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Soap operas have connected generations of women for years, including my own family

Daytime soap operas have been a constant in my life since I was very young, and I have always shared the passion with my mom.

/ Source: TODAY

For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have always had a date with daytime TV from 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET. That’s the time when we turn on CBS and tune in for our daily dose of drama on “The Young and the Restless.”

From a young age, I was curious to know why my mom was so fond of the popular soap opera, and I quickly became hooked after soaking up all the romance, catfights and suspense for myself.

After getting my first taste of all the action, I started taping the show while I was at school and watching it at night. On the rare occasion where the VCR failed me or I forgot to set the machine, I had Mom to catch me up.

Soon enough, I was adding to my portfolio and started watching additional daytime shows like “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “General Hospital.” My nana loved the latter, so I was happy to give it a try.

ABC's "General Hospital" - 2010
"General Hospital" stars Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo (Brenda Barrett) and Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos) in 2010. Patrick Wymore / Disney General Entertainment Con

In the early years of my career as a freelance writer, I spent every Friday afternoon working from my nana’s living room while we watched “General Hospital” with my mom. It was something special we shared, just the three of us, and that felt nice. My older sister also caught the soap opera bug for quite some time, but her love for daytime TV didn’t go the distance like ours.

Our experience certainly feels meaningful to me, but it’s hardly unique. Soap operas have been bonding generations of women for ages, and it’s easy to see why.

Why do soap operas bring women together?

Just because you’re related by blood, doesn’t mean you’re automatically alike, and it’s rare to find a topic that three generations of women can agree on. Still, soap operas bridge generational gaps because their storylines typically follow multigenerational families.

There’s almost always an elegant, seasoned matriarch of the family who has seen her fair share of heartache and strife; a daughter who’s paving her own way in the world while balancing her complicated relationship with her strong-willed mother; and a daughter who ranges in age from childhood to young adulthood.

The Bold and the Beautiful
"The Bold and the Beautiful" stars John McCook (Eric Forrester) and Susan Flannery (Stephanie Douglas Forrester) in 1997. CBS / Getty Images

“These shows can be enjoyable across generations, which is very rare as generational differences often divide us and can often show up in vast differences of topics and writing that each considers relevant. They have a universal appeal in their predictable fantasy-like focus while also hitting on some of today’s most relevant issues,” Kelsey M. Latimer, a licensed psychologist and the founder/owner of KML Psychological Services, tells TODAY.com. 

Different storylines may appeal more to grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters depending on their stage of life, but it’s the ritual of watching together that makes the experience meaningful.

Susan Lucci And Sarah Michelle Gellar Appear On All My Children
Susan Lucci and Sarah Michelle Gellar on "All My Children."ABC / Disney

“For many of us there is absolutely a sense of connection to our grandmother, mother or close female figure that can wash over us when we sit down to watch ‘one of our stories,’ as my grandmother (called) them,” Latimer says. “It can create opportunities for us to interpret these stories through a variety of lenses that can all connect us — whether it be opening up a conversation about controversial issues or giggling at the dramatics in the stories.”

An enduring family tradition

For me, watching soap operas with my mom and nana quickly became a comforting tradition to look forward to and a welcome part of my daily routine. Even now, I feel a sense of nostalgia whenever the theme music for “The Young and the Restless” starts playing.

Many of the show’s stars have played the same characters for decades, so you begin to feel a unique kinship with them. Take Melody Thomas Scott, for instance.

The Young and the Restless
"The Young and the Restless" stars Eric Braeden (Victor Newman) and Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman) in 2023. CBS / Getty Images

I’ve watched the soap opera icon portray Nikki Newman on “The Young and the Restless” for ages and was tickled pink when I recently had the opportunity to speak with her for a TODAY.com story about her 45th anniversary on the show.

I’ve interviewed plenty of celebrities throughout my career, but this one felt different, and the conversation was much more familiar — like talking to an old friend.

I have had four generations of fans of one family stand before me asking for my autograph, which is an incredible thing.

"Young and the restless" star melody thomas scott tells today.com.

During our chat, I asked Scott why she thinks different generations of women bond over watching soap operas so much, and she acknowledged that it’s a “unique” phenomenon.

“There is nothing else like it. You can’t go see a movie or watch nighttime TV and feel the same way. I have had four generations of fans of one family stand before me asking for my autograph, which is an incredible thing,” she told me.

The Young and the Restless
Jeanne Cooper as Katherine Chancellor on "The Young and the Restless" in 1973. CBS / Getty Images

As you follow a soap opera year after year, the characters quickly begin to feel like extended members of your family.

“(Soap opera viewers) do feel like you are part of their family,” Scott explained. “And indeed, we are because it becomes a talking point for them — for the mothers, the grandmothers, the kids every day. ‘Did you see the show today? Did you see what so-and-so did?’ And, it’s probably more exciting than their regular lives, understandably. That’s what a soap is supposed to be. So it really enmeshes the women together, and they have a passion that they can discuss with the rest of their family.”

Plus, most TV shows only last a few seasons, so there’s something reassuring about getting into a daytime show like “The Young and the Restless” that has lasted for half a century.

“It becomes part of the thread of (viewers’) lives. You’re in their living room on their TV screen every day for years — and years and years, if you’re fortunate enough to be on a show that lasts that long — and so they feel very intimate with you,” Scott said.  

The Young and the Restless
Kristoff St. John (Neil Winters) on "The Young and the Restless" in 2016. CBS / Getty Images

When a show lasts that long, viewers get the chance to really follow characters through most of the stages of their lives. And when a forgotten storyline resurfaces, fans can rely on the women in their lives to help recall what went down in the past (something I regularly turn to my mom for help on).

For instance, when I was recently tasked with writing an article about “The Bold and the Beautiful,” I had my mom on speed dial to help me fact-check some details. Similar to “The Young and the Restless,” we’ve watched this show for years, as well (though not as religiously). 

Guys can also get in on the fun

While soap operas have traditionally been viewed as a woman’s domain, guys can also take part in the familial bonding.

When my late father first retired, he wasn’t quite sure how to fill his days. Like many new retirees, he wasn’t used to having so much extra time on his hands, and settling into a routine was important to help him adjust to his new normal.

My dad never really got into “The Young and the Restless,” but he did fall for “General Hospital” and watched it daily with my mom. It had been years since I’d regularly watched the show, so I wasn’t caught up on all the major storylines, but he sure did enjoy talking about one character and all the drama she caused: Esme, played by Avery Pohl.

GENIE FRANCIS;ANTHONY GEARY
Famous couple Laura Spencer (Genie Francis) and Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) on "General Hospital." ABC Photo Archives / Disney

Before my dad passed away from cancer, he spent months in and out of doctors’ appointments and occasionally missed the show. My parents have cable, so I knew he could’ve watched the episode on demand later in the day if he really wanted to. But on several occasions, he asked me to watch the show for him and fill him in when he got home from his appointment.

The fact that my father, who had never once expressed interest in soap operas in years past, was suddenly so invested in “General Hospital” was incredibly endearing to me. So whenever he asked me to watch the show for him, I’d turn it on while I was working and take notes.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if this was his own small way of bonding with me over soap operas. And although we didn’t have much time with him after he got his cancer diagnosis, I’m happy that I got the chance to bond with my dad over something that has always made me feel closer to my mom.   

As I was writing this essay, I had to Google the name of the actor who plays Esme and realized that her character was killed off a few months ago. Naturally, I had to ask my mom if she thought Esme was gone for good or if she’d make a miraculous return, like so many soap opera characters do. 

"With the soaps, anything is possible," she said.