30 soaps that made their mark on daytime

Posted Monday, March 18, 2024 1:55:08 PM
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As Soap Central celebrates 30 years, we look back at the 30 most memorable soaps.

It seems hard to believe that 30 years have gone by since Soap Central came online. If you'll forgive the "you sound like my grandfather" talk, it was a very different time back in the 1990s. There were nearly a dozen soap operas in production, you probably had a stack of VHS tapes near your television with episodes of soaps that you missed, and you more than likely didn't even have Internet access at home. Since this is a safe space, we'll admit that quite a few Soap Central staffers still have VHS tapes with memorable soap episodes tucked away in closets and media consoles.

Now, there are four daytime drama series in production, with a fifth on the way, VHS tapes have been turned into paperweights or doorstops, and episodes of your favorite soaps can be streamed on a phone while you're at the beach.

So, as Soap Central kicks off our 30th year, we'll be taking a look back at all the things we love about soaps -- the drama, the couples, the performers, and more. To get things started, here are 30 soap operas (15 that have co-existed with Soap Central) that have left their mark on the TV landscape. We've even name-dropped some famous alum and sprinkled in some fun facts that you might not have known about each of the shows.

The Guiding Light (later just Guiding Light)

Years Aired: Radio run, 1937-1956; TV run, 1952-2009
Just the Facts: Set in the town of Springfield for most of its run, The Guiding Light was once the longest-running program in broadcast history, beginning its life on radio and transitioning to TV in 1952. Created by the mother of soaps, Irna Philips, it centered around the Bauer family from the time of its TV debut until it was canceled nearly 60 years later.
Famous Alum: James Earl Jones, Calista Flockhart, Hayden Panetierre, Kevin Bacon, Nia Long, Sherry Stringfield
Did You Know: Guiding Light's famous cloning storyline in which Josh cloned his beloved Reva was inspired by the real-life cloning of a sheep named Dolly. The Reva clone was also named Dolly.
Did You Know EXTRA: Guiding Light dropped the "The" from its name in November 1975.

Search for Tomorrow

Years Aired: 1951-1986
Just the Facts: Created by Roy Winsor, Search for Tomorrow took place in the town of Henderson and centered around the life of Joanne Gardner Barron Tate Vincente Tourneur and her good friend Stu Bergman through the entirety of its run. In 1982, it made the switch from CBS to NBC, where it remained until it was canceled in 1986.
Famous Alum: Don Knotts, Morgan Fairchild, Sandy Duncan, Jane Krakowski, Olympia Dukakis
Did You Know: Jo and her beloved Stu were the last two characters seen when SFT ended, with Stu asking Jo what she was searching for. She said, "Tomorrow. And I can't wait."

Love of Life

Years Aired: 1951-1980
Just the Facts: Set in the fictional town of Barrowsville, Love of Life was the second soap created by Roy Winsor to premiere that year, with the first being Search for Tomorrow. It told the tale of the very different Dale sisters, Vanessa and Meg, through most of its run. It is also one of the few soaps to go out with a cliffhanger rather than a happy ending.
Famous Alum: Peggy McCay, John Aniston, Christopher Reeve, Bonnie Bartlett
Did You Know: When Love of Life first began, there were no commercial breaks. All commercials for American Home Products (which owned the show) aired right before and after the episode.

The Secret Storm

Years Aired: 1954-1974
Just the Facts: Another soap created by Roy Winsor, The Secret Storm took place in the fictional town of Woodbridge and told the tale of widower Peter Ames and his three children. The show featured two main villainesses who would thwart him through the years, Pauline and Belle.
Famous Alum: Christina Crawford, Audrey Landers, Ken Kercheval, Diane Ladd, Donna Mills, Robin Strasser, Roy Scheider
Did You Know: Hollywood legend Joan Crawford once filled in for her daughter Christina when she was decades older than the character she was playing.

