Soap


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

Soap was conceived by Susan Harris as a satire on the daytime soap operas. The show combined the serialized narrative of that genre with aspects of another U.S. television staple, the situation comedy, and was programmed in weekly, half-hour episodes. Harris, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas had formed the Witt/Thomas/Harris company in 1976 and Soap was their first successful pitch to a network. They received a good response from Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner at ABC and Fred Silverman placed an order for the series. Casting began in November 1976 at which point director Jay Sandrich became involved. The producers and director created an ensemble of actors, several of whom had had considerable success on Broadway. They produced a one-hour pilot by combining two half hour scripts and developed a "bible" for the show that outlined the continuing comical saga of two families, the Tates and the Campbells, through several potential years of their stories.

In the Spring of 1977 Newsweek reviewed the new TV season and characterized Soap as a sex farce that would include, among other things, the seduction of a Catholic priest in a confessional. The writer of the piece had never seen the pilot and his story was completely in error. However, that did not deter a massive protest by Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist representatives condemning the show. Later the National Council of Churches entered the lists against Soap. Refusing to listen to reason, the religious lobby sought to generate a boycott of companies that sponsored Soap. In the summer, when the producers quite properly denied requests by church groups to have the pilot sent to them for viewing, the religious groups insisted they were denied opportunity to see an episode. That was simply not true. Soap was in production in late July in Hollywood and each week any person walking through the lobby of the Sheraton-Universal Hotel could have secured tickets for the taping. The tapings were always open to the public and any priest or preacher could have easily gone to the studio stage for that purpose.

This combination of irresponsible journalism and misguided moral outrage by men of the cloth resulted in a dearth of sponsors. The campaign, led by ecclesiastical executives, sought to define and enforce a national morality by the use of prior censorship. It almost worked. Costs for advertising spots in the time slot for Soap were heavily discounted in order to achieve full sponsorship for the premiere on 13 September 1977. Only the commitment to the series by Fred Silverman prevented its demise. Some ABC affiliates were picketed and a few decided not to air it. Other stations moved it from 9:30 P.M. to a late night time slot. A United Press International story for 14 September reported a survey of persons who had watched the first episode of Soap carried out by University of Richmond (Virginia, U.S.) professors and their students. They discovered that 74% of viewers found Soap inoffensive, 26% were offended, and half of those offended said they were planning to watch it the next week. The day after the premiere Jay Sandrich, who had directed most of the Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes stated, "If people will stay with us, they will find the show will grow." Still, producer Paul Witt believes the show never fully recovered from the witch-hunting mentality that claimed banner headlines across the country.

In spite of these difficulties, all three of the producers recall the "joy of doing it." It was their first hit, and arguably one of the most creative efforts by network television before or after. The scripts and acting were calculated to make audiences laugh--not snicker--at themselves. Indeed, in its own peculiar way it addressed family values. In one of the more dramatic moments in the series, for example, Jessica Tate, with her entire family surrounding her, confronted the threat of evil, personified by an unseen demon, and commanded the menacing presence to be gone. She invoked the family as a solid unit of love and informed the demon, "You have come to the wrong house!"

Perhaps Soap was not quite the pace setting show one might have hoped for since nothing quite like it has been seen since. In content it had some characteristics of another pioneer effort, Norman Lear's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. But the differences between the two were greater than the similarities and each set a tone for what might be done with television, given freedom, imagination and talent. Soap was a ratings success on ABC and a hit in England and Japan. In spite of the concerted attacks it was the 13th most popular network program for 1977-78. Eight is Enough was rated 12th. Soap ended, however, under suspicion that resistance from ad agencies may have caused ABC to cancel at that point. The series may still be seen in syndication in various communities and for several years has been available on home video.

-Robert S. Alley

CAST

Chester Tate ..........................................Robert Mandan

Jessica Tate ....................................Katherine Helmond

Corrine Tate (1977-1980) ...........................Diana Canova

Eunice Tate ...............................................Jennifer Salt

Billy Tate.................................................... Jimmy Baio

Benson (1977-1979) ............................Robert Guillaume

The Major .............................................Arthur Peterson

Mary Dallas Campbell ............................Cathryn Damon

Burt Campbell .....................................Richard Mulligan

Jodie Dallas ...............................................Billy Crystal

Danny Dallas .................................................Ted Wass

The Godfather (1977-1978) ....................Richard Libertini

Claire (1977-1978) ..............................Kathryn Reynolds

Peter Campbell (1977)................................ Robert Urich

Chuck/Bob Campbell................................. Jay Johnson

Dennis Phillips (1978) ................................Bob Seagren

Father Timothy Flotsky (1978-1979)............. Sal Viscuso

Carol David (1978-1981) .......................Rebecca Balding

Elaine Lefkowitz (1978-1979)...................... Dinah Manoff

Dutch (1978-1981)................................Donnelly Rhodes

Sally (1978-1979) ...........................Caroline McWilliams

Detective Donahue (1978-1980)..................... John Byner

Alice (1979)..............................................Randee Heller

Mrs. David (1979-1981)............................... Peggy Hope

Millie (1979) .........................................Candace Azzara

Leslie Walker (1979-1981) ...................Marla Pennington

Polly Dawson (1979-1981) ..........................Lynne Moody

Saunders (1980-1981)....................... Roscoe Lee Brown

Dr. Alan Posner (1980-1981)......................... Allan Miller

Attorney E. Ronald Mallu (1978-1981) .......Eugene Roche

Carlos "El Puerco" Valdez (1980-1981)..... Gregory Sierra

Maggie Chandler (1980-1981)............... Barbara Rhoades

Gwen (1980-1981).................................... Jesse Welles

PRODUCERS

Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas, Susan Harris, J.D. Lobue, Dick Clair, Jenna McMahon

