RICH MAN, POOR MAN

U.S. Miniseries

One of the first American television miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man aired on ABC from 1 February to 15 March 1976. Adapted from the best-selling 1970 Irwin Shaw novel, Rich Man, Poor Man was a limited twelve-part dramatic series consisting of six two-hour prime-time made for television movies. The televised novel chronicled the lives of the first-generation immigrant Jordache family. The story focused on the tumultuous relationship between brothers, Rudy (Peter Strauss) and Tom Jordache (Nick Nolte), as they suffered through twenty years (1945-65) of conflict, jealousy, and heartbreak.

The serial was enormously successful, leading the weekly ratings and ending as the second highest rated show for the 1976-77 television season. Along with its enormous audience popularity, it also garnered critical praise, reaping 20 Emmy nominations and winning four--two for acting achievement, one for directing, and one for musical score.

The success of Rich Man, Poor Man hinged on its employment of several innovative techniques. The narrative struck a unique combination which contained both the lavish film-style production values of prestigious special event programming while relying upon the "habit viewing" characteristic of a weekly series. Also, by utilizing historical backdrops like McCarthyism, the Korean War, campus riots, and the Black Revolution, Rich Man, Poor Man suggested larger circumstances than those usually found in a traditional soap opera. However, the limited series also liberally applied a range of risqué melodramatic topics including adultery, power struggles, and alcoholism. Another inventive concept introduced by Rich Man, Poor Man was the use of multiple, revolving guest stars throughout the series. While the three principal cast members were relatively unknown at the time, shuffling better known actors throughout the six-part series was a way to maintain interest and achieve some form of ratings insurance on the six-million dollar venture.

By invigorating the concept of adapting novels into television miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man began a rapid proliferation of similar prime-time programming, including a sequel. The continuation, Rich Man, Poor Man--Book II, was a twenty-one part weekly series that aired in the fall of 1976. Although the sequel was not as successful as its predecessor, the idea of extended televised adaptations of popular novels quickly became a component of network schedules. In the season following the debut of Rich Man, Poor Man, all major networks scheduled at least one miniseries, including an adaptation of Harold Robbins' The Pirates and Alex Haley's historical epic Roots.

Although eclipsed by the record-breaking 1977 miniseries Roots (aired 1 January through 30 January on ABC), Rich Man, Poor Man nonetheless has staked a spot in television history. It helped to create a special niche for televised novels as an economically viable miniseries genre that can still be found in such offerings as North & South and Lonesome Dove.

-Lisa Trevino

CAST--BOOK I

Rudy Jordache......................................... Peter Strauss
Tom Jordache
............................................... Nick Nolte
Julie Prescott Abbott Jordache
................ Susan Blakely
Axel Jordache
..........................................Edward Asner
Mary Jordache
..................................... Dorothy McGuire
Willie Abbott
.................................................. Bill Bixby
Duncan Calderwood
..................................... Ray Milland
Teddy Boylan
.............................................Robert Reed
Virginia Calderwood
....................................... Kim Darby
Sue Prescott
......................................... Gloria Grahame
Asher Berg
.............................................. Craig Stevens
Joey Quales
......................................... George Maharis
Linda Quales
................................................Lynda Day
George Nichols
............................................ Steve Allen
Smitty
........................................................Norman Fell
Teresa Sanjoro
............................................. Talia Shire
Marsh Goodwin
......................................... Van Johnson
Irene Goodwin
.......................................Dorothy Malone
Kate Jordache................................................
Kay Lenz
Sid Gossett
.........................................Murray Hamilton
Arnold Simms
............................................. Mike Evans
Al Fanducci...............................................
Dick Butkus
Clothilde...........................................
Fionnula Flanagan


Rich Man, Poor Man

Brad Knight................................................ Tim McIntire
Bill Denton.....................................
Lawrence Pressman
Claude Tinker
..........................................Dennis Dugan
Gloria Bartley...........................................
Jo Ann Harris
Pete Tierney
............................................... Roy Jenson
Lou Martin
..........................................Anthony Carbone
Papadakis
...................................................... Ed Barth
Ray Dwyer
......................................Herbert Jefferson, Jr.
Arthur Falconetti
......................................William Smith
Col. Deiner
............................................Andrew Duggan
Pinky
.......................................................Harvey Jason
Martha
........................................................Helen Craig
Phil McGee...........................................
Gavan O'Herlihy
Billy
................................................... Leigh McCloskey
Wesley
.................................................Michael Morgan

PRODUCERS Harve Bennett, Jon Epstein

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 9 Episodes

ABC
February 1976-March 1976               Monday 10:00-11:00 May 1977-June 1977                         Tuesday 9:00-11:00

CAST--BOOK II

Senator Rudy Jordache............................. Peter Strauss
Wesley Jordache
.......................................Gregg Henry
Billy Abbott
...................................James Carroll Jordan
Maggie Porter.........................................
Susan Sullivan
Arthur Falconetti
......................................William Smith
Marie Falconetti
........................................Dimitra Arliss
Ramona Scott
.........................................Penny Peyser
Scotty
....................................................John Anderson
Charles Estep
..........................................Peter Haskell
Phil Greenberg........................................
Sorrell Brooke
Annie Adams...........................................
Cassie Yates
Diane Porter
...........................................Kimberly Beck
Arthur Raymond ..........................................Peter Donat
Claire Estep
....................................... Laraine Stephens
Senator Paxton........................................
Barry Sullivan
Kate Jordache
................................................Kay Lenz
John Franklin
............................................Philip Abbott
Max Vincent..........................................
George Gaynes
Al Barb.er
.................................................Ken Swofford
Senator Dillon
..........................................G. D. Spradlin

PRODUCERS Michael Gleason, Jon Epstein

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 21 Episodes

ABC

September 1976-March 1977             Tuesday 9:00-10:00

 

See also Adaptation; Miniseries