Worth Watching: A History of Soaps, Celebrating ‘Last Dance,’ ‘Voice’ Finale

Alec Baldwin Story of Soaps ABC
The Story of Soaps

A selective critical checklist of notable Tuesday TV:

The Story of Soaps (9/8c, ABC): This brisk history of the too-easily-derided genre of romantic melodrama has a long reach, from the pre-TV era of radio serials to newfangled podcasts, echoing the ever-evolving nature of the storytelling medium itself. Celebs including Bryan Cranston (who got his start on Loving and One Life to Live in the 1980s) and Alec Baldwin — whose unforgettable run on Knots Landing he insists he enjoyed (we surely did) — weigh in to give the soaps the respect they deserve, and superstars of daytime including Susan Lucci, Erika Slezak and Genie Francis also take center stage. Women pioneers Irna Phillips and Agnes Nixon get their due, ditto the era of prime-time soap blockbusters (Dallas, Dynasty). The O.J. Simpson trial, MTV’s The Real World and Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise get credit for upstaging the daytime-drama world with “reality” that’s stranger than fiction, helping prompt a decline as the landscape dwindles to a mere four soaps currently airing in daytime. (After Thursday, General Hospital joins CBS’s soaps by going into rerun mode during the outbreak.) This two-hour special ends with by smartly pointing out that just about every successful drama in prime time today is in effect a soap opera in disguise. (But why almost nothing on Dark Shadows?)

After the Dance with Stephen A. Smith: A SportsCenter Special (8/7c, ABC): TV loves nothing better than to milk a success dry — which explains why ABC is kicking off an all-specials night with a recap of the 10-part docuseries The Last Dance which reaped strong ratings, keeping the Sunday night lights on for ESPN over the last month. ESPN host Stephen A. Smith moonlights on his broadcast sibling to discuss highlights of the series with basketball legend Magic Johnson and other “surprise” guests from NBA lore.

The Voice (9/8c, NBC): While it sometimes felt like ABC couldn’t wrap its at-home season of American Idol quickly enough, The Voice goes big as usual with a two-hour star-driven climax to its two-night finale. (A cut-down version of Monday’s live show airs at 8/7c.) All four coaches — Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, John Legend and Blake Shelton (joined by former coach Gwen Stefani) — will perform, and each also pairs up remotely with finalists from their teams for uplifting duets. Guest artists include Bon Jovi, Jonas Brothers (with Karol G) and Lady Antebellum, performing the new hit single “Champagne Night” that was created for them in the season opener of Songland. And amid all of that, a winner will be named.

Inside Tuesday TV: Need a good laugh? Netflix presents Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything, the latest stand-up special from the comic actor (A.P. Bio), who’s finally coming of age — in his 50s: “I’m eating cereal that tastes like an unpopular teenager’s poetry!”… Also streaming, on YouTube Originals, The Secret Life of Lele Pons, in which the Internet personality opens up about her lifelong battle with OCD and Tourette syndrome… Premiering on The CW a day after unedited episodes stream on DC Universe, DC’s Stargirl (8/7c) stars Brec Bassinger as Courtney Whitmore, who becomes a staff-wielding superhero after relocating to Nebraska with her mom (Amy Smart) and stepdad (Luke Wilson)… PBS’s American Experience profiles Mr. Tornado (9/8c, check local listings at pbs.org), aka Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, a Japanese-American scientist whose study of meteorology and tornadoes led to the development of the F (for Fujita) Scale for classifying the intensity of tornadoes… PBS’s timely docuseries Frontline goes Inside Italy’s COVID War (10/9c, check local listings at pbs.org), taking viewers inside a hospital in hard-hit Northern Italy. The program also includes a segment exploring how the outbreak is affecting families in the U.S. already dealing with poverty.