Classic TV

Longest-Running Daytime Soaps in American TV History

While some TV shows come to an end, others just seem to go on forever. There are some great shows that are remembered for being outstanding, most only lasted for a couple of years, like Breaking Bad (which lasted for 5 seasons) and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which aired for 6 seasons). But there are other great shows that lasted long, like The Simpsons, which has been on air for 29 years.  

For any daytime soap opera, lasting for more than 10 years is impressive. But running for a couple of decades or more? It’s got to be legendary. It’s hard to imagine how much creativity and dedication it needs to provide captivating storylines and incredible characters to keep the drama interesting for so long.

Here are some of America’s longest-running daytime soaps:

1. Guiding Light (57 years)

Guiding Light

The mother of all soap operas, “Guiding Light” set the stage for soap operas around the world. (The title of the show is very fitting for this, don’t you think?) It was initially started as a radio broadcast in 1937, and ran until 1956 on NBC Radio. This soap opera transitioned to television by 1952, but was taken off air in 2009 due to low ratings after broadcasting a total of 15,762 episodes. It lasted for 57 years on TV, but had an astounding runtime of 72 years if you count its radio run. Guiding Light holds the record for the longest-running, non-news show in American TV history.

The Guiding Light was set on a fictional Midwest town of Springfield, and first revolved around the middle-class Bauer family. Later on, it focused on the life, love and challenges of other families in Springfield, such as the Spauldings, Coopers, Lewises and Chamberlains. One of the most bizarre storylines of the show involved cloning the character Reva Lewis from one of her own frozen eggs, and once the clone was born, she was given an aging serum so she wouldn’t age fast. But clone Reva turned out to be evil and attempted to take Reva’s place.

2. General Hospital (55 years and counting)

General Hospital

Named as the “Greatest Soap Opera of all Time” by TV Guide, General Hospital has won the most Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series. It has become the oldest American soap opera as of 2010, after the final broadcast of As The World Turns and Guiding Light. Launched on 1963 and still running up to this day, this series holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running American soap opera in production and the second-longest running drama in American TV.

General Hospital is originally set in a general hospital (hence the title), in fictional town of Port Charles, New York. The show is filled with medical drama, mob wars and love and desire. Since the late 1970’s, most storylines focused on the Quartermaines and the Spencers. It rose to the top of the ratings since the late ‘70s to early ‘80s due to the popular supercouple Luke and Laura, who sparked the trend of the soap opera super couple.

3. As the World Turns (54 years)

As the World Turns

As the World Turns was created earlier than General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, as it debuted on 1956. It ran for 54 years on CBS, and when it ended in 2010, it was the second-longest running show in American history. Before this series was launched, all serials had been 15 minutes in length, and As the World Turns was one of the first 30-minute shows to premiere on TV. The ratings picked up in the 1957, and eventually reached the top spot for daytime Nielsen ratings by fall of 1958. It was the most-watched daytime drama from 1958 to 1978.

This show is more reality-based compared with other soaps, and the first soap opera to use a two-family setup. It moved at the pace of life itself, while making the story slow yet emotionally intense. As the World Turns was about a middle-class family against a wealthy, yet troubled family. Set in Oakdale, Ill., the series focused on the Hughes, Snyder and Walsh families, wherein members struggle to do the right thing as they follow their hearts.

4. Days of Our Lives (53 years and counting)

Days of Our Lives

Looking back, the popular sitcom Friends would have been incomplete without Joey’s stint as Dr. Drake Ramoray. Well, here’s the actual show that started it all. Days of Our Lives is one of the longest-running soap operas in TV history. It first went on air on 1965 and the show isn’t done yet. Throughout its 53-year run, it has won lots of accolades, including numerous Daytime Emmy Awards.

Days of Our Lives was considered a daring drama as it covered unconventional themes and tackled some taboo subjects that other soaps shied away from. This made the show the most widely distributed soap opera in the United States. The story takes place in a fictional, Midwestern town of Salem, which is home to the Horton and Brady families, as well as the evil DiMeras. It combined the idea of a hospital soap (like General Hospital), and the traditional, family-centered drama and made a show featuring a family of doctors.

5. The Young and the Restless (45 years and counting)

The Young and the Restless

The Young and the Restless is currently the highest-rated daytime drama on American television. It first aired in 1973 with its half-hour episodes, and then expanded to traditional hour-long episodes in 1980. When first introduced, the show was at the bottom of the ratings, but it rapidly climbed its way to the top. By 1988, it has dethroned long-time frontrunner General Hospital as the top-rated soap opera. As of 2013, it held the position of number one daytime drama for 25 years. The show was awarded 9 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama series, and as of 2017, the show was renewed for three more years.

The show originally focused on two core families: the wealthy Brooks and the working class Fosters, who live in a fictional Wisconsin town called Genoa City (unrelated to the real-life Genoa City, WI). It was later replaced with the new families, the Abbots and the Williamses, with the additions of the Newmans, Winters and the Baldwin-Fishers. The town is a hotbed of tension, corporate intrigue and grandeur, pitting the Abotts and the Newmans against each other. But with these changes, one storyline remained: the feud between Jill Abbot and Katherine Chancellor. Their feud is the longest rivalry on any American soap opera.

6. One Life to Live (43 years)

One Life to Live

Created by Agnes Nixon, the long-running daytime soap One Life to Live first aired in ABC in 1968. It is the first daytime drama to primarily feature socio-economically and ethnically diverse characters, emphasizing social issues. The show started as a 30-minute show and later expanded to 45 minutes on 1976, and then to an hour on 1978. However, it aired the last episode on 2012 and ended with a cliffhanger. It was continued on 2013 by The Online Network, but it was quickly cancelled.

One Life to Live is about the wealthy Lord family pitting against the feisty Cramer family and the powerful Buchanan clan. Actress Erika Slezak played the main character Viki Lord since 1971 until the rest of the show’s run, earning her a record of 6 Daytime Emmy Awards for the role. The story was set in a fictional suburb of Llanview, Pa., where tension is real due to the three clashing families. The residents of Llanview has seen cults, time travel and out-of-body experiences.

7. All My Children (41 years)

All My Children

All My Children was another brainchild of soap opera creator Agnes Nixon. This popular soap opera was introduced on 1970 and ran for 41 years until its cancellation in 2011. It was continued as an online series in 2013 by the Online Network, but production was suspended after 40 episodes. The show featured Susan Lucci as Erica Kane, who is the show’s breakout star and one of daytime TV’s most popular character.

This soap opera was set in Pine Valley, a fictional suburb in Philadelphia modeled on actual Philadelphia suburb of Rosemont. It was notable for featuring serious issues and controversial topics such as abortion in the 1970s, AIDs in the 1980s and same-sex marriage in the 2000s. It was also the first show to discuss the Vietnam War.

8. Another World (35 years)

Another World

First airing on NBC in 1964, Another World became the first soap opera to talk about abortion when such subjects were taboo. This made the show groundbreaking on its day. It was also the first soap opera to do a crossover, with the character of Mike Bauer from Guiding Light. After ratings continually declined, the show was canceled in 1999.

Taking place in a fictional town of Bay City, Another World originally followed the lives of the fighting middle-class branch and upper-class branch of the Matthews family. Later on, the Cory, Hudson and Randolph families were added to the show. On its first year on air, the show came on strong with a risky storyline featuring a teen who had an illegal abortion and ends up as an acquitted murderer who marries her lawyer.

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