Soap (TV series)

Caproni

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SOAP aired on ABC from September 13, 1977 to April 20, 1981, totaling four seasons and 85 episodes. A parody of daytime soap operas, the show was a weekly half-hour comedy with on-going story lines presented in a serialized format. Over the course of the show's four-year-run, plotlines included alien abduction, demonic possession, extramarital affairs, murder, kidnapping, unknown diseases, amnesia, cults, organized crime, a communist revolution, and teacher-student relationships. In 2007, it was named one of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time" by TIME magazine.

The series was created, written, and executive produced by Susan Harris, and also co-produced by Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas. Each returning season was preceded by a 90-minute retrospective of the previous season. SOAP aired 85 episodes over four seasons. Eight of these (including the final four episodes) aired as one-hour installments during the show's original run on ABC. These hour-long episodes were later sliced in two, giving the series 93 episodes to air in syndication. Like most sitcoms of the time, SOAP was filmed before a live studio audience and shot on videotape, further enhancing its "look" as a daytime soap opera.

SOAP is one of the best and funniest TV shows in history. I've heard different people on here (although I forget which ones) say before how SOAP was "the best soap opera" and how it was, in many ways, "better than the daytime and night-time soaps". I've got the complete series of SOAP on DVD, and my wife and I are planning to work our way through the series.

Let's get this conversation rolling.

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Daniel Gravely

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I can't say enough good things about this series! Excellent writing, well-drawn characters, spot-on casting. It's difficult to recall anything in seasons 1-3 that I could label as a mis-step. Season four, despite its faults, is still very watchable and enjoyable once you recognize there were writing changes behind the scenes and increased pressures from the network that forced a few too many compromises. I'm sure much of the pleasure I got from this show comes from having a sold background in "real" soaps, watching how ably Susan Harris hung this outrageously funny comedy on a soap opera scaffolding.

It was only a few years ago that I realized Susan Harris's knowledge of soap opera (as opposed to sitcoms and episodic dramas, which were the formats she'd written for in her TV career to that point) could have been the product of her early marriage to Berkeley Harris, a soap opera actor. (Berkeley Harris later married Beverlee McKinsey, considered by many to be the greatest actress ever on soaps.) So while it would have been tempting for another writer to take the parody aspect of Soap too far, she hits the right balance between crazy situations and honest emotions---not insulting the fans of soaps in an effort to be funny over all else.

It's hard to pick a favorite storyline, but I'd have to say it's the death of Peter Campbell and the ensuing trial of Jessica Tate. Brilliant stuff. The way they skewer the "multi-suspect murder mystery" trope, followed by the "heroine on trial for her life" trope, all while keeping the real murderer a secret right up to the end. I also have a great fondness for Burt's alien-abduction story, simply because it's a comedy riot. But like I said earlier, the majority of the series is one well-done plot arc after another.
 

Caproni

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So while it would have been tempting for another writer to take the parody aspect of Soap too far, she hits the right balance between crazy situations and honest emotions---not insulting the fans of soaps in an effort to be funny over all else.
This sums it all up. SOAP could've easily been a pure sitcom send-up without any honesty or reality whatsoever. All the writing could've been directed towards making fun of a genre instead of working inside of it. Sure, it is an over-the-top piece, but there are real emotions involved. Those times when the laughs are shuffled to the side and real human emotions came out are some of my favorite moments so far. I give Susan Harris props for balancing this show like she did. She had to be a fan of the soap opera genre to do this as effortlessly as she did.​
 

Daniel Gravely

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TV Guide was famous for its caricature covers, and this one is hilarious. I mean, we're seeing a whole new side of Eunice, for sure, and Danny looks as if he's constipated. But that's part of the fun of caricatures, I guess. But like the photo above, Chuck and Bob are nowhere to be seen.

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Snarky Oracle

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It premiered to great controversy in 1977, especially because of the "gay" character. And once Jodie Dallas took off the dress, he started dating women yet still gave heartfelt speeches calling for same-sex acceptance (foreshadowings of Steven Csrrington). That rapidly bored me, so I stopped watching pretty quickly. Maybe I should have done the same with DYNASTY, but, as we all know, I didn't.

 

Daniel Gravely

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Over time they moved Jodie away from the stereotypes (suicidal, wanting to wear mom's clothes, flamboyant) and wrote stories for him that, when looked at for that time period, were moving the needle a bit in the positive direction. I think the plan for the character was to introduce him with all those stereotypes just to whip up the publicity, then depict him as a regular guy (well, as regular as anyone in that bunch could be) once people tuned in. In fact, one of the failings of season four was how they made him too boring and left him unconnected to the other characters. After all the effort made to get his daughter Wendy back from Carol---which culminated in a single, gay man winning custody of his daughter from the mother, something unheard of in that time--they seemed not to have anything else to write for him. I can guess they wanted to do more, but the network standards and practices was being so oppressive that they decided to give up fighting for him to have a real love life.

