-In soap operas we can see a couple evolve through time. With few exceptions (for example, Venezuelan telenovelas Ligia Elena and Nacho), in the telenovela world we can see a couple of actors repeat, but only playing different characters. Following are a couple of pictures of the most famous couple in U.S. soap opera history, Luke and Laura, on their wedding day in 1981 and in 2006 when they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
(An interesting bit of information about Luke and Laura: in a night in which he's drunk and believes he will be killed by the mob, Luke rapes Laura, the woman he's in love with and who was married at the time. After some twists of the plot, Laura falls in love with Luke. The rape occurred in 1979 and by the summer of 1980, Luke and Laura have become the most famous romantic couple in soap opera history. This happens in U.S. TV three years before telenovela Leonela airs in Venezuela. I don't want to suggest that Leonela was inspired in Luke and Laura's storyline. It's impossible to know. But, I've always been amazed that this parallelism is never mentioned or discussed. That's how separate the soap opera and telenovela worlds are).
- It's relatively common in soap operas that a character seemingly "dies" (in an accident, but they never find his/her body), only to reappear a few years later. Both Luke and Laura have disappeared at times from General Hospital: "deaths", vanishing in some fog, long trips, etc.
- Sometimes a soap opera character must be "recast". In other words, re-assigned to a different actor. These two occurrences ("deaths" and "recasting") are consequences of the fact that soap opera actors' contracts cannot be for the soap opera's duration (again, because soap operas don't end). This is a huge difference with telenovelas, where recasting is rare and the undesirable consequence of a misfortune: an actor's illness or accidental death. Hence, in soap operas, when a contract isn't renewed, it becomes necessary to eliminate or recast the character. For example, Carly in General Hospital has been played by at least three different female actors: Sarah Brown, Tamara Braun y Laura Wright.
- In soap operas we can also witness how children grow up on our television screens. Such is Kimberly McCullough's case. She has played Robin Scorpio in General Hospital since she was a little girl.
- In telenovelas we see stories based on classics such as Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet and The Count of Montecristo. In soap operas, every few years stories are recycled: a murder and its respective Perry Mason kind of trial where we finally find out "who done it," an addiction plot (alcochol, drugs, pain killers), a seemingly incurable illness, an accident that changes a character's personality, etc.
- When you watch a soap opera for several years, you will see multiple permutations of romantic couples. In a period of three years, a character can fall in love with 2-3 different people and have "hot" relationships with them. This never happens in telenovelas because their storylines, in general, are more faithful to their original arguments and plots. Here are pictures of some of Erica Kane's different weddings in All My Children.
- In soap operas holidays are celebrated in real time. That is, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year and the Fourth of July are celebrated on those same days. In that sense, soap operas are inextricably linked to the U.S. culture that produces them. These are shows that aren't produced for the international market. This is one of the reasons why the average person from the U.S. perceives soap operas as more realistic than telenovelas. (Another important reason is that there is generalized ignorance regarding what a telenovela really is. A stereotypical view is prevalent in the U.S.)
One last caveat: in these two posts about telenovelas and soap operas, I've underscored U.S.-made soaps because this is the country where I live. But, there are also successful, famous and lengthy soap operas made in the U.K. and Australia.
Below, a couple of videos of famous couples. The first is a collage about General Hospital's Luke and Laura. (Tony Geary y Genie Francis). The second video is the final scene of one of telenovelas' most talked about couples: Juan and Mónica, Eduardo Palomo and Edith González, in Corazón Salvaje.