The Brighter Day

Years Aired: Radio run, 1948-1956; TV run, 1954-1962
Just the Facts: Another soap created by Irna Phillips, like Guiding Light, The Brighter Day also made the transition from radio to TV and aired on both platforms simultaneously for two years. Set in the fictional town of New Hope during its television years, it had a religious theme and told the story of Reverend Dennis and his family.
Famous Alum: Hal Holbrook, Lois Nettleton, Patty Duke
Did You Know: Both NBC and CBS played host to The Brighter Day. It was on NBC during its radio run and on CBS while on TV.

The Edge of Night (Later just Edge of Night)

Years Aired: 1956-1984
Just the Facts: The first mystery soap, Edge of Night was set in the fictional town of Monticello. It was created by Irving Vendig and centered around Mike Karr, a man who spent his life fighting for criminal justice, first as a cop and later as a lawyer.
Famous Alum: Kate Capshaw, Frances Fisher, Lori Loughlin, Richard Thomas, John Travolta, Julianne Moore, Bebe Neuwirth
Did You Know: Edge of Night was originally conceived to be a daytime version of the primetime hit Perry Mason.

As the World Turns

Years Aired: 1956-2010
Just the Facts: Another soap created by Irna Phillips, As the World Turns took place in the town of Oakdale, and it told the story of the Dixon, Hughes, and Snyder clans through the years. For 20 years, it reigned as the number one rated soap, from 1958 to 1978, winning four Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Daytime Drama along the way.
Famous Alum: Maura West, Meg Ryan, Marisa Tomei, Julianne Moore, James Earl Jones, Cady McClain, Colleen Zenk
Did You Know: On November 22, 1963, newscaster Walter Cronkite broke into a broadcast of ATWT to tell Americans that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

Young Dr. Malone

Years Aired: Radio run, 1939-1960; TV run, 1958-1963
Just the Facts: Yet another Irna Philips creation in collaboration with Betty Corday, Young Dr. Malone first took place in Three Oaks and centered on the life of young Dr. Jerry Malone. By the time the soap moved to television in 1960, Jerry Malone had moved to the fictional town of Denison, MD, and featured another young doctor Malone, Jerry's son, David.
Famous Alum: Emily McLaughlin, Dick Van Patten, Joyce Van Patten, Nicolas Coster, Mary Fickett, Robert Lansing
Did You Know: When the show first debuted on radio in 1939, it was aired on the Blue Network and sponsored by Post Cereals and General Foods. It made the move to CBS in 1940, with Procter & Gamble taking over sponsorship in 1945.

General Hospital

Years Aired: 1963-Present
Just the Facts: The first of two medical soaps to premiere on April Fool's Day in 1963, General Hospital was created by Frank and Doris Hursley and is now the longest-running soap opera in broadcast history. Set at Port Charles General Hospital, the soap first centered around Dr. Steve Hardy and later his wife, Audrey. Prominent families through the years have included the Baldwin, Spencer, Webber, Quartermaine, Cassadine, and Corinthos clans.
Famous Alum: Mark Hamill, John Stamos, James Franco, Demi Moore, Rick Springfield, Jack Wagner, Amber Tamblyn
Did You Know: Luke and Laura's star-powered wedding (even Elizabeth Taylor was in attendance as Helena Cassadine) remains the most-watched soap opera episode to this day. The November 16, 1981, wedding garnered more than 30 million viewers.

The Doctors

Years Aired: 1963-1982
Just the Facts: The second of the two medical soaps to debut on April 1, 1963, The Doctors started its life as an anthology soap set at Hope Memorial Hospital. Created by Orin Tovrov, it became a traditional soap in 1964 and centered around Dr. Matt Powers and his friends and family.
Famous Alum: Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner, Julia Duffy, Jonathan Frakes, Ellen Burstyn
Did You Know: Just like it shared its premiere day with another soap, The Doctors also shared its cancelation day with another soap: it joined Texas in leaving the NBC airwaves on December 31, 1982.