Jodie must have had something going for him, though, because the idea of a skinny nerd like Jodie managing to hook up with a hunky pro quarterback like Dennis boggles the mind.
 

Jack O'Lantern Jimmy

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This sums it all up. SOAP could've easily been a pure sitcom send-up without any honesty or reality whatsoever. All the writing could've been directed towards making fun of a genre instead of working inside of it. Sure, it is an over-the-top piece, but there are real emotions involved. Those times when the laughs are shuffled to the side and real human emotions came out are some of my favorite moments so far. I give Susan Harris props for balancing this show like she did. She had to be a fan of the soap opera genre to do this as effortlessly as she did.​
I recall a wonderful scene in which Jessica is talking about the humiliation she felt upon finding out her husband was having an affair. Katherine Helmond did a great job in conveying the hurt a person feels in this situation.
 

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I also really like the scene where Mary finally confronts Elaine (her obnoxious daughter-in-law) about why Elaine behaves the way she does. Elaine tells a story of an older sister she had who was "the favorite," how she (Elaine) was made to feel she could never measure up. When the older sister died in an accident of some sort, her mother actually asked "Why couldn't it have been you?" After that, Elaine put up a wall around herself because she wanted to be sure to push away anyone before they could get close enough to hurt her again. Dinah Manoff (who had been killing it as awful, pushy, irritating Elaine for so long) was suddenly the most sympathetic and tragic character in the span of one scene. In true soap fashion, they reformed the "bad girl" and Danny and Elaine became the only really happy couple in town---so of course they had to kill Elaine off soon after, because soap couples are not allowed to be happy for very long.
 

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Sorry, one last clip. An all-time great between Helmond & Mandan. I'm also fond of the outro music, which I believe was only used one other time (after Mary & Burt have their heart to heart over his mental illness).
 

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What made me think Mary was in the scene with Elaine? Jeez, I'm gettin' old. Of course, there were a few scenes with Mary and Elaine where they gave each other facials and acted like a mother/daughter. Mary said it was like having a daughter---doing all that stuff with Jodie just wasn't the same. :lol:

Oh, I just loved when Chester woke up from brain surgery and kept losing track of who he was. As he vamped around the house acting like Marlene Dietrich, Corinne asked out loud, "Who convinced him he was Marlene Dietrich?" and you saw Benson in the background, intently dusting something with a guilty look on his face.

ETA: One link between this show and soap opera history that I forgot to mention earlier involves Guiding Light. The original premise of the series when it premiered on the radio in 1937 was more religious. The show centered on Reverend Rutledge and the members of his church, with Rutledge dispensing advice to his flock rooted in scripture, thus he was their 'guiding light'. The Reverend was voiced by Arthur Peterson, who played The Major (Mary and Jessica's father) on Soap.
 
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Caproni

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So I just learned something a few days ago that I figured I'd share here for the others that might not have known either.

Rue McClanahan turned down SOAP. Fresh off a near-six-year stint as the befuddled Vivian Harmon on MAUDE*, she was approached with two propositions: one to star in a Norman Lear comedy called APPLE PIE, and another to play Mary Campbell on SOAP. McClanahan says she expressed more interest in playing the ditzy Jessica Tate, but with Katherine Helmond already cast, the producers refused to budge. Disinterested, McClanahan pushed forward with APPLE PIE, a rather boring something of a comedy that produced seven episodes, but aired just two of those before getting axed.

I saw this tidbit on the interview Rue did with Pop Goes the Culture TV on YouTube.

*I don't know how this could've happened. MAUDE didn't end until 1978, but SOAP premiered in 1977. Rue was still playing Vivian when she got the offer to play "Billy Crystal's mother" as she calls it.​
 
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Daniel Gravely

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One of the most fun characters on Soap was "the evil Ingrid Svenson," as Rod Roddy always called her. She was so hammy and over-the-top in her hatred for all things Jessica and Mary, and it looked like Inga Swenson was having a ball playing her. Her evil plotting was played for laughs, obviously, and her overdone Scandinavian accent added comedy to the menace, but they gave her a legit reason to hate the Gatling sisters. Her oft-repeated story of how Corinne was supposedly kept from her for "tventy-tree yeers" became a rallying cry for her, but a reason for everyone else in the scene to roll their eyes. She even got her own catch phrase ("HA!").

One of my favorite exchanges between Jessica and Ingrid (over Corinne, naturally) had Ingrid laying it on thick about supposedly being denied the chance to raise Corinne. Jessica, usually all sweetness and light, got real and said "If someone took my child away from me, I'd move heaven and Earth to get her back....and it wouldn't have taken me tventy tree yeers. Ha!" then stormed out. In another episode, Ingrid was gloating over all the mischief she had caused (and was still planning to cause) and asked "You tink I Finnish?" (as in "You think I'm finished?") Clueless Jessica piped up "No....Swedish!" Kills me every time.
 

