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Soap Billy Crystal

Is That Billy?

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Classic Sitcom Soap

Catch back-to-back episodes of Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

Few shows in television history have been as groundbreaking, innovative, controversial, and downright funny as Soap. Airing for four seasons on ABC from 1977 to 1981, the show generated laugh riots — and nearly a few actual riots. But what caused the reactions? How did the show cope? And what was its ultimate legacy? These questions — and many others — will be answered in this list of some things you didn’t know about the classic sitcom Soap, now airing Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. It was almost cancelled before it even aired.

Leaks about the show’s frank handling of controversial subjects such as homosexuality, as well as lies and misinformation about the show being “saturated with sex,” caused religious groups to mount a campaign to keep it off the air. In the end, ABC had to drop the fee for sponsoring the show from $75,000 per spot to just $40,000. But all the fuss generated publicity. The premiere won its time slot with a 39% share and the show ranked in at #13 for its first season in 1977-78.


2. ABC “dropped the Soap” abruptly at the fourth season cliffhanger.

Series creator Susan Harris and ABC had originally agreed that the show would run five seasons, and Harris developed a plot outline for the entire run. But the effect of the protests on sponsors finally caused the network to kill the show at the end of Season Four — right when Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) is apparently shot by a firing squad. All of the carefully developed plotlines were left hanging. Though Jessica did manage to briefly come back to “haunt” ABC. (See below.)


3. Billy Crystal’s character concerned gay rights groups as well as conservatives.

Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal) was one of the first recurring gay characters on an American sitcom. (He was not THE first — that honor goes to a short-lived show called The Corner Bar that aired on ABC in 1972.) The Jodie character had religious groups up in arms, but gay groups also expressed concern. They were worried that the character perpetuated stereotypes, such as his desire to have a sex change. After meetings with several gay rights organizations, the plotline for Jodie’s sex change was toned down. And thus began TV’s long road to Transparent and I Am Cait.


4. We never learned Benson’s last name until he got his own series.

One of the most enduring characters from Soap was the independent and sharp-tongued butler Benson, ably played by Robert Guillaume. His full name — Benson DuBois — was never revealed until the first season of his own show, Benson. Though a spin-off, Benson was more of a classic sitcom format (Benson served as head of household affairs for a Governor and his wacky staff) than the over-the-top soap opera parody of Soap. The character of Benson was also enduring in the literal sense — his show lasted seven seasons versus the four for Soap.


5. The “ghost” of Jessica Tate later visited Benson.

After Soap was abruptly cancelled with all sorts of cliffhangers left hanging, the network at least partially connected one of those dangling plotlines for viewers. In a touching guest appearance on Benson in 1983, an apparition of Jessica Tate appears to Benson to tell her old friend what became of her. (As befitting Soap, she was actually in a coma in South America.) In a nice touch, at the end of the scene we hear the strains of the Soap theme song.


6. Series creator Susan Harris gave us Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia.

Soap creator Susan Harris is behind some of the greatest sitcoms of all time, having written and produced for shows like Maude, All in the Family and The Partridge Family. But her most enduring creation is perhaps those feisty Floridians The Golden Girls, a show that Harris created in 1985 that ran for seven seasons and produced the spin-offs Empty Nest, Nurses and The Golden Palace. During the first season of Soap, Harris also appeared briefly in two episodes as a hooker named Babette.


7. It was the first show to carry a “viewer discretion” advisory.

Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

Thanks to the controversies over its supposedly raunchy content, Soap carried a warning disclaimer for its entire first season. When the show premiered at 9:30P on September 13th, 1977, it carried the first “viewer discretion” warning ever for a U.S. television series. In both a screen display and spoken announcement, the audience was warned by announcer Rod Roddy (of The Price Is Right fame) that the show explored adult themes and that the now-familiar “viewer discretion” is advised.


8. Three of the actors were actual former soap opera stars.

Soap wasn’t strictly a soap opera parody, but three cast members had starred on actual sudsers. Arthur H. Peterson, Jr., who was The Major on Soap, was a veteran of the old radio version of The Guiding Light way back in 1937. He later starred in the TV version of General Hospital. Robert Mandan, who played Chester Tate, had been on Search for Tomorrow from 1965 to 1970. And Donnelly Rhodes, who played Dutch Leitner on Soap, starred as Phillip Chancellor II on The Young and the Restless in 1974 and 1975.


9. “Father Flotsky” took his name from a classic Lenny Bruce bit.

One of the characters that especially enraged Catholic groups was Father Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso), who leaves the priesthood to marry Corrine Tate (Diana Canova), only to leave her after fathering a child with her who turns out to be possessed by a demon. Angry religious conservatives would probably be even more annoyed to learn that the name “Father Flotsky” was taken from a classic and highly irreverent bit by legendary comedian Lenny Bruce.


10. “The Major” actually fought under General Patton.

The character who was played most strictly for laughs on Soap was probably The Major, who was the father of the two sisters whose families the show revolves around. Unfortunately he suffered from dementia and thought he was still fighting World War II. As it turns out, actor Arthur H. Peterson, Jr. actually served in the war. He left a thriving career in radio in 1944 to volunteer and ended up fighting in Europe in the Third Army — under General George S.Patton, no less.

New to Soap? Get up to speed with the video below.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.