15 Longest American Soaps of All Time
Whether its breakups, evil siblings, or murdered-then-returned characters, there's just something about soap operas that keeps everybody hooked. You can't help but respect the fact that entire crews have kept these shows alive with however many recasts and plot twists it takes to up ratings! Let's dive into America's longest-running soap operas based on the number of seasons.
The first on our list is Ryan's Hope with 13 seasons under its belt. The series aired in 1975 and followed the blue-collar Irish-American family living in Washington Heights, New York. The show spent several years between ABC timeslots until fizzing out in 1981 after CBS' The Young and The Restless. Despite declining ratings, the show aired for years until it was canceled in 1988.
The Doctors started as an anthology series that revolved around medical emergencies that resolved in one episode. After it became increasingly difficult to hire new actors for every episode, the writers decided to change their storylines to weekly concepts. Good things they did because the show lasted for 19 seasons!
The show had a number of cast changes over the years, but the most pivotal one is the addition of James Pritchett who eventually became the lead character, Dr. Matt Powers, Chief of Staff of the Hope Memorial Hospital. The show transitioned from medical emergencies to the weekly dramas of the staff which kept it alive up until its cancellation on December 31, 1982.
THE SECRET STORM
From 1954–1974, daytime fans would tune in to CBS for The Secret Storm by well-known American soap opera creator Roy Windsor. The soap opera followed the tragic lives of the Ames family who were constantly going through catastrophic storylines in the fictional town of Woodbridge. The show transitioned from black and white to color on September 11, 1967.
In 1968, Joan Crawford, who was 60 years old at the time, played the role of Joan, a 24-year-old woman in the series. The character was typically played by her daughter Christina Crawford. According to Wikipedia, Christina had a ruptured ovarian tumor and her Oscar-award winning mother agreed to step in for the role.
LOVE OF LIFE
Created by Roy Winsor, Love of Life had a whopping 7,316 episodes within 29 seasons from 1951–1980. The show premiered on CBS three years after another soap of Winsor's, Search for Tomorrow, ended. Originally, the soap opera was owned by American Home Products which featured product commercials before and after the show, rather than segmenting the whole episode.
Sammy Davis Jr was a famous musician, singer, dancer, and actor, but some may remember him for his love for daytime soap opera. The Emmy award-winning and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame inductee appeared on many soaps in the 80s including General Hospital, One Life to Live, and the Love of Life episode.
THE EDGE OF NIGHT
Procter and Gamble licensed the television mystery series The Edge of Night from 1956 to 1984. The show followed murders and petty crimes in the fictional Midwest town of Monticello told by police officer Mike Karr. Originally aired on CBS in 1956, it was moved to ABC in December 1975 and stayed on the network until its cancellation on December 28, 1984.
Every episode was a new story with new characters involved in a dramatic tale of crimes. By the end of the episode, you'd know how the story was solved, but it kept fans on their toes for 28 seasons. The show had a number of notable actors including Bee Neuwirth from Cheers, Emmy award winner Holland Virginia Taylor, and John Travolta.
THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
The Bold and the Beautiful took over the daytime when it was released over 30 years ago. That's right! CBS has aired this soap opera since 1987 and continues to garner fans from every walk of life. It was reported that the recent March 16, 2020 episode had 3.6 million viewers.
The show follows the glamorous and dramatic life of the Forrester family as they run their high fashion house in Los Angeles. Since 1987, the crew has maintained its spot at stage 31 at the CBS Television City location in Fairfax, LA, California. The show is no stranger to international travel, taking their characters to location shoots in Italy, Netherlands, Australia, and Dubai!
Another World (1964-1999) used to start every episode with announcer Bill Wolff saying "We do not live in this world alone but in a thousand other worlds," which perfectly set the tone the melodrama series of 35 seasons. The show was less about the twists and turns of domestic drama and focused on the complex relationships between people from different social classes.
Another World's theme song positioned on Billboard charts in 1987. The title song "(You Take Me Away To) Another World" is by Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris from her album What If We Fall in Love?. The singer had a week-long appearance on the drama series where she had to escape from the season's serial killer!
