PEYTON PLACE

U.S. Serial Melodrama

Peyton Place, a prime-time program based on the Grace Metalious novel, was an experiment for American television in both content and scheduling when it appeared on ABC, at that time still the third-ranked U.S. network. Premiering in the fall of 1964, Peyton Place was offered in two serialized installments per week, Tuesday and Thursday nights, a first for American prime-time television. Initially drawing more attention for its moral tone than for its unique scheduling, the new night-time serial was launched amid a sensational atmosphere borrowed from the novel's reputation. ABC president Leonard Goldenson defended the network's programming choice as a bread-and-butter decision for the struggling network, and the moral outcry settled down once the program established itself as implying far more sensation than it would deliver. This prototype of what came to be known in the 1980s as the prime-time soap opera initially met with great success: a month after Peyton Place premiered, ABC rose in the Nielsens to number one for the first time. At one point, the program was so successful that a spin-off serial was considered. Both CBS and NBC announced similar prime-time serials under development.

Executive producer Paul Monash declined the "soap opera" label for Peyton Place, considering it instead a "television novel." (His term is, in fact, the one applied in Latin America, telenovela, and Francophone Canada, teleroman.) Set in a small New England town, Peyton Place dealt with the secrets and scandals of two generations of the town's inhabitants. An unmarried woman, Constance MacKenzie, and her daughter Allison were placed at the dramatic center of the story. Constance (played by 1950s film melodrama star Dorothy Malone) eventually married Allison's father, Elliott Carson, when he was released from prison, though his rival Dr. Michael Rossi was never entirely out of the picture. Meanwhile, Allison (Mia Farrow) was caught up in a romantic triangle with wealthy Rodney Harrington (Ryan O'Neill) and Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins), a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Over the course of the series, Betty tricked Rodney, not telling him she had miscarried their child until after they were married; Rodney fled and found love with Allison, but Allison disappeared; Betty was married briefly to lawyer Steven Cord, but finally remarried Rodney. Other soap-operatic plot lines involved Rodney's younger brother Norman Harrington and his marriage to Rita Jacks.


Peyton Place

The production schedule was closest to that of daytime soap opera, with no summer hiatus, no repeats, unlike any prime-time American series before or since. Within the first year, the pace was increased to three episodes per week rather than two, going back to two episodes per week in the 1966-67 season as the craze for the show declined. Several of the show's plot twists were necessitated by cast changes. Most notably, Allison MacKenzie's disappearance occurred when Mia Farrow left the series in 1966 for her highly publicized marriage to Frank Sinatra. The program never fully recovered from Farrow's departure, though news of the distant Allison kept the character alive. Some two years later a young woman appeared with a baby she claimed was Allison's--this timed with the release of Mia Farrow's theatrical film, Rosemary's Baby.

In 1968, Peyton Place underwent a transformation. Though some storylines were developed to accommodate more cast changes (Dorothy Malone left the show), many of the changes in the final season seem to have been in response to Goldenson's call for more youthful, "relevant" programming. One of the youthful additions was the leader of a rock group. Most significantly, however, an African-American family--Dr. Harry Miles (Percy Rodriguez), his wife Alma (Ruby Dee), and their teenage son, Lew (Glynn Turman)--assumed a central position in the heretofore all-white Peyton Place. Cut back to one half-hour episode per week, the show also was scheduled a half-hour earlier to appeal further to youthful audiences.

These drastic changes did nothing to revive ratings for the serial, which lasted through the spring of 1969. ABC brought it back for two years in the seventies as a daytime serial, and in 1985, nine of the original cast members appeared in a made-for-TV movie, Peyton Place: The Next Generation.

-Sue Brower


Peyton Place

CAST

Constance Mackenzie/Carson (1964-l968) .............................................................Dorothy Malone Allison Mackenzie (1964-1966) ......................Mia Farrow Dr. Michael Rossi.......................................... Ed Nelson Matthew Swain (1964-1966).................. Warner Anderson Leslie Harrington (1964-l968) ......................Paul Langton Rodney Harrington...................................... Ryan O'Neal Norman Harrington......................... Christopher Connelly Betty Anderson/Harrington/Cord/Harrington......................
............................................................Barbara Parkins
Julie Anderson ........................................Kasey Rogers George Anderson (1964-1965) ................Henry Beckman Dr. Robert Morton (1964-1965)...................... Kent Smith Steven Cord.......................................... James Douglas Hannah Cord (1965-l967)............................ Ruth Warrick Paul Hanley (1965).................................. Richard Evans Elliott Carson (1965-1968) .........................Tim O'Connor Eli Carson .............................................Frank Ferguson Nurse Choate (1965-1968)................. Erin O'Brien-Moore Dr. Claire Morton (1965)......................... Mariette Hartley Dr. Vincent Markham (1965)..................... Leslie Nielsen Rita Jacks/Harrington (1965-1969).......... Patricia Morrow Ada Jacks (1965-1969).............................. Evelyn Scott David Schuster (1965-1966).................. William Smithers Doris Schuster (1965)..................................... Gail Kobe Kim Schuster (1965) ...............................Kimberly Beck Theodore Dowell (1965) ............................Patrick Whyte Stella Chernak (1965-l968) ..............................Lee Grant Joe Chernak (1965) .......................................Dan Quine Gus Chernak (1965-1966) .........................Bruce Gordon Dr. Russ Gehring (1965-1966).................... David Canary John Fowler (1965-1966)................................. John Kerr Marian Fowler (1965-1966) ......................Joan Blackman Martin Peyton (1965-1968)................... George Macready Martin Peyton (temporary replacement, 1967) .......................................................Wilfred Hyde-White Sandy Webber (1966-1967)...........................Lana Wood Chris Webber (1966-1967) .........................Gary Haynes Lee Webber (1966-1968)......................... Stephen Oliver Ann Howard (1966) .....................................Susan Oliver Rachael Welles (1966-1967).............. Leigh Taylor-Young Jack Chandler (1966-1967)......................... John Kellogg Adrienne Van Leyden (1967)................... Gena Rowlands Eddie Jacks (1967-1968)............................. Dan Duryea Carolyn Russell (1968-1969) ......Elizabeth "Tippy" Walker Fred Russell (1968-1969) .............................Joe Maross Marsha Russell (1968-1969) ......................Barbara Rush Rev. Tom Winter (1968-1969)........................ Bob Hogan Susan Winter (1968-1969) .........................Diana Hyland Dr. Harry Miles (1968-1969)....................Percy Rodriguez Alma Miles(1968-1969)................................... Ruby Dee Lew Miles (1968-1969).............................. Glynn Turman Jill Smith/Rossi (1968).............................. Joyce Jillison Joe Rossi (1968)................................. Michael Christian

PRODUCERS Paul Monash, Everett Chambers, Richard Goldstone, Felix Feist, Richard DeRoy

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 514 Episodes

ABC
September 1964-
   June 1965                       Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-10:00 June 1965-
   October 1965        Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 9:30-10:00 November 1965-
   August 1966       Monday/Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-10:00 September 1966-
   January 1967                Monday/Wednesday 9:30-l0:00 January 1967-
   August 1967                     Monday/Tuesday 9:30-10:00 September 1967-
   September 1968               Monday/Thursday 9:30-10:00 September 1968-
   January 1969  Monday 9:00-9:30/Wednesday 8:30-9:00 February 1969-June 1969                     Monday 9:00-9:30

FURTHER READING

Litwak, Leo E. "Visit to a Town of the Mind," New York Times Magazine (New York), 4 April 1965.

 

See also Melodrama; Soap Opera