Credit: Disney Channel

“They’d never seen anything like it.” 

A girl who mysteriously vanished three decades ago. A boy’s first crush. A man keeping things from his wife. A couple at a crossroads. If these sound like the elements of a typical soap, you’re both right — in that it is a soap — and wrong — in that there’s nothing typical about The Secrets of Sulphur Springs.

For starters, this is the first serialized drama being done by the Disney Channel. And then there’s the time-travel element… but we’ll get to that.

More: Two Days’ stars are returning to your TV

Created by former Young & Restless co-headwriter Tracey Thompson with an assist from mentor/showrunner Charles “Chuck” Pratt Jr. — the sometimes-controversial headwriter of several daytime soaps — the series is tasked with helping expand the Disney Channel audience. “Their goal,” explains Thompson, “was to keep viewers who age out of the channel around a little bit longer, especially boys.”

When it came time to sell Disney on the show — which airs Fridays at 8 pm ET — Pratt says, “They’d never seen anything like it. We laid out three seasons’ worth of story, complete with cliffhangers. We kept them on the edge of their seats, which is always challenging, but it was also very fun.”

Another potential challenge is the time-travel element, especially on a show aimed at a young audience. “We keep it very simple in that we have our kids ask the questions that the viewers at home would,” explains Thompson. “When a kid watching would ask, ‘How is that even possible?’ we have the characters doubt it as well. We want them to go on the ride and figure it out along with our characters.” (You can check out the show’s first episode, in its entirety, in the video below)

The writers say that working in soaps is an incredible training ground, although Pratt acknowledges it’s not for everyone. “There’s a craving for some kind of recognition,” he says. “But as [former soap scribe] Anne Howard Bailey once so aptly put it, writing for daytime is like carving your initials in a lake. What you’re doing ends up at the bottom of a birdcage at the end of the day. It isn’t watched over and over again or remembered fondly the way a movie might be.”

More: The Y&R couple nobody wants to see reunited

There is, however, a connection between daytime fans and their shows which can result in ruffled feathers, especially when a writer is brought in with a network-mandated agenda that won’t necessarily go down well with viewers. “I’ve been brought into shows specifically to shake things up,” reflects Pratt. “And that can be a no-win situation, because the cast probably won’t like what you do, and the viewers won’t like what you do. If you’re looking for longevity and you’re not Agnes Nixon or one of a handful of others, forget about it.”

Now, however, he and Thompson are bringing everything they know about the genre to the Disney Channel. “Kids today understand cliffhangers,” she says. “They want to see what happens next. They don’t want to wait a week, but we make them wait!”

Have you checked out the spooky Disney Channel serial? (It’s OK to admit you’re an adult who’s hooked… we are, too!) Give us your review of the show in the comments section, then visit the gallery below in which we recount some of the most shocking twists ever to unfold on daytime.

Video: YouTube/Disney Channel