On the Wings of Thorn Birds and the Winds of War

8 Jun

Have you ever noticed that television is filled with copycats? Let one show succeed, and the networks clamor with a plethora of similar shows. That’s why the airwaves are currently filled with reality shows and crime lab dramas. That’s why a few years ago we had dozens of game shows with contestants trying to become millionaires. That’s also why television from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s was dominated by miniseries – dramas, usually based on popular novels, that spanned a few nights. They were must-see TV back in the day.

This topic has entered my mind because I am in the middle of rewatching one of my favorites. As I have watched it, I have remember how millions of people got caught up in these shows, and it seemed as if the world stopped to see what would happen. The following are the ones that I remember the most.

Centennial – The one I am currently watching was based on a James Michener novel and lasted over 26 hours. It traced the history of a western town from the arrival of the first trapper until the 1970s and took viewers into the lives of the people who played a role in the history of the area. It was fictional but had some real history mixed in. It seemed to star every television personality of the day, including Richard Chamberlain.

Roots – The granddaddy of them all, this miniseries was based on the work of Alex Haley, a fellow Tennessean, as he traced his family’s history through slavery. Over 100 million people watched it finale, and it spawned two sequels. After this success, Haley was sued for plagiarism and admitted that some parts of his work were lifted from another source. It seemed to star every African-American actor of the day but did not include Richard Chamberlain.

The Thorn Birds – Based on a novel by Colleen McCullough, it was the second highest rated miniseries of all time. Admittedly, I did not watch this one, and I am not sure my parents did either. It is set in Australia and follows a woman who is in love with a priest. This causes her problems for obvious reasons. It had a bevy of well-known stars, including Richard Chamberlain.

Rich Man, Poor Man – I always thought that was a cool title. This one came early in the miniseries experiment and lasted seven weeks. Based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, it followed the differing paths of the Jordache brothers. Obviously, one became wealthy, although not by selling fashionable jeans, and the other one struggled to get by. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte played the brothers, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

Shogun – James Clavell’s novel was a fictionalized account of the life of William Adams. Don’t know who he is? Don’t worry, I don’t know either. However, I know that the main character is an Englishman named John Blackthorne, and he finds himself shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. After the wreck, he makes enemies and friends while trying to adjust to a different culture. The miniseries was filled with Japanese actors and Richard Chamberlain.

The Winds of War – Herman Wouk’s writing was the basis for this one as it details the years leading up to the entrance of the United States into World War II. It covers major world events during this period and their effects on two American families, the Henry’s and the Jastow’s. Robert Mitchum starred in this series, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

These are but a few examples of a genre that once thrived on the television sets of America. Obviously, I have missed several. If you have any favorites let me know.

3 Responses to “On the Wings of Thorn Birds and the Winds of War”

  1. John June 8, 2012 at 19:15 #

    Oh man, Rachel Ward.

    • surroundedbyimbeciles June 9, 2012 at 02:16 #

      No kidding. She was fire.


  1. Only the Rocks Live Forever « Surrounded By Imbeciles - July 3, 2012

    […] dad and I just finished our multi-week project of watching Centennial, the 1970s miniseries covering the history of a fictional Colorado town. Lasting over 26 hours, the movie follows the […]

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