Another World

Years Aired: 1964-1999
Just the Facts: Created by two giants of the genre, Irna Phillips and William J. Bell, Another World took place in the fictional town of Bay City and, at first, centered around the Matthews family, with the love triangle of Steve, Alice, and Rachel dominating most of its first decade. Later core families included the Corys, the Frames, and the Loves.
Famous Alum: Ray Liotta, Rue McClanahan, Kyra Sedgwick, Kelsey Grammer, Brad Pitt
Did You Know: AW gave birth to two spinoff series, Somerset and Texas. In addition, country singers Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris sang the show's theme song, which hit number four on Billboard's country charts in 1987.

Days of our Lives

Years Aired: 1965-Present
Just the Facts: Set in the fictional town of Salem, Days of our Lives was created by Ted and Betty Corday. The soap enlisted the help of Irna Phillips as a story editor and Bill Bell as head writer. Nearly 60 years later, the soap still focuses on the trials and tribulations of the Horton family, as well as the Brady, DiMera, and Kiriakis clans.
Famous Alum: Lisa Rinna, Jensen Ackles, Alison Sweeney, Andrea Barber
Did You Know: DAYS stars Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine and remain the only soap stars to ever earn that honor.

Dark Shadows

Years Aired: 1966-1971
Just the Facts: The first gothic soap to ever air, Dark Shadows was created by Dan Curtis and was a rarity on daytime television, featuring werewolves, ghosts, zombies, witches, and warlocks. Taking place in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine, the soap told the story of Barnabas Collins, a 2000-year-old vampire. In 1969, it was ABC's highest-rated soap.
Famous Alum: Joel Crothers, Jonathan Frid, Mitchell Ryan
Did You Know: Dark Shadows spawned a 2012 feature film starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter.

One Life to Live

Years Aired: 1968-2012
Just the Facts: Created by Irna Phillips' protege Agnes Nixon, who also wrote for Another World, One Life to Live was based in the fictional Llanview, PA, and centered on the trials and tribulations of Victoria Lord and her family. In later years, the Lords were joined by the Buchanan, Wolek, Vega, and Cramer families.
Famous Alum: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Marcia Cross, Hayden Panettiere, Laurence Fishburne, Nathan Fillion
Did You Know: OLTL got a second lease on life in 2013 when newly produced episodes were briefly streamed on the Online Network and Hulu

Where the Heart Is

Years Aired: 1969-1973
Just the Facts: Created by Lou Scofield and Margaret DePriest, Where the Heart Is was set in Northcross, Connecticut, and told the story of the dysfunctional Hathaway family while trying to reach a younger audience, shocking viewers with adultery and illegitimate children.
Famous Alum: James Mitchell, Louise Shaffer, Joseph Mascolo, Rue McClanahan
Did You Know: When Where the Heart Is was canceled in 1973, it was to make room in the CBS lineup for a new soap, The Young and the Restless.


Years Aired: 1970-1976
Just the Facts: A spinoff of Another World and originally called Another World: Somerset, it was created by Robert Cenedella and told the story of former AW characters Missy Palmer Matthews, Lahoma Lucas, and Sam Lucas. Core families included the Davises, Buchanans, and Delaneys.
Famous Alum: Ann Wedgeworth, Nicolas Coster, Gary Sandy, Audrey Landers, Ted Danson, Sigourney Weaver
Did You Know: When Somerset was canceled, it was replaced by a game show, The Gong Show.

All My Children

Years Aired: 1970-2011
Just the Facts: Like One Life to Live, All My Children was created by Agnes Nixon. It was set in the fictional town of Pine Valley, PA, and told the story of the Martin family. Later families included the Marick, Chandler, Cortlandt, Kane, and Santos clans. After its 2011 cancelation, AMC had a brief run streaming on Hulu and the OWN network in 2013.
Famous Alum: Kelly Ripa, Mark Consuelos, Susan Lucci, Josh Duhamel, Lacey Chabert, Carol Burnett, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Did You Know: All My Children was actually created before One Life to Live, but Agnes Nixon kept it hidden away until One Life to Live became a hit and ABC asked if she had anything else.
Did You Know EXTRA: All My Children was the first soap opera that Soap Central covered in 1994, when the site was known as The AMC Pages.

