While many nighttime serials went on for a decade or so, there was plenty of sudsy drama to be found in the miniseries format.
Top Five Favorite Miniseries
Television in the 1970s and 1980s experimented with traditional broadcast runs, adapted novels with a beginning, middle, and end to create compelling primetime drama. Here’s a look back at the top five popular series from a Golden Age of TV!
1. Rich Man, Poor Man (1976)
ABC adapted the Irwin Shaw novel Rich Man, Poor Man for television in 1976, condensing some characters in order to bring the novel to TV screens in 12 episodes. The show’s supporting cast was filled with recognizable names including Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend), Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch), Norman Fell (Three’s Company), Talia Shire (Rocky), Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), and Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore), who won an Emmy for his role as stern, hard-working bakery owner Axel Jordache.
But it was the miniseries’ three leads who shined the brightest – Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte, respectively, as brothers Rudy and Tom Jordache. Susan Blakely played Rudy’s love interest, Julie Prescott. If you catch this on DVD, have some tissues standing by because the ending is a heart-breaking tearjerker.
2. Scruples (1980)
Based on the Judith Krantz novel, Scruples told the story of Wilhelmina Hunnewell Winthrop, who comes from a wealthy family in Boston. Wilhelmina travels to Paris where she is given the nickname “Billy” and undergoes a transformation, becoming a beautiful woman. After a love affair goes sour, Billy returns to the States and weds wealthy Ellis Ikehorn. Later, widowed with an enormous fortune, Billy opens a boutique on Rodeo Drive named – Scruples. Lindsay Wagner, an Emmy winner for her role as The Bionic Woman, played Billy. Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) starred as Spider, an ex-fashion photographer, and the late Marie-France Pisier as Valentine.
3. Bare Essence (1982)
Bare Essence, based on the 1980 novel by Meredith Rich, boasted an all-star cast that featured some of TV’s most popular and likable stars including Genie Francis, fresh off a run as Laura on General Hospital, Linda Evans (Dynasty), Donna Mills (Knots Landing), Joel Higgins (Silver Spoons), and Bruce Boxleitner (The Last Convertible). Francis played Patricia Louise “Tyger” Hayes, an assertive young lady, who sought to rebuild her life after her father’s death. Evans played Lady Bobbi, Tyger’s absent-mother, who wanted Boxleitner’s Chase.
By the miniseries’ end, Tyger and Chase developed not only a successful perfume but also a beautiful romance, reuniting on a beach in California. Lee Grant was a standout as villainous Ava. One of Francis’s co-stars was her then-future husband Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: the Next Generation). The show’s closing love theme was “In Finding You, I Found Love,” sung by Sarah Vaughn.
4. North and South Book I: North and South
ABC adapted a trilogy of novels by John Jakes that were set around the time of the Civil War. The first installment from 1985 remains the seventh highest-rated in TV history. The tale was about the long-running friendship between Orry Main (the late Patrick Swayze) of South Carolina and George Hazard (James Read; Clyde, Days of our Lives) of Pennsylvania. North & South, like many miniseries, featured an all-star cast that included legendary film star Elizbeth Taylor as bordello owner Madam Conti, Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln, Jean Simmons (Dark Shadows) as Clarissa, and Robert Guillaume (Benson) as Frederick Douglass. Orry’s sisters, good girl Brett and the deliciously mean Ashton were played by Genie Francis (General Hospital) and Terri Garber (Dynasty).
5. Hollywood Wives (1985)
Aaron Spelling brought to the screen the best-selling Jackie Collins novel Hollywood Wives, which told the tale of unhappy beautiful people in Beverly Hills. Steve Forrest (S.W.A.T.) as movie star Rossi Conti, a man who committed “the ultimate Hollywood sin” — he got old! Ross also cheated on his wife, Elaine (Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown). Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart) played screenwriter Montana Gray, wife of cheating spouse Neil, played by Anthony Hopkins (who went on to win an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs). The younger set was represented by Andrew Stevens (Dallas), as aspiring actor Buddy, and his wife Angel, played by Catherine Mary Stewart (ex-Kayla, Days of our Lives).
Viewers loved speculating on which real-life celebrities may have (or may not have) provided inspiration for Collins as she sat at the typewriter. The miniseries reached a shocking conclusion that included a surprise paternity result and a murderous twin bent on revenge. The cast also included Mary Crosby (Kristen, Dallas) as Karen Lancaster, who dealt with her daddy issues by sleeping with older (and married) Ross. The miniseries opening theme song, intoxicating and upbeat, was performed by the late, great Laura Brannigan.