Happy birthday to the beloved TV morning and afternoon staple known as the soap opera. The TV genre was born on one freezing cold January 31st, 1949 (the previous day, temperatures reached -4 °F or -15 °C), and would go on to broadcast live on Chicago’s NBC station WNBQ, channel 5 at 5 p.m., five days a week. At that time there were 52,000 TV sets in the coverage area, and the short-lived show was called These Are My Children, which is unrelated to the popular ABC soap All My Children that ended its run in 2011, after 41 years. These Are My Children (pictured above) was canceled two months after its premiere.

In the U.S., the genre was called “soap opera” because it was mostly sponsored by laundry detergents sold by Procter & Gamble, and so housewives were targeted. While the genre was new to television audiences, it had actually started on radio in 1930 in the U.S. and in 1932 in Mexico. In Latin America, the TV versions of “radionovelas” were called telenovelas.

There were six TV seasons when soap operas dominated the U.S. TV schedule, with the 1969-1970 season reaching 19 weekly soaps. From 1954 to 1973 there were, on average, 17 soaps on U.S. television networks. Currently, only three “soaps” remain on the air in the U.S.: The Bold and the Beautiful (started on CBS in 1987), The Young and the Restless (started on CBS in 1973), and General Hospital (started on ABC in 1963). Days of Our Lives (which started on NBC in 1965) moved to NBC’s Peacock streaming service in September 2022.

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