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Writer's Block

    A long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…1987, there was no internet, no cell phones, no Twitter, and only three broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. In the fall of 1984, NBC debuted a new hit “The Cosby Show”, which was followed by ABC’s “Growing Pains” in fall 1985.

    When a new fourth network, FOX, debuted in 1987, America was introduced to a brand new sitcom family that broke all the rules, when Married…with Children premiered. It featured The Bundy family of Chicago, consisting of sarcastic sexist Dad Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), his lazy, horny housewife Peg (Katey Segal), their two children, boy-crazy bimbo teenage daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) and young con artist Bud (David Faustino).

    Along with The Bundy’s, we met their yuppie newlywed neighbors, Steve and Marcy Rhoades (David Garrison and Amanda Bearse). The series was created veteran TV Writing duo Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye, who together their resume included hit shows such as “Happy Days”, Laverne and Shirley”, “Good Times”, “Different Strokes”, and “The Jefferson’s”, as well as creating the critically acclaimed, but short-lived (Due to its time slot being up against ABC’s hit soap, “Dynasty”) 1984 NBC sitcom, “It’s your move” which starred a then 15 year old Jason Bateman, as well as David Garrison, who three years later to be a “Married…with Children” cast member as Steve Rhoades.

    Leavitt and Moye were tired of happy, sticky sweet TV Families as featured on “Family Ties”, “Growing Pains”, and television’s then #1 show, “The Cosby Show”, and felt that other viewers were to, and there could be an audience out there that would enjoy a more dysfunctional TV family, in fact the original working title was “Not the Cosbys”.

    In a Biography Channel Married…with Children special, Marcy Vosburgh, a Writer/Producer on the show stated, “Their theory was, when you watch Television Family Sitcoms, you just feel terrible about your own life, because your life sucks, and they all have clean houses and hug at the end.”

    “And Ron and Mike wanted to do a show where no matter what happened”, added Vosburgh, “At the end you could turn of the television and feel a little better about yourself.”

    The show became Fox’s first hit series, and ran in primetime from 1987, until 1997, and since entering syndication in fall 1991, has remained a hit in reruns, and the series later enjoyed a successful DVD release.

 In honor of its 30th anniversary, here are some show fun facts:

1. The original working title of the show was “Not the Cosby’s”

2. Originally the show was greenlit as “What if Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr were married?” Both turned the show down, though Roseanne got her own blue collar family sitcom on ABC in Fall 1988, which ran until 1997, just as “Married with Children”, and in December 1989, Kinison guest starred as Al Bundy’s Guardian Angel, in an hour long episode spoofing “It’s a Wonderful Life”, entitled, “It’s a Bundyiful Life”

3. Al Bundy was the last role cast. Show Co-Creator Michael Moye said in the “Married…With Children E! True Hollywood Story” half of the actors who came into to audition for the part read it like Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason’s beloved husband character on “The Honeymooners”), yelling, and the other half in a scarier, creepy way as in “I’ll get you in your sleep Peg”, like Jack Nicholson from “The Shining”.

4. Seinfeld’s Michael Richards read for Al Bundy according to Casting Director Mark Hirschfeld during an interview on “Married…with Children…E! True Hollywood Story”, while Richards didn’t get the Al Bundy role, Hirschfeld said he later remembered and recommended Richards for the part of Kramer when casting for “Seinfeld”.

5. The first role cast was that of next door neighbor Steve Rhoades (David Garrison). Show Creators Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye had previously worked with Garrison on a 1984 NBC Sitcom “It’s Your Move”, and wrote the Steve Rhoades character specifically with Garrison in mind.

6. Show Creators Leavitt and Moye were big wrestling fans, and the Bundys got their last name from pro wrestler King Kong Bundy, who later appeared as a guest star on the show, first as one of Peg’s relatives in Season 2, and in a later season as himself.

