The 70's: The Decade That Primetime Soaps Forgot

Discussion in 'Sundry Prime Time Soaps' started by Carrie Fairchild, Apr 12, 2018.

  1. Carrie Fairchild

    Carrie Fairchild Soap Chat Fan

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    Even though Dallas and Knots Landing (by the skin of it's teeth) both premiered in the 70's, they're generally regarded as "80's soaps" as the bulk of their lifespan was within that decade. The 60's had Peyton Place, the 80's had the Big Four, the 90's had Melrose Place and 90210, the 00's had Desperate Housewives and this decade has Empire. Why didn't the 70's have a successful primetime soap to call it's own?

    From what I've read, there was only a few attempts to launch a primetime soap during the early and mid-70's. Harold Robbins' The Survivors was first out the gate in the fall of 1969 but it was cancelled in early 1970. After that, the only two I've read about were Beacon Hill, an American take on Upstairs Downstairs in 1975 and Executive Suite in 1976. Were there more that launched but sank without trace? Was there not a thirst to replicate the success of Peyton Place from the decade prior or had a snobbery returned to TV that regarded soaps to be daytime fare?





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  2. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Rich Man, Poor Man Book II was very much soap imho, and maybe "How The West Was Won" was the 1970s answer to "The Big Valley".
    The Onedin Line and The Forsyte Saga were hugely succesful but these were period dramas.

    There was a 1960s drama series The Power Game, according to the IMDB comments it's like Dallas without Southfork.
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    Executive Suite could have been the American version, I don't know.

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    The Stud & The Bitch (as one title) could have been an interesting prime time soap (with less or no nudity, of course).
     
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  3. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Like Peyton Place, this was also based on a novel (and movie) but these were stand alone episodes instead of a serialized story. Big mistake because it seems like the perfect setting for a soap. It could have been the Peyton Place Of The South.

    This got me thinking, what old stories/movies could they use for a new prime time soap? Would it be possible to soap Gone With The Wind (I still haven't seen that movie).
     
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  4. Toni

    Toni Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    At the time, I did watch both "Rich Man, Poor Man Book II" and "Executive Suite".

    The first one continued the original miniseries´ story after the killing of Nick Nolte´s character. It kept most of the characters who (obviously) were alive at the end of RM PM, and added a few more, the next generation so to say, played by Gregg Henry and James Carroll Jordan (replacing Leigh McCloskey, who only appeared in a couple of episodes), aside from well-known names as Maggie Gio..., I mean, Susan Sullivan as the lawyer to become new love interest for Peter Strauss´ character, called, you guess? Maggie!!

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    However, the female star of the first season, Susan Blakely, got the "I wanna be in the movies-itch" (but Nolte was the only one to really make it) and "asked to be axed" as soon as possible. She was RM PM´s Sue Ellen in the later episodes, so her exit was easy to manage...Her makeup was a bit OTT, by the way, because nobody knew at the time that you could be an alcoholic and look always glamorous...

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    The plot focused more and more on politics, and Strauss´ character truly became a Kennedy-esque figure, who was even more successful with women than the post-Pam Bobby...The ending of the series was quite a big hit in Spain and involved a fight between Senator Jordache (Strauss) and his one-eyed nemesis Falconetti...It didn´t end well for none of them, I guess that partly due to Strauss´ desire to avoid typecasting...and do movies, of course. I seem to remember that there was no real cliffhanger or loose end in the final episode, though there might have been a third season, at least for the number of storylines and characters...

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    I think that it paved the way for "Dallas" because continuity was usual in this second season and the writers kept the former characters coming in and out, as an attempt at giving more depth to the soapy storylines. Cain v. Abel (here they were actually cousins? stepbrothers?...), corruption of power, unwanted pregnancies, the usual things...

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    Funny trivia: "Dallas" isn´t the only soap with more than one "universe". Irwin Allen, author of the original novel RM PM was based on, hated the sequel so much that he wrote his own continuation, "Beggarman, Thief", which omitted all events from the second season and brought back a never-heard-of Jordache sister (played by Jean Simmons) who was in the movie business in the 60´s. It all sounded as typical Jackie Collins trash, though the rest of the cast was equally remarkable, like Glenn Ford, Lynn Redgrave and 2 pre-"Dynasty" stars: Bo Hopkins and Wayne Northrop. I´ve never seen this one...

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    "Executive Suite" was also aired in Catalonia by the same local station that had the decency to reprise "Dallas" after J.R.´s shooting (in 1984!!). It was at some point between daytime and primetime soaps. The acting was top-notch (some went on straight to "Dallas": Leigh McCloskey, William Skeleton Smithers, Stephen Elliott...and other actors with a soapy future like Ricardo Montalbán) and the writing had ambitions (interracial love, lesbianism, abortion...). As the title suggests, it adapted the Barbara Stanwyck movie and its book source, and if you had watched it AFTER the "Dallas" boom, you could say that it was just a rehash of its themes. But it wasn´t. In a way, a "Dallas" fan might see it as a prequel focused on WestStar Oil...

