I happened to catch a bit of a soap opera the other day, and it was like seeing a soap opera for the first time. Character A spoke. We watched him for a second or two after he spoke, looking earnest. Then we cut to Character B, who said her line. Then we watched her for two or three seconds. And I found myself thinking "Yes, that's exactly right, that's just how it's done on soap operas."
I felt that if the dialog were delivered at the normal pace of television sitcoms, the whole show would be half as long and half as dopey. And of course from their point of view, they'd get their revenge that much quicker.
Paulie_D, although I mention this comparison to situation comedies, I have actually seen other acting in other contexts. I don't think that the correct answer could be that quick dialog is for sitcoms and slow dialog is for drama. The pacing of soap opera dialog is different, as I would illustrate with some sort of link if I knew how.
Anthony Grist, this is America.
Jan Doggen, it did occur to me that the purpose was to pad a slender plot to the desired run time. But that explanation seems to fall short. They've made many thousands of hours of soap opera, and I doubt they're about to run out. As far as I can tell it's pretty easy to crank out such stories. People have affairs and medical problems and they conspire to hurt each other... it's just like celebrity tabloid coverage, and it seems like they could produce two or three times as much intrigue per episode without much trouble. For a while my schedule had me at the coin-op laundromat during the broadcast of some soap opera about a woman who had (she thought) a real child that was (everyone else thought) a ventriloquist's dummy. We would sometimes see the one from her perspective or the other from theirs.
My own condescending theory is that for some reason soap opera audiences don't want more incident. They want it like it is, a small amount of incident explained very slowly.
But other more technical explanations seem possible, perhaps because these shows are written and shot for daily broadcasts. I wonder if they sometimes shoot one actor delivering all of his lines without the other actor speaking, or even on set, and the editing process results in this weird feeling. Perhaps an actor sometimes does all of his lines for many episodes at once, lines to be assembled with other dialog later. Maybe it has something to do with how writers or actors are paid. Etc.