Television and the American Family

By Jennings Bryant | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Family in Daytime Serials

Suzanne Pingree
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Margaret E. Thompson
University of Denver

Daytime serials are continuing stories about families. They are also about romance and deception and a lot of other things, but they are fundamentally stories about families: how they are shaped and re-shaped, how they function as a unit against the world, and how they care about each other. Early soap writers whose influence can still be seen in today's soaps saw the family as the centerpiece of their dramatic efforts. In a 1972 interview, Irna Phillips (creator of Guiding Light, Another World, and As the World Turns) said, "I'm trying to get back to the fundamentals: for example, the way in which a death in the family, or serious illness, brings members of the family closer together, gives them a real sense of how much they're dependent on each other" ( Cantor & Pingree, 1983, p. 44). Others have argued that the particular focus on soap families has more to do with profit and less to do with dramatic structure. Ramsdell ( 1973) argued that

To sell for its sponsors, the soap opera format has found it profitable to hold up an insular, consumption-oriented family as the most acceptable model. If full-time housewives are the major market for the sponsors' products, then it is crucial to project as the only desirable image the family with an aggressive, achieving husband and a work-at-home wife and mother. (p. 303)

The families on daytime serials today, however, are not these "regular" families, although they might have been this way when Ramsdell was writing. (Given the penetration of videotape recorders, and the numbers of women in the work force, it is also highly unlikely that the major market for soap sponsor's products are full-time housewives; Cantor & Pingree, 1983.) In this chapter, we discuss what soap families are like, comparing them with conventional ideology about

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