SEARCH FOR TOMORROW
Agnes Nixon and Roy Winsor's Search for Tomorrow was developed in 1951 and tackled the struggles of postwar America. The serial focused on Joanne Gardner who was played by Mary Stuart for all 35 seasons. The soap took place in the fictional town of Henderson.
The soap opera serial followed Jo's family through all of the town drama, marriages, political campaigns, and natural disasters that took place in Henderson. After years of hardship in the little town, the last episode aired in 1986. The last scene is Jo standing outside and her husband joins her and asks for what she was searching for and she responds, "Tomorrow, and I can't wait."
ALL MY CHILDREN
Set in the fictional California suburb of Pine Valley, All My Children aired from 1970–2011, an impressive 41-year reign! Erica Kane, played by "Daytime's Leading Lady" Susan Lucci, was known for her quick wit, high-class demeanor, and, of course, her "You're all phonies!" monologues.
This daytime classic has been known for being ahead of its time through its many years on the air. In December 2000, Bianca Kane, played by Eden Riegel, comes out to her mom, Erica, as a lesbian. On February 13, 2009, Bianca and her long time partner Reese become the first same-sex marriage on daytime television.
Lucci has been vocal about considering a reboot! In an interview with Closer, she openly talked about how much she loved playing Erica Kane for all those years. The show's creator Agnes Nixon passed in 2016, but Lucci maintained, "There are a lot of good writers who would be able to carry one. I know it could be done."
ONE LIFE TO LIVE
Following the upper-class Lord family and the middle-class Woleks and Rileys, One Life to Live was a drama that premiered in 1968. The late soap opera producer Agnes Nixon created the series to tackle a number of societal issues at the time including socioeconomic differences, interracial relationships, and illegal substance addiction.
Leading up to its ending in 2012, the storylines brought some attention by bringing back "dead" characters or year-long grudges between characters. The show was going to return through streaming services but, it simply didn't pick up. Erika Slezak stated, "our ratings were good, and the stories are great, and the reason we were given — I rarely curse in public — but it was bull."
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS
For 47 years, this daytime drama has revolved around the rivalries, romances, hopes, and fears of the residents of the fictional Midwestern metropolis, Genoa City. Created by William J. and Lee Phillip Bell, the series serves as a sister to The Bold and the Beautiful and there's definitely been a crossover episode for both.
From kidnappings, murder plots, wedding objections, arrests, the show continues to push the envelope with every season. But through all the changes, Jill Abbott continues to be the longest existing character on the show. In 1997, Jess Walton, who has played Jill since 1987, won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in Drama Series.
AS THE WORLD TURNS
On April 2, 1956, CBS broadcast this daytime series and brought the drama of Midwest town Oakdale to the living rooms of millions of American families. For 54 years, the series kept fans lured in with explosions, intermarital relations, and fistfights. The show earned 43 Daytime Emmys for the show and for several actors including Jennifer Landon, Maura West, and Michael Park.
DAYS OF OUR LIVES
From 1965 until now, the fictional city of Salem has had quite a chronicle of tales for over 55 seasons. You can still follow the "lives, loves, trials and tribulations" of the longest-running soap opera on NBC. Lately, the years-long relationship between Marlena Evans and John Black seems to be pretty rocky!
This medical drama set in New York City continues to garner support from daytime fans since its release in 1963. General Hospital is the second-longest soap opera and was created by the late husband-and-wife writer duo Frank and Doris Hursley. The cast now features Donnell Turner as Curtis Ashford, Briana Henry as Jordan Ashford, Wes Ramsey, Roger Howarth, and Nikolas Cassadine.
Last but not least, Guiding Light is recorded as the longest-running drama on television with 57 years on CBS Television. Created by the mother of soap opera, Irna Phillips, the first radio broadcast of the series on NBC Radio in 1937 makes the show's impressive 72-year reign the longest-running soap opera. The last broadcast date for the show was on September 18, 2009.
Fan favorites, cliffhangers, betrayals... Soap operas have kept Americans entertained for nearly a century. The writers and cast members' abilities to keep television fans enthralled in the storyline is impressive. You can't help but respect how hard these production teams work to find new plot points and character developments, while simultaneously keeping their ratings and legacy alive!