The soap opera genre is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it does have a loyal audience. If anyone is interested in the very early versions of soap operas in television history, they might be interested in knowing about the show ‘These Are My Children’.
This TV soap opera started airing on NBC on January 31st 1949. It was far from the longest running daytime soap in the history of American television, however. It only ran for about four weeks, and ended on March 4th of the same year. Nevertheless, it was still the forerunner of several soap operas that ran for several years.
The show ‘These Are My Children’ was broadcasted live for just 15 minutes in one day. The broadcast was from Chicago, Illinois, and the show ran for five days a week. The show is also believed to be a TV adaptation of the series ‘Today’s Children’, which was also created by Irna Phillips. The popularity of that show on NBC radio made it run from 1933 to 1938. However, the same charm evidently couldn’t be captured on the television screen.
In the short history of soap operas, These Are My Children wasn’t exactly the first of its kind on American Television. There was the series ‘Highway to the Stars’ that aired in 1947, as well as the Dumont-produced ‘Faraway Hill’ aired in 1946. However, these two series were broadcasted in the evenings and only came on air once weekly. ‘These Are My Children’ was probably the first daytime drama or the first soap opera strip. While the more successful ‘Guiding Light’ had been around for 12 years before These Are My Children aired, that was a radio series back then. It came to television in 1952.
Coming back to ‘These Are My Children’, this show had Norman Felton as the director and Irna Phillips as the creators. The storyline was based on the early radio soaps like ‘Painted Dreams’ and “Today’s Children’–both projects that Philips had been a part of.
The story of ‘These Are My Children’ revolved around the struggles of Mrs.Henehan, an Irish widow who ran a boarding house. She also helped out her daughter in law and three children. Unfortunately for the people working on this show, the television critics weren’t blown away with the script or anything else. In fact, the review by Television World ended on a bleak note, saying that there was no place for this show on television. They even said that a blank screen was preferable.
There was another major factor in the cancellation of this soap opera. At the time, AT&T Corporation put an end to coaxial cable for the eastbound distribution of programs during weekdays, especially for those that broadcasted from Chicago. At the same time, NBC executives weren’t too happy with These Are My Children and wanted to focus more on shows originating in New York.
Still, it wasn’t like the people being ‘These Are My Children’ didn’t know what they were doing. After the show ended, Irna Phillips went on to create several daytime dramas that were quite popular. She was also responsible for introducing soap opera features that have now become clichés in this genre. These include dramatic music, cliffhangers, and white-collar professionals being the main characters. Philips herself was an unorthodox yet prolific writer, generating around 2 million words per year during the early 1940s.
Philips would continue working on creating soap operas until the year she died (1973). She would be a part of major projects such as ‘Another World’, ‘As the World Turns’, and ‘Days of Our Lives’. Some of her shows are still running to this day.
Norman Felton produced ‘Executive Suite’ and ‘Dr. Kildare’, both primetime soaps. This might be a good point to talk about just why these drama series were called ‘soap’ operas. The reason for this name was due to the companies sponsoring such content. These daytime serials were mostly sponsored by companies selling products like soaps, cosmetics, cleaning items, and other products aimed at the average housewife. Since daytime television was mostly watched by housewives, the advertisements aired in those slots were chosen accordingly.
Even though the show These Are My Children could only be called a failure, it was still the first time for a daytime soap opera on a major TV network. The next several years would see many televised soap operas, including significant contributions by the creator and director of These Are My Children. By the time the 1960s decade rolled around, soap operas were mostly shown on regular television.
Soap operas were fairly popular from the early 1950s through the 1980s, though their charm did fade along with the end of the ‘80s decade. One reason for this might have been because more and more women were joining the workforce. Women were no longer always expected to stay at home, take care of the kids, and do all the housework. In fact, it was becoming an increasing necessity for women to work, as most middle-class households could no longer make just one source of income.
Episodes of These Are My Children are not available for viewing today, but there still are a lot of shows where Irna Phillips was the co-creator or creator. Any of these might be suitable for a soap opera enthusiast today. While some might see soap operas as a lowbrow form of entertainment, it’s still quite a narratively complex genre and may even demand a lot of knowledge from its viewers.