On January 20 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States. Around October 1980, John Conboy of 'The Young and the Restless' approached CBS with his idea for a soap opera set in the nation's capital. "'Capitol' is a leap for me," John recounted. "It’s also very exciting, as is the concept. It was also very encouraging to find CBS was as fully committed as they are to this project.
"People have asked me, 'Is it going to be socially significant?' I think anything is socially significant if you play it as wisely as you know how. I've always found it very interesting that people in the United States tend not to vote. Wouldn't that be interesting if I could just get some people to the polls? Not by saying, 'vote', but by making them realize dramatically that it's important. Maybe they'll look around and see what's going on in their own lives."
Up against the second half-hour of the one-hour soap operas, 'Another World' and 'One Life To Live', 'Capitol' lasted 5 years from 1982 to 1987. From the outset, Constance Towers maintained, "'Capitol' is not a documentary. It has nothing to do with what’s going on in Washington today (or at the time). It's totally a fictional story about two families in Washington and their involvements." John Conboy added, "Washington is fantasized in Europe a lot." It was noted 'Capitol' became the first American daytime soap opera to be dubbed for a foreign audience when the Italian R.A.I Television in Rome bought the show's overseas rights.
John Conboy continued, "We're dealing with the power center of the world ... But we've only been allowed to see what the press and the politicians want us to see … There is great mystery about Washington because we are only allowed to see what goes on when a politician and his wife have a microphone put in front of them. We don't really know what happens behind the 'marble curtain,' as I've been quoted as saying.
"All of that stuff is what I would like to explore on the show. Working on soaps is much more appealing to me than prime time although it’s harder work. Working in prime time is an alarming way to work. If the network likes your show you get an order for 4 episodes. But if you’re successful with a soap opera you can go gentle into the night."
'Capitol' was one of 4 soap operas out of the 13 daytime dramas on the air in 1986 to run for 30 minutes instead of one hour. It became the first daytime soap opera to premiere with a special preview episode shown on prime time after 'Dallas' in March 1982. John Conboy remarked, "I think there is a soap opera formula and you have to stick to it. You can’t flout the form, but you can play around with it once you get established. We’ve tried other forms in daytime, but nothing works like a soap or a game show.
"The daytime audience is fairly rigid and they were not able to perceive of an actor outside his regular role. You have to stick to the form. The audience looks for romance and love stories. And the amount of reality you include depends on how the economy is at the moment. The economy was in the soup when we started 'Capitol', so our show is flamboyant with lots of fantasy and intrigue and sex.
"'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' showed us that you can do stories about the rich, but they must be unhappy. I think the average yearly income for our audience is $18,000, so you have to take care of that audience. You entertain, not give them studies in frustration. I think they enjoy the machinations of the rich. 'Capitol' is a very different show in that it has an upwardly mobile young cast. I don’t think there are going to be any Sir Laurence Olivers if the cast is 25 years and younger. They’re young and they’re beautiful, but my canvas is a little bigger on this one. It’s a bigger scope that has more edges. It’s not just a love story, as I’ve said for years that 'Young and Restless' is.
"Washington D.C. is the backdrop for the show, which is the story of two political families, one having been ruined by the other during the McCarthy era. We’re able to talk about things like that and weave through the personal struggles of these people, which are not that different from the struggles of anybody else except that it’s the political arena they’re struggling in. It gives me a broader canvas to paint on, so that if I really want to do something that parallels an event of national significance, I can have a little fun with it and do it on 'Capitol'.
"We created the brothers of the McCandless family first and then the Clegg family and arrived with our ingénue. In the McCandless family, we had already created possibly the next president 10 to 15 years down the line and had them fall in love. It's a forbidden love because of the two feuding families. It just happened that way – we're not trying to tell 'Romeo and Juliet'."
John Conboy pioneered soap opera formula cast, "I made the medium more youthful. The cry around the industry at that point was "Get us to look like 'The Young and the Restless', and then ABC's daytime lineup began going after CBS with a vengeance. All of a sudden, 'All My Children', 'One Life To Live' and 'General Hospital' all began going for the new look and that's when they really got hot in the ratings. It's not that that lineup was so much better than anyone else's, but that it happened to hit on the personalities (such as Tony Geary and Genie Francis) who caught on with the fans. Between us and 'General Hospital', we put daytime drama on the map.
"We used to be second-class citizens and now you only have to look at prime time and shows like 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas' to see that our ideas have caught on elsewhere. I didn't exactly take soaps out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. Everyone accuses us of that. What 'The Young and the Restless' created was an enormous change in the way daytime drama is presented. We simply did things no one had ever seen before, it caught on. I brought in attractive young people. I scored the music and began lighting the shows as you would a motion picture, rather than a TV 6 serial."