Soap History: Return to Peyton Place
The fans wanted to know how the story ended, so they brought the soap back for part two.
When ABC cancelled their premiere Primetime soap “Peyton Place” in 1969, fans of the show were left wondering how their characters fared as most of the storylines were never settled. “Return To Peyton Place” was NBC’s answer, not only for fans looking for resolution, but as a way for them to put their own stamp on the wildly popular culture that included the Primetime show, the original 1956 novel “Peyton Place” by author Grace Metalious, the 1957 film of the same name, the 1959 novel “Return To Peyton Place,” and the 1961 follow-up film to that novel. Unfortunately the daytime soap couldn’t capture the magic of previous success and it was cancelled in less than two years.
(April 3, 1972 – January 4, 1974)
New writer James Lipton (“Inside The Actors Studio,” “Another World,” “The Edge Of Night,” “Capitol,” “Guiding Light”) studied all incarnations of the “Peyton Place” novels, films and Primetime series before working on the new soap. Lipton began the show by resolving one of the biggest cliffhangers from ABC’s “Peyton Place” and revealed that Michael Rossi was found not guilty in his murder trial. The character of Allison MacKenzie was back after a vaguely explained away absence, and she was soon embroiled in a dramatic storyline when her husband Benny’s brother Jason took over his identity. Jason as Benny treated Allison so badly she began doing drugs. In an LSD haze she accidentally shot at her real husband and was charged with murder. She was released when Benny was revealed to be alive and Jason was dead.
NBC’s Vice President of daytime programming Clare Simpson strived to get as many of the original cast to sign on to the revival as possible. This proved to be no easy feat as some of the actors – like Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow – had become virtual superstars. The hunt was on for a replacement for Farrow’s Allison MacKenzie, with 25-year-old Kathy Glass ultimately winning the role. “In the new drama, Allison is three years older and she has, to a degree, ‘seen the world,’ and is now more mature and has been involved in much more of life,” stated Simpson in a March 1972 press release. “Nevertheless, Allison will retain a certain vulnerability in her character. The television audience has a distinct memory of her, and we won’t violate it.”
Glass had previously portrayed Kim Jordan on the ABC Soap “The Best Of Everything,” which has lasted only six months before cancellation as the lowest rated of 18 total soap operas. Glass insisted she didn’t study Farrow’s adaptation of the character so her portrayal of Allison wouldn’t be influenced. But one year into production Glass asked to be released from her contract because she no longer wanted to live in California, and Pamela Susan Shoop (“Halloween II”) took over the role.
A few original cast members were signed on to return, including Pat Morrow (Rita Jacks Harrington), Frank Ferguson (Eli Carson), Evelyn Scott (Ada Jacks), and Warren Stevens (Eliot Carson). New cast members filling old roles were Bettye Ackerman (Constance MacKenzie Carson), Guy Stockwell (Dr. Michael Rossi), Julie Parrish (Betty Anderson Harrington), Lawrence Casey (Rodney Harrington), Stacy Harris (Leslie Harrington), Ron Russell (Norman Harrington), and Mary K. Wells (Hana Cord).
A major character from the books and films, Selena Cross, was cut from the Primetime series by Ina Phillips because of a controversial storyline that included rape from a family member. The character made it onto the daytime return however, and was played by Margaret Mason (“Days of our Lives,” “Y&R”).
The ratings game:
After a strong debut in 1972, the show was up against daytime heavy hitters “One Life To Live,” and “The Edge Of Night” and soon slid into third place. But when CBS premiered “Match Game” in the same time slot, it was soon game over for “Return To Peyton Place.” “Match Game” became daytime’s top-rated program, and three years after its premiere, “Return To Peyton Place” was cancelled and replaced with “How To Survive A Marriage.” That soap fared even worse, and was taken off the air in just over a year.
The plot for “Return To Peyton Place” moved notoriously slow, and many felt it contributed to the poor ratings. A few months before the show ended writers began to pick up the pace, and some loyal viewers felt that had it happened sooner the show may have lasted longer.
Return to Peyton Place Trivia:
* In January 1973, the show aired a special Primetime episode revolving around a murder mystery happening on the daytime show – the first time a soap opera did a special just for night.
* While “Peyton Place” was filmed, “Return To Peyton Place” was taped. Because the 20th Century Fox studios weren’t able to accommodate tape, the sets from the original show had to be copied in smaller dimensions and set up at NBC’s Burbank studios.
* NBC got the broadcasting rights to Grace Metalious’ best-selling “Return To Peyton Place” novel through a deal with 20th Century Fox.
* “Return To Peyton Place” was the very first project of NBC’s new vice president of daytime programming at the time, Clare Simpson.
* “Return To Peyton Place” replaced NBC’s “Bright Promise,” a soap opera that aired for just three years and revolved around fictional Bancroft College. That soap opera was created by the real-life husband-and-wife team of Frank and Doris Hursley, who had already created the successful soap “General Hospital” together.
* Pat Morrow portrayed Rita Jacks Harrington in the original Primetime series. She gave up acting after “Peyton Place” ended but returned for the revival. In the time between her soap stints she went to law school at night while she worked part time as a newswriter at a LA television station. Not only that, she volunteered on a number of election campaigns, worked with disadvantaged youth in LA and made two humanitarian trips to Vietnam.
* In order to prevent the soap from failing from the start, the cast was limited to just 15 in order to not confuse viewers.
Photo courtesy: NBC
– Hollie Deese