Is Downton Abbey a Soap?

Downton Abbey

I'm late to the party. I'm only on Episode Three (Season ONE!). My friends are jealous I have so much of it still ahead of me. But the other day, a friend said, "I think everyone agrees it's a soap opera." A soap opera? Say it ain't so!

I watched Days of Our Lives for about a week when I was a teenager. (And even now, remember the name of Deirdre Hall, who played a doctor on the show for several decades.) As far as I knew, that was it for my foray into the world of soaps. Until now. I am enlightened and...cleaner than I thought.

There are soap operas all over the place, and I'm not even talking about Dallas. Here's what Wikipedia says:

"A crucial element that defines soap opera is the open-ended nature of the narrative, with stories spanning several episodes. One of the defining features that makes a television program a soap opera, according to Albert Moran, is "that form of television that works with a continuous open narrative. Each episode ends with a promise that the storyline is to be continued in another episode".

By that definition, is The Sopranos a soap? Yep. Game of Thrones? Yep. Breaking Bad? Yep. Uh, Homeland? Yep. (Clearly these are soap operas with bleach in the cycle.)

But the daytime (and evening) shows that created the genre (and the stereotype) are different from these modern shows in two significant ways. For one, many of them have been around for decades. Guiding Light started on the radio in 1937, and showed on TV from 1952-2009. As the World Turns ran from 1956-2010. Days of our Lives has been going on since 1965. The second and most important reason is that they came on every day, five days a week. As such, the story lines got a little crazy, and the quality of the writing, acting and sets was a pretty low.

Shows like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Homeland usually don't make it past six or eight seasons, but while they're around, they are great. They only come on once a week, and the quality in all aspects is higher. 'TV series' is a more accurate thing to call them.

Maybe part of the definition of a soap opera should be that it comes on every weekday. And as much as I'm enjoying Downton Abbey, I'm not up for that.