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    "I am WestStar Oil...!"​

    So this is it...However I think that the 70´s belonged to the literary miniseries and the cop shows. But every decade has a bit of every genre, and some shows are better than others, but become less successful and are quickly canceled. I would´ve loved watching more seasons of these two soaps from the 70´s.

    PS: Miss Piggy and I would like to make a statement. We are NOT that old to remember this, we are just good at googling...

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  5. Carrie Fairchild

    Carrie Fairchild Soap Chat Fan

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    There's a few that have already happened in a way, with Dallas, Falcon Crest and Dynasty more or less being TV serial variations of Gone With The Wind, Giant and Written On The Wind in the 80's. Similarly, Titans borrowed from the premise of the Harold Robbins book and film The Carpetbaggers, where an older aviation tycoon weds his son's ex girlfriend and when he dies, she returns to the son.

    The works of Jacqueline Susann are made for soap adaptation. I know Valley of the Dolls has been adapted for screen a few times (the film, the miniseries, the syndicated soap). Lee Daniels was even developing a primetime soap version in 2011 for NBC but it never went any further than the initial announcement. I suppose Lipstick Jungle in the 00's was just a variant of the same theme. But it is her other big novel, Once Is Not Enough that I think would work as a soap (it's already been adapted as a feature film in the 70's). The premise is almost like a reverse Dynasty. A former Hollywood big shot, who is strapped for cash, enters into a marriage with the richest woman in the world, much to the chagrin of his only daughter. Along the way there's daddy issues, secret lesbian lovers from Greece, drugs, orgies, plane crashes, astronauts. It's pretty wild and would make for great soap.
     
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  6. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    I had no idea!
    Love the movie, the 90s nighttime version was rubbish but I watched it for its daring format (especially by American standards).
    I've never seen the miniseries but most of the actors seem painfully miscast.
    Therefore I wouldn't mind if they would try it again, maybe in the style of Mad Men?
    I believe it's considered one of those so-bad-it's-good movies, but I really liked it. OK, Deborah Raffin acted like a zombie, but Alexis Smith and Brenda Vaccaro were great.
    Imagine an actress like Glenn Close as the rich stepmother.

    Bouquet Of Barbed Wire is another 70s drama that could have continued indefinitely (it sure feels like it!)
     
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  7. Soaplover

    Soaplover Soap Chat Active Member

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    I would have loved to see Scruples adapted successfully as a primetime soap. I know that there was a daytime version in the 80s that was in contention, but Santa Barbara was made instead... and in the 2010s, there was a pilot for Scruples that didn't get picked up. I could see it succeeding if you mixed the personal/business stories together that start out self-contained with continuing elements then go full on continuing once viewers are hooked.
     
  8. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    It couldn't have been worse than that mini-series.

    But didn't they do something like that?
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  9. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    It looked like a typical cliffhanger, per traditional soap standards - but I thought it was a beautifully poignant ending.
     
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  10. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The character of Felicia Gallant on Another World was based on real-life author Jacqueline Susann--the head writer who created "Felicia" was actually one of JS's friends.

    I think one of the reasons primetime in the 1970s stuck to miniseries for its soapy content was because daytime was perceived as the "right place/time" for such storytelling. Programming chiefs in those days had the idea that certain shows/genres aired in certain time periods, and the idea of them crossing into other parts of the day was met with skepticism. Soaps (and to a lesser extent, game shows) were very profitable in the morning/afternoon; their ad profits basically financed the more expensive primetime schedule. There was more of an attitude that certain shows/genres aired in certain time slots, since this was an era when the three networks controlled when you saw a TV show (or if you saw it at all). A traditional, daily soap was traditionally in the late morning and early afternoon, just as chat shows were traditionally in the late evening after the news; and TV movies, sitcoms, and crime dramas traditionally aired in primetime. I think the popularity of soapy miniseries in this period awakened the belief of certain primetime programmers that a weekly soap opera could catch on in primetime, but it could not be the same "cheap sets and no rehearsals" type of soap that people expected in daytime. Dallas started as a miniseries, after all. As soaps took off in primetime, miniseries seem to fall out of favor and seem only likely to return as these "limited series" we see nowadays. Ironically, daytime soaps saw their budgets increased and they became (or at least tried to become) much more like a primetime production in the 1980s, leading to a weakening in the daytime/primetime wall that had been built up.

