In homes across the United States, it was estimated in 1986, some 30 million plus Americans were counted watching soap operas. "Television represents a very, very old debate in America about high culture versus mass culture. Opera and ballet versus things that have been prepared for the masses," Professor Alison Alexander at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst explained.
Susan Beckley started watching daytime soap operas when she was a doctoral student at Ohio University. She made the observation in 1979, "Watching soaps can provide viewers – from people with doctorates to high school dropouts – with alternate solutions to their problems." Psychologist Julie Haun made the point back in 1977, "People watch because they do not want to get involved in real life situations. It's really an escape. We would sit down to feed the baby, turn on the television and discover ourselves involved in the soaps.
"Since 30 to 40 million people a day are glued to their television sets, there must be something of interest to a psychologist here. The interest in soap operas cut across all occupations and all income levels...The soap opera has become the family in America." Julie made known, "Our younger son knows those people better than he knows his own aunts and uncles. It's just a constant game of musical beds. Parents may watch for fantasy, but children think it's the real thing."
It was mentioned one New York hospital in 1979 "instituted a soap-opera therapy program: Psychiatric patients unable to talk about their problems are encouraged to watch a steady diet of soaps. They talk about the problems confronting the characters – and that enables them eventually to open up about themselves." It was pointed out in 1986, "In countries where the government controls the media, people feel less inclined to have to justify why they watch television because the television programmers will be less concerned about attracting the masses of people."
It wasn't until 1951 when 'Search for Tomorrow' went on air, soap operas became television's most popular programs in daytime. Susan believed because soap operas depended on human relationships for subject matter, regular viewers often became active participants in the lives of the characters they watched, offering advice and even criticism to the characters on screen. Studies had revealed some soap fans took the soaps so seriously they had problems separating the TV shows from reality.
Lynda Hirsch started writing about soaps for News America Syndicate in 1976. After graduating from Kent State University, Lynda replied to a job ad seeking people to watch soap operas for a new magazine in Cleveland. She confessed, "I had watched from the time I was 5. I learned a good sense of morals from soap operas because goodness really does win out in the end, and evil doesn’t." Surveys conducted by Soap Opera Digest in 1988 indicated 12.7% of black homes with television sets watched soap operas compared to 6.3% of other homes. During the week, blacks spent 14 hours compared to 9½ hours for whites, watching daytime shows.
Lynda recounted, "My job is not only to keep track of (the current characters), I really have to keep track of every character that's been on the show. I probably have very close to a photographic memory." The Associated Press noted, "She draws from that memory bank at public appearances, rattling off the characters, actors and plots in answer to questions from the audience."
Lynda reasoned, "Why do we go to the movies? Why do we go see ballet? Why do we go to the opera? Because we love to be entertained. We love to escape reality for an hour or so." Lisa Weiss founded the acting school Soap Set in Milford in 1981. She taught students "acting skills peculiar to soaps; learning to play to a camera that picks up every facial expression; developing the sense of melodrama that actors working in other mediums avoid, maneuvering on a surprising small set." Jerry Prell taught the advanced acting course remarked, "There's a sea of mediocrity in terms of actors out there. My objective is to elevate my students above the mediocrity. I try to give them the tools to do that." Lisa added, "We get a lot of people who want to break into acting without the pressures of New York right away. We're a jump-off point to New York."