Longest-Running Daytime Soaps in American TV History

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While some TV shows come to an end, others seem to go on forever. Many outstanding shows, like Breaking Bad and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, are remembered fondly despite only lasting a few years. Breaking Bad ran for five seasons, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired for six seasons. However, some shows, like The Simpsons, have achieved remarkable longevity, remaining on air for over 30 years.

In the world of daytime soap operas, lasting more than 10 years is impressive. But running for a couple of decades or more is truly legendary. It takes immense creativity and dedication to consistently deliver captivating storylines and memorable characters, keeping the drama engaging for such a long time. In this article, we’ll explore the longest-running daytime soaps in American TV history.

Guiding Light (57 years)

Title card for Guiding Light, the longest running serial drama in the history of audiovisual entertainment media, being a radio program for 14 years and then a television program for 57 years

The mother of all soap operas, Guiding Light, set the stage for soap operas worldwide. The title is fitting, don’t you think? It started as a radio broadcast in 1937 and ran until 1956 on NBC Radio. It transitioned to television in 1952 and continued until 2009, ending due to low ratings after 15,762 episodes. It lasted 57 years on TV but had a total runtime of 72 years, including its radio run. Guiding Light holds the record for the longest-running non-news show in American TV history.

Guiding Light initially revolved around the middle-class Bauer family. Later, it focused on the lives, loves, and challenges of other families in Springfield, such as the Spauldings, Coopers, Lewises, and Chamberlains. One of the most bizarre storylines involved cloning the character Reva Lewis from one of her frozen eggs. Once born, the clone was given an aging serum to slow her aging. But clone Reva turned out evil and tried to take Reva’s place.

General Hospital (55 years and counting)

John Beradino and Emily McLaughlin celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the General Hospital show in 1973

Named the “Greatest Soap Opera of All Time” by TV Guide, General Hospital has won the most Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series. In 2010, it became the oldest American soap opera after the final broadcasts of As The World Turns and Guiding Light. Launched in 1963 and still running today, 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 history.

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

As the World Turns (54 years)

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

This show was more reality-based than other soaps and was the first to use a two-family setup. It moved at the pace of life, with slow yet emotionally intense storytelling. As the World Turns centered on a middle-class family and a wealthy yet troubled family. Set in Oakdale, Illinois, the series focused on the Hughes, Snyder, and Walsh families, with members struggling to do the right thing while following their hearts.

Days of Our Lives (53 years and counting)

Logo of the American daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives

The popular sitcom Friends would have been incomplete without Joey’s stint as Dr. Drake Ramoray. Days of Our Lives is the actual show that started it all. It first aired in 1965 and is still running today. Throughout its 53-year run, it has won numerous accolades, including many Daytime Emmy Awards.

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

The Young and the Restless (45 years and counting)

Logo of the United States daytime soap opera 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 half-hour episodes and expanded to hour-long episodes in 1980. Initially at the bottom of the ratings, it quickly climbed to the top. By 1988, it had dethroned General Hospital as the top-rated soap opera. As of 2013, it held the number one spot for 25 years. The show has won nine Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, and in 2017, it was renewed for three more years.

The show originally focused on two core families: the wealthy Brooks and the working-class Fosters, living in the fictional Wisconsin town of Genoa City (unrelated to the real-life Genoa City, WI). These were later replaced by new families: the Abbots and the Williamses, with additions of the Newmans, Winters, and Baldwin-Fishers.

The town is a hotbed of tension, corporate intrigue, and grandeur, with the Abbots and Newmans often at odds. Despite these changes, one storyline has remained: the feud between Jill Abbott and Katherine Chancellor. Their feud is the longest-running rivalry on any American soap opera.

One Life to Live (43 years)

Logo of the TV series One Life to Live

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

One Life to Live centers on the wealthy Lord family, the feisty Cramer family, and the powerful Buchanan clan. Actress Erika Slezak played the main character, Viki Lord, from 1971 until the end of the show, earning six Daytime Emmy Awards for the role. The story is set in the fictional suburb of Llanview, Pennsylvania, where tension runs high due to the three clashing families. The residents of Llanview have experienced cults, time travel, and out-of-body experiences.

All My Children (41 years)

Ruth Warwick as Phoebe Tyler from the television daytime drama All My Children

All My Children, another creation of soap opera mastermind Agnes Nixon, first aired in 1970 and ran for 41 years until its cancellation in 2011. It was briefly revived 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, the breakout star and one of daytime TV’s most popular characters.

Set in Pine Valley, a fictional suburb of Philadelphia modeled after the actual suburb of Rosemont, All My Children was notable for tackling serious issues and controversial topics. It addressed subjects 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.

Another World (35 years)

Susan Trustman as Pat Matthews and Michael M. Ryan as John Randolph from the daytime drama Another World

First airing on NBC in 1964, Another World broke new ground by addressing topics like abortion when such subjects were taboo. This made the show groundbreaking in its day. It was also the first soap opera to feature a crossover with the character Mike Bauer from Guiding Light. Despite its innovative storylines, declining ratings led to the show’s cancellation in 1999.

Set in the fictional town of Bay City, Another World originally followed the lives of the middle-class and upper-class branches of the Matthews family. Over time, the show expanded to include the Cory, Hudson, and Randolph families. In its first year, the show made a strong impact with a risky storyline featuring a teenager who had an illegal abortion, was acquitted of murder, and married her lawyer.

Conclusion

Daytime soaps have captivated audiences for decades with their dramatic storylines and unforgettable characters. These shows have made their mark in TV history. Their longevity and impact on popular culture demonstrate the enduring appeal of soap operas. These shows will always be remembered as a significant part of American television history.

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