How "The Colbys" Killed "Dynasty"
Next Wednesday ABC will be spinning off its drama "Grey's Anatomy" by launching freshman medical series "Private Practice" starring Kate Walsh. I certainly hope the network is much more fortunate than the last time they tried to clone a #1 show in America which ended up killing the original series.
"Dynasty" was a glitzy 80s prime-time soap opera about the wealthy Carrington clan in Denver, Colorado known for its over-the-top catfights, cliffhangers and shoulderpads.
Following a rocky start, the show finally reached the top of the Nielsens in its fifth season in 1985.
Blinded by the sweet taste of success, ABC got greedy and decided to spin the show off and create sister series titled "The Colbys" set in Los Angeles.
A number of high-profile Hollywood stars battled to appear on the show, before the producers settled on veteran actors Charlton Heston and Barbara Stanwyck.
The producers decided to take a popular character played by John James, have him move to L.A. and introduce a bunch of new characters - an even more opulent clan, the Colbys - on a special 2-hour episode of the original series which aired during November, a sweeps month.
They rented Barron Hilton-owned Paley Residence in Bel Air as the uber-luxurious setting for the new series. A producer came onto the million-dollar set and said "I hate it. Scrap it!" and another million was spent to make the set worthy of the fictional billionaire family.
The results were underwhelming. The new show barely cracked the top-40 and then fell to a 50th position. Furthermore, the original series also dipped in the Nielsens. Late producer Aaron Spelling, who had financed both productions, was not happy.
"Dynasty's" problems were of course related to those outrageous new plotlines involving a wedding massacre of the entire cast in a fictional European kingdom and kidnapping of a principal character played by Linda Evans and her replacement with a double (also played by the actress).
But the storylines which turned once glossy saga into a cartoon are attributed to the producers loss of focus while trying to launch the spin-off.
After "Dynasty" fell from the #1 spot out of the top-20 within 4 months the producers began to panic and ABC tried to force the show's creator Esther Shapiro to go on air and apologize to America for outrageous storylines which she declined.
The producers then threw out several already-produced episodes and filmed them again making dramatic last-minute changes including letting several cast members go.
But "Dynasty" never regained its top spot in the Nielsens again. Although the changes pushed the show back into the top-10 for a little while, it soon continued its decline until its ultimate demise out of the top-50 in May of 1989.
In a recent documentary the show star Joan Collins who played one of TV's greatest villains Alexis said: "It's simple. 'The Colbys' killed us."
Of course, it's not fair to blame the spin-off for all troubles of the original series. Prime-time soaps were on the decline and a new crop of shows, more down-to-Earth sitcoms like "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne," took over the spotlight.
The spin-off which fell to a 70th place and became too expensive to produce didn't last longer than 2 seasons and ended with the infamous UFO cliffhanger in 1987.
This year, ABC is once again taking a #1 show in America and spinning it off by having a popular character move to L.A. The new characters were once again introduced on a 2-hour episode of the parent series which showed some signs of creative fatigue at the time.
Let us hope Shonda Rhimes is able to juggle both shows at the same time and the story of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" has a much happier ending.