Another World (NBC, 1964-1999) was a crucial contributor to the history of the US daytime television soap opera, bridging the early years of radio and TV serials with an era of new possibility for these programs. While the soap had much in common with its daytime drama predecessors, it was also a creative boundary-pusher. Another World challenged narrative conventions by telling stories in new ways, experimenting with form, and innovating character types that would shape soap opera storytelling for years to come.
The creation of Another World was significant for being the first partnership between sponsor-producer Procter & Gamble and the NBC television network. Procter & Gamble’s daytime dramas had been airing on CBS since television became the new home for daytime soaps in the early 1950s. NBC-TV had been less committed to daytime serials to this point, so the launch of Another World signaled a new strategy at the network. That the serial was created by Irna Phillips, who had pioneered daytime drama in radio and had led its transition to television, made it all the more embedded in soap opera history. Phillips co-created Another World with her protégé William Bell; her other key mentee, Agnes Nixon, would write for the program, as well, all three major figures in the evolution of soap opera as a TV form. In the 1970s, Another World was led by two other creative trailblazers, producer Paul Rauch, a former P&G and network executive, and head writer Harding Lemay, a playwright new to serial drama who brought a theatrical literacy to daytime. The program was incredibly successful across this era, generating two spin-offs: Somerset (NBC, 1970-76) and Texas (NBC, 1980-82). Also during the 1970s, it was the first soap to expand to a one-hour daily time slot, and even experimented with a daily 90 minute episode.
The success of Another World from its beginnings and into the 1980s was indebted to its ability to connect conventional soap opera storytelling with creative innovations. Much as in the other soaps she wrote for P&G, Phillips rooted Another World in the story of a family, the Matthews, and privileged the traditional perspectives of the Matthews elders over the more troubled boldness of the younger generation. This tension was made clearest in one of the soap’s first stories, wherein the college-aged Pat Matthews found herself pregnant by her boyfriend, Tom, got the (illegal) abortion he pressured her into, suffered an infection as a result, shot him dead in an unhinged rage, and blacked out the trauma. This story of unwed pregnancy, abortion, and murder was especially daring for 1960s daytime, even as it sought to uphold a conventional morality that saw Pat and Tom as victims of their own poor choices. The story was typical of the way the early Another World served as a generational bridge between the origins of daytime soap opera and newer innovations.
Later in the 1960s, Nixon created the character of Rachel Davis, an early instance of the soaps’ villainess archetype. Rachel was a manipulative schemer from an underprivileged background who married into the Matthews family as her ticket to security. When she later meets the dashing Steve Frame, she falls for him, eventually becoming one point of another archetypal narrative device, the love triangle. Steve spends years torn between Rachel—the mother of his child (the soap villainess often used pregnancy as a strategy for getting her way)—and Matthews daughter Alice, the blonde, sweet heroine to Rachel’s brunette manipulator. First Nixon and later Lemay scripted these dynamics. Steve and Alice were an immensely popular pairing, helping to shift daytime toward an emphasis on heterosexual romance that would dominate the genre into the 1970s and especially in the 1980s. But Rachel remained a key point of audience investment as well. She was a “bad girl,” but viewers were made to understand and sympathize with her. Once Lemay grasped how compelling such a flawed and conflicted character was, he made her all the more central to his tales, gradually developing Rachel into a new kind of heroine.
Lemay’s literate writing, featuring long scenes of dialogue exploring character psyches and relationships dynamics, was paired with Rauch’s careful attention to production. Produced in New York, the program attracted Broadway actors and directors, and made use of stylistic devices such as extreme close-ups to emphasize the intensity of emotion between characters. The expansions of episodes to 60 and then 90 minutes was motivated in part by the creative team’s desire to tell more stories about the rich tapestry of characters, although the 90-minute effort proved too daunting. While Another World would lose some of its prominence across the 1980s and into the 1990s, it remained a creative innovator. Distinctive characters such as romance novelist Felicia Gallant and twins Vicky and Marley Hudson, who embodied the villainess and heroine archetypes in identical packages (they were played by the same actress), continued to offer skilled combinations of acting, writing, and production.
In the 1990s, Another World continued to experiment creatively. The serial produced multiple fantasy episodes wherein the attorney and reformed playboy Cass Winthrop imagined himself in classical Hollywood scenarios, including 1940s-style film noir and “Murder on the Honeymoon Express.” The soap also aired its own music video featuring rock star Dean and his girlfriend/dancer Jenna. These innovations in form were paired with more in-depth explorations of issues such as mental illness and alcohol addiction, another evolution in storytelling for the soap.
As ratings for all soaps continued to decline in the 1990s, NBC struggled with its affiliate stations, which were increasingly refusing to carry some programs on the network’s daytime schedule including, in some markets, Another World. NBC also began to see that owning soap operas in-house would be more remunerative than was a partnership with a sponsor-owner like Procter & Gamble. These developments led NBC to cancel Another World in 1999, which also made way for a new, network-owned soap, Passions. As the first of the major, long-running, sponsor-owned soaps to be canceled at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the end of Another World may be seen as the start of a period of significant shrinkage in the world of daytime soap opera. The launch of Another World in 1964 signaled a new era of growth for the US daytime TV soap; its 1999 end sadly signaled an era of decline for this foundational television form.
- Elana Levine, September 2019
Lemay, Harding. Eight Years in Another World. New York: Atheneum, 1981.
Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.
Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Nixon, Agnes. My Life to Live. New York: Crown Archetype, 2017.