In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Soap Operas

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Reference Books
  • Online Resources
  • Blogs
  • Radio-Era Scholarship and Commentary
  • Global Flows of Soap Opera Format
  • Production/Industry Studies
  • Health Issues
  • Aging
  • Lesbian/Gay Characters
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Fan Cultures

Cinema and Media Studies Soap Operas
Abigail De Kosnik, Sam Ford
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0094


This bibliography on “soap operas” focuses on US daytime serial dramas, which are distinct from other national soap opera/radionovela/telenovela broadcasting traditions. US soap operas are defined by the combination of their frequency and duration, with the release of new installments (up to) five times per week and typically no off-season; their premise that the story is ongoing, with no planned ending; and their cultural positioning in the daytime television timeslot. The US daytime serial drama began as a genre of radio broadcasting in 1930. While many core elements of US soap operas have remained intact from the 1930s into the 21st century, the daytime serial drama genre has also undergone many fundamental changes, including the move from radio to television, and from fifteen-minute to thirty-minute shows, in the 1950s; the shift from live to taped production and from primarily thirty-minute to one-hour episodes in the 1970s; the expansion of production budgets in the 1980s; the development of online communication venues for audiences in the 1990s and 2000s; and the budget cuts, cancellations, and rise of online forms of distribution in the 2000s and 2010s. Through every transition, the soap opera has remained a staple of American popular culture. One of the reasons for the soap opera’s cultural importance is its exemplification of serialized storytelling. Another key aspect of the US soap opera is its significant impact on other genres/formats in the United States and globally, from the development of “quality television” serialized dramas in US prime time to various types of serialized programming around the world that some have categorized as “soap opera” and for which US daytime dramas have been a key influence. Because of the US soap opera’s endurance, serial structure, and international appeal, as well as its focus on female characters and its address to female viewers, the genre has long been a key object of analysis for media researchers and was a staple genre in the development of feminist media studies approaches. Scholars writing about US radio and television soap operas have produced vital contributions to audience research, media content analysis, feminist media criticism, fan studies, and other areas of media research. This bibliography presents key works on US soap operas, as well as studies of other nations’ serials/soap operas/telenovelas that have been influential on US soap scholarship, from a wide range of disciplinary approaches. The US soap opera is a complex and vast genre. As one of the first broadcast genres, its history spans many decades, from the pinnacle of commercial broadcast radio to the development of television. Furthermore, the soap opera format has expanded in a variety of different ways internationally since its 1930s development in the United States. Several academic studies have taken broad looks at US-style soap opera as a genre and format, while others provide large-scale examinations of humanist and social science research on US soaps. The genre has also inspired a range of edited collections, reference books, and rich online resources.

General Overviews

Allen 1985 and Borchers, et al. 1994 provide book-length considerations of soap opera’s history, production, audiences, and texts, as well as examinations of the history of soap opera scholarship. Kilborn 1992 is a textbook-style explanation of the US/UK soap opera genre (illustrated largely with examples from British soaps). Matelski 1988 examines and provides overviews of soap opera plots, characters, audiences, and programs by synthesizing existing research and analyzing original quantitative studies. Cantor and Pingree 1983 examines the history of the genre and social sciences approaches to the genre, while Comstock and Newcomb 1983 highlights the differences between humanist and social science approaches to studying the soap opera. Allen 1989 focuses on the variety of different programming types labeled “soap opera,” as scholars start to use the popular term to describe a wide range of international content. Ford, et al. 2011 looks at the US soap opera industry at a moment of crisis and highlights the genre’s strengths and potential paths forward. See the introduction to Allen 1995, cited under Global Flows of Soap Opera Format; Hayward 1997, cited under Broad Historical Scholarship; Hobson 2003, cited under Feminist Scholarship: 2000s; and Williams 1992, cited under Feminist Scholarship: 1990s; for other wide-ranging considerations of the soap opera genre.

  • Allen, Robert C. Speaking of Soap Operas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

    Seminal audience reception study. Introduces the concept of “reader-oriented poetics.” Contrasts genre’s institutional history with audience reception approach to soaps history. Provides soaps production studies overview; review of business, aesthetic, and social sciences soaps discourse; and thorough critique of mass communication soaps research (See Content Analysis and Quantitative Audience Research).

  • Allen, Robert C. “Bursting Bubbles: ‘Soap Opera,’ Audiences, and the Limits of Genre.” In Remote Control: Television, Audiences, and Cultural Power. Edited by Ellen Seiter, Hans Borchers, Gabriele Kreutzner, and Eva-Maria Warth, 44–55. New York: Routledge, 1989.

    Argues that the term “soap opera” has different meanings for different audiences, especially as it is applied to quite distinct types of programs throughout the world. Highlights the various ways soap opera has become an object of study and also points out the complications of conflating various types of shows and their audiences under the soaps genre.

  • Borchers, Hans, Gabriele Kreutzner, and Eva-Maria Warth. Never-Ending Stories: American Soap Operas and the Cultural Production of Meaning. Introduction by Ellen Seiter. Trier, Germany: WVT, 1994.

    Book-length examination of US soaps from (primarily) German scholars, looking at US soaps production, texts, and audiences. Considers US soaps history through the careers of two key figures, ethnographic research on soap opera industry production, an examination of prime-time soaps and soap opera magazines, and extensive soap opera audience research.

  • Cantor, Muriel G., and Suzanne Pingree. The Soap Opera. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1983.

    Helpful introduction to social sciences soap opera research, including content analysis and a variety of quantitative audience research approaches (such as media effects). Includes exploration of cultivation theory and uses and gratifications theory as applied to soaps. Begins with exploration of soap opera form and history of radio and television soaps.

  • Comstock, George, and Horace Newcomb. “Introduction: A Social Scientist’s and Humanist’s View of Daytime Serial Drama.” In Life on Daytime Television: Tuning-in American Serial Drama. Edited by Mary Cassata and Thomas Skill, xxi–xxxv. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1983.

    Two separately authored pieces accounting for why soap operas are of interest to social scientists versus humanists, and detailing the approaches each takes to studying soap operas and their audiences. Helpful and concise description of the two overarching research approaches that have shaped soap opera studies.

  • Ford, Sam, Abigail De Kosnik, and C. Lee Harrington. “The Crisis of Daytime Drama and What It Means for the Future of Television.” In The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era. Edited by Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik, and C. Lee Harrington, 3–21. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

    An interventionist text that examines the state of US soaps amid myriad cancellations and tightened budgets. Focuses on elements that make US soaps unique. Argues that soaps should focus on their deep history, ability for production/distribution experimentation, and new opportunities to understand/learn from audiences to survive in a digital era.

  • Kilborn, Richard. Television Soaps. London: B. T. Batsford, 1992.

    Aimed at students and general audiences. Provides a textbook-style examination of the history of soap operas, scholarship on soaps, soap opera productions, soap opera viewing, soap opera realism, and various iterations of soaps around the world. Illustrated primarily with examples from British soaps.

  • Matelski, Marilyn J. The Soap Opera Evolution: America’s Enduring Romance with Daytime Drama. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1988.

    Provides synthesis of previous soaps research, and original quantitative research and analysis on soap content and audiences. Examines themes in daytime serials’ plots, key character types, and occupations. Compares radio and television soap opera audiences and considers who watches soaps and why. Includes a consideration of each contemporary US soap.

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