15 Most Groundbreaking Soap Opera Storylines

Published on March 13, 2018. Updated September 13, 2019

Soap operas offer a source of viewing entertainment to their fans, which allows them to escape their daily grind and dive into romance, adventure, and drama. However, as these shows have evolved over the years, they have not only provided entertaining storylines but thought-provoking ones that dive into social issues as well. Below are 15 groundbreaking soap opera storylines we have all enjoyed over the years.

15. First Pregnancy – Search for Tomorrow

A rather tame entry at the bottom of the list, but a groundbreaking storyline nonetheless. In 1956, Mary Stuart, the actress who played Joanne Gardner on Search for Tomorrow, became the first actress in soap history to have her pregnancy written into the show. When Stuart gave birth to her son, producers of the show filmed her in the hospital. Sadly, within days, the character’s baby passed away from an accident, which also launched an incredible storyline around Jo’s struggle with losing a child.

14. Bert Bauer Diagnosed With Uterine Cancer – Guiding Light

Guiding Light’s Bert Bauer jumped into a huge storyline in 1962, when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The illness was discovered during a regular pap checkup and received a tremendous amount of attention from viewers everywhere. The show was applauded for increasing awareness around the condition and pinpointing the importance around visiting your family doctor regularly.

 13. Jennifer Brooks Has Breast Cancer – Young and the Restless

Mother to four very different girls and wife to Stuart, Jennifer Brooks found out she had breast cancer in the 1970s and became the first daytime drama character to have a mastectomy. The good news was that Brooks fully recovered and the story helped raise awareness about breast cancer and prevention strategies. The bad news? Despite recovering from breast cancer, the character ended up passing away in 1977 due to a heart condition. Still, that’s how things roll sometimes on soaps.

12. Cyber Bullying – One Life to Live

Perhaps One Life to Life was a show well before its time, as it aired an online bullying storyline in 2011 that could help raise awareness in today’s time where social media and bullying go hand in hand. Teen Jack Manning was being harassed online by fellow classmate Shane Morasco, which led him to have suicidal thoughts. Thankfully he never went through with killing himself due to the support of his friends and ended up going to therapy to help deal with his cyber-bullying harassment.

©George De Sota/jpistudios.com

11. Marty’s Gang Rape – One Life to Life

Rape is nothing new in the land of soap operas and many shows in the past have offered storylines to help raise awareness about this disgusting act. However, One Life to Life took a very different approach in 1993, when they launched a storyline that saw Marty Saybrooke get gang-raped at a Spring Fling dance. The rape was launched by Todd Manning, and two other frat boys took part. When all was said and done, justice was served, but not without showing the emotion, abuse, and embarrassment Marty had to suffer in her journey to become a strong and courageous heroine who is vindicated.

10. Sonny’s Bipolar Condition – General Hospital

Mental health issues have been done on soap operas a lot over the years, but most times characters who do suffer from these illnesses are portrayed as way over the top. General Hospital tackled a realistic view of mental health when it was revealed that mobster Sonny Corinthos suffered from bipolar disorder in 2006, and then years later when it was revealed that son Morgan also had the condition.

©Howard Wise/jpistudios.com

9. Kay Gets A Facelift – Young and the Restless

Jeanne Cooper was all set to get a facelift in 1984 and thought that showing the process on daytime television, via Katherine Chancellor, would be an interesting watch for Young and the Restless audiences. She was right. No other soap opera had attempted anything like this before and viewers got to see everything Jeanne went through thanks to Kay’s facelift storyline first-hand. While some fans thought it was an interesting watch, others weren’t so sold on the idea.

©Brian Lowe/JPI

8. African-American Actors as Regulars – Guiding Light

Guiding Light had always been at the forefront to feature a diverse set of characters that truly reflect what a typical American community looks like. In the mid-60s, they were one of the first soaps to have African American actors/actress play prominent roles within the show. In 2007, the daytime drama would feature Cicely Tyson and Billy Dee Williams as series regulars, marking it as the first soap to do so.

7. First Interracial Couple – Days of Our Lives

Soap opera’s first interracial couple hit the daytime airwaves in the late 1970s when Days of Our Lives character Dr. Valerie Grant fell in love with David Banning. Sadly, their relationship did not last the long course, and while they were slated to get married at first, writers changed up the storyline in the end. Valerie would be written off the show in 1977 only to return in recent years.

6. First Lesbian Fling – Young and the Restless

Speaking of 1977, digging into The Young and the Restless history vault and a groundbreaking storyline emerges in Genoa City. Joann Curtis and Kay Chancellor were good friends. So much so, Curtis moved in with Katherine after her divorce and oddly enough, Kay started becoming possessive over her. It seemed that she was growing feelings for Joan, and this could have been due to the loneliness she was feeling after her hubby passed away. Regardless, there would be a point where Chancellor touched her friend’s hand and the two shared a kiss. Although nothing more really happened between them, this was a huge moment for soap operas, especially for its time.

5. Robin Gets HIV – General Hospital

This storyline rocked General Hospital fans in the mid-90s. While at that point in time, society was learning more and more about HIV/AIDS, and soap operas were integrating the condition within storylines, this was the first time a major heterosexual soap opera character contracted the disease. This would shed a tremendous amount of light on HIV/AIDS and increased awareness around the illness. While at the time it would seem like a death sentence for Robin, the character would move on over the years to live a full and vibrant life.

©sean smith/jpistudios.com

4. First Legal Same-Sex Wedding – All My Children

The same-sex relationship between Bianca Montgomery and Reese Williams on All My Children was quite groundbreaking in the soap opera world. The couple marked the first same-sex proposal, first same-sex marriage, and first same-sex parents on a daytime drama. Fans everywhere were truly blown away by all the milestones these two women tore through during their 2008-2009 relationship.

3. First Male-Male Kiss – As the World Turns

While As the World Turns would make soap opera history when they introduced soap opera’s first-ever male gay character (Hank Elliot) in 1988, it wouldn’t be until 2007 when the show would mark another first. Characters Luke and Noah would be the first male-male kiss to hit the soap opera world, and the two locking lips would create a huge buzz in the daytime drama industry.

©John Paschal/jpistudios.com

2. Maya Avant’s Transgender Secret – Bold and the Beautiful

More recently, the Bold and the Beautiful created some waves in 2015, with the reveal of a transgender woman character. Apparently, Maya Avant had been hiding a secret all this time and the truth was she was a transgender. In fact, the actress who plays Avant, Karla Mosley, approached GLAAD before moving forward with scenes so that she could better understand how to portray the character in order to promote understanding and mainstream acceptance for Maya.

© John Paschal/jpistudios.com

1. First-Ever Soap Opera Abortion – Another World

Clearly well before its time, now-canceled soap opera Another World aired an abortion storyline within the first year it was on the airwaves in 1964. A teenage character on the show decided to move forward with an illegal abortion. Abortion is a hot topic and sensitive storyline nowadays, and the fact that Another World decided to dive into this social issue in the early ‘60s just proves what an incredible soap opera it was to watch and how the show was never afraid to dive into deeper storylines to not only entertain audiences but inform as well.

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