Credit: NBC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (4)

For this, NBC killed Santa Barbara?

On January 6, 1997, Sunset Beach premiered on NBC to expectations that were as high as the tide.

The soap that replaced Santa Barbara, which was cancelled after being reduced to a shell of its fantastic former self by its last executive producer/headwriter team (more on that here), was executive-produced by no less than the Aaron Spelling, the Midas who’d spun everything from Charlie’s Angels to Melrose Place into primetime gold. And its creators were Josh Griffith (eons away from his disappointing stint as The Young and the Restless’ headwriter), Robert Guza Jr. (riding high after the Sonny/Brenda years on General Hospital) and Charles Pratt Jr. (before he buried All My Children).

SUNSET BEACH, (top, from left): Nick Stabile, Sarah Buxton, Peter Barton, (middle): Vanessa Dorman, Ashley Hamilton, Susan Ward, Dax Griffin, (bottom): Adrienne Frantz, Randy Spelling, Hank Cheyne, Laura Harring, Clive Robertson, Sherri Saum, Jason George, 1997-99. © NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

But let’s not mince words. It was not great. It looked as pretty as surf’s up in Malibu, but the cast had some weak links. MVPs like Lesley-Anne Down (before her run as Jackie on Bold & Beautiful), Sam Behrens (post-General Hospital and Knots Landing) and All My Children vet Kathleen Noone (who couldn’t have imagined then what Passions held in store) pulled their weight and then some.

But, for instance, George Hamilton’s son, Ashley, wasn’t exactly a gem as jewel thief Cole Deschanel. (Young & Restless’ former Matt, Eddie Cibrian, soon stepped in.) And Spelling’s son, Randy, was one of our leads.

Enough said? Too much?

Regrets, They Had to Have Had a Few

Sunset Beach also wasn’t great at recognizing a star in its midst. Adrienne Frantz, who’d go on to prove herself one of soapdom’s all-time greatest pot-stirrers as Amber on The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless, was actually canned and recast as Tiffany Thorne. Come on, seriously? Yes, seriously.

SUNSET BEACH, Adrienne Frantz, 1997-99. © NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

One thing you couldn’t say about the show was that it was afraid to take risks. If it swung, it swung big, unleashing everything from a tsunami to a mummy — yes, a mummy — on its regulars. But its audacity was never matched by its quality. And its plots that weren’t out-there were so cookie-cutter, they could’ve been sold in a bakery. So the show, for all its initial promise, aired its final episode on December 31, 1999, just shy of what would have been its third anniversary.

What do you think? Was Sunset Beach better than its fate suggests? Or was it an iffy idea that went… well, exactly the way you’d have expected it to? On your way to the comments, stop off at the below photo gallery, which revisits highlights from its brief but bananas run.