This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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THE DAYTIME SERIALS OF TELEVISION (1946-1960)
By Jim Cox
McFarland, 2006, 232 pp., photos, $49.95
Reviewed by Maury Cagle
(From Radio Recall, October 2006)
This latest book by MWOTRC member and prolific author Jim Cox is a logical companion to his Historical Dictionary of American Radio Soap Operas. It looks at the tentative beginnings of daytime television serials in the days of transition from radio to television, and the debt TV versions owed to their radio antecedents.
The book traces the beginnings of the serials we all know back to the dawn of storytelling by stages, The Arabian Nights. When printing became more widespread and cheaper, serialized novels, such as Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, proved to be enormously popular. When the 20th century approached, continuing newspaper comic strips began to be read by millions.
As radio took the country by storm in the 1920’s, serial story telling was there, too. Most historians agree that the first bona fide soap opera was Painted Dreams, which began in October 1930 on Chicago’s pioneering WGN.
This was the work of Irna Phillips, part of a trio that turned soap opera into an economic powerhouse that dominated daytime radio for almost three decades. Her compatriots / competitors were Elaine Sterne Carrington and the team of Frank and Anne Hummert. But Phillips alone continued her success into television.
Cox notes that it wasn’t just the advent of television that signaled the beginning of the end of radio’s soap operas (and indeed all radio as revered by OTR fans) but a combination of TV’s development along with sociological and economic factors. In 1948-49, more than nine listeners in a hundred tuned in to Ma Perkins; by 1955-56, Ma was down to a 4.5 rating.
There were many false starts as TV experimented with the soap opera format. The first network television soap was in early 1949, These Are My Children---by Irna Phillips! Originating in Chicago, it only lasted for four weeks, but Phillips learned from the failure, and went on to be a major player in TV, just as she was in radio. Such was Phillips’ influence on the genre that Cox devotes an entire chapter to her. Her radio successes included The Guiding Light, The Road of Life, and The Right to Happiness. On television, her efforts included Guiding Light and As the World Turns—both still going for more than 50 years, and 33 years after Irna Phillips’ death.
One of the most interesting chapters is entitled “Reincarnations,” which details the TV soaps that owed their roots to radio ancestors, such as The Guiding Light. It wasn’t a sure thing---as some of the most notable radio soaps bombed on television. Cox also notes the talent transfer from radio to TV, not only in actors, but in writers, producers, and directors.
The last six chapters of the book each deal with a separate, long-running television daytime serial: Search for Tomorrow, Love of Life, The Guiding Light, The Secret Storm, As the World Turns, and The Edge of Night. Each details how the show started, as well as key actors, writers, and plot lines that sometimes caused audiences to revolt, as well as behind the scenes machinations. One of the appendices is a very useful Daytime Serials Directory, containing a précis of all network daytime serials that premiered in the 1946-1960 period.
This book, like all of Jim Cox’s offerings, is thoroughly researched, and arranges a wealth of information in an easily accessible format. It also is very readable, and contains many fascinating tidbits, such as the fact that The Edge of Night would have been titled Perry Mason if Earle Stanley Gardner had agreed.
For anyone interested in the daytime serials of television, or how this important genre developed, this book is a must read.