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What Defines An ABC/CBS/NBC Daytime Soap?

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Over the years that I have watched and followed US daytime soaps in Australia and participated in discussions, I have always observed people talking about soaps on certain networks and associating qualities with them, eg. ABC soaps typically have these qualities, CBS soaps have these, etc. But I’ve never quite managed to get a grasp on it myself.

 

So for the US folk on here, what qualities do you associate with an ABC soap, and likewise for CBS and NBC? What sets them apart from each other? And most certainly the question could be extended to actors where it has been commented, for example, that they are more suited to an ABC soap over a CBS one.

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My own personal from my experience?

 

CBS: Classy dramas about dramas about salacious lived ranging from the bedrooms of Oakdale and Springfield to the boardrooms of Genoa City.

 

NBC: Escapist drama 
 

ABC: Romantic Comedy 

 

 

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These things aren’t hard and fast, as soaps evolve with new visions over the years. Speaking as somewhat who started as a soap viewer after the ‘80s. Generally, I’ve always seen CBS as somewhat conservative Midwestern family ensemble dramas with darker, moodier lighting. (B&B doesn’t tick those boxes as a Los Angeles-set fashion soap, but still fit in seamlessly into its lineup as a Bell show. It was still essentially conservative and family-centered.)

 

With its Agnes Nixon influence, ABC always felt slightly more East Coast and urban and liberal, brighter visually, somewhat grittier in content but also lighter in tone. Bouncy and youthful and trendier. Plus you had GH centered around a hospital as well as criminal elements.

 

As @soapfan770 stated, NBC did feel a bit escapist and fantastical, with a sunny West Coast flair (with Santa Barbara and Sunset Beach, but in a weird way even DAYS and Passions, both set east of the Mississippi). Far less rooted in a recognizable reality than the CBS and NBC brands. As a P&G soap, AW felt like the odd man out in that lineup and really lost its way when it tried to fit in.

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3 minutes ago, Faulkner said:

These things aren’t hard and fast, as soaps evolve with new visions over the years. Speaking as somewhat who started as a soap viewer after the ‘80s. Generally, I’ve always seen CBS as somewhat conservative Midwestern family ensemble dramas with darker, moodier lighting. (B&B doesn’t tick those boxes as a Los Angeles-set fashion soap, but still fit in seamlessly into its lineup as a Bell show. It was still essentially conservative and family-centered.)

 

With its Agnes Nixon influence, ABC always felt slightly more East Coast and urban and liberal, brighter visually, somewhat grittier in content but also lighter in tone. Bouncy and youthful and trendier. Plus you had GH centered around a hospital as well as criminal elements.

 

As @soapfan770 stated, NBC did feel a bit escapist and fantastical, with a sunny West Coast flair (with Santa Barbara and Sunset Beach, but in a weird way even DAYS and Passions, both set east of the Mississippi). Far less rooted in a recognizable reality than the CBS and NBC brands. As a P&G soap, AW felt like the odd man out in that lineup and really lost its way when it tried to fit in.

 

I find it fascinating also that Bell and Nixon also seemed to have their “trademark” qualities, as you’ve described above. I agree that Bill Bell was very deep and psychological with his stories, and that is certainly apparent even in the daily breakdowns.

 

Having been watching 1989 Y&R recently for instance, that year alone had *so much* focus on family and the relationships within and between the family units on the canvas. Very much character driven as opposed to plot driven.

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Most daytime drama fans of my generation that I knew were obsessed w/ supercouple era/sci fi era Days but I was all about the big business and bad guys of the CBS shows 😂 I was drawn to characters like Victor, Stephanie, Lucinda, Alexandra, Roger. Wealthy, powerful, and protective of those they loved by any means necessary.

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I always felt it was more of a production company type thing than a network type thing. 

 

Bell soaps: Always lush, lavish, filled with beautiful people and heavy psychological drama

 

P&G soaps: Warm, homey, family driven, traditional

 

ABC soaps: Light, romantic, comedic drama

 

With DAYS, reading it about, the show starting off leaning more towards a Bell soap (seeing as Bill wrote the show many years), and then later started to waffle more ABC type dramas with more adventure. 

 

But this topic, one that is discussed heavily, highlights what went wrong with this drama. These shows started to veer from their identities and all of them became too much alike. What made these shows so popular was that while they might of have similarities, each show offered you different things.

