A Forgotten Spin-Off Setup: From SOAP to BENSON

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Next week, we’ll begin our look at Laverne & Shirley, with a little bit of Happy Days thrown in for good measure, but first, since Fred Silverman made the 1970s the era of the sitcom spin-off — initially with Norman Lear, then MTM, and, as we’ll soon see, Garry Marshall — I thought it would be fun to showcase a rare treat in that vein: the moment where Soap sets up that Robert Guillaume’s Benson is leaving for his own series.

Now, this shouldn’t be a rare treat, but as we noted several years ago, Soap’s serialized nature made it necessary to catch viewers up after each summer hiatus with a 90-minute clip show. None of these three retrospectives — which were broadcast ahead of the second, third, and fourth seasons — are on DVD or in syndication, but two were released on VHS, leaving only the third year’s entry, which aired 42 years ago this month on August 30, 1979, completely unavailable. This is a shame, for, while they all have new wraparound footage (as does the hour-long still missing clip show that ran in the middle of Season One), this installment is narratively important, revealing that a lead character will be departing. Oh, yes, Benson appears in the first three segments of Season Three, too… but it’s taken for granted that he’s left/leaving and it’s not quite clear why or where. That’s because this excursion was designed to tell us, while also giving early closure to the relationship between Benson and Jessica (Katherine Helmond), which doesn’t get its full due if you’re watching only the regular half-hour episodes.

That said, this is still a clip show, and unlike the 1980 retrospective with Bea Arthur as an angel who attends to Jessica in heaven, there’s not as much effort put into the writing — not by the standards to which we hold the rest of Soap. That is, it’s not particularly funny. But the final moments here are emotionally worthwhile for fans of this series and these characters, for although it certainly wasn’t the last time Jessica and Benson would be together, this is Susan Harris’ first attempt to acknowledge the strength of their bond and what it’ll mean for both when they’re separated. So, I know there’s been a lot of interest in it over the years, and as a result, I’m happy to share an excerpt with you — included below is the first minute, setting up Benson’s move, the pair’s farewell at the end, and then the cliffhanger questions (and credits) with which Soap left the audience two weeks ahead of its third season premiere. Enjoy!



Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Monday for a new musical rarity!