The Young and the Restless

Years Aired: 1973-Present
Just the Facts: Created by William J. Bell, The Young and the Restless first centered around the upper-class Brooks family and the lower-income Fosters, with the aristocratic Chancellors thrown into the mix. By the 1980s, the core family action shifted to the Newmans and the Abbotts, with Jeanne Cooper's Katherine Chancellor remaining with the soap until her 2013 death.
Famous Alum: Shemar Moore, Eva Longoria, David Hasselhoff, Vivica A. Fox, Justin Hartley
Did You Know: The very first scene of the very first episode of Y&R was shot on location in the San Fernando Valley.
Did You Know EXTRA: Melody Thomas Scott is the only current cast member to have appeared in both the 30-minute and 60-minute versions of Y&R.

Ryan's Hope

Years Aired: 1975-1989
Just the Facts: Created by Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, Ryan's Hope was a rare soap in that it took place in a real city -- New York City. Centered around the Irish-America Ryan family and the action at their pub, Ryan's Bar, Ryan's Hope remained a half-hour long through its run and dealt with such issues as abortion, out-of-wedlock children, and women's liberation.
Famous Alum: Kate Mulgrew, Malachy McCourt, Roscoe Born, Walt Willey, Ron Hale, Justin Deas, Ilene Kristen
Did You Know: Ryan's Hope was briefly revived -- sort of -- in 2013 when General Hospital revealed that Delia Reid Coleridge was Ava Jerome's mother.


Years Aired: 1980-1982
Just the Facts: The second spin-off of Another World, Texas was created by John and Joyce Corrington and originally centered around Another World character Iris Bancroft Wheeler, who had moved to Texas and married her first love, Alex Wheeler. Other drama revolved around the Marshall and Dekker families. It was canceled by 1982, and its last episode aired the same day The Doctors left NBC, on New Year's Eve.
Famous Alum: Beverlee McKinsey, Jay Hammer, Harley Kozak, Caryn Richman
Did You Know: By the time Texas left the airwaves, Pamela Long not only starred on the soap as Ashley Linden Marshall, but also served as the show's head writer.


Years Aired: 1982-1987
Just the Facts: Created by Stephen and Elinor Karpf, Capitol took a cue from its name. Capitol was based in Washington, DC, making it daytime's first (and so far only) political soap opera. Centered around the Dennig, Clegg, and McCandless families. When the show came to a close in March of 1987, it offered a cliffhanger ending rather than a happy one.
Famous Alum: Constance Towers, Rory Calhoun, Lana Wood, Carolyn Jones
Did You Know: Capitol filmed the 1984 wedding of Trey and Sloan at the Jefferson Memorial.


Years Aired: 1983-1995
Just the Facts: Set in the university town of Corinth, PA, Loving was the brainchild of veteran soap scribes Agnes Nixon and Douglas Marland, and centered around the upper-crust Alden family and the middle-class Rescotts and Vocheks. When Loving came to an end, it did so in a way other soaps did not, to give birth to another soap, The City.
Famous Alum: Patricia Kalember, Michael Weatherly, Laura Wright, Randolph Mantooth, Bryan Cranston
Did You Know: Loving made its debut as a two-hour made-for-TV movie starring Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Page.

Santa Barbara

Years Aired: 1984-1993
Just the Facts: Created by Bridget and Jerome Dobson, Santa Barbara seemed like it never had a chance as it competed against the mega-popular General Hospital. It centered around the Capwell and Lockridge families, with its breakout pair being upper-class Eden Capwell and Latino cop Cruz Castillo.
Famous Alum: Robin Wright, Sydney Penny, Dame Judith Anderson, Marcy Walker, A Martinez, Eileen Davidson
Did You Know: Santa Barbara creator Bridget Dobson was the daughter of General Hospital creators Frank and Doris Hursley.