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18 minutes ago, NothinButAttitude said:

But this topic, one that is discussed heavily, highlights what went wrong with this drama. These shows started to veer from their identities and all of them became too much alike. What made these shows so popular was that while they might of have similarities, each show offered you different things.

 

I wish we had like buttons on this forum because I would “like” the heck out of this comment. I completely agree that nowadays the remaining 4 soaps have kinda blended into one another with nothing really setting them apart. I started watching daytime soaps in the 90s, and even back then there was a stark difference between all the soaps we had at the time (Y&R, B&B, DOOL and GH). 

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Yeah, it's definitely evolved over time. CBS was more conservative, slow-moving, family-centred, but there's that Bell vs. P&G divide that largely split the lineup down the middle in terms of subject matter.

ABC has always moved faster, been more liberal, lighter, with grittier subject matter, definitely defined by Agnes Nixon's style. GH managed to keep pace, despite rarely sharing writers or producers with the Nixon shows.

 

NBC was a mish-mash, since their 60s and 70s soaps were successful thanks to both Bell and Nixon's styles, and sort of defined by more daring adult drama, but never really reaching the youth the same way ABC did. That shifted in the 80s and 90s with the dramatic change in style of DAYS, the introduction of SB, and AW and SFT trying to keep pace. I feel like NBC never developed that clear identity of the other two, and that may have contributed to their patchy success after the mid-70s.

 

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I started watching the NBC soaps the summer before 8th grade (2000)... "Passions" was obviously its own thing, but it had quite a bit in common with "Days"... emphasis on families and grand romance with sci-fi/adventure elements.

 

In high school, I dropped "Passions" but started all the ABC soaps except PC.  ABC soaps were WAY more "hip" and quick in every way.  And the gritty element that others mentioned was definitely there.  But GH, OLTL, and AMC were really different.  GH and OLTL had very distinct identities then... GH, then at least, was mostly mob/crime and tried to offer the counterculture drama alternative.  And it was overtly dark; so was OLTL.  But "One Life" felt very urban--they fully embraced the cultural, racial, generational, and socioeconomic diversity in Llanview... for me, that was what defined that show.  In the 00's, I'd argue that apart from the SatC-inspired Fusion stuff that dominated '03-'08, AMC did not know what it wanted to be and lacked a real identity.  And as lovely as that last summer by Lorraine Broderick was, it was not representative of AMC's last decade at all.

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In the 1980s, I know one thing...ABC knew how to promote the heck out of their soaps. I didn't even watch ABC soaps as a child, except for a brief part of one summer when my eldest brother's girlfriend took over our TV but it seemed as if I knew what was going on with the most popular characters even when I wasn't watching.

Barbara Ryan being chased by a bull in Spain should've been every bit as iconic as Erica Kane staring down that bear but only one of those scenes is discussed among pop culture enthusiasts.

 

I think that soaps have always experimented with different aspects in their shows, with mixed results.  Soaps that were normally earthy doing gothic, shows that usually had a more realistic tone doing camp, a show that focused on mostly middle class and upper middle class families ripping up the blueprint and going glam with wealthy families, goes back to early 80s and likely earlier.  That's nothing new.  The difference, imo is that the shows got stuck in those lanes and despite it not working chose to stick with an unsuccessful formula, where as in the past, the production staff and execs would lick their wounds and change course.

Edited by DramatistDreamer

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This is just my perspective:

ABC: More Family Oriented, Romcomish, Campy,  Delves Deep into social issues, Warmer characters, Seems to cast more "normal" looking actors.

CBS: Old Hollywood, Lush and Lavish sets, Almost Cinematic, Dry Humor,  Colder/Grayer characters, Psychological Thriller storytelling, Beautiful Actors, that CAN act (for the most part) Sexy, Seductive.

NBC: A Mix of ABC and CBS, but with more OTT production values and lots of supernatural elements, not really seen on the other networks.

Edited by YRfan23

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I am speaking as someone that watched from the 1980’s on.  When all these shows started, they had different identities (DAYS being a prime example)

 

I agree with a lot of what was posted already.

 

ABC- seemed more modern in theme, more willing to take a risk (either in Monty action adventure, OLTL in flight of fancy and larger than life, and AMC in gritty issue oriented storytelling and flat out comedy).  Those shows sparkled, and often had wit and a looser style.  I also saw more strong, independent and non male dependent women all over ABC soaps.  The super couple formula of a man rescuing a woman was not as prevalent on AMC or GH, even if they did have super couples.

