activist for social change unlike the characters in the ones she watches (likely of the "Pink" subcategory) who quietly suffer.
  • 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 Eighties in which a Greek girl named Artemisa Mykonos gets thoroughly broken and humiliated by her evil cousin Adriana and her friends in The Sixties, 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 Nineties. 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.

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alternative title(s): Telenovela; Teleserye
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