    Never underestimate the "looking down their nose" attitude that the primetime actors and executives had for daytime actors and executives in the 1970s. This made proposing a true primetime soap opera a much harder sell since primetime execs saw themselves as "above" that sort of thing. The reason daytime soaps made so much money (lower production values) was unappealing to primetime programming executives, who were accustomed to those larger budgets and big-name stars attached. A soapy miniseries like Roots or The Thorn Birds could be embraced as "an event," not a melodrama like it could easily be, because it had those huge budgets and famous stars delivering the same melodramatic content that could be done on daytime for 75% less money.
     
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  11. Carrie Fairchild

    Carrie Fairchild Soap Chat Fan

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    The pilot looks well made but there was nothing story wise in the trailer that really grabbed me. I'm sure had it gone to series, I would've gotten around to watching it like I do with most primetime soaps.
     
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  12. Carrie Fairchild

    Carrie Fairchild Soap Chat Fan

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    The film isn't a trash classic but on the 70's trash scale, it's leaning more towards good trash (like Ash Wednesday) rather than bad trash (like The Greek Tycoon).

    It's on my "to watch" list

    The number of daytime soaps on US TV in the 70's is pretty wild. There was 19 soaps on air at the start of the decade, which is huge when you consider there were only three networks back then.
     
  13. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    Yes, and in reference to the OP it should be noted that those early Dallas/KL seasons weren't the serialized glamour soaps they became in the 80s.
    Nevertheless, it was drama (not a sitcom, detective or cop show) shown in prime time.
    I thought the eighties had quite a few? Master Of The Game, Last Days Of Pompeii, I'll Take Manhattan, Harem, Crossings, Rage Of Angels, Dirtwater Dynasty etc etc.
    Looks very good! The characters actually look the way I pictured them when I read the book.
    I read the novel years after they had made the movie, and then some years after that I watched the movie for the first time.
    I thought SCRUPLES was a good read but, unlike Mistral's Daughter, very difficult to do as a movie.
    Well, they tried to spice it up by adding a rape scene but it looked very stuck on (which is exactly what it was) and my video copy ended up in the trash bin.
    How did people choose their favourites? It's not humanly possible to watch them all.
    Oh...maybe I confused it with The Love Machine?
     
  14. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Do you mean Scruples with Lindsay Wagner? I remember really liking it!
     
  15. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Ah, but then I never read the book.
     
  16. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    The one with Lindsay Wagner, yes.
    Believe it or not, but the book is much more a character's novel than a story.
    It has a lot of details that are interesting to read, but almost impossible to show on screen and still give it the relevance it deserves. As a result they would give it too much relevance and then it doesn't make sense anymore. I thought it was a boring mess.
     
  17. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It was typical for a viewer to watch one network's slate of soaps from beginning to end (for instance, CBS's soap offerings in the early 1970s went from 11am until 4:30pm).
    I'm sure plenty of viewers switched channels, but I recall as a young soap fan in the early 1980s having other fans ask "Which network do you watch?" as an opener to conversation. All soaps were half an hour or less up until 1975 when some soaps started expanding to an hour, so someone getting bored/dissatisfied could easily get "re-interested" when another show started half an hour later. ABC had a brief experiment in 45-minute episodes of several of its soaps in an effort to discourage channel hopping, but it just confused people more.

    It certainly wasn't possible to "watch them all," but getting to watch that many different soaps in one day just by watching one channel was a lot better than what happened in later years as they got cancelled and replaced by talk shows or other crap. Now it's one soap on NBC, one on ABC, and two on CBS. Just ten years ago, it was double that.
     
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  18. Carrie Fairchild

    Carrie Fairchild Soap Chat Fan

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    Looking at a daytime schedule from back then, as they were all still half hour shows at that point, it would've been possible to watch ten different soaps a day without clashes.

    I've never seen The Love Machine but I must look it up. It's not that OINE isn't trashy, it just isn't very memorable trash in comparison to some of the scenery chewing that went on in Valley of the Dolls for example. Melina Mercouri and Brenda Vacarro's scene were great but the rest is a bit forgettable.
     
  19. Marika

    Marika Soap Chat Member

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    I'd love a soap based on "Memoirs of a Geisha". The book was a great read, but I didn't like the 2005 movie as it altered some of the key moments (especially the ending).
    The story has everything a good soap needs: A heroine, her love interest, a bitch, the motherly type, the nerd, the bad guy etc.

    Another classic that could've been a good historical soap (or at least a mini series) is "The Color Purple". I didn't like the movie, either.
     
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  20. Sarah Danner

    Sarah Danner Soap Chat Member

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    Yes. Love Of Life led off at 11:30 in the morning against a game show or sitcom rerun followed by Y&R and Search For Tomorrow, a switch to ABC at 1:00 would give you All My Children or Ryan's Hope, then you switch to NBC or CBS when Let's Make A Deal came on at 1:30 for either As The World Turns or Days Of Our Lives. CBS kept the soaps going until 3:00 when a 90-minute game show block took over while NBC ran serials until 4:30 when Somerset ended.
     

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