History of Television Soap Operas

A scene from “Days of Our Lives” on NBC.

On this date in 1949, the first daytime television soap opera was broadcast.

Here are some things you may not have known about American soap operas.

They’re called soap operas because soap companies were common early sponsors of the shows. The first soap operas appeared on radio. “Painted Dreams” is considered the first, and it premiered on Oct. 20, 1930,  on Chicago radio station WGN. It started as a 15-minute show that ran every day except Sunday. The show was created by Irna Phillips, who also acted on the show. Phillips created many of the techniques that are stereotypically associated with the genre, like cliffhanger endings and using organ music to serve as a bridge between scenes.

Critics, who were mostly men at the time, said the shows were “childlike, unrealistic, vulgar and distasteful.” However, it appears likely that the shows were popular and struck a chord with their intended audiences.

Phillips created several other radio soaps including “The Guiding Light” in 1937. Soon, Phillips was making a quarter-million dollars a year writing several soap operas, and in 1949 created the television program “These Are My Children,” which ran on NBC in Chicago for a month. Critics were once again not impressed. Television World reviewed the show thusly: “There is no place on television of this type of program, a blank screen is preferable.” Phillips didn’t stop and in 1952 “The Guiding Light” was moved from radio to TV. It’s name shortened to “Guiding Light,” it aired on CBS television until 2010, spanning 72 season on TV and radio.

Phillips would go on to create “As the World Turns” and “Another World.” She served as mentor to Agnes Nixon, who would create “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” among other shows.

Since the early 2000s, ratings for American daytime soap operas have fallen significantly. In 2000, there were 11 daytime soap operas on the air. Today, there are only four. The increased number of women working outside the home is cited as the primary reason for the decline. Other reasons include the cost of producing scripted dramas versus talk shows, games shows and court shows.

Our question: Name the four soap operas on the air today.


Today is Independence Day in Nauru, and Street Children’s Day in Austria.

It’s unofficially National Hot Chocolate Day, Eat Brussel Sprouts Day, and Backwards Day.

It’s the birthday of actress Carol Channing, who is 96; actress Kerry Washington, who is 40; and singer Justin Timberlake, who is 36.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1984, the top song in the U.S. was “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club.

The No. 1 movie was “Silkwood,” while the novel “Who Killed the Robins Family?” by Thomas Chastain topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question: What were Billy Preston’s two No. 1 singles in the United States?

Submit your answer at triviapeople.com/test and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at triviapeople.com. We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.



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