The Soap opera is one of the most popular forms of a Television programme that there is. It is set in a small location like a street, square or a village. It has numerous regular characters whose lives it focuses on. These characters have storylines that usually involve current affairs in the real world or highlight social problems in the news.
The idea behind the soap opera is that we find some relatability with the characters and the families that are in it. The Soap opera tries to be a reflection of life in Britain today. In the past, they have been accused of being too realistic for the time slots that they placed in, usually between Seven pm and Nine pm, or “before the watershed”, as it is sometimes called. However, they have also been seen as groundbreaking dramas. For example, Brookside featured the first same-sex kiss, and the first openly Gay male characters were seen in Eastenders. In contrast, Soap Operas have also been criticised for having unrealistic and over the top storylines. For example, a plane crash in Emmerdale and the return of Den Watts, after his demise had been confirmed by dental records, in Eastenders are just two incidences where credibility was stretched.
The name “Soap opera” comes from the United States of America. These were weekly dramas sponsored by Soap and washing powder companies that provided financial assistance in making them aired. During the advertisement breaks, the ads would be from the soap companies. The products they produced would be featured prominently during the show, usually by members of the cast, by either openly using them or saying them by name as part of the script. It was also typical for the Television announcer to say that the programme was “brought to you by….” and then tell the product’s name and list its qualities.
This “product placement” was not so noticeable in Britain. The main reason was that the licence fee payer funded the BBC, and the Corporation is not allowed to advertise or be seen to favour any products by law. Independent Television (ITV) is different. It is made up of regionally-based companies that are privately owned. These companies rely on advertising to fund the programs they make. They are allowed to use product placement, although they rarely do, and they can explicitly mention who is sponsoring the show. Companies were prepared to give over sizeable sums to advertise on a top-rated programme like Coronation Street. The vast viewing figures meant they had a significant potential sales audience to draw upon.
Our love for the “soaps” has not diminished over the years. Coronation Street and Eastenders still top the viewing figures weekly, usually swopping between first and second place. Coronation Street is the longest continuously running television programme and series in the world. Conversely, the Archers on Radio Four, a soap opera, is the longest-running radio programme globally. This shows the depth of love and affection we have for them and continue to do so by watching and listening.
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