ABC unveiled the new, scrubbed-up version of its upcoming comedy series "Soap" yesterday, but there was no sign that religious groups which have condemned the controversial show are now going to retreat from the attack.
Virtually all hell broke loose last May after ABC showed the first two episodes of "Soap," a savage farce largely concerned with a matters of sex. ABC Entertainment chief Fred Silverman and network president James Duffy subsequently assured station that any character on "Soap" who misbehaved would suffer retribution for his sins in a later episode.
And Alfred Schneider, vice president for standards and practices at the network, promised that certain offensive scenes in the first two episodes would be redone to make them less objectionable.
Most conspicuous of these was a scene in which middle-aged Jessica Tate is discovered in bed with a virile, 28-year-old tennis player (in the original script he was 26), who a few moments later also enjoys a bedroom rendezvous with Tate's teen-age-daughter.
This scene, in the opening show, has been considerably toned down. Mrs. Tate is no longer seen in bed with the tennis player and she no longer says, "Oh, my God, I'm naked!" Instead, as the scene opens, she has already partially dressed in tennis togs.
The scene ends abruptly with the mother's exit and the daughter's entrance. The daughter no longer tells the ambidexterous tennis player, "Get your clothes off." They merely hug in the doorway.
Despite the laundering, there remains much in "Soap" to offend viewers and groups. Most of the continuing characters are on the vile side - corrupt, promiscuous, bigoted or just berserk. Jessica's husband Chester is not only a crooked businessman but, in the words of the narrator, he "fools around with everybody but his wife." When he tries to break off a long-time extramarital affair with his secretary, she threatens him with blackmail.
The Tate family butler is an embittered black man named Benson who must endure the racist epithets of a crazed old grandpa who thinks World War II hasn't ended yet and refers to the butler as "boy." An original reference to him as "chocolate face" has been removed.
At the Campbell household, home of Jessica's married sister Mary, son Jodie is an effeminate homosexual who is discovered in the second episode wearing his mother's pink dress and sing "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." After she tells him he looks better in the dress than she does, Jodie announces he wants to have a sex-chance operation.
Except perhaps for 14-year-old Billy Tate, none of the characters appears to have much worth or dignity as a human being. But the tone of the program is determinedly farcial and outrageous. It could be seen as a manic satire on the sexual confussions of the '70s. Its explicitness is probably no more emphatic than that of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," but "Hartman," a syndicated show, was not seen in prime time on most stations.
ABC announced yesterday it will precede each chapter of "Soap" with a printed and spoken disclaimer that says, "The following program is part of a continuing adult character comedy. Certain dialogue and situations may not be suitable for all members of the family.
This is clearly not going to placate such advance critics of the show as Father Patrick Sullivan of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Earlier this month, the group issued a statement denouncing "Soap" as representing "debasement of the medium (television) through a contempt for human beings."
Yesterday Father Sullivan said changes made in "Soap" are irrelevant to his objections. "We asked to see the original and ABC refused," he said. "We have not renewed our request to see the sanitized versions. It's a bit academic, because ABC has already identified 'Soap' as sophisticated adult comedy, and what we object to is the sceduling of it at 9:30 p.m., when more than 18 million youngsters are still watching television."
Sullivan said prime time is traditionally a family programming period and that ABC is violating this tradition with "Soap," which he feels shouldn't be televised before 11 p.m.
Everett C. Parker, director of the Office of Communications at the United Church of Christ, said ABC had also refused to let him view episodes of "Soap" in advance.
"I'm not opposed to 'Soap,'" Parker said. "I'm opposed to the exploitative use of sex for the sole purpose of reaching the 18 to 49 age group, which ABC more than any other network has made the principal audience for television."
Parker said, "It would be great if ABC had put on an entertaining and serious program about the problems dealt with in 'Soap,' but they haven't. It's not a real adult treatment of real adult problems; it's the phoniness of trying to make jokes out of them.
"You don't really make a joke of transvestitism. It's an illness that is often medically treated. It's hardly a joking matter of a mother and daughter sharing the same lover, either. That kind of tragedy does exist, and it should be dealt with as tragedy."
Others who have denounced "Soap" include The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Catholic Archidocese; the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; and the International Union of Gay Athletes, which is not pleased over the stereotyped homosexual character in the series.
In the second episode, the homosexual is discovered wearing his sister's lavender scard. "You thieving little fruit!" she shouts.
Either because of all this hullabaloo or in spite of it, "Soap" is considered by television industry insiders to be the one sure hit of the new fall season.