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7 scandalous and forgotten soap operas of the 1970s

And you thought 'Peyton Place' pushed boundaries.

Left image: The Everett Collection

Soap operas get little respect. It is a literally disposable television genre. For years, networks taped over or simply trashed the recordings of its daytime material. For that reason, you will not find many high quality remains of the following series, which date back more than four decades. 

The early 1970s were a time of upheaval for television, if not society as a whole, as producers made a sudden shift from the quaint, pastoral Mayberry world of 1960s television to the socially-minded, urban world seen in shows like Mary Tyler Moore. Overlooked in all of this is the daytime lineup, which took even greater risks in storytelling. The plots of soap operas could be far more daring and progressive than their primetime peers. 

These soaps also provided breaks to young actors like Susan Sarandon, Ted Danson and Sigourney Weaver. Let's take a look at some of the shorter-lived soaps of the 1970s. Do you remember any of these?

1

The Best of Everything

1970

Based on the 1958 Rona Jaffe novel and 1959 Joan Crawford film, The Best of Everything centers around three women working in the publishing biz. The series opened with shots of seagulls over New York Harbor. The show was overseen by producer-writer James Lipton — yes, that James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio — who also wrote the theme song! Alas, this was the lowest-rated soap of the season.

Image: The Everett Collection

2

Bright Promise

1969–72

The fictional Midwestern school Bancroft College served as the setting for this short-lived educational melodrama. (Though the opening and closing at the show was filmed at UCLA.) A film star of the 1940s, Dana Andrews, pictured, portrayed college president Thomas Boswell. The series lost badly in the ratings to CBS' The Edge of Night and ABC's One Life to Live.

Image: The Everett Collection

3

How to Survive a Marriage

1974–75

Fun fact: This NBC-produced soap starred Fran Brill, who would go on to perform the Muppets Zoe and Prairie Dawn on Sesame Street. Politically minded Rosemary Prinz was the lead, however, and the As the World Turns and All My Children vet was paid handsomely for her soap opera clout.

Image: NBC / Famous Fix

4

Lovers and Friends / For Richer, For Poorer

1977–78

A rebranding and retooling could not save this soap set in the Chicago suburbs. The fictional Point Clair was reportedly based on the posh North Shore hamlet of Lake Forest. The plot focused on two neighboring families, the upper-class Cushings and middle-class Saxons.

Image: NBC

5

Somerset

1970–76

A spin-off of Another World, Somerset took place in a fictional Michigan town north of Detroit. While it initially revolved around romance, the plot eventually turned down dark alleys to explore storylines about the Mafia and crime. The casting department certainly knew what it was doing, as the show featured JoBeth Williams, Sigourney Weaver, Ted Danson and more.

Image: The Everett Collection

6

Where the Heart Is

1969–73

Perhaps inspired by Peyton Place, this New England-set series courted controversy with its sex-crazed characters, twisted plots, ripping pace and ribald tone. Murder was never far away from the deeply dysfunctional Hathaway family. Here is a mere sample: Rue McClanahan played a character with incestual feelings for her brother, who she eventually "accidently" runs over with a car. 

Image: The Everett Collection

7

A World Apart

1970–71

Not even a stellar cast and pedigree could save this progressive meta-soap. A World Apart was the creation of Katherine Phillips, the adopted daughter of soap opera pioneer Irma Phillips. The two collaborated on stories inspired by their real lives and relationship. The show about cultural divides (hence the title) dove into the topics of the day, from racial prejudice and women's liberation to cults. The notable name here is Susan Sarandon, who played the young Katherine Phillips.

Image: ABC / YouTube

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