Soaps: The First 40 Years

Pictured (l to r): Lorraine Bayly in The Sullivans; Sheila Kennelly and Gordon MacDougall in Number 96; Roger Oakley and Vanessa Downing in Home And Away; Fiona Spence in Prisoner

First soapies were good, clean and daytime:

While there had been earlier attempts at drama on Australian television, particularly through ABC, it was not until 1959, three years after TV made its debut in Australia, that the first home grown soap opera hit our screens.  But from such humble beginnings, Australians have seen soap operas evolve from wholesome fare in the fifties and sixties, through the sexual revolution of the seventies, the glitz and glamour of the eighties and the sun and surf settings of the nineties.

’70s soap steams up:

The Seventies saw a sexual revolution going on, but not just in the bedroom, it was also happening on our TV screens.  The cash strapped 0-10 Network took the lead with its first nightly soap opera — the racy Number 96 — and instantly the nation was captivated. The success of 96 led the way for a string of successful soaps in years to come.

’80s soapie conquers the world:

Australian TV soap was in full swing by the turn of the eighties.  It was just about mandatory for each commercial network to have at least two hit soaps in its prime time schedules.

Aussie soaps like Prisoner and The Sullivans were still doing big business overseas, but the new trend overseas was glitz and glamour with shows like Dynasty and Dallas. Despite some Australian attempts to copy the formula, in the mid-Eighties it took an evening soap set in middle suburban Melbourne to once again put Australian TV on the world map.

Surf’s up for ’90s TV:

Neighbours and Home And Away continue as local and overseas success stories, but there is a struggle to keep viewers interested in soap drama. Preferences are moving towards weekly one-hour dramas but networks are not about to give up on the great Aussie soap: