Soap operas flourished and changed in the 1980s. After decades of realistic drama, new storytelling trends emerged. Plots became more action-oriented, and there were more fantasy-filled adventures for young romantic couples.
The 1980s Soap Operas We Loved
It helped the medium reach its peak in popularity and profitability. Check out our list of the top 10 facts about 1980s soap operas.
1. Wedding Winner
The wedding of General Hospital’s Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis), which aired on November 16 and 17, 1981, was the highest-rated episodes in daytime television history. It garnered over 30 million viewers.
2. Cashing In
The success of soaps in the 80s inspired lots of merchandising. T-shirts like, “I’m A General Hospital Fanatic” were sold, and The Afternoon Delights released the song General Hospi-Tale in 1981. Gloria Loring (ex-Liz) penned Days of Our Lives Celebrity Cookbook in 1981, with profits benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. GH launched a board game in 1982 and a trivia card game in 1987. All My Children released a board game in 1985, too.
3. Primetime Takeoff
In an unprecedented move, CBS’s Capitol and ABC’s Loving debuted in a two-hour movie format. Though both specials featured former Hollywood luminaries, Constance Towers, Carolyn Jones, and Ed Nelson continued their respective roles on Capitol whereas Loving’s Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Page’s run was confined to the pilot.
4. Coupling Up
Days of our Lives coined the word “supercouple,” while mastering a formula for creating one popular pairing after the next. Among its notable 80s duos were Roman and Marlena, Bo and Hope, Steve and Kayla, Justin and Adrienne, Shane and Kimberly, each with its own devout following of fans.
5. Tackling AIDS
Another World became the first of the U.S. soap operas to feature an AIDS-related storyline, when Dawn (Barbara Bush) contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and eventually died of AIDS in 1988. After she passed away, her fiancé, Scott (Hank Cheyne), gave a speech in her memory at an AIDS benefit in Bay City.
6. A New “Generations”
NBC’s Generations, which debuted on March 27, 1989, was promoted as daytime’s first fully integrated soap, prominently featuring an African-American family from its inception. The show focused on the trials, tribulations, and relationship between Black Marshalls and the White Whitmores.
7. Lush Locations
Location shoots became prevalent. Another World and Guiding Light headed to St. Croix in 1980. The next year, Search for Tomorrow traveled to Hong Kong and Jamaica. In 1984 GH took Luke and Laura to Cuernavaca, Mexico and Days of our Lives took Bo and Hope to Oak Alley Plantation. In 1985, the DAYS duo wed in England, while Justin and Adrienne headed to Greece for their nuptials.
8. Restless Rules
The Young and the Restless began a historic reign as the number one soap in 1988, a post it would hold for over three decades. (It finally toppled the week of March 16, 2020, when The Bold and Beautiful landed the top spot.)
9. Dollars and Daytime
By 1984, networks’ yearly revenue from soaps reached an all-time high – just shy of $1.25 billion in ad sales. While daytime dramas cost considerably less to produce, they generated considerably more dollars than primetime series.
10. A Luxe Look
Primetime soap operas Dallas and Dynasty were a huge hit, featuring wealthy families with luxurious lifestyles. NBC decided to follow suit in 1984, introducing Santa Barbara to its lineup and modeling core family, the Capwells, after Dynasty’s filthy rich Carrington clan.