Soaps are getting their proper respect in a two-hour special titled The Story of Soaps, which airs on Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on ABC. Producers have assembled a veritable Who’s Who of Soap Operas to tell the story of dramatic serialized storytelling.
Behind ‘The Story of Soaps’
Producers, in conjunction with PEOPLE Magazine, conducted original interviews with soap opera luminaries, including Susan Lucci (Erica, All My Children), Bradley Bell (executive producer/head writer, The Bold and the Beautiful), Deidre Hall (Days of Our Lives), and numerous others.
Soap Hub spoke to Becca Gitlitz, executive producer (The Story of Diana), on what fans can expect to see. Read on for the first of a two-part interview.
Soap Hub: How’d it all come about?
Becca Gitlitz: When I started thinking of the new ‘Story of…’ ideas, I wanted to look at something that could sustain this block of time and this audience. I started to think of things that have infiltrated our culture the way Princess Diana had. I kept coming back to TV. Soaps — their history and relevance — are stronger than anything. I pitched it to ABC and they could not have said yes fast enough.
What did you learn about soaps by doing this special?
It’s really the first genre that was started for women by women. A substantial amount of the people behind the scenes [traditionally] have been women. Women have been at the forefront of this genre. I’ve learned about the power of the audience and the power of connection. That’s why they’re able to tell these great stories and connect with viewers. It’s easy to see why people remain engaged.
It’s not just ABC soap personnel you focus on.
Correct. ABC is an incredible partner. They’re most invested in story first. They’re great at allowing us to tell the story in a complete and total way. To tell this story, we really needed a complete cast. That’s why we went to not only soap stars, but also TV personalities like Andy Cohen (Watch What Happens Live), who is not only a fan, but also a part of this reality world (The Real Housewives series) which is completely transcendent of the soap genre.
Do you feel the timing of this show is serendipitous given what’s going on in the country in terms of people having to self-quarantine?
That’s a great question. You’re 100% right. One reason people grasp on to soaps is this level of escapism. In this special, we’re able to take people on a journey. Andy [Cohen] talks a lot about two important aspects of soaps – education, sometimes and entertain, always. Our first and foremost goal is to entertain, but also to bring people together who have a great love for this genre and teach them a little bit about soaps, too.
Do you talk about the writers of the genre?
Yes. We do talk about Agnes [Nixon, creator of AMC and One Life to Live] pretty significantly. Before that, we also do a deep dive into Irna Phillips [who created radio serials and TV soaps]. Without her, none of this is possible. We talk about how the writers are able to take what’s going on in the world and translate it onto the screen in a digestible manner. The writers are the ones driving the train, making sure we’re entertained and staying for the long haul.
This show is not just about these daytime serials. It goes into Desperate Housewives. We talked with [series creator] Marc Cherry for a long time. He originally pitched the show as a dark comedy. Then, his new agent said, ‘I don’t know why you’re not pitching this as a soap?’ [He did] and then it was bought… Writers are integral to the process and we really showcase that in our show.