1 9 7 7 – 1 9 8 1 (USA)
Soap was undoubtedly the most controversial new series of the 1977 – 1978′ “season of sex” as it was called. Even before it went on the air in the USA, ABC had received over 32,000 letters about the show – all but nine of them against it.
ABC affiliates had been picketed for planning to air it and sponsors had been urged to boycott the show (which a few did). Some ABC affiliates refused to carry it and many who did, ran it late at night.
The object of all this attention was a half-hour comedy which was billed as a satire on soap operas. It had a continuing storyline but was populated by a cast that was hardly ever seen on any serious dramatic show. Sex was on practically everyone’s mind and formed the basis of many of the stories.
Stories centred on the wealthy Tate’s and the blue-collar Campbell’s.
Chester Tate (Robert Mandan) was a pompous businessman with an urge for extramarital affairs. No wonder since his wife, Jessica (Katherine Helmond), was a spaced-out, fluttery idiot.
Of their three children, sexy Corrine (Diana Canova) was always putting her best attributes forward, Eunice (Jennifer Salt) was much quieter and more conservative and Billy (Jimmy Baio), 14, was a wise-cracking brat.
Living with the Tate’s were Jessica’s father, the Major (Arthur Peterson), who crawled around the floor in his old army uniform, still fighting World War II, and Benson (Robert Guillaume), their insolent and obnoxious black butler and cook, who commented on the events taking place.
Across town lived Jessica’s sister, Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) and her husband, Burt (Richard Mulligan) – a working-class guy whose main problem was dealing with stepsons Jodie (Billy Crystal), who was gay, and Danny (Ted Wass), who was involved with organised crime.
The major development during the first season was the murder of Burt’s son Peter (Robert Urich), a handsome tennis pro who had been luring most of his female students to bed with him.
First Corrine was accused, but then Jessica was arrested and subsequently convicted of the crime. In the last episode of the 77-78 season, an off-screen narrator informed viewers that she didn’t really do it, and as the following season opened, Chester confessed to the crime.
Chester was sent to prison but soon escaped with Dutch (Donnelly Rhodes), a convicted murderer. Soon thereafter, Chester lost his memory and wandered out west, where he became a cook.
Dutch eloped with Eunice and Jessica fell in love with Detective Donahue (John Byner) – whom she had hired to find Chester.
When Chester finally returned, she had to choose between the two. She chose Chester but only for a while. After a fling with South American revolutionary “El Puerco” (Gregory Sierra) she and Chester were divorced.
Benson the butler departed for greener pastures – his own TV show, Benson – in 1979, after rescuing Billy from a religious cult, the Sunnies. The new butler was named Saunders (Roscoe Lee Browne).
Corrine Tate married ex-priest, Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso), but their union produced a baby possessed by the devil and the Tate’s had to band together to exorcise the spirit.
Across town, Burt found himself kidnapped and cloned by aliens and Mary got a few nights of uninhibited sex from the clone. But who was the father of the baby that resulted?
Jodie, Burt’s gay son, decided that women are fun too and sired his own baby by Carol, but wound up in an ugly custody battle.
Burt got himself elected sheriff, resulting in a run-in with the racketeer Tibbs and his hooker, Gwen (Jesse Welles). Danny, who had previously been in love with Elaine (Dinah Manoff), Millie (Candace Azzara) and Polly (Lynne Moody), sort of liked her.
Soap attracted a large and loyal audience and the controversy over it was confined mostly to the first season. ABC maintained that the programme represented a major breakthrough in TV comedy and claimed that “through the Campbell’s and the Tate’s, many of today’s social concerns will be dealt with in a comic manner.”
Others, however, considered Soap nothing more than an extended dirty joke being broadcast into America’s living rooms. Much of the opposition to the programme was led by religious groups, including the National Council of Churches.
Reverend Everett Parker, a long-time critic of TV, called Soap “a deliberate effort to break down any resistance to whatever the industry wants to put into prime time . . . Who else besides the churches is going to stand against the effort of television to tear down our moral values and make all of us into mere consumers?”
Mary Dallas Campbell
Father Timothy Flotsky
Roscoe Lee Browne
Dr Alan Posner
Attorney E. Ronald Mallu
Carlos “El Puerco” Valdez