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

83 30-Minute Episodes

10 60-Minute Episodes

ABC

September 1977-March 1978   Tuesday 9:30-10:00

September 1978-March 1979   Thursday 9:30-10:00

September 1979-March 1980   Thursday 9:30-10:00

October 1980-January 1981   Wednesday 9:30-10:00

March 1981-April 1981   Monday 10:00-11:00

Highlights
Katherine Helmond on the fate of "Jessica Tate"; her character on Soap at the series' end
00:48
Fred Silverman on how Soap caused as much controversy at ABC as All in the Family had caused at CBS
01:00
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
03:16
Tony Thomas on his day-to-day production duties on Soap
02:43
Jay Sandrich on the joys of directing Soap, for all of its controversies and challenges
02:18
Doris Roberts on playing "Flo Flotsky" on Soap
01:23
Who talked about this show

Marcy Carsey

View Interview
Marcy Carsey on fighting for Soap to air
00:42

Eddie Foy, III

View Interview
Eddie Foy III on casting Soap
03:01

Leonard H. Goldenson

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Leonard Goldenson on approving ABC's Soap
00:17

Robert Guillaume

View Interview
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
03:16
Robert Guillaume on being cast on Soap  and the controversy surrounding the show
04:05
Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap; but finding ways to make a statement
03:52
Robert Guillaume on fellow cast members on Soap; on the controversy the series caused; on working with creator Susan Harris
10:26
Robert Guillaume on his favorite storyline on Soap
01:44

Katherine Helmond

View Interview
Katherine Helmond on the fate of "Jessica Tate"; her character on Soap at the series' end
00:48
Kathering Helmond on being cast on Soap; her first comedic role
Katherine Helmond on Soap and its cast and characters
57:18
Katherine Helmond on Billy Crystal's role on Soap; he was only known for standup comedy before that role, in which he played a homosexual
02:13
Katherine Helmond on what Soap did for her career as an actor

Carroll Pratt

View Interview
Carroll Pratt on providing a laugh track for Soap, which proved a challenge as the show was a soap opera parody, and on providing laugh tracks for Kate & Allie, and Family Ties
02:06

Doris Roberts

View Interview
Doris Roberts on playing "Flo Flotsky" on Soap
01:23

Jay Sandrich

View Interview
Jay Sandrich on the joys of directing Soap, for all of its controversies and challenges
02:18
Jay Sandrich on getting the pilot script for Soap and having to make a tough choice about taking it versus working with Betty White again
Jay Sandrich on first thinking Soap might end his career, and on the writing talents of Susan Harris, as well as casting Billy Crystal, Robert Guillaume, the rest of the cast
06:59
Jay Sandrich on casting Robert Guillaume as "Benson" on Soap
01:53
Jay Sandrich on "Jodie Dallas," the character who was gay, on Soap, and the controversies that and other storylines provoked
04:08
Jay Sandrich on the ventriloquist Jay Johnson and his "figure," Bob, on Soap
02:35
Jay Sandrich on how lucky they were to get great guest-actors on Soap
00:16
Jay Sandrich on having fun directing within time constraints, and finding ways to depict sex in a subtle way on Soap
01:45

Alfred Schneider

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Alfred Schneider on why ABC was able to take a risk on Soap and how the network dealt with the show's depiction of controversial topics
03:03

Fred Silverman

View Interview
Fred Silverman on how Soap caused as much controversy at ABC as All in the Family had caused at CBS
01:00
Fred Silverman on Soap, which pushed the boundaries "in its way" as All in the Family had done at CBS
01:41

Tony Thomas

View Interview
Tony Thomas on the genesis of Soap
03:25
Tony Thomas on why Soap was considered groundbreaking
02:30
Tony Thomas on dealing with Standards and Practices regarding Soap
00:49
Tony Thomas on Cathryn Damon as "Mary Campbell" on Soap
01:01
Tony Thomas on Katherine Helmond as "Jessica Tate" on Soap (Thomas accidentally refers to Helmond as Cathryn Damon)
00:51
Tony Thomas on Richard Mulligan as "Burt Campbell" on Soap
00:34
Tony Thomas on Robert Mandan as "Chester Tate" on Soap
00:15
Tony Thomas on the casting of Soap
02:34
Tony Thomas on Billy Crystal as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap
01:51
Tony Thomas on Robert Guillaume as "Benson DuBois" on Soap
02:09
Tony Thomas on critical and audience reaction to Soap
02:32
Tony Thomas on his day-to-day production duties on Soap
02:43
Tony Thomas on Soap's cancellation in 1981
01:26
Tony Thomas on spinning Benson off from Soap
02:04

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