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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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