NATE@NITE: Between “The Golden Girls” and “Arrested Development”, There Was “SOAP”
Our editor, Nathan, loves all things television. Like, he really loves television. So to humor him, we gave him his own column to talk about old sitcoms, SVU episodes, and whatever else is on his mind. Welcome to NATE@NITE!
TV writer Susan Harris created several shows over the span of her career. The most popular of them by far, even to this day, is The Golden Girls.
But it was a different show of hers, SOAP, that stands as her most influential.
SOAP was a soap-opera parody sitcom launched in 1977 on ABC. It featured an impressive ensemble cast that included Richard Mulligan, Katherine Helmond, Robert Guillaume, and even a young Billy Crystal playing one of primetime television’s first openly gay characters.
The show ran for a total of four seasons – ranking in the top-25 in ratings for three of those – and spawned a spinoff for Guillaume’s character, Benson. Harris had planned out the show’s arc ahead of time, but an unexpected canceling meant the show ended on a cliffhanger.
Harris then moved on to The Golden Girls, which ran for seven seasons on NBC and was wildly successful. While the plotlines were different, Harris’s humor carried over to the new show.
Harris’s writing staff for the show included a young Mitchell Hurwitz, who Harris would work with on several of her shows.
Years later, Hurwitz created a sitcom for FOX called Arrested Development. Hurwitz drew inspiration for the show from SOAP, with several elements from Harris’s show being incorporated into Hurwitz’s work. There was a dysfunctional family with criminal involvement – and really bad legal advice, a character that uses a ventriloquist dummy, plotlines that spanned several episodes (a rarity for sitcoms even now), and a sarcastic narrator summing up the action.
The similarities go beyond the possibility of coincidence, and Hurwitz acknowledges that many Arrested Development jokes were inspired by the work of his former boss.
Both shows unfortunately also shared the same fate of ending too early – though Arrested Development was given a fourth – and soon a fifth – season on top of its original run.
Arrested Development has now become known as a modern torch-bearer for the sitcom genre in the likes of Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It also, of course, added in many unique elements such as its impossibly dense catalog of running gags and background jokes.
SOAP, unfortunately, never really received the same level of acclaim – in its time, or today.
At times it feels corny, and your enjoyment of the show will somewhat depend on how well you remember what soap operas were like. But if you’re looking for a new show to watch, and you loved Arrested Development, SOAP is worth a watch.