20151227

THE COLBYS

Katharine Ross told reporter Stacy Jenel Smith of 'Tribune Media Services Inc.' in 1991, "I used to think you could have it all. My opinion now (in 1991) is that you can try to have it all – but you have to learn how to save your energies for what's really important. You pace yourself. Otherwise you go crazy." 

In 1985, Katharine made her TV series debut on the prime time soap 'The Colbys'. She recognized at the time, "More people see me in this series than saw me in all the movies I've ever made. And I'm reaching a whole new audience of young people who never saw me in those early movies." Charlton Heston concurred, "I suppose I've made 3 or 4 films, certainly 3 that have been seen by as many individuals as any film. Every night, every week in 'Colbys,' which is not even a top-rated show, in terms of the audience, more people see it than saw 'Ben Hur' in theaters. The size of the audience is enormous." 

Question: 'The Colbys' was predicted to be a hit even before the first episode was aired. Is the cast cautious because of that? 

Phil Brown: "Yes, because you never can tell. Remember shows like 'Glitter' and 'Paper Dolls'? They were supposed to be big hits and look where they are now (in 1985). I think it's different with 'The Colbys', though. First of all, it has a 'sister' like 'Dynasty' to help it out." 

Shot on location at Baron Hilton mansion, Esther Shapiro told the 'New York' magazine, "'The Colbys' story will start on 'Dynasty'. The audience will have been exposed to 6 hours of 'Colbys' before we spin them off. It will culminate in a special 2-hour 'Dynasty' on a Wednesday night (*) which will have a double cliffhanger. The next week, we'll have back-to-back hours of 'Dynasty' and 'Dynasty II', carrying the story forward on each show." 

Going forward, ABC would use 'The Colbys' to dent NBC's lead by showing the program opposite 'Cheers' and 'Night Court' on Thursday nights. However because of Ronald Reagan's televised address in 1985, the original premiere date of 'The Colbys' in its regular time period had to be postponed by one week. At the time, director Curtis Harrington stressed, "As much as anything else, it's important not to look confused by everything that's going on. And you can get confused, boy. They're running the 2nd episode of 'The Colbys' next week an hour before they run 'Dynasty', because the plotlines interact, and they want to keep them in proper order. (The 1st episode was shown after 'Dynasty'.) Then they run the 3rd episode on Thursday, and after that, the series gets back to normal. Or as close to normal as it can get." 

(*) 'Dynasty' was described as the network Wednesday night linchpin program, "the ultimate 48-room dollhouse fantasy of middle-aged women and gay men." 

The 1984-85 season finale episode of 'Dynasty' attracted 39% share of the audience, about 25.9% of the 84.9 million American TV households, or roughly 22 million TV homes were counted watching. Esther remembered, "It was a fairy-tale terrorist attack. It was beautifully shot, like a Goya painting." Eileen Pollock added, "That was the magic moment. It was Camille Marchetta, one of our producers, who came up with the idea of a terrorist attack, and the reaction was, 'Sure, okay, we haven't done that one before'. But then someone asked, 'All right, who lives?' And that's when the eyes started dancing and people smacked their lips." 

Nolan Miller told the 'New York' magazine, "Did you know what the costume budget is for your average cop show? Three thousand, maybe 5. For 'Dynasty', we start at $25,000. I just spent $100,000 (in 1985) on the opening 2 episodes of 'Dynasty II.'" An average episode of 'Dynasty' would cost $1 million in 1985 to make. According to the industry's "high priest", the A.C. Nielsen Co., 'The Colbys' did well to finish the first season ranked 39 out of 68 shows. "It probably will be the spring before it starts to build," the network chief insisted at the time. However soap opera was not a series for all seasons but "we're in a 52-week-a-year business. We have to attract audiences in the repeat season as well." At the time in reruns, 'Dynasty' attracted only 12% share of the audience and a rating of 6.8%. 

Normally September marked the advent of the television season. Ron Weiskind of the 'Pittsburgh Post-Gazette' made the observation in 1986, "Throughout the history of the world, certain cultures and societies have placed almost mystic significance in the coming of solstice and equinox, better known as the changing of the seasons. The United States is no different. Here, among the most sacred days on the calendar is the beginning of television's new year." 

Of history, Richard Eder of the 'New York Times' pointed out, "Historic moments take place when history has begun to die: when antagonisms have weakened enough for gesture of reconciliation, and old conflicts have lost their pain. In 1982, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II came to Britain to mark this kind of moment: a time, when, the blood no longer flowing in the wounds of the old quarrel with the Anglicans, magnanimity was possible on both sides. The visit to Canterbury (shows) that reconciliation comes most often after the fact, and too late to avoid the bloodshed." 

"I gave birth to my daughter when I was working on a television series, kind of a Western spin-off of 'Dynasty' called 'The Colbys,'" Katharine recounted. "I enjoyed 'The Colbys', but I think that when you're doing a series, you don't have a life on some levels, and my family life is too important to me to make that trade." In 1991, Katharine could be seen on the cable TV movie, 'Conagher' based on the book by Louis L'Amour. Sam Elliot bought the rights to the book in 1988. He co-wrote with Jeffrey Meyer and co-produced with Ron Howard's Imagine Films which negotiated the TV deal with Turner Network Television (TNT).

It was understood TNT originally wanted to cut the movie by 20 minutes to fit into a 2-hour instead of a 3-hour time slot. At the time, Katharine made known, "We decided to go ahead and agree to what they wanted because we didn't want to wait for years and years to get the movie made. These things can become a life's project, and we wanted to do it, and move on. There were times in my life I would have been totally unbending and unable to see the good of the compromise. But now (in 1991) I do. It's lamentable that they'll cut it, but I won't bother myself with watching it, probably, and then I won't be too upset. I'm happy it'll be on cassette the way it was intended and released abroad in its original length. Our greatest goal was to remain true to Louis' work, and in the final analysis I think we did that. It's a good film."

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