7. Steve Rhoades got his last name after wrestler Dusty Rhoades, and in early episodes, Al had a co-worker at the shoe store name Luke Ventura (Ritch Shyder) named after Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

8. Ted McGinley, who played Marcy’s second husband Jefferson Darcy, actually first appeared as Peg’s husband during Season 4, in the Christmas episode spoofing “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Sam Kinison playing Al Bundy’s Guardian Angel, showed Al what life would’ve been like if he was never born, McGinley played Peg’s perfect husband, Norman Jablonski.

9. When the Bundy’s made their TV Debut in 1987, another series debuted the same time on Fox, “The Tracey Ullman Show” featured short animated segments before and after the commercial breaks. Two years later, that animated family had a 1989 Christmas special air on FOX, followed by a spin-off series debut in January 1990, and the show still airs on Fox today, “The Simpsons”.

10. David Boreanaz’s first television role was as Frank, Kelly Bundy’s Biker Boyfriend on a 1993 episode “Movie Show”. When Kelly goes out to the movies with her family for her birthday, she discovers Frank is cheating on her, and later has her Dad Al Bundy beat Frank up.

11. Boreanaz of course went on to play Vampire Angel on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and later in his own spin off “Angel”, late r playing FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth on “Bones” and currently stars as Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Hayes on “Seal Team”.



    New shows premiere each fall TV Season. But most shows are not met with the controversy that "Soap" ignited in 1977 when debuting on ABC.

    There was backlash from various religious groups, calling it “A low-life, salacious program”, protests from The National Gay Task Force, on the handling of the portrayal of a homosexual character on the show, some ABC Affiliates refused to air the show, and other that did agree to air it, only would in a later time slot, not its scheduled Tuesday 9:30pm scheduled slot.

    After a Newsweek article earlier in the year on a possible storyline (Which was later proven to be false), ABC received 32,000 letters, nine didn’t have a problem with the show, but the rest did.  Many sponsors also refused to air ads during the show, and there many notes from the network about what scenes or dialogue was permitted.

    So just why was there all this backlash and controversy? What was “Soap” about? Well, it was a sitcom, that was also a spoof day time soap operas. Basically the show took all the melodramatic story lines viewers had seen (And still see) on daytime soap operas (And later night time ones, this was pre “Dallas” and “Melrose Place”) but played them for laughs, and its continuing storylines didn’t end in just one half hour episode, and when one storyline was later concluded, another began, which added to the fun.

    There was even a narrator who at the beginning of each new episode would give a recap of what happened previously (Remember, this was 1977, before DVRs, or Internet spoilers, or being able to watch a show online, if you missed an episode, you had to wait for months or summer time before it was rerun). The Narrator (Rod Roddy, later the “Price is Right” announcer) would ask “What will happen next? To find out tune next week to “Soap”.

    The continuing storyline of the show revolved around two sisters, Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) who had married rich, and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) whose family was blue collar, and the spouses and children of both in the fictional setting of Dunn’s River, Connecticut.

    Jessica was a spacey, but kind hearted socialite married to rich, pompous stockbroker Chester Tate, (Robert Mandan) who unbeknownst to Jessica, was having many extra marital affairs, and now was being blackmailed by his secretary/mistress. Their promiscuous daughter Corrinne (Diana Canova) was still in love with her former high school boyfriend Tim (Sal Viscuso) who was now a Priest, and fought off her advances.

    Since Corrine couldn’t have the man she truly was in love with, she began an affair with her tennis instructor Peter (Robert Urich) who was having affairs with most of his female students, including Jessica, who had begun an affair with Peter, because she was lonely because Chester was never home due to his philandering. Neither Jessica or Corrinne knew the other was sleeping with Peter. Got all that so far? Oh wait…were just getting started.

    Other residents of the Tate household included Chester and Jessica’s other daughter Eunice (Jennifer Salt) a reporter secretly having an affair with a married congressman. 13 year Billy Tate (Jimmy Baio) was a smart aleck, dealing with puberty. Jessica and Mary’s father, known only as “The Major” (Arthur Peterson) was a shell shocked World War II Veteran who still thought the war was going on, and last but not least, Benson (Robert Guillame) the level headed sarcastic Tate family butler who couldn’t stand Chester, but stayed because he loved the rest of family, who needed his help to hold things together.

