A Soap Opera Comes to 1960's Nighttime TV

by Guy Belleranti
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Soap operas have been on television since almost its beginning. However the first successful nighttime soap didn't air until 1964 when Peyton Place came to ABC.

The series was actually preceded by the novel Peyton Place (1956, by Grace Metalious) and two motion pictures titled Peyton Place (1957) and Return to Peyton Place (1961). Both of the films were toned down a bit from the book, and the TV series was toned down even more. Still, it was racier than most other television of the time.

Basically, Peyton Place focused on the personal lives and sexual inclinations of the citizens in a small New England town called Peyton Place. Gossip, prejudices, jealousy, blackmail and even murder filled the episodes, and kept viewers coming back for more. The episodes would open with shots of the town and the church, and then, as the church bell rang, an announcer would say "...the continuing story of Peyton Place."

The series ran from 1964 to 1969, and over this time 514 half hour episodes were aired. It began as a black and white program, then went to color in 1966. During most of its run Peyton Place had two episodes shown weekly. However, for a short time it ran three times a week, and in its final months it only ran once per week.

A lot of actors and actresses appeared on the program during its run, some already well known stars from film and television, others just getting their start. Among the regulars were:

Dorothy Malone (1964-68) as Constance MacKenzie/Carson

Mia Farrow (1964-66) as Constance's illegitimate daughter Allison

Ed Nelson as Dr. Michael Rossi

Warner Anderson (1964-65) as Matthew Swain

Ryan O'Neal as Rodney Harrington

Christopher Connelly as Norman Harrington

Paul Langton (1964-68) as Leslie Harrington

Tim O'Connor as Elliot Carson

Patricia Morrow as Rita Jacks/Harrington

Barbara Parkins as Betty Anderson/Harrington/Cord/Harrington

Ruby Dee (1968-69) as Alma Miles

Percy Rodriquez (1968-69) as Dr. Harry Miles

Both name and not-yet-name talent also guest starred on this nighttime soap, sometimes for extended episodes. Some of the bigger names included Gena Rowlands, Dan Duryea and Lee Grant. Leslie Nielsen, Lana Wood (Natalie's sister) and many others also appeared on the program.

In the early 1970's a daytime version titled Return to Peyton Place with different actors was aired for a time, and there were even TV movies in the 1977 and 1985 that featured several of the original television series' stars.

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