My definition of a real soap opera is a program that:
My mother was a big soap fan before she went back into the workplace in the late 50's. I remember she'd fix us our Campbell's Soup and Hi-C to keep us quiet while she watched "Search for Tomorrow" and "The Guiding Light," 15 minutes each. Then we'd go down for our naps, but if we didn't sleep too long, we could catch a bit of "As the World Turns" and "Love of Life." "Secret Storm" and "The Edge of Night" came on a little later in the afternoon, so we could keep up with those, too.
Now, don't get the idea that we sat around watching TV all afternoon. Mother was ironing or sewing or in and out of the kitchen. We'd play inside and out - we were kids, after all, and our world didn't revolve around Mother's soap operas. But they were background noise. And the Tates and Bergmans and Bauers and Hughes, et. al., were like long-lost relatives that could only communicate through TV plots.
As we grew up, went to school, and found other ways to spend our time, we only had to check in occasionally with our soap families to get up to speed with the action. And, alas, as teens we gravitated toward "American Bandstand" and "Dark Shadows," only stopping by Oakdale and Springfield and Henderson during Christmas break or in the summer.
I can't remember the last time I watched "Guiding Light." Funny, but during a news story about its soon-to-be demise, I recognized a goodly portion of the cast - older, portlier, but still familiar. Just like a real family.
I raise a plastic cup of Hi-C to the cast of "Guiding Light." Cheers, you rascals!