    Meanwhile, across town, Mary lived with her second husband Burt Campbell (Richard Mulligan) a construction worker and decent fella with one slight problem…impotence. Unbeknownst to Mary, the reason for Burt’s impotence was due to Burt feeling guilty about killing Mary’s first husband, a mob hitman.

    Also living in the Campbell household were Mary’s two sons from her first husband. There was Danny (Ted Wass), who also worked for the mob, but wanted out. The Godfather agreed only if Danny killed the man who killed his father…which would be Danny’s Stepfather Burt.

    Mary’s younger son Jodie (Played by Billy Crystal, pre “Saturday Night Live” and his successful film career) who was a homosexual, who wants to have a sex change to be with his boyfriend, an in the closet popular pro football player.

    Burt also has two sons from a previous marriage, Chuck (Jay Johnson) a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy Bob is real. Chuck is mild mannered and shy, but uses Bob to express a lot of politically incorrect views he feels deep down. Burt’s other son? Well…he turns out to be the previously mentioned Peter, the womanizing tennis pro, who ends up being murdered midway through the first season, though at first we don’t know by who, setting a murder mystery where all the characters are suspects the second half of the first season.

    Who did it? Well Jessica ends up being put on trial and found guilty, but we learn she isn’t the real killer, Peter’s real murderer is…well…you’ll have to watch the series (All four seasons available on DVD) to find out.

    Storylines used in later seasons episodes include, soap opera staples such as amnesia, child custody battles, convicts, kidnapping, love triangles, revenge, duels, more affairs, cliffhangers, corruption, shocking revelations, shot-gun weddings, scandals, a baby possessed by The Devil, cults, and horny aliens…yes, you read that last one right. Everyone loves horny aliens.

    “Soap” ran for four seasons on ABC before being cancelled in 1981, leaving a lot unanswered cliffhangers, but has lived on in reruns. The character of Benson got his own spinoff in 1979, which ran until 1986, and in a 1983 episode, even helped partially resolve one of the unresolved cliffhangers from Soap’s last episode.

    “Soap” found a whole new audience in January 1994, when Comedy Central (pre “South Park” era) began airing reruns of the show. Originally it only aired at 7:30pm weeknights, but soon became the network’s highest rated series. Just a few months later, Comedy Central began airing it 7:30, 8:00, and 11pm weeknights, and occasionally aired weekend marathons.

    As mentioned before, the entire four seasons of “Soap” are available on DVD, either separately by season, or all four seasons as a set. I can’t recommend this series enough, it’s my #2 all-time favorite series after “Cheers”. The first two seasons of “Benson” are also available on DVD, and while not serialized like “Soap”, “Benson” has a more traditional sitcom setting, (And season two features a then unknown Jerry Seinfeld, appearing in three episodes) It’s a funny show worth checking out. Burt and Benson were tied as my two favorite characters, and actor Robert Guillaume, who sadly recently passed away, was an excellent actor, giving top notch performances in both series.

    “Soap” was created by veteran TV Writer Susan Harris, who perhaps had her greatest success with creating “The Golden Girls” in 1985. According to a recent book on The Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan was originally cast as Mary Campbell on “Soap” but declined, because she wanted to play Jessica, whom she thought was a more interesting character, but that part had been already cast with Katherine Helmond, who later in 1984, would go onto play Mona on “Who’s the Boss?” Richard Mulligan (Burt) later starred in “The Golden Girls” spin-off “Empty Nest”.

    Susan Harris wrote just about every episode of the first two seasons herself, and even appeared on screen in two episodes in Season One as a prostitute named Babette. Having created many hit shows, Harris says her favorite to write for was “Soap”, with great writing and a great cast, I’m going to shut the hell up now, and let you check it out for yourself.