Monday, April 13, 2020

Behind the Screen

Behind the Screen is an American late-night weekly serial which aired on CBS (Fridays, 11:30 PM EST) from October 9, 1981 to January 8, 1982. It was created by David Jacobs (Dallas, Knots Landing) for CBS, which wanted to experiment with late night programming as a counterpoint to ABC and NBC's more successful efforts at that time of night. Drawing upon his experience with the prime-time serials, Behind the Screen was a dramatization of the goings-on at a fictional TV soap opera called Generations. This was not the first attempt to explore the concept of a "soap within a soap" as radio soaps had used the idea as far as back as the 1940s (A Woman To Remember), and Ryan's Hope had used the idea for a story in the early 1980s.

It premiered as an hour-long special, and regular episodes were 30 minutes. The show focused on the beautiful young star of Generations, Janie-Claire Willow (Janine Turner), who was a pawn in a power struggle between her wheelchair-using mother Zina (Joanne Linville), her powerful agent Evan (Mel Ferrer), and her show's leading man, Brian (Michael Sabatino). The show's early pacing was a bit meandering[1] and had problems finding an audience. The show seemed to be finding its focus, helped by stronger writing by Ronnie Wencker-Konner, when it was canceled after only 3 months on the air. The last episode concerned a backstage party where starlet Joyce Daniels was poisoned. Suspicion quickly fell on Lynette Porter (Debbi Morgan). In a bit of levity, Michele Lee (a star on Jacobs' Knots Landing) appeared as herself, playing a guest at the party; when questioned by police, she was mistakenly identified by the cops as Mary Tyler Moore.

The lasting effect of the show lies in the wonderful cast. Mel Ferrer and Joanne Linville added a touch of class to the proceedings, and other cast members made impact on other shows. Janine Turner gained notice when she appeared as a Laura lookalike on General Hospital and eventually found fame in movies and on the quirky series Northern Exposure. Michael Sabatino appeared on Knots Landing as the unhinged Chip Roberts and later appeared on several daytime soaps. After Behind the Screen, Debbi Morgan was cast as Angie Baxter on All My Children. Coincidentally, she later appeared on a different soap actually called Generations as Chantal.

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