Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Peyton Place (TV series)
Peyton Place was America's first long-running nighttime soap opera.
It aired 514 half-hour episodes on ABC from September 1964 until June 1969, and was produced by 20th Century Fox Television. The show aired in black-and-white from 1964 to 1966 and in color from 1966 to 1969. It was the only nighttime series ever to run continuously without reruns. It also boasted one of the largest casts in television series history - at one point, over one hundred "regular" characters figured prominently in the various story lines.
Paul Monash, one of the people who adapted Peyton Place for television, hated the term soap opera, and instead wished that the show be called a television novel.
Each episode would begin with shots of the town, as well as shots of the leading players. When the show was in black-and-white, the announcer would intone, to the sound of church bells, "This is the continuing story of Peyton Place." In 1966, the announcer altered his message to fit the new color standard, informing the audience to the change: "In color, the continuing story of Peyton Place."
The first stories were a blueprint from the 1956 book and 1957 movie of the same name. The premise was gossip spreading in a small New England town. In its first episode, Dr. Michael Rossi (Ed Nelson) came from New York to set up practice in town. The newspaper editor, Matthew Swain (Warner Anderson) told Rossi that people usually try to get away from towns like Peyton Place, not move to them. Matthew's niece Allison MacKenzie (Mia Farrow), a close friend of classmate Norman Harrington (Christopher Connelly), had begun to fall in love with his older brother Rodney (Ryan O'Neal); she was smitten as soon as she had been given her first kiss. At the end of the episode, Allison's mother, Constance (Dorothy Malone) made it very clear that she disapproved of her daughter's newfound relationship with Rodney.
Rodney was distracted when he found his father in a passionate embrace with the mother of his girlfriend, Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins), who was also the elder Harrington's secretary. He started anew with Allison as soon as he made it clear to Betty that he couldn't date her anymore. Betty was confused and hurt as Rodney did not tell her why he was dumping her.
In September 1965, Malone was rushed into emergency surgery, and producers were faced with a dilemma - what to do with Constance, who at that point was too deeply embroiled in the plot line to suddenly disappear? Lola Albright was hired to take over the role, and continued in the series until Malone returned in January 1966.
For the next two years, Rodney could not decide whether to be with Allison or Betty. In 1966, Mia Farrow left the series to focus on an acting career, and her recent marriage to Frank Sinatra. With Allison's disappearance, Betty was more or less allowed to have Rodney, as her main competition had left town. (Betty eventually married and divorced Rodney, married attorney Steven Cord, then divorced him and re-married Rodney, in keeping with the convoluted lifestyles of these small town inhabitants.) Allison's presence was still felt heavily in storylines, as she continued to be mentioned in dialogue. First, a mysterious woman named Rachael Welles (Leigh Taylor-Young, who later married and divorced O'Neal), arrived with Allison's bracelet; then, in 1968, Jill Smith (Joyce Jillson, whose later claim to fame was as an astrologer) came to town claiming she was raising Allison's baby, although in these pre-DNA times the child's parentage was never proven. (Jill later married Joe Rossi, Michael's younger brother).
As the show continued, new characters were shown, such as town patriarch Martin Peyton (George Macready), who was only referred to when the show began. (In an odd case of history repeating itself, Macready was sidelined by illness for a brief period and temporarily replaced by Wilfred Hyde-White.) Another principal character that entered Peyton Place in later seasons was Elliot Carson (Tim O'Connor), Allison's birth father, who had been falsely imprisoned for the murder of Rodney and Norman's father. He eventually cleared his name and married Constance MacKenzie. In a state of marital bliss, they decided to leave Peyton Place (which was in sync with Dorothy Malone's wish to leave the show).
A number of big screen names joined the cast for extended intervals, among them Gena Rowlands, Dan Duryea, Susan Oliver , and Lee Grant, who won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama for her role of tough-as-nails Stella Chernak. The series also served as a springboard for the careers of Leslie Nielsen, Mariette Hartley, and Lana Wood (Natalie's sister).
In 1968, in order to keep pace with the changing times, the writers introduced integration to Peyton Place in the form of African-American Dr. Harry Miles (Percy Rodriguez) and his family (wife Alma was portrayed by Ruby Dee). Despite the noble effort, their inclusion rang a false note, and their story lines were never fully developed.
In the final year, Ed Nelson became the lead actor on the series, and many of the stories revolved around him. In the final episode, his character, Michael Rossi, was put on trial for a murder he did not commit. The show ended with the audience unaware as to the outcome.
Ratings and schedules
When the show premiered in 1964, Peyton Place aired twice a week. Both installments of the show were Top 20 hits in the Nielsen ratings, and this inspired ABC to air the show three times a week starting in the fall of 1965. Many television historians, now, consider this move to be overkill. The season ratings for Peyton Place never rose into the Top 30 shows again, and the serial's production was dropped down to two episodes a week, accordingly. In 1969, with the show losing viewers with each episode, Peyton Place was only aired in one installment a week until the final episode was shown in June.
The show was one of the first seen on network television to talk about sex and infidelity in a frank manner. As such, ABC brass would only allow the show to be aired at 9:30 PM Eastern time, an hour in which many kids and teenagers were to be in bed. With the show in a ratings slump in 1968, the show was moved to 8:30 PM in order to get the viewers they had once shunned.
Notable cast members
The following people were regular cast members at different times during the show's five year run : Warner Anderson , Heather Angel, Edith Atwater , Henry Beckman , Christopher Connelly , Ruby Dee, Dan Duryea, Mia Farrow, Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley , Wilfred Hyde-White , Diana Hyland, Paul Langton , Dorothy Malone, Patricia Morrow , Ed Nelson, Leslie Nielsen, Ryan O'Neal, Barbara Parkins, Kasey Rogers , Gena Rowlands, Barbara Rush , Kent Smith, Leigh Taylor-Young , Joan Van Ark, Ruth Warrick Susan Oliver and Lana Wood.
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