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What counts as a soap?


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I get daytime soaps, I'm not sure I get what makes a prime time show a 'soap'. Outside of Dallas, Knots Landing and occasional viewership of other shows (like Dynasty), I've never watched much prime time. I'm hooked on the Law and Order SVU, but can never remember the night it comes on. I ended up watching 'Glee' for the first time the other night.

That show is frackin' fantastic if it's like that every week. i get the praise for it now.

Is Glee considered a soap or a musical comedy? There are some truly soap moments (like the music teacher and 'other woman'). 'Desperate Housewives' is considered prime time soap. Are there others?

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Exactly. Up until the 80's primetime dramas and comedies weren't serialized.

That's why, on Golden Girls, Dorothy Zbornak seems to have gone to about 16 junior proms in 1946 -- and stood up for about 10! Primetime, for a long time, was against serialized programming due to studios/production companies selling the shows into syndication. Stations could air shows out of sequence and it wouldn't matter. With the exception of Peyton Place, Soap was really the first successful primetime series to become serialized in 1977. Is it a coincidence that a show named "Soap" was serialized in the same manner soaps are? I doubt it. So I think THAT is the key definition of a soap.

However, it could also just be the style of storytelling. Contrived, outlandish melodrama... rather than honest, organic emotional drama.

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I would say an amalgam of R.'s 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, a soap must be a serial, but a serial is not necessarily a soap (which should have a penchant for melodrama, romantic themes, et cetera).

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It depends. Format-wise, then it's basically anything that's serialized (our daytimers, the usual primetime examples, the occasional Hill Street Blues mention, teen dramas like Dawson's Creek, etc). Content-wise, then it's anything that focuses on the people and their relationships with each other and themselves, the families, the romance, blah blah blah, like all of those random melodramatic movies from the 40s and 50s and family shows like Little House, The Waltons, and Eight is Enough, and something I've realized as of late, many westerns from the 60s. Watch an episode of Bonanza or Gunsmoke one day. The only thing keeping them from being called soaps is the lack of serialization.

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Of course there are people who would describe Imitation of Life as a "soap opera", or even Mommie Dearest (which could have EASILY passed as an '80s primetime soap). In cases like these, "soap opera" is used more as an adjective than as a noun, just that splashy, OTT, melodrama.

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Of course there are people who would describe Imitation of Life as a "soap opera", or even Mommie Dearest (which could have EASILY passed as an '80s primetime soap). In cases like these, "soap opera" is used more as an adjective than as a noun, just that splashy, OTT, melodrama.

I never thought about it like that. In a way, it makes sense, but every now and then, I look at what's coming on TCM and the guide usually says "Soap opera about..." when describing Sirk and Sirk-like movies.

Imitation of Life...*shakes head* that's a black family classic. It's our Gone with the Wind.

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Then there's a show like The Wire which is serialized, but I wouldn't call it a soap (though if its writers got their hands on one, WOW). Of course it *could* look more like a soap if that was the kind of stuff we saw in daytime, but to me it just doesn't feel like a soap. Like that old saying about pornography, you know it when you see it. I think a soap needs to be rooted in that kitchen sink drama of the genre's early days, otherwise the net is cast just too wide and the term is too all-encompassing.

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Imitation of Life...*shakes head* that's a black family classic. It's our Gone with the Wind.

Who you tellin... "♫Soooooon Ah will be DONNNE, widda twoubles uhhhhhhve de woild...♫" And see, even here, the tragic mulatto is a staple of American melodrama, and oh my God, that ending?? If THAT ain't soap opera, I don't know what is. Sarah Jane was holding it down long before Erica at Mona's funeral.

To get even more confusing, Alan Ball used to love to call Six Feet Under a soap--when critics would say things like it's "better than a soap" or a serialized drama, he'd correct them--so to him, anyway, it was soap...

Yes, Joan Van Ark is fond of recalling how he called it "Knots Landing set in a funeral parlor."

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Who you tellin... "♫Soooooon Ah will be DONNNE, widda twoubles uhhhhhhve de woild...♫" And see, even here, the tragic mulatto is a staple of American melodrama, and oh my God, that ending?? If THAT ain't soap opera, I don't know what is. Sarah Jane was holding it down long before Erica at Mona's funeral.

It had everything! The glamorous "stah," the scandalous love affairs, the wise and all-knowing voice of reason, etc. Sarah Jane was holding it down long before Carla Grey.

"Women's films," they call 'em, which is basically a marginally nice way of saying "it's trash!"

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Of course Sirk's films are now taken seriously by (primarily male) critics--and they were better. Try comparing Imitation of Life to the next remake producer Ross Hunter did (he tried to coax Sirk out of retirement to film it, as he would later with Madame X--sadly he didn't). Back Street from 1961 is, like Imitation of Life, based on a Fannie Hurst novel that had big success in the 30s as a film directed by Stahl and starring Irene Dunne, which was now being made with a slightly past her prime movie star in a much bigger and more glamorous way. (Even John Gavin stars in both, and Jean Louis did the gowns). Yet it's only entertaining in a camp way--it's no where near the picture Sirk's was (my personal fave of his, though, is Written on the Wind which is Dallas before there was Dallas and has a wonderful pre Peyton Place, Dorothy Malone)

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