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October 7, 2015

Gone Too Soon: 'Soap'

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 13th 2010 4:00PM
Normally, you'd think it odd to spotlight a series that lasted four seasons in a column like 'Gone Too Soon.' But 'Soap' was a different kind of series. Like the soap operas it was mocking, it was a premise that could have gone on for years and years. In fact, there's no reason to imagine that it couldn't still be on today.

From 1977 to 1981, Susan Harris crafted what would become a timeless comedy classic for ABC. But despite high ratings throughout its run, 'Soap' would only see four seasons, abruptly ending on a slew of cliffhangers that have frustrated fans for decades.

Despite that, the stellar cast and writing have stood the test of time in a way very few television series can, even if the wardrobes haven't. 'Soap' is as relevant and hilarious today as it was more than thirty years ago now. It deserved a longer life, and both the series and its fans deserved a true ending to Harris' brilliant vision.

What was it?
[Spoiler Warning!] "This is the story of two sisters, Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell." That simple phrase opened up a world beyond imagination, all seen through a comic parody of traditional soap operas. Through these two families and four seasons, viewers were able to witness everything from alien abductions to demon possession. There was sex and scandals, cults and controversy.

All the classic soap opera staples were there, including amnesia, escaped criminals, star-crossed lovers, infidelity, love, family and loss. But Harris didn't stop there, bringing viewers alien abductions and demonic possession, among other outlandish things with such sincerity that we bought into it completely. It was nothing short of comedic brilliance, featuring one of the most talented and massive casts ever assembled for a weekly television series.

'Soap' managed to spawn a spin-off, as well, when popular character Benson left to headline his own show after the second season. 'Benson' managed seven seasons, but despite its lasting success, it too ended on unresolved cliffhangers. Throughout, there were occasional appearances by characters and/or actors from 'Soap,' including a final appearance by Katherine Helmond as Jessica Tate.

Why did it have to go?
Despite high ratings throughout its run, ABC abruptly canceled 'Soap' after four seasons. During its run, the series received tremendous criticism from various social organizations, upset over its handling of issues such as religion, sex, homosexuality, race, cults and really everything the plots dealt with. Most of the controversy happened before the series even premiered, and things actually mellowed out quite a bit by the time the fourth season was underway, but it was too late.

The Tates, 'Soap'

While the network remained supportive, and the moral outrage had quieted, there was still a major problem with the sponsors. They were nervous to be associated with such a controversial product. So many of them refused to advertise on 'Soap,' there was no way ABC could continue to air the series. Creator Susan Harris had been working within a five-year arc for the major storylines of the series, and had chosen to end the season on three dramatic cliffhangers, as is common in the soap opera world.

How do I find out what happens next?
For awhile, Harris considered some sort of reunion special to wrap up the storylines, but the cast was too massive to accomplish it, and most had moved on. Now, many of the principals have passed away. Harris has never revealed what her intentions were for the various unresolved plotlines, only saying that she knew Jessica would live.

She also hinted that she felt Benson should have been the one to ultimately come in and sweep Jessica off her feet, declaring them "soul mates." We got our last glimpse of Jessica Tate on a later episode of 'Benson,' where it was revealed she was in a coma somewhere in South America. Meanwhile, the Tates were trying to have her declared legally dead.

Where did the cast wind up?

The Tates
The Campbells, 'Soap'The Campbells Supporting Cast
The supporting cast included such names as Rod Roddy (as the announcer), John Byner (Det. Donahue), Inga Swenson (Ingrid), Gordon Jump (Chief Tinkler), Caroline McWilliams (Sally), Lynne Moody (Polly), Marla Pennington (Leslie), Gregory Sierra (El Puerco), Howard Hesseman (Mr. Franklin), Joe Mantegna (Juan), Rebecca Balding (Carol), Nancy Dolman (Annie), Peggy Pope (Mrs. David), Jack Gilford (Saul), Doris Roberts (Flo) and too many more to keep listing!

'Soap: The Complete Series' DVD Box SetWho cares?
Anyone who remembers the show, remembers it fondly. Almost everyone who hasn't seen it and gets the opportunity to do so, falls in love with it. Rarely does a show come along with such a unique voice and vision from the first episode, but Susan Harris, who wrote every episode, absolutely nailed her vision.

When can I see it?
It has aired on various local channels, TV Land and Comedy Central, but isn't on the schedule at any of them. While it's inevitable that 'Soap' will once again grace our screens, it might just be easier to pick up the DVD sets. There are sets for each season, as well as 'Soap: The Complete Series' for less than $40 at Amazon. That way you can burn through eight or nine episodes at a time. Yes, it is that hard to stop watching.

[via TV Series Finale, AOL, Wikipedia, IMDb and more!]

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out of all the shows which i thought were funny, the funniest moment for me is when they are sitting around waiting for jessicas kidnappers to call and the phone rings chester answers and says "noo' then unice asks "who was that" and chester says "it was bob he wanted to see if chuck was here?'

September 03 2011 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of the funniest scenes was season 1 where Chief of Police Tinkler was telling everyone why they are all suspects in Peter's murder. Every single line was FUNNY. Now....1/2 the lines would be taken too personal or someone someplace would be offended by the lines or actions. Wish there could have been interviews yrs after the show that could have been put on dvd I would have loved to see the cast talk about the show.

September 01 2011 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Be smart everyone!Soap is Soap...Replicasky

April 17 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judith Sanders

Great Show. We are ordering all seasons from Netflix and it is great watching them again.

April 15 2010 at 10:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Soap was a great parody and a great program. But so was "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. How about an article like this for that program and its characters ?

April 15 2010 at 2:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Where am I? Who am I.
Toledo, a hobo.

April 14 2010 at 10:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved the Major...he had some of the greatest one liners!! And who can forget "Piece of Chalief Tinkler!!"
GREAT SHOW....I never missed it!

April 14 2010 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This was one of my ALL-TIME favorite shows, and it has the best ensemble cast in TV history. The great acting and excellent writing make it a classic. I loved the way it deftly mixed outrageous humor with softer, dramatic moments.

April 14 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved soap when it was on, it was a very funny show, to bad it ended..

April 14 2010 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tracie Smith

I was a teenager when this show was on tv. My mom wouldn't allow us to watch it because of it's adult themes.
My mom and dad raised 5 kids, they took us to church every Sunday, morning and night, and on Wednesdays. Any way, they were teaching us morals, which this show did NOT have. Still won't watch it even though I am 48 now.

April 14 2010 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tracie Smith's comment

closed-minded prude!

April 14 2010 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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