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From Soap Operas to Teen Drama

English speaking countries are renowned for long running series that are locally-based in the country, such as General Hospital (1963-) and Days of Our Lives (1965-) in the US, Coronation Street (1960-) and EastEnders (1985-) in Great Britain, Neighbours (1985-) and Home and Away (1988-) in Australia.

Johnny McIntyre fills out the slate for the next scene in "One Tree Hill," which films in Wilmington, N.C.

From Soap Operas to Teen Drama

From Soap Operas to Teen Drama

These are mostly adult series, although many of the conflicts in the series may often include teenagers as well. Therefore, for example, Home and Away also fits into the category of “teen drama” because the later series dealt with teen issues. Teen drama also takes many elements from soap operas such as the serial forms, melodrama and dialogue. Some of the storylines focusing on teens deal with bullying, romance, rivalry, teen sexuality, teen pregnancy, abortion, racism, substance abuse, imprisonment, sexual and mental child abuse, homosexuality and homophobia, to name a few. What is interesting is that the genre “teen drama” did not come into existence until the 1990’s. And what was more relaxing after a boring day at school than viewing the complex lives of the characters depicted.

The genre evolved starting with Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-2000) about upper middle class teens from Beverly Hills high school, Dawson's Creek (1998- 2003) about 4 teens living in the fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts and later in Boston, Massachusetts, to The OC (2003- 2007) starring teens from New Port Beach and Orange County, California, Gossip Girl (2007- ) about privileged teens and young adults from Manhattan's Upper East Side in New York City and One Tree Hill (2003- ) about teens from a fictional town Tree Hill in North Carolina. What all of these teen dramas have in common are their slickness, affluence and no less than perfect American cast of actors and actresses.

What Critics Say

Risky lifestyle
Risky lifestyle

Although many of the same themes mentioned above are touched upon, the way in which they are handled vary in depth, intensity and shock value. Teen characters are lead into complex relationships and situations that although based on real life problems still seem far away. Critics claim that teenage characters, because they usually lack social power 1, are put into very adult situations and must act as adults. They seem much more mature and reflective than in reality. S imilar to reality series there is a lot of stereotyping according to gender, nationality, race and even class. Who wouldn’t want to be as rich, thin, beautiful, cool, tough, sexy or aggressive as some of the main characters? Other critics base their disapproval on the amount of drug abuse and sexual violence shown in these series.

A newer teen drama is Skins. Originating in the UK in 2007, the series is into its 6th season. It follows a group of British, working class teens from Bristol, England. The plot centers on social issues such as mental illness, eating disorders, dysfunctional families, sexual orientation, drug and alcohol abuse and death. However, critics have criticized it for its lewdness due to the scenes of voyeurism, exhibitionism, child pornography, masturbation and drug and alcohol abuse. The American version was first shown on MTV in January of 2011 but had to be toned down due to the outcries from parents. The contents had to fit FCC requirements.


Try the vocabulary task: From Soap Opera to Teen Drama - Vocabulary


Sit in groups of three or four and duscuss the following:

  • Which of the series mentioned in the text have you seen? Likes and dislikes
  • What soap / teen drama have you followed? Particular likes and dislikes
  • What do we mean by the word “escapism”? (Look it up if you don’t know)
  • Why is "escapism" a relevant term when talking about these series?
  • Explain "stereotyping" with regards to these dramas?
  • Discuss teen dramas with regards to realism.


Write and develop your own pilot manuscript for a teen drama. Be imaginative and include the following:

  • Title
  • Concept
  • Number of episdoes
  • Target Group
  • Location
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Types of characters
  • What the last episode will consist of


  1. Serialised Sexual Violence in Teen Television Drama Series by Susan Berridge (2010)


Cultural Aspects

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