The Bold and the Beautiful

Years Aired: 1987-Present
Just the Facts: After the success of Y&R, CBS asked Bill Bell to create another soap, and this time, he enlisted the help of his wife, Lee Phillip Bell, to help. They created The Bold and the Beautiful and set it in the Los Angeles fashion world, telling the tale of the Forrester, Spencer, and Logan clans, the three main families on this show today.
Famous Alum: Jack Wagner, Dick Christie, Hunter Tylo, Alley Mills, Denise Richards, Usher, Mario Lopez
Did You Know: Rags was the original name the Bells gave their new soap before its 1987 premiere.


Years Aired: 1981-1999
Just the Facts: Lasting only a little over 22 months, Generations was the first soap to center around a Black core family, the Marshalls, who owned a chain of ice cream shops. Among its other core families were the Whitmores, which gave fans young heroine Sam.
Famous Alum: Vivica A. Fox, Kelly Rutherford, Kristoff St. John, Richard Roundtree, Debbi Morgan, Jonelle Allen, James Reynolds
Did You Know: Both St. John and Reynolds received Daytime Emmy nominations for their work on Generations.

The City

Years Aired: 1995-1997
Just the Facts: When a serial killer wreaked havoc on the Pennsylvania town of Corinth, some of its survivors left the suburbs for The City, New York City, that is. The 30-minute soap focused on these characters and their life in a Soho apartment building. Some of the Loving faves who turned up on The City included Ally, Steffy, Alex, Tess, and Danny.
Famous Alum: Morgan Fairchild, Laura Wright, Amelia Heinle, Michael Weatherly, Debbi Morgan, Lisa LoCicero
Did You Know: General Hospital's Tracy Quartermaine (Jane Elliot) also made her way to The City with her infant son, Dillon.

Port Charles

Years Aired: 1997-2003
Just the Facts: A half-hour spinoff of General Hospital, Port Charles was created by former GH producer Wendy Riche, and revolved around the hospital more than GH did at that point (and in 2024). It featured some popular GH characters like Lucy Coe and Scott Baldwin, as well as a crop of interns at Port Charles General Hospital.
Famous Alum: Kelly Monaco, Michael Easton, Kin Shriner, Jon Lindstrom, Linda Dano, Kimberlin Brown
Did You Know: Later in its life, Port Charles delved into the supernatural with a compelling story about vampires.

Sunset Beach

Years Aired: 1997-1999
Just the Facts: Created by veteran soap writers Robert Guza, Josh Griffith, and Charles Pratt Jr., Sunset Beach took place in the southern California town of Sunset Beach. While the breakout pair was supposed to be Meg and Ben, the show's most memorable tale involved artificial insemination with a turkey baster.
Famous Alum: Lesley-Anne Down, Sam Behrens, Jason George, Leigh Taylor-Young, Adrienne Frantz
Did You Know: Sunset Beach was the first daytime soap opera to be produced by the legendary Aaron Spelling and even featured his son, Randy, as part of its cast.


Years Aired: 1999-2008
Just the Facts: The last soap to premier over the last 25 years, Passions replaced Another World on the NBC lineup and was created by late former Days of our Lives head writer James E. Reilly. It delved into the supernatural. Set in the fictional New England town of Harmony, two of the most popular characters were a witch named Tabitha and her life-like little boy doll named Timmy.
Famous Alum: Juliet Mills, Andrea Evans, Galen Gering, Eric Martsolf, Justin Hartley, Brook Kerr, Amelia Marshall
Did You Know: The last year that Passions aired, it was carried by DirecTV's The 101 channel rather than NBC.

The Gates

After a quarter of a century, CBS announced the development of a brand-new soap, The Gates. While it does not have a first airdate or cast yet, it is being produced as a joint venture between CBS, the NAACP, and Procter & Gamble studios, with veteran soap writer Michele Val Jean serving as head writer and executive producer.

What do you think? Which soaps have been your favorites through the years? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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