Skip to main content

'These Are My Children' Premiered 66 Years Ago Today, Daytime TV's First Soap Opera

Soap Comes to TV

Pathfinder News Magazine
February 9, 1949

Last week television caught the dread disease of radio–soapoperaitis. It happened in Chicago, which holds, rather bashfully, undisputed claim as originator of radio's daytime serials.

What Chicago viewers saw over station WNBQ was the first in a daily series of 15-minute capsule dramas called These Are My Children. The camera focused first on the widowed Mother Henehan, and with her thumbed through an old family album to introduce the characters who will form the framework for the Henehans' lives, loves and family troubles.

Temptation. Whether soap opera on television can coax housewives to leave their domestic duties to watch a small screen was a question yet to be answered. But if anything will catch the housewife's eye, These Are My Children, written by 47-year-old Irna Phillips,* should do the trick. In 18 years and 30 million words she has probably brought more tears and laughter to more women than any other daytime serial writer.

Late in 1930, she introduced Chicago housewives to Mother Moynhan in Painted Dreams, one of the original five-a-weekers. Then came Mother Moran of Today's Children, first successful network soaper (and still going). Later from the prolific Phillips' typewriter came Guiding Light, Woman in White, Right to Happiness and Road of Life.

All New Material. These Are My Children, however, is no warmed-over radio fare. To make sure of this, Miss Phillips and director Norman Felton built the first episodes backward, by fitting the dialogue into the action. When the producers cast about for radio actors with stage experience, they had to reject some experienced youngsters (on unseen radio, age makes no difference) before finding 55-year-old Mrs. Alma Platts for the role of 55-year-old Mother Henehan.

Still puzzling the producers is the question: Can the actors continue to memorize their lines from day to day? Some 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours of rehearsal–more than twice the time required for radio–are devoted to one 15-minute show. The actors, if memories fail, will ad lib dialogue, but in case of emergency the sound track will be shut off while a prompter throws a cue. Viewers will scarcely notice the momentary lapse in dialogue.

Props & Backdrops. To solve the problem of scenic backgrounds, a three-room apartment set was designed. Felton doesn't think lookers will tire of watching the same scenery. And occasionally films of outdoor scenes will be dubbed in to relieve the monotony.

These technical problems do not concern Miss Phillips nearly so much as keep the story lines moving fast enough to satisfy viewers. Radio's Just Plain Bill once had the same man in the barber's chair three week's running but TV customers are likely to be more sensitive.

Plugs & Products. Still a major problem to the producers is the cost of a television dramatic show–"substantially higher" than a radio soaper, says Felton. Like its radio forebear, the TV drama will, of course be sponsored. These Are My Children is taking bids for sponsorship–and getting them. To weave the commercials into the script, says Miss Phillips, will be simple. For example, daughter Henehan is studying home economics in college. She might easily get a job–in the show–and be put to work at the sponsor's company. Each day she could chat for a few minutes about her job and the sponsor's product.

Miss Phillips, a life-sized version of one of her own gentle, philosophical radio characters, expects the Henehans to be only the first of her visual children. And with them, television last week had the stamp of soap opera on it.

* Miss Phillips chose the title for sentimental reasons: whenever she introduces her two adopted children, Thomas, 8, and Katherine, 6, she always says: "These are my children."

EDITOR'S NOTE: These Are My Children premiered on January 31, 1949 and ran for less than a month. The final episode aired on February 25, 1949. Phillips would go on to create many popular daytime dramas for television, including bringing The Guiding Light to TV in 1952 after 15 years on the radio, and creating As the World Turns in 1956. Felton later produced primetime dramas Dr. Kildare and Executive Suite, among others.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Complete Story of 'The Doctors' (1963-1973)

Daytime TV covered the world of soap operas for decades before finally folding in the 1990s. In the mid-70s, the magazine did an excellent series titled "The Complete Story of..." recounting the history of a soap opera from its inception. Below is the historical feature on the first 10 years of NBC's The Doctors (1963-1973), which is currently being aired on Retro TV. Some of the interesting tidbits include: * The Doctors did not start as a serial; it began as a "half-hour anthology series of medical dramas, set in the large metropolitan Hope Memorial Hospital, and with the four principals alternating daily in the lead role, according to NBC's original announcement. The roles were Dr. William Scott (played by Jock Gaynor), Dr. Jerry Chandler (portrayed by Richard Roat), Dr. Elizabeth Hayes (played by Margot Moser) and Rev. Samuel Shafer, a hospital chaplain (played by Fred J. Scollay). * Later in the first season, Herb Kenwith and Paul Lammers became

'Days of Our Lives' Livestream Event on September 8 Promotes 'Beyond Salem'

To celebrate the premiere of the Peacock Original limited series, Days of our Lives: Beyond Salem , Xfinity and Peacock today announced an exclusive Days of our Lives: Beyond Salem livestream event only for Xfinity Reward Members. The event reunites an all-star cast including Lisa Rinna, Deidre Hall, Drake Hogestyn, James Reynolds, and Eileen Davidson on Wednesday, Sept. 8th at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT. Viewers will enjoy a conversation with the stars - giving fans a chance to view exclusive content, hear stories from the set, and even have the chance to ask their favorite stars questions. This special event is only for Xfinity Rewards members and is just one of the many benefits available through the Xfinity Rewards program. If you’re not yet a member of Xfinity Rewards, signing up is free and simple to do through the Xfinity app or online at Xfinity.com/rewards. From there, members can view and redeem all rewards currently available to them. “Xfinity Rewards is all about creating u

Melody Thomas Scott Memoir 'Always Young And Restless' Out This Summer

Emmy Award-nominated Melody Thomas Scott admits she is nothing like her The Young and the Restless role, which has seen it all in her forty-one-year tenure on America’s highest-rated daytime serial. But the high drama, angst, and catastrophes aren’t confined to her character’s plotlines. In her first-ever book, the captivating memoir "Always Young And Restless" (Diversion Books; July 14, 2020, available for pre-order now; $26.99, Hardcover; ISBN 978-1635-766943), Melody reveals the intimate and complicated truths of her upbringing as well as behind-the-scenes tales of her own riveting journey to becoming an icon and searching for “normal.” “Even though I have spent almost my entire life as an actress and performer, I have kept my private life well behind the scenes,” said Scott. “Now, I am ready to share these stories of survival and success that have shaped me into who I am today.” As Nikki Newman went from impoverished stripper to resourceful, vivacious heroine—with m