soap opera

[op-er-uh, op-ruh]
noun
a radio or television series depicting the interconnected lives of many characters often in a sentimental, melodramatic way.

Origin:
1935–40, Americanism; so called because soap manufacturers were among the original sponsors of such programs

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Collins
World English Dictionary
soap opera
 
n
a serialized drama, usually dealing with domestic themes and characterized by sentimentality, broadcast on radio or television
 
[C20: so called because manufacturers of soap were typical sponsors]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

soap opera
1939 (sponsors were often soap manufacturers), from earlier horse opera "a Western" (1927); shortened form soap first attested 1943.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

soap opera

  1. A radio or television serial with stock characters in domestic dramas that are noted for being sentimental and melodramatic. For example, She just watches soap operas all day long. This term originated in the mid-1930s and was so called because the sponsors of the earliest such radio shows were often soap manufacturers.

  2. Real-life situation resembling one that might occur in a soap opera, as in She just goes on and on about her various medical and family problems, one long soap opera. [1940s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Many families have drama and cats play an important role in keeping the soap
  opera kind of drama flowing.
But the book contained cyphers, and that does not seem to involve a soap opera
  with returning lovers, but something else.
The story of her ascent rivals a modern-day soap opera.
Well, it is getting a lot more soapy soap opera than the first season.
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