Soap

Soap

Two sisters, with different and rather dysfunctional families were the focus of the controversial ABC sitcom, Soap, which arrived on the airwaves in 1977 and redefined what was acceptable to talk about on television. Often bizarre, usually hilarious, Soap broke down barriers and introduced America to the most colorful characters ever seen on a soap opera. Considering the usual fodder of daytime soap operas, that’s saying something.

Set in the fictional town of Dunn’s River, Connecticut, Soap revolved around two families, the Tates and the Campbells, the respective clans of sisters Jessica and Mary. The Tates were the wealthier of the two families, even employing their own butler, an acid-tongued servant by the name of Benson (who would eventually get his own self-titled spin off series).

The Tates weren’t without their problems, of course. Jessica’s husband Chester was a womanizer, her adopted daughter Corinne was actually the daughter of their maid, Ingrid Svenson, and Corrine’s future baby was possessed by the devil. That’s just for starters.

Over on the Campbell side, things were stranger still. Mary’s son Danny was a wanna-be gangster, who was instructed to kill his stepfather, Mary’s husband Burt. Mary’s stepson Chuck expressed his anger through a sharp-witted ventriloquist’s dummy named Bob. Her other son, Jody, was openly gay (the first such character in a weekly series).

At the end of the first season, another of Mary’s stepsons, tennis pro Peter Campbell turned up as a murder victim. Sister Jessica was the first suspect, but as the show ended, it was revealed that she was innocent and one of the other five major characters (Burt, Chester, Jodie, Corrine, or Benson) was guilty of murder. This was all poking fun at the “Who Shot JR” phenomenon at the time, and fans would have to wait until the next season to find out who killed Peter.

There were plenty of other interesting things going on in later episodes. Burt, who already suffered from an affliction where he thought he could make himself invisible, had the misfortune of being abducted by aliens. He was replaced by an exact duplicate, named X-23. Youngest son Billy Tate would get abducted by a religious cult and have to be rescued by the family. And Jessica would begin a love affair with a revolutionary in South America.

Each episode ended in cliffhanger fashion, with an off-screen announcer asking such questions as “Will Burt remain invisible? Will Mary notice? Will anyone care?” and follow with “These questions and many more will be answered on the next episode of … Soap.”

It took a while for Soap to catch on. The hype over the show’s controversial subject matter was pretty overblown and gave people the impression that it was more extreme than it really was (not that a few overly-cautious sponsers didn’t pull their commercials). For those that gave the series a chance, however, they soon realized that it was one of the funnier shows on television, thanks to its wonderful writing and characters you would never forget.

Soap benefited greatly from its stellar cast that included Cathryn Damon, Robert Guillaume, Richard Mulligan, Diana Canova and a young Billy Crystal in one of his first major roles as Jodie, the openly-gay character. The show, created, written and produced by Susan Harris (The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Nurses) ran for four years before finally ending in 1981 after 85 episodes. Luckily for nostalgic fans that want to relive the entire saga of the Tates and the Campbells, all four seasons of Soap are available on DVD.

Did you stay up late to watch Soap back in the day? Who was your favorite character on the show (a tough question, we know)? We hope you’ll share all of your thoughts and memories of this memorable series with us in our comments section below.

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