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In 1976, Time magazine described American daytime television as "TV's richest market," noting the loyalty of the soap opera fan base and the expansion of several half-hour series into hour-long broadcasts in order to maximize ad revenues.The main characteristics that define soap operas are "an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations".Soap operas from the United Kingdom and Australia tend to focus on more everyday characters and situations, and are frequently set in working class environments.Many of the soaps produced in those two countries explore social realist storylines such as family discord, marriage breakdown or financial problems.
This diverges from US soap operas where such comedy is rare.
When one storyline ends, there are several other story threads at differing stages of development.
Soap opera episodes typically end on some sort of cliffhanger, and the season finale (if a soap incorporates a break between seasons) ends in the same way, only to be resolved when the show returns for the start of a new yearly broadcast.
Australian and UK soap operas also feature a significant proportion of romance storylines.
In Russia, most popular serials explore the "romantic quality" of criminal and/or oligarch life.
Early radio series such as Painted Dreams were broadcast in weekday daytime slots, usually five days a week, when most of the listeners would be housewives; thus, the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.