Episodes: 158 (half-hour)
TV show dates: September 13, 1979 – April 19, 1986
Series status: Cancelled/ended
Performers include: Robert Guillaume, James Noble, Inga Swenson, Missy Gold, Rene Auberjonois, Ethan Phillips, Didi Conn, Caroline McWilliams, Billie Bird, and Lewis J. Stadlen.
TV show description:
Sharp-tongued butler Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume) is asked by his employer, Soap’s Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond), to help out her widowed cousin, Gene Gatling (James Noble).
The honest but naive Gatling has recently been elected governor of the state and needs all the help he can get juggling his new job with raising his precocious daughter, Katie (Missy Gold). By the end of the pilot episode, Benson’s decided to stay full-time and becomes the mansion’s head of household.
Benson frequently finds himself butting heads with acerbic housekeeper Gretchen Kraus (Inga Swenson) and the Governor’s persnickety aide, John Taylor (Lewis J. Stadlen). Thankfully, Benson does have an ally in Marcy Hill (Caroline McWilliams), the Governor’s level-headed secretary.
As time goes on, both Taylor and Marcy leave and Benson becomes the state’s budget director, then Lieutenant Governor. Kraus becomes his aide.
New staffmembers include snotty chief-of-staff Clayton Endicott III (Rene Auberjonois), dim-witted press assistant Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips), ditzy secretary Denise Stevens (Didi Conn), and addled housekeeper Rose Cassidy (Billie Bird). Underhanded Senator Leonard Tyler (Bob Fraser) is a frequent thorn to the Gatling administration.
Episode 186 – And the Winner Is…
In the previous episode, Clayton discovered that the Governor could indeed run for a third term, if he did so as an independent candidate. Though reluctant to run against Benson, he eventually gives in and a rift quickly forms between the two friends.
The two argue about petty things but, during a live debate each ends up professing their respect and admiration for the other. By the end of the election night, they’ve made up and sit together in the mansion kitchen to watch the results come in.
Who will become the Governor – Benson, Gatling, or Senator Gate? Just as the results are being announced, the scene freezes and we never hear the results.
First aired: April 19, 1986.
What happened next?
In January 2007, Benson showrunner Bob Fraser (who also played Senator Tyler) shared with us what the election outcome would have been and plans for season eight.
Governor Gatling would have won the election by a slim margin. Sleezy Senator Tyler (Benson’s running mate) would have asked for a recount but Gatling would remain the winner. Benson would have been left trying to figure out what he wanted to do next.
In a strange twist, the state’s junior senator would have died unexpectedly and Governor Gatling would have appointed Benson to finish out the senator’s term in Washington. Kraus and Clayton would have followed Benson to the nation’s capital to take on the bureaucrats with his no-nonsense manner.
Then, following the plot of the popular novel The Man by Irving Wallace, Benson would have ended up as President of the United States. This would have happened as a result of a string of accidents involving the various people in the line of succession.
Fraser suspects that their plans to make Benson the first African-American President may have impacted ABC’s decision to end the series.
Behind the Scenes
|•||The series was likely cancelled by ABC as a result of rising production costs (the cast contracts expired at the end of season seven) and sagging ratings. The network had asked that the season end on a cliffhanger. They later cancelled the show after the last episode had aired so fans were left wondering who won the election. Soap had also ended unintentionally on a cliffhanger.|
|•||The Governor’s state is never revealed in the series. One might assume that it’s Connecticut where Soap is set but that state’s Governor is shown to be someone else.|
|•||Benson returned to Soap for a handful of appearances during Benson’s first season. Katherine Helmond’s Jessica Tate appeared on the spin-off twice; once in the first season and once in season five after Soap ended with her being shot in a firing squad. She appears as a spirit that only Benson can see. She says that she needs to do a good deed to get into heaven. Once she finally does that, she realizes that she’s not dead but is actually in a coma somewhere in South America. She says goodbye to her friend, leaves, and we never see her again.|
|•||Jerry Seinfeld briefly portrayed Frankie the messenger in 1980. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good fit and he was quickly dropped. Seinfeld says that he found out he’d been fired when he attended a table read and he wasn’t in the episode.|