Caproni

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We're at the tail end of Season 1 of SOAP. I've tried watching the show two or three different times before, but I never got far past where Peter was killed. Now my wife and I are binging this show and we're both loving it.

The only thing I'd change is I probably would've done SOAP without the studio audience. The way the show is filmed gives it the "look" of the daytime soaps they're parodying, but the audience laughter can sometimes be a little distracting. At least it does show us exactly how funny people found the show, though.

I'll come back and give some opinions when we've finished Season 1.​
 

Caproni

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Not surprisingly, SOAP shares a lot similarities with THE GOLDEN GIRLS, another Susan Harris sitcom.

Here are some of the things I've noticed the two shows share:​
1) The actors. There are many actors that appear on SOAP that later appear on THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Robert Mulligan (who plays Burt Campbell) was later Dr. Harry Weston on THE GOLDEN GIRLS and its own spin-off called EMPTY NEST. Robert Mandan (who plays Chester Tate) appeared in the fifth season episode "Great Expectations" as Blanche's boyfriend who has a heart attack. There are other actors that I've noticed, but those are the two more prominent ones.​
2) The sets. The set that serves as Father Tim's mother's (played by Doris Roberts) home on SOAP also serves as the home of Sophia and Salvador Petrillo on THE GOLDEN GIRLS in flashback episodes.​
3) The fonts. The fonts used to show the credits at the beginning and end of each episode are the same for both SOAP and THE GOLDEN GIRLS.​
4) Background music. In the earlier SOAP episodes, I recall hearing some scene transition music that I hear quite often on THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Where I'm at now in SOAP, I don't believe I'm hearing it as often.​
5) The judge doing Jessica Tate's murder trial, Judge Petrillo, has the same surname as Sophia Petrillo (played by Estelle Getty) from THE GOLDEN GIRLS.​
6) Speaking of Doris Roberts, who plays Father Tim's mother on SOAP, she was an inspiration behind the creation of THE GOLDEN GIRLS. At an affiliate party in 1985 actresses Doris Roberts and Selma Diamond pitched a new NBC show called MIAMI VICE. The humor was drawn from the fact that Selma kept calling the show "Miami Nice" and that it was about a group of elderly people living on the beaches of Miami. Doris kept correcting her and the audience laughed their butts off. This urged NBC to explore the older audience that was being overlooked on primetime television, and eventually THE GOLDEN GIRLS were born.​
There are other crossovers I've noticed along the way, but those are some of the bigger and more noticeable ones. Being an avid viewer of THE GOLDEN GIRLS like I am, I always noticed parallels between my favorite sitcom and other TV shows.​
 

Jack O'Lantern Jimmy

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A bit of gossip here, but apparently Susan Harris, after working with Doris Robert's on Soap, refused to ever work with her again. She was not a fan of her personality.
 

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If you've watched season one, then I assume you saw Susan Harris doing her "cameo role". I gotta admit, she was pretty good (dare I say convincing).

That font you mention. @Caproni, is used in the credits all the Witt-Thomas (and -Harris) produced shows, even Benson, GG, Empty Nest, and It's A Living. Another similarity I've noticed is how they all projected their closing credits over one still image from that episode. For Soap they tried to always have a still image that featured Mary and Jessica, though in some episodes where the two did not interact there were other images (typically something funny). I recall the closing images for Benson and the others were almost always sight gags/funny moments.

As for the actors, Soap "discovered" a lot of future TV stars, or at least gave established actors their first major visibility that allowed them to move out of relative obscurity into steady work. And yes, a few major stars can call Soap their Big Break. I think one of the (many) fun aspects of this show is recognizing an actor or actress playing a role on this show "before they made it big".

apparently Susan Harris, after working with Doris Robert's on Soap, refused to ever work with her again. She was not a fan of her personality.
I love how they decided to kill Flo Flotsky off so humorously, and to use her demise to throw cold water on Tim's marriage to Corinne. When she put that curse on them before she died, it really stuck.
 

Caproni

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That font you mention. @Caproni, is used in the credits all the Witt-Thomas (and -Harris) produced shows, even Benson, GG, Empty Nest, and It's A Living. Another similarity I've noticed is how they all projected their closing credits over one still image from that episode. For Soap they tried to always have a still image that featured Mary and Jessica, though in some episodes where the two did not interact there were other images (typically something funny). I recall the closing images for Benson and the others were almost always sight gags/funny moments.
Yes, the same font is used for all of these shows. I find it quite comforting for a frequent TV viewer like myself. I like familiarity and little tidbits like that carrying over from one series to the next.
 
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