Poster: Mr. Television
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Thirty years ago on Friday, October 9, 1981, at 11:30 pm (EST), CBS aired the first episode of Behind the Screen, a late-night 35-minute weekly serial that starred Mel Ferrer (Falcon Crest) and some talented young actors who eventually found fame on other shows:
18-year-old Janine Turner, who later played Laura Templeton on General Hospital (1982-83) and Maggie O'Connell on Northern Exposure (1990-95).
Michael Sabatino, who later played Chip Roberts on Knots Landing (1982-83) and Lawrence Alamain on Days of our Lives (1990-93, 2009).
Debbi Morgan, who has played Dr. Angie Baxter Hubbard on three different daytime soap operas, All My Children (1982-90, 2008-Present), Loving (1993-95) and The City (1995-97).
And Mark Pinter, who played Mark Evans on Guiding Light (1981-83), Brian McColl on As the World Turns (1984-87, 1990), and Grant Harrison on Another World (1991-99).
I really enjoyed Behind the Screen, which was created by David Jacobs (Dallas, Knots Landing) when CBS wanted to experiment with late-night programming. The network was hoping that the large, loyal audience of Friday night's Dallas and Falcon Crest would stay up late to watch more soapy drama. They didn't--except for me--and the show was canceled after only three months on the air.
The series focused on the behind-the-scenes drama of a daytime serial called Generations (which was later the actual name of a 1989-91 NBC soap opera that starred Debbi Morgan). The beautiful young star of Generations was Janie-Claire Willow (Turner), whose career was managed by her manipulative cousin Evan Hammer (Ferrer), a powerful agent who wasn't too pleased when she began dating her womanizing co-star, Brian Holmby (Sabatino). It later turned out that Evan and Janie-Claire's wheelchair-bound mother, Zina Willow, were hiding a dark family secret from the girl, which they feared would be revealed when her brother, Jordan, returned home. The young man suspected that Evan was responsible for his mother's shooting, which caused her crippled condition.
Other storylines involved married lawyer Bobby Danzig (Bruce Fairbairn), who had a secret of his own (he was leading a double life to conceal his homosexuality), and Bobby's friend, Dory (Loyita Chapel), the younger second wife of Brian's father, Gerry Holmby, the creator and producer of Generations. She had written a damaging screenplay about Merritt Madison, a mobster turned ruthless movie studio head who--along with his son and Dory's former lover, Karl Madison (Pinter)--schemed to stop her script from ever being produced. And then there was Evan's client, actress Lynette Porter (Morgan), who was being blackmailed over her sordid past. Everyone was later invited to Gerry and Dory's party, during which Lynette was overheard threatening Evan's secretary, Joyce Daniels (Erica Yohn), who was then poisoned to death.
In the 13th and final episode, which aired on January 8, 1982, police questioned the party guests about the murder, including actress Michele Lee whom the cops mistakenly identified as Mary Tyler Moore (the Knots Landing star appeared as herself). Suspicion quickly fell on Lynette, but the killer's identity was never revealed due to the show's abrupt ending. It's a shame that Behind the Screen never found an audience, but I still fondly remember it after all these years.