Because of Covid-19, hand sanitizer and toilet paper have been in the news like we could never before have imagined. Things that we took for granted were suddenly out of our reach. All of a sudden we ran out of things, and empty shelves left us wondering what on earth just happened.
Let’s take a break from all of that. It’s time to have a little lighthearted fun…have a kind of “Calgon, take me away” moment, if you will. Let’s talk soap. Soap OPERA, that is.
The term soap opera originated when soap manufacturers sponsored radio dramas in the early 1930s. The 15-minute daytime radio dramas were created to take people away from their own everyday life and become immersed in the dramatic stories of the fictional lives of fictional families in fictional towns, while marketing SOAP.
When radio soap operas, and later TV drama, caught on back in the day, housewives across America became enthralled from day to day, not only to see what happened in the drama itself, but to also see what kinds of soap and other household products they should be using in their own homes. First the radio, and then daytime television, played and aired while they did their chores.
Soap manufacturers knew that daytime sponsorships would pay off because housewives were the ones who would see an advertisement for a household product, and they were the ones who would want to try that product out. Bath soap, laundry detergent, dish soap…products that a wife and mother generally chooses for her family. What better way to reach her than through fictional stories, a quick way to be immersed in a novel of sorts. Soon, the dramas were expanded to daily 30-minute episodes. Later, a whole hour.
On Jan. 31, 1949, the first television daytime soap opera, These Are My Children, premiered as a 15-minute episode and continued every weekday at 5 p.m. on NBC in Chicago. It was created by Irna Phillips and the show only aired for 24 days before being canceled. The Television World newspaper wrote, “There is no space on television for this type of program.”
Philips persisted, however, and she continued to pave the way for this new popular TV genre. Philips would be credited with implementing cliffhangers, melodramatic background music and relatable middle-class main characters into her stories.
Like a book that has no ending…soap opera series left daily or weekly cliffhangers that included characters that were attractive, seductive, glamorous, fashionable and wealthy. Tune in tomorrow to find out what happens to the good guy, the vixen, the doctor, the nurse and all of their family members, the attorney, the courtroom drama, the innocent and the guilty. And while watching all of the drama in that fictitious town, see what new household soap or soap product is on the market. Is this how mother decided to try the Ivory bath soap that floated? Is this how she found out that Mr. Whipple did not want her to squeeze the Charmin and that it wasn’t nice to fool Mother Nature? Did the soap opera Another World introduce mom to Madge, the spokeswoman for Palmolive dish soap?
My mother watched a soap that was aired on NBC, KCMT-TV Channel 7 out of Alexandria. It was the only channel we had. Her soap was titled Another World. I remember that it aired from 2-2:30 p.m. It aired at a good time of the day…long after outdoor morning chores (milking cows and all that goes with it) and the morning daily household chores (the laundry was likely on the line and hanging out to dry by then), and making lunch for dad. It was the time of day where mother could have her 30-minute coffee break, so-to-speak. It most likely was her guilty pleasure because, for one thing, here she was with the TV on in the middle of the day, and for another, it was her 30 minutes each day to be taken to a world that, literally, was another world. Her soap was on while her homemade bread was baking in the oven and about an hour before we got home from school. It gave her an escape before late afternoon outdoor chores and milking the cows again at night. Her soap was her well-deserved little escape to another world. Maybe it was the only time of the day she actually sat down, and if she did, good for her.
Irna Phillips created the soap opera my mother watched. Another World debuted in May of 1964 and aired until 1999. Known as “The Queen of Soaps,” Irna also created Search for Tomorrow, Love of Life and Guiding Light. She created As the World Turns with the assistance of her protégé, Agnes Nixon, who would later become known as the “grande dame of daytime drama.” As The World Turns was one of the first two daytime serials to run for 30 minutes.
As I look at the history of soap operas, it’s the titles the creators came up with for their soap dramas that gives me the biggest chuckle. Today, in our new world of self-quarantine, stay-at-home and shelter-in-place phrases, let’s have some fun with the titles of a few of history’s most popular soap operas as they relate to today’s world. It’s almost like the creators of the soap operas, just by their titles alone, saw this pandemic coming.
Here we go in 2020…let’s put our new normal in soap-opera-title-lingo. We are in another world as we search for tomorrow while looking for the guiding light…trying as we may to live the days of our lives. Some of us may have to visit a general hospital…as the world turns. Some of us are the young and the restless and the bold and the beautiful and yet, some of us must visit the doctors. Let’s hope that all my children are not living on the edge of night as they weather the secret storm. Let’s hope we can overcome any dark shadows with our passions because, after all, we have only one life to live. Let’s pass on to the next generations that there is a bright promise.