Soap opera

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A soap opera is a serial entertainment format on television , occasionally also on the radio , which is broadcast once (“ Weekly Soap ”) or several times a week to daily (“ Daily Soap ”) in the form of an endless series . The classic soap operas on German television include the series Dallas and Lindenstrasse, first broadcast in 1978 . The Archers (BBC) is the oldest representative of radio soaps on international radio .


The program format of the Daily Soap has its origins in US radio. The first soap opera ran with "Betty and Bob" on October 10, 1932 for the first time on NBC with the Cereal - Sponsor General Mills on the radio station. The series was conceived by Frank Hummert and Anne Ashenhurst, who are considered the inventors of the soap opera and wrote seven of the first eleven soap operas. The daytime serials broadcast in the morning were intended to win over housewives as consumers. The concept was based on the division of roles between men and women in the United States in the mid-20th century, when the number of inactive housewives was at its peak. Accordingly, the family series was designed for the wishes and interests of the main female target group. Within one episode there were several advertising blocks in which the articles of the detergent manufacturers dominated. The soap and detergent manufacturer Procter & Gamble presented for the first time on August 14, 1933, Ma (ria) Perkins, a radio series intended for the housewife, which later gave the soap opera its name. The first soap opera on television was Faraway Hill , which opened on October 2, 1946 on the DuMont Television Network. However, their lifespan was very short, as it ended on December 18, 1946.

At the height of the soap in 1940, 64 different episodes were broadcast daily, but in 1941 the number had halved to 33. The steady decline that has now occurred is due to television, which began to adopt this format in 1947. In 1961 there was no longer any daily soap on US radio. The oldest radio soap is The Archers , a program about a rural family on the BBC , which started on May 29, 1950 and has been broadcast regularly since January 1, 1951.

However, television did not take over the series of radio soaps. Only one man, The Guiding Light , first broadcast on NBC radio on January 25, 1937 , made the switch to television on June 30, 1952. Only after 15,762 episodes was this series discontinued on September 18, 2009 after 72 years. The first television soap in the United States is A Woman to Remember , which was first broadcast on February 21, 1947. The soaps previously broadcast in the morning were gradually moved to prime time due to demographic changes , as more and more women (housewives) were working outside the home. In prime time, the series "Dallas" and "Dynasty" (in Germany: The Denver Clan ; January 12, 1981), first broadcast on April 2, 1978, had first achieved international renown as prototypes of a soap. The male audience that was also present during prime time had an impact on the content as masculine topics such as business were increasingly featured in the scripts.

The first European soap opera on television was the British soap Coronation Street , which has aired since December 9, 1960. It was the first time that the American soap opera tradition of setting the action in a well-off milieu was broken, because Coronation Street takes place in a working-class milieu .

In Germany, the first family soaps also began on the radio. From September 17, 1949, the first of 77 episodes of the fictional "Family Hesselbach" went on air on the Hessischer Rundfunk . The first German television soap was the 111-part series “Our Neighbors Tonight: The Schölermanns” , which was broadcast from September 15, 1954 to March 25, 1960. The successors were Die Hesselbachs from January 22nd, 1960, who had made it from the radio to the television. Inspired by Dallas and the Denver Clan , " Die Schwarzwaldklinik " (from October 22, 1985) and " Lindenstrasse " (from December 8, 1985), the last episode of which was broadcast on March 29, 2020, were created in the 1980s . Even and especially after its approval in Germany, private television began to win over this broadcast format with its own productions. RTL began with “ Ein Schloß am Wörthersee ” (October 17, 1990), followed by “ Good times, bad times ” (May 11, 1992). With " Marienhof " (October 1, 1992) and " Verbotener Liebe " (January 2, 1995), both ARD , extremely successful long-running hits of public television started.


Content and dramaturgy

In a commercial setting, soaps are intended to provide an entertaining setting for radio or television commercials . Proximity to advertising does not matter in public broadcasting.

Soaps usually show protagonists who are permanently in contact with one another on a relationship level (cliques, relatives, friendship, marriage). This is promoted by a framework that creates opportunities for emotional and relational entanglements.