 

CBS- much more traditional.  Even if Y&R and B&B are not old fashioned in many ways, they were slower and more methodical, and steeped in Bell’s traditional style.  So they fit with GL and ATWT in that feeling of traditional soap.  Although when you watch them now, ATWT is the only one that feels old fashioned to me.  But they all still fit together.  Plus they all had significant business storytelling that made more sense than those types of stories on other shows.

 

NBC- I agree with the more escapist theme, although AW from what I have seen of it fits more between an ABC or CBS show than NBC as dominated by DAYS.  It is also hard not to see these shows as almost purely about romance.  It also cannot be ignored that between Santa Barbara and DAYS nearly every leading female character was raped.  And it was used quite often as an obstacle to keep the main couple apart which is pretty gross.

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16 hours ago, Faulkner said:

As @soapfan770 stated, NBC did feel a bit escapist and fantastical, with a sunny West Coast flair (with Santa Barbara and Sunset Beach, but in a weird way even DAYS and Passions, both set east of the Mississippi). Far less rooted in a recognizable reality than the CBS and NBC brands. As a P&G soap, AW felt like the odd man out in that lineup and really lost its way when it tried to fit in.

 

Was AW the odd man out though? I remember the Cristy Carson story going on as the main story when I first started paying attention to AW. A woman secretly in love with Cass and had a body count to make sure her secret didn’t get out. 

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I never watched any NBC soap more than an episode here and there, but I saw them as the most fantastical, with over the top storytelling and lots of supernatural elements, evil twins, and tropes like people coming back from the dead. Basically I think DAYS is the type of show people think of when they think of a soap opera. Today all the soaps are like this, but until the 90s, that wasn't so. You would rarely see a ghost or a person coming back from the dead on CBS, especially if that person actually died in the hospital and there was no reasonable opening for them to be alive.

 

CBS I always found the most glamorous, but emotionally the most true to life. Really played the beats of what the characters were feeling and thinking and why, which they could do because of the slower pace. If a woman got breast cancer, for example, she would go through the diagnosis and surgery but still look pretty good and made up, but you would hear a lot about how she felt about the potential loss of her breast and its impact on her as a sexual person. On ABC it would be grittier and maybe focus more on the medical side. I still see glimpses of this with the current Alzheimer's storylines. On Y&R, Dina continues to dress up like a wealthy matron and we don't see her suffering on a sick bed with a nurse. It's more about the pain of seeing her forget her life, the impact on her adult children reflecting on the way she left them as children and struggling to communicate with her, especially Traci. On GH with Mike, there are some very painful and realistic scenes of him in bed literally struggling to eat and drink and you can see the impact directly on Sonny but you don't have as many conversations about the psychological aspects of that. Both are very well done, with great acting.

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ABC soaps always seemed to exist in a shared universe.  Citizens of Landview knew those who lived in Pine Valley.  People in Corinth knew people from Center City.  Even in eras where there weren't crossover stories, the ABC soaps seemed to share a style and personality.  Soap promotions on ABC tended to include multiple shows and viewers were encouraged to watch the entire lineup.  Love in the Afternoon defined the heyday of ABC soaps as much as the stories that it promoted (despite being first used in NBC promos).

 

Because of their history going back to radio, CBS soaps always felt more beholden to history and nostalgia.  The families on CBS soaps were kept in the mix for decades.  New characters were usually introduced as members of existing families (Matt Reardon was a cousin of the Reardon family,  Ivy Forrester was from the long lost Aussie side of the family) .  Heroes and villains maintained their motives based on historic family rivalries that existed for generations (Newmans vs Abbotts, McCandless vs Clegg, Spaulding vs Lewis).  Regardless of regime change, writers on CBS soaps generally maintained the initial structure of their stories over time.  

 

NBC soaps felt more experimental.  There were a lot of "firsts" on NBC soaps.  The first 60 minute soap.  The first soap written by staff who didn't have prior soap experience.  The first genre bending soaps.  Perhaps because NBC usually struggled to maintain ratings, they were more willing to try new things or take elements that had been tried on other networks and heighten them in order to attract new viewers (SFT's flood, AW's special single topic episodes, male heroes with perms).    

Edited by j swift

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