From The TV IV
A soap opera (or soap) is a serialized program with complex plot arcs about romantic and familial relationships. They are characterized by low production values, often poor acting, and the somewhat absurd nature of their plot twists. Amnesia, extramarital affairs, evil twins, secret relationships, and characters once believed dead returning to life are all standard fare for soaps. Characters are frequently written on and off the shows both for story reasons, and due to disputes with actors.
In the UK, soaps are among the most popular programs, and generally air in primetime. In the US, primetime soaps were popular during the 1980s, with the success of Dallas leading to spinoffs and imitators (Falcon Crest, Dynasty, etc), but today they are almost exclusively in the daytime. Although recently the popularity of Desperate Housewives has fueled a bit of a revival.
The revolving-door nature of the casts and the open-ended nature of the storylines allow soaps to be among the longest running programs on television. Popular examples include the USA's Days of Our Lives, The Guiding Light, All My Children, General Hospital, the UK's Coronation Street, and Australia's Neighbours and Home and Away.
Spanish language programs of this nature are called telenovelas.
The term soap opera dates back to radio dramas in a similar style that were often sponsored by soap companies.
- Soap Opera category for a list of soap operas.