While other series formats put the events in the foreground (cf. the dramaturgical aspects of television series in general ), in soaps the characters are more important and follow trivial narrative patterns. It is characteristic of soaps that several actions (usually three to five) are shown in parallel or alternately over and over again (“storylines”); however, these (also called “storylines” or “plotlines”) are not completed in one episode, but continued in later episodes to increase the tension. Several of these storylines are shown one after the other per episode, so that a network of uncompleted actions results. Each of these storylines is at a different level of development: While one thread is unfolding, the second has already begun in the previous episode, the third is striving towards its end, etc. It is crucial that at the end of each episode at least one open, engaging in an exciting one There is still a story thread left over, which prompts viewers to tune in to the sequel the next day. The length of the individual storylines can vary from one episode to several months. Sometimes these storylines are precisely defined and built up for specific target groups, e. B. in a children's and youth series in an ABC system in which an A-strand ( action ) is primarily intended to serve the interests of boys, the B-strand ( relationship ) of girls and the C-strand ( comedy ) of the youngest viewers. The storylines shown in parallel are intertwined and yet independent of one another, their sequences are shorter than in movies. In 1995, Hans Wilhelm Geißendörfer coined the expression "braid dramaturgy" for this.

Daily soaps regularly have an open storyline and are therefore often referred to as "endless series". Individual episodes usually do not end with a happy ending , but on the contrary with an escalation of conflicts that have arisen. For this, the stylistic device of is especially fond cliffhanger used because it drives the voltage on the peak and thus awakens the viewer's interest to look at the next episode.

The dramaturgy is designed in such a way that the viewer often gains a better overview than the actors and can therefore anticipate the progress of some events. Whether these events actually occur remains - increasing the tension - reserved for further consequences. To increase the tension, the cliffhanger can be used at the end of an episode, which interrupts or ends the episode at the most exciting moment. This stylistic device is suitable for strengthening the audience's bond with the soap opera.

The soap is based on scripts and roles that have sufficient potential for conflict. The conflicts can be thematic in nature or in the contradicting characters of the actors. Many conflicts arise from misunderstandings, inadequate or missing communication or from "overhearing situations", whereby conversations can be overheard by others without being noticed. In the completed episodes - also called "episode series" - the actors experience new challenges in each episode and are exposed to corresponding everyday problems. However, their solution will at least be postponed to the next episode. Soaps can also be recognized from the outside by the studio design, the frequent close-ups , numerous flashbacks and the lack of acting.

Narrative speed and narrative time

Due to the very close succession of the individual episodes, it is necessary to keep to a very slow narrative pace. This way, viewers will be able to follow the action even if they have previously missed some episodes. In the interest of the highest possible audience loyalty, however, in such cases at least the subjective perception of gaps in knowledge is aimed at, even if the viewers find their way back into the narrative flow relatively quickly due to the concept. Through such occasional allusions to previous events, which without the necessary prior knowledge could be more confusing ( flashbacks ), “loyal” viewers are also rewarded as full members of the ingroup .

Another feature is the adherence to a time continuity. However, this does not mean that the course of action takes place in real time. At Unter Uns , the course of a day usually extends over a maximum of three episodes (60 minutes of pure narrative time without advertising) while a 30-minute episode of Lindenstrasse always starts in the morning and ends in the evening of the same day. By avoiding obvious leaps in time in the stories told in an episode, the viewer is given the impression of being part of everything that the various characters experience.

Mode of production

Soaps are usually designed for commercials, so they are broadcast on public broadcasters until 8:00 p.m., private ones too, but could also be shown in the evening program due to the lack of advertising restrictions. “Lindenstrasse”, on the other hand, is ad-free and only a weekly soap. Soap operas are very lucrative for television because the low production costs are offset by high advertising revenues. Good times, bad times proves to be the most commercially successful , as RTL brings in advertising income of around 220 million euros (depending on the season, a commercial costs between 30,000 and 60,000 euros, a maximum of 24 spots can be placed per episode). These are offset by production costs of (250 × 79,000 euros) around 20 million euros, so that a gross profit of around 200 million euros can be achieved. The low production costs are the result of mass production (sometimes filming that runs in parallel every day), few sequences per shot, almost always the same sets and low fees. 25 minutes of broadcasting have to be produced every day, while normal TV series have an average of 8 minutes of broadcasting (feature films even only take two or three minutes per day). A scene is rehearsed a maximum of three times, then it is shot, up to 15 scenes a day. In order to save costs, outdoor shots are almost completely dispensed with. Its timeliness is high, because the broadcast date is about a month after completion. Soaps achieve a high level of loyalty through the stylistic devices used.

