soap opera

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

1935–40, Americanism; so called because soap manufacturers were among the original sponsors of such programs Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
soap opera
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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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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