Just got off the phone with my friend who is putting together a paper on the importance of soaps, to be presented at an academic conference.
He wanted to thank everyone who already submitted their answers to his questions (more here). They were very helpful. If you'd like to participate, he is still eager to hear from you.
One of the things we talked about was my theory that soaps are not a passive entertainment, but an active one.
In most genres: Prime-time, film, stage... information is presented to you. You can either accept it or not, sympathize with a character or not. But, the experience is finite, in any case.
With a soap, as you watch a character grow and evolve, be it from rapist to hero like GH's Luke, or from victim to bad girl like ATWT's Barbara, the viewer is challenged to grow and evolve, as well.
Are you going to go from hating someone to now rooting for them? Will you turn your back on a previously favorite couple because a better alternative has come up? Can you accept a character you once embraced doing something you personally feel is unconscionable?
With soaps, it's not merely a matter of the character's mindset or viewpoint changing. Yours must too, if you're going to continue with the story. And that is active watching at it's finest.
Viewers might watch prime-time and movies and theater, but they live soap operas right alongside the characters.
Which is one of the many unique features that makes soaps so compelling. (Another, as I've written before in my post Why Soaps Are the Greatest Thing in the History of Ever, is that instead of being told about a character's past, you can see it. Most likely, you have already seen it as it was first happening.)
Would you agree?