Types and delimitation


Series can be divided into series with a completed storyline per episode (English: Series ) and those with an open storyline ( Serials ). Therefore, the soap is one of the serial . Christine Mielke calls it a "cyclical-serial narration ". While the plot and often the location of the event are fictional in the soap operas , actual actions are recorded and broadcast in series in the "Real Life Soaps". This includes the format of Big Brother and I'm a Star - Get Me Out of Here! .

Difference to telenovelas and documentary soaps

In German usage, the word soap opera is increasingly being replaced by the word telenovela , although the genres are different. Telenovelas are strictly speaking - despite the use of stylistic devices such as cliffhangers - not a soap opera, because they have a closed framework from the outset.

The docu-soap is a form of reality TV in which people are shown in a dramatically staged form within a closed framework.


The soap opera is the subject of international scientific research in a variety of ways. On the one hand their production methods, on the other hand their content and reception / effect on television viewers are examined. One of the representative overviews was published by Daniela Wiegand, which mentions the early debates within the social sciences as well as the aesthetic and cultural-scientific discourse. Your work gives an overview of the worldwide scientific status of research on the soap opera. Their production is compared to industrial assembly line work ; it is the only narrative form that has no beginning and no end and requires minimal effort from the recipient.

German-language soap operas

The first soap opera in German-speaking countries was the Swiss series Motel in 1984, followed by the German Lindenstrasse the following year .

Daily soaps

title Production company Channel consequences Broadcast date
Good times Bad Times UFA Serial Drama RTL 7100+ since May 11, 1992
Between us UFA Serial Drama RTL 6450+ since November 28, 1994
Einstein Castle Saxonia Media Film Production KiKA 974+ weekly from September 4, 1998 to July 4, 2015, daily from February 9, 2016.
All that counts UFA Serial Drama RTL 3550+ since September 4, 2006
Home is home PolyScreen , Constantin Television BR 2439+ since October 8, 2007
All or nothing Producers at Work Sat 1 105 in 1 season October 22, 2018 - March 22, 2019, on TV only until January 4, 2019
So life is! The Wagenfelds Bavaria Film , Iduna Film 169 October 16, 1995 - February 29, 1996
Beloved sisters Columbia TriStar 250 June 2, 1997 - June 13, 1998
Marienhof Bavaria television production The first 4053 October 1, 1992 - June 15, 2011
One for all - women can do better Rubicon Filmproduktion , Bavaria Fernsehproduktion 100 April 20 - October 16, 2009
Fibrillation - the clinic on the lake Bavaria television production ZDF 255 in 2 seasons April 4, 2011 - April 18, 2012
Lots of life Colonia Media 376 March 6, 1995 - September 30, 1996
Mallorca - search for paradise UFA Serial Drama ProSieben 200 April 26, 1999 - February 8, 2000
In the middle of the 8th Producers at Work , Satel Film ORF 1 56 June 10 - June 29, 2007
One like none UFA Serial Drama , Phoenix Film Sat.1, ORF 1 212 November 16, 2009 - September 17, 2010
Hand on heart Producers at Work 234 October 4, 2010 - September 2, 2011 (ran as telenovela from April 15, 2011 )
All together - each for himself UFA Serial Drama RTL 2 230 in 1 season November 25, 1996 - October 30, 1997
Maple Avenue Safe TV RTL 60 in 1 season April 16 - June 15, 2007
112 - They save your life action concept 110 in 1 season August 25, 2008 - February 5, 2009
Girlfriends - especially now UFA Serial Drama 159 in 1 season August 27, 2018 - April 10, 2019
Heart over head The Fiction Syndicate 113 in 1 season August 26, 2019 - February 7, 2020

