On this day in 1933, the first ever American daytime serial, Marie, the Little French Princess, debuted on CBS Radio. “Soap operas,” as they came to be known on both radio, and eventually television, because sponsors were primarily cleaning products, have been a part of the cultural landscape ever since. Like “sands through the hourglass” here are some fun facts about soap operas.
- First daily soap opera on TV. The first serialized drama to air during five days a week during the day was The First Hundred Years. About two married couples who were next-door neighbors, it debuted in December 1950 and lasted until June 1952. It was canceled because its ratings were very low—in part because very few American homes had a TV set at the beginning of the 1950s, and those that did didn’t watch much TV in the daytime. But The First Hundred Years did lead to a TV innovation still used to this day. Hubert Schlafly invented the script-displaying device called the teleprompter—it was just that hard for the actors to learn an entire script’s worth of lines five days a week.
- Longest running TV soap opera. CBS replaced The First Hundred Years on its schedule in 1952 with a TV adaptation of the radio hit Guiding Light. It stayed on the air until 2009, a remarkable run of 57 years on television—plus another 15 on the radio. (For most of its run, the series was a standard soap about love and romance, but when it began it was about the life of a minister.)
- First primetime soap spinoff. In the mid-1960s, the most-watched soap opera on TV was CBS’s As the World Turns. It was so successful that in 1965 the network commissioned a primetime version called Our Private World. It was not as much of a hit as its daytime predecessor, and it lasted less than a year.
- First adult soap opera. While soap operas generally don’t cater to kids, A New Day in Eden definitely didn’t. Debuting on the premium cable network Showtime in 1982, the series, co-created by General Hospital and As the World Turns writer Douglas Marland, featured a lot of the same plots as the network soaps…but with lots and lots of full-frontal nudity. It lasted just 13 episodes.
- The year with the most soaps. The 1969-1970 TV season was the time of “peak soap.” That season, the Big 3 broadcast networks placed a record 19 daytime dramas on the air. (New that year: All My Children, which would air on ABC for 43 years.)
- The year with the least soaps. That would be…right now. Daytime TV is crowded with game shows, court shows, talk shows, and sitcom reruns, and the soap genre has been squeezed out. There are only four left on the air today: The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital, and Days of Our Lives.