The Story of Soaps, a two-hour special that takes viewers into the world of serialized storytelling airs tonight on ABC from 9 to 11 p.m. ET. While it’s an ABC special, the presentation examines the wide world on soaps — on other networks and in primetime, too.
The Wide World Of Soaps Explored
In the first of a two-part interview, Soap Hub asked executive producer Becca Gitlitz, how the special came about and the importance of the genre’s writers. In this second part, Gitlitz previews topics, including fan events, nighttime soaps, and perhaps the genre’s greatest cliffhanger of all — Who Shot J.R.?
Who was able to fill you in on Irna Phillips, who created radio serials and ushered them into television?
We found this incredible woman – Abigail De Kosnik – she is a writer and a professor. She wrote the book The Survival of Soap Opera. It is phenomenal. She put everything into context for us. Soaps have been this unbelievable beacon for women. Irna Phillips was a pioneer the way [producer/director/actor] Orson Welles was a pioneer. Carol Burnett [Verla Grubbs, All My Children] talks about the pioneers as well.
You spoke to Allan Sugarman and Joyce Becker, founders of Soap Opera Festivals, Inc.
Yes. Joyce and Allan were a gem to find. We originally found them to go through their archives because they had every picture and magazine article [on soaps]. The more we talked to them, the more we wanted to get involved with them [as interview subjects]. Joyce was able to put the fanatical nature of this [genre] in a very positive way. ‘Fanatical’ can sound negative, but it isn’t. Many women found camaraderie and community through their soaps.
What are you hoping people learn about soaps from this special?
I’m hoping that people give soaps the credit they deserve. Without soaps and daytime serials, we wouldn’t have nearly the quality of television that we’re watching and consuming now with streaming TV. We heard in so many interviews that Game of Thrones is a soap opera. I’d like to help change the negative connotation around the genre.
I hope that people don’t think of this show as only for women who are soap fans. The more we got into this, the more we learned that men are big fans, too. If you watched Breaking Bad, there are serial elements in that series. It’s important for people to see the complexities of daytime.
You interviewed actors unique to primetime soaps including Mary Crosby (Kristen, Dallas), so you’ll be focusing on them, too?
Absolutely. We took the journey. We started in daytime serials and then talk about the primetime dramas in the 80s. Everything was bigger back then, more opulent. We also look into the shows we have today. We found this clip of Larry Hagman [J.R., Dallas] meeting the Queen Mother [on her 80th birthday]. She said to him, ‘I don’t suppose you could tell me who shot J.R.?’ He said ‘Not even [for] you, Ma’am.’ That’s a great example of how soap operas are able to capture the audience. Cliffhangers are at the root of soap opera history.
Actors are always remembered for their daytime roles.
Yes. John Stamos said some of the time he gets ‘Uncle Jesse’ [from Full House], but more often than not, fans will call out [his GH character] ‘Blackie!’ People remember. Alec Baldwin’s a huge star now, but people still know him for The Doctors [where he played Billy] and Knots Landing [where he played Joshua]. Alec explained that TV sticks to people in a way that movies can’t. Soaps are on in your living room every single day.