Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Sam’s Soaps

Posted by Drake Kizer on March 6, 2017

Today’s reading was a selection from a book Sam edited, titled The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era. I noticed on the syllabus that it was listed under a new heading: “Understanding the U.S. Soap Opera.” This obviously signaled a shift in our class’s focus, but the selection proved to be intriguing for another reason: it showed me that Sam is actually a major figure in soap opera studies, having done his Master’s thesis on the subject in 2007.

The topic of the piece, titled “Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns’ Tom Hughes Through the Years”, is an in-depth look into Tom Hughes, a character on CBS’s 1956-2010 soap opera, As The World Turns. Hughes is very unique since he is “the only character in television history to be born on a show and then to be consistently featured for five decades” afterward. Obviously, such a long period of time allowed for viewers of the show to be “able to watch each step of the character’s development”, which was absolutely unprecedented in television. The most intriguing thing about the long-running character is not necessarily his endurance, though.

The articles states that “thirteen [different] people” played Tom Hughes throughout the show’s run, which means that even though the character remained, the men behind him didn’t. This shows that “a character’s pivotal place on a show’s canvas is commonly considered more important than the following for a particular actor playing the role”, which is very uncommon for shows other than soaps. A great example of this phenomenon in recent television is the change in actresses who played Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Though the actress behind the Aunt Viv character was different in the last three seasons than the first three, the show continued as if nothing had changed. What did change, though, was how people perceived the actors, as the piece says that actor changes lead to battles among fans about who the “the “real” character” is portrayed by, which is a different discussion entirely.


2 Responses to “Sam’s Soaps”

  1. tristendenney14 said

    I like this post Drake and felt the same way after reading this section. Also, I like your point from the text referring to a character being more important then the actor playing the role, and I agree with this statement. Without a certain character, the show and plot change, but simply changing an actor or actress does not have near as significant of an effect. Lastly, your Fresh Prince of Bel-Air example was great because it gives one another example to refer to and examine.

  2. emilyjones232 said

    I like how you mentioned Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because I had been thinking about it as we read about actor switches. It obviously wasn’t as well received on that show because it is not a norm like it is on a soap opera.

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