Weekly soaps

title Production company consequences Channel Broadcast date
The Fallers - The SWR Black Forest Series Südwestrundfunk 939+ SWR since September 25, 1994
In all friendship Saxonia Media Film Production 780+ The first since October 26, 1998
Betty's diagnosis Network Movie 110+ ZDF since January 9, 2015
In all friendship - the young doctors Saxonia Media Film Production 154+ The first since January 22, 2015
In all friendship - the nurses Saxonia Media Film Production 8+ The first since November 1, 2018
Forbidden love - next generation UFA Serial Drama 4664+ TVNOW since November 23, 2020; from January 2, 1995 to January 29, 2015 daily, from February 27, 2015 to June 26, 2015 weekly in the First as Forbidden Love
Behind bars - the woman barn UFA Serial Drama 403 RTL September 22, 1997 - February 13, 2007
The people of the Rhine Zieglerfilm Cologne and Westdeutscher Rundfunk 612 WDR March 21, 1998 - April 24, 2011
Lüthi and Blanc C-FILMS 288 SF 1 October 10, 1999 - May 13, 2007
Big city dreams UFA Serial Drama 7th RTL May 8, 2000 - June 26, 2000
fabrixx Maran movie 220 The first November 24, 2000 - September 17, 2005
Lost teamWorx 29 RTL / ORF 1 September 13, 2004 - April 7, 2005
day and night C-FILMS 36 SF 1 September 5, 2008 - May 28, 2009
Clinic at Alex teamWorx 27 Sat 1 January 29, 2009 - February 26, 2009
A case for the people of the Rhine Zieglerfilm Cologne and Westdeutscher Rundfunk 111 WDR May 11, 2011 - March 23, 2014
Lindenstrasse Geißendörfer film and television production 1758 The first December 8, 1985 - March 29, 2020

Other examples

title Original title country consequences Channel Broadcast date
Springfield story Guiding light United States 15762 CBS June 30, 1952 to September 18, 2009
Young and passionate - how life goes As the world turns United States 13858 CBS April 2, 1956 to September 17, 2010
General Hospital General Hospital United States 14754+ ABC since April 1, 1963
Time of longing Days of our Lives United States 14082+ NBC since November 8, 1965
Shadow of passion The Young and the Restless United States 12074+ CBS since March 26, 1973
Love, lie, passion One Life to Live United States 11105 ABC July 15, 1968 to January 13, 2012
All my children All my children United States 10712 ABC January 5, 1970 to September 23, 2011
Coronation Street Coronation Street United Kingdom 10284+ ITV since December 9, 1960
neighbours Neighbors Australia 8587+ Seven Network / 10 Peach since March 18, 1985
Rich and beautiful The Bold and the Beautiful United States 8517+ CBS since March 23, 1987
Home and Away Home and Away Australia 7519+ Seven Network since January 17, 1988
GTST Good tijden, bad tijden Netherlands 6376+ RTL 4 since October 1, 1990
California clan Santa Barbara United States 2137 NBC July 30, 1984 to January 15, 1993
All saints All saints Australia 494 Seven Network February 24, 1998 to October 27, 2009

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Robert Clyde Allen: Speaking of Soap Operas , 1985, p. 116.
  2. ^ Regis McKenna: Access Marketing , 2002, p. 31.
  3. ^ The Cleanup Man. In: TIME. October 5, 1953, accessed May 15, 2020 (article on Neil H. McElroy).
  4. Carolin Wagner: German Daily Soaps , p. 9.
  5. ^ Klaus Plake: Handbook of television research. 2004, p. 150.
  6. Hans Wilhelm Geißendörfer: Lindenstrasse - The dramaturgy of endlessness. 1995, p. 13 ff.
  7. Anja Ruf: Marketing of Daily Soaps , 2009, p. 5.
  8. Gunther Kirsch: Production conditions for Daily Soaps: A workshop report , in: Montage / av Journal for Theory and History of Audiovisual Communication, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001, p. 52 (PDF; 1.6 MB)
  9. Carolin Wagner: German Daily Soaps , p. 18.
  10. Udo Göttlich / Jörg-Uwe Nieland: Daily Soaps as an Environment of Brands, Fashions and Trends , 1998, p. 190
  11. Anja Ruf: Marketing of Daily Soaps , 2009, p. 7.
  12. GSZS has long since matured into a success story 20 years after its start ( memento from October 23, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung from April 3, 2012
  13. Christine Mielke: Cyclical-serial narration: narrated narration from 1001 nights to TV series , 2006, p. 7.
  14. Daniela Wiegand: The “Soap Opera” in the mirror of academic debate , 1999, p. 26 ff.
  15. ^ TV series "Motel" - A gay love scene excites the nation , NZZ, April 18, 2017

Web links

Wiktionary: soap opera  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations