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Peyton Place

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I wonder if that Peyton Place Revisited with Peter Lawford is the ABC Late Night Special I remember from the mid-seventies. I only saw it once, but I recall it as a nostalgic overview of the series with lots of scene clips and interviews with most of the original cast.

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NOTES ON PEYTON PLACE

PAUL MONASH

Executive producer of the new serial Peyton Place and of the Dramatic Unit for 20th Century-Fox TV, Paul Monash holds a B.A. degree from the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. from Columbia. His writing credits include two novels and several television dramas. In 1958 he won an Emmy for The Lonely Wizard, a biography of Steinmetz.

CECIL SMITH

Cecil Smith has been entertainment editor and TV columnist of the Los Angeles Times since 1958. He began his career as a radio script writer, and in 1947 he joined the Times staff as a reporter and drama writer. In addition to writing several TV scripts for all three networks, Mr. Smith has acted in a number of television productions and has appeared on panels and interview programs

In September, just as ABC -TV was preparing to offer its innovative series in nighttime drama, Peyton Place, executive producer Paul Monash met in Hollywood with Cecil Smith, critic for the Los Angeles Times. They discussed the nature of the experiment and considered its implications for all of TV fiction. An abridgement of their conversation is reproduced below. A transcript of the discussion was later sent to Mr. Monash, along with an invitation to add any comments he wished to make in light of the initial reaction to the series. His remarks are printed at the end of this article.

Mr. Smith: We can begin with the expected, Paul, by asking you to define what it is you're creating. Is Peyton Place merely a soap opera or is it a form entirely new to TV?

Mr. Monash: It is a half -hour episodic drama. Since the story does continue, and since there are no other useful direct analogies in the medium, I suppose it must be considered as having been derived from the soap opera. It tells a convoluted story, which goes on and at the same time turns back on itself in order to remind the audience of what is happening. Each episode must always end at a point of high interest, although you could not always call the program a "cliffhanger." Finally, it does have a strong appeal for women. In all these respects, it resembles daytime soap opera.

Mr. Smith: Where does it differ from the soaper?

Mr. Monash: Hopefully, in the broader appeal of its stories. It also differs in terms of the way we tell the story, the way we mount it, the care taken in production, the degree of humor, and the dramatic shadings. If its similarities to soap opera may be manifest, we still feel it has distinctive dramatic qualities. The pace within scenes, for example, is consistent with nighttime television. Daytime TV forces its performance to drag. Actors read their lines slowly, they sip coffee, they pace and posture. In daytime TV voices are seldom raised and speéches are never read in haste. There are great numbers of pauses and delays in the action. I confess that our temptation to stretch material is strong. We know that if we proceed at too rapid a narrative pace the audience will simply lose the thread of the story. On a two -nights -a -week schedule, we must expect the audience to retain a great deal of narrative material and character definition from program to program. In addition, we find ourselves wondering if it is not to our interest to explore scenes in greater detail, letting our cast share in this exploration -in- depth. This cuts down the narrative pace. And we do have a tendency to conserve dramatic material.

Mr. Smith: What are the basic appeals of Peyton Place? I am told that the English series, Coronation Street, is popular because it trades in nostalgia. It treats a way of life that is vanishing in England; the neighborhoods, the little garden conversations -these have a broad appeal. Of course your series deals with a small town, too, but do you think it has a great appeal to most of the urban Americans who once came from small towns?

Mr. Monash: No, I don't. I think there is little real desire to flee back to the small town. I think there is an aspiration, among urban groups, for the less complex life associated with small towns -we are trying to emphasize these values in Peyton Place -but I also think [50] this less complicated life is more myth than reality. The conservative appeal of the simpler life doesn't necessarily mean a return to the small town. It's just that most of us tend to assume this, and so our show reflects it. Personally, I have very little desire to live in a small town. Even Peyton Place is a synthetic town, where we are not dealing with small -town problems per se so much as with general and contemporary American attitudes and problems

. Mr. Smith: As you know, Paul, you are pioneering in a field where success will bring a great deal of imitation. Plans for more continuing series are being made in several places. What experiences have you already had, especially in the matter of logistics and continuity, that might be passed on to those who will follow?

Mr. Monash: To this point, none of my experiences would lead me to feel that this approach should not be extended. But the conditions and contingencies are almost appalling. The idea of a continuing situation makes Peyton Place strongly dissimilar to a show like Dr. Kildare, even though the latter also has continuing characters. In Kildare there are no "memory stories." That is, you can take show number 19 and put it on before show number six, and it won't disturb the concept. But we are dealing with a continuing drama with a core story. It's easy to write breathless publicity about each story being "complete in itself -and yet there is still a continuing story," but when you try to implement this the headaches begin. Our series demands enormous concentration on the sequence and consequences of the story. The episodes must be written forward - two must come after number one, three after two, and so on. This creates a basic condition of all continuing stories -no margin for error. I may not like an episode, but I know it must be shot next. I can't reach into a stockpile and then use the weak one at a later time, after I've had a chance to strengthen it. In physical production we cannot permit ourselves to fall behind at all, since we have no repeat pattern and are committed to 104 shows a year. It just seems that all the challenges of television are magnified in this form. And perhaps the opportunities.

Mr. Smith: You must, then, consider any story in terms of the continuing nature of the core?

Mr. Monash: Yes, and this leads us to adopt certain techniques which also carry inherent problems with them. A basic technique we must follow is that of withholding, rather than revealing, action. Most programs constantly fulfill the dramatic expectations of the viewer. We must constantly withhold, because once we finish a situation it is abandoned. In addition, we must choose our basic dramatic situations with great care. Each basic story will run for several weeks-even months. Once we get into a story we are committed, and that's what's terrifying. We are 13 weeks ahead in production, and if we discover that a story does not interest viewers to the degree we had hoped there is nothing much we can do about i t.

Mr. Smith: How do you view the series in relationship to the book which inspired it? Grace Metalious' novel is probably among the most widely -read works of this century. It was a bitter book, a tale of the ferment of sex beneath the surface of small -town life.

Mr. Monash: I've read the book. I've seen the film, several times, and I got more from the film. It carried an underlying expression of tenderness and affection that wasn't in the book. If many highly dramatic, even harsh, things happen in the course of our television treatment, we feel we have at least tried to put wings of love underneath it. The book is a harsh, unloving document, and we intended to put our stories at a different emotional level. The book, however, has given us an extremely recognizable property to which we could attach what is considered a hazardous programming concept.

Mr. Smith: I've previewed several early episodes at your invitation, Paul, and it seems to me there is a great deal of sex in the series. The mill -owner is having an affair with his secretary

Mr. Monash: It appears as though he is having an affair.

Mr. Smith: Allison, the heroine, is having vague stirrings. Her mother is a frustrated, loveless woman who hasn't shared her bed with a man in 18 years. The young couple are in the throes of a hot and fervid affair. These are all revealed in the first 30 minutes. The basic motivations, it seems, are sexual.

Mr. Monash: I think it is fairer to call it a love story, and my argument springs from the simple fact that both the book and the picture were set in the period immediately before World War II. The TV version is not. We have obviously undergone a moral revolution in the past 25 years. We are more honest about many things today than we were then. We are more willing to admit that [52] there is a link between love and sex. We tend to romanticize less, and a series that tries to deal with this matter and not make some admissions of this kind is not very honest. Obviously, though, there are things which cannot be condoned or seriously described in a medium like television. A more disturbing problem to me is that no one in the series is very happy about love. Part of the explanation lies in the nature of drama itself. There is simply more conflict in unhappiness, and this is the heart of drama. It is difficult to dramatize at great length any kind of amicable relationship. But this offers us no reason to consider Peyton Place a manual on sex. If it were, it could not succeed. We cannot be, and don't intend to be, as blunt, in visual terms, as the motion picture. We would not want to be as grimly descriptive as the novel. But the important point to be made is that this series is about love -love in contemporary and valid terms as a reflection of society. The basic theme of the show is a quest for love. Allison McKenzie is searching for love. She is afraid that love leads to sex, and wants it to be more than that. The couple who are on the verge of an affair are basically seeking, from each other, the things they have not found with their own partners. This is a common problem. We must, on occasion, deal in melodrama. We can tell melodramatic stories in the series because we can relate them in greater detail and tell them with some semblance of honesty. At this moment I am working with a story that is dangerously melodramatic. I would like to do it because I can envision a number of powerful scenes. But I must wonder whether the audience will accept it. I'm not sure it will unless I can find the supporting details and motivations that will allow me to tell it honestly.

Mr. Smith: What are your personal satisfactions in this series? What is your personal vision -the important element you are trying to communicate? Do you think the series will be successful on more personal terms?

Mr. Monash: Most of the assumptions we began with over a year ago have now been abandoned. I have a feeling of security about the project, however. If I don't have any final personal sense of fulfillment yet, maybe it's because I know we are just beginning to cut our way through the underbrush. Peyton Place is not the ultimate property I would like to explore. I would, in time, like to deal at length with other environments, using some of the things I am learning about continuing drama. There is the possibility of doing a contemporary War and Peace. There is the possibility of doing Dos Passos' USA. There is the possibility of doing something more, because it is obvious that in Peyton Place we are not trying to create great television literature. We are creating popular entertainment. If I were Sherwood Anderson I might touch the verities. But even if it were possible to do so, I would be circumscribed by the limitations of volume demand. We will always be limited by the fact that we cannot go to many writers at once and solicit their efforts. We must turn out scripts quickly, shoot them quickly, and keep moving along. The nature of the series-even more so here than in more conventional series -demands assembly -line operation. Yet this is a beginning. Perhaps, someday, we will go beyond this and have still further modification of form. It has been proposed, for example, that a series of this type go for a year and stop, to be supplanted with another year -long continuing drama. In this way, the new series could benefit from a full year of preparation and script stockpiling.

Mr. Smith: In Spanish television there are programs similar to our soap operas which tell a story with a number of characters, which may continue for ten weeks or so and then end. Then they'll begin a completely new series with new characters all over again. Would this be a practical approach, as an alternative to the obvious misgivings you have about your own commitments and problems?

Mr. Monash: I'm not certain. I think not, and for two reasons. First there are nearly insurmountable problems of casting within this approach. Next, the natural tendency of American TV to go with a winner would be hard to overcome. If one of these were enormously successful it would undoubtedly stay on the air. But I believe it's going to become necessary to devise some way of creating a continuity which offers dramatic fulfillment -an eventual beginning, middle and an end -but which escapes the kind of limitation imposed upon the situation drama with a complete story each week. If Peyton Place does not succeed, this will still come. We will see five -part, six -part and even ten -part stories that reach dramatic crisis and resolution. I was involved in an earlier experiment in making a "horizontal" motion picture of this kind, to be played in three- to five -hour TV time periods. The pitfalls lay in trying to work within a TV budget to get major [54] properties. There is no way to do this and still come out with a motion picture respectable enough for overseas release, and that was felt necessary to make the productions financially feasible.

Mr. Smith: Paul, in view of your many doubts, even the success of Peyton Place seems to mean only a qualified success for you as a creative figure. While I was in England I spoke with several people at BBC and the commercial companies there about their continuing interest and faith in the anthology series. There are a number of them going at once. And they told me their major reason for keeping them on the air is talent. They would lose all their talent -writers, producers, directors -if they did not have this outlet for them.

Mr. Monash: I think that is a nice thought, but I'm afraid that in the United States more practical and immediate considerations are paramount. There doesn't seem to be great anxiety in network centers over where new talent will come from. You know, it is just assumed that it will appear, somehow -in Hollywood, or perhaps in the East. I think there is no sense of creative drive in the networks. I really think they are strictly pragmatic. When good young writing talent comes into the field now it has no place to go to work. It must turn out formula drama, and therefore it becomes corrupted. Writers therefore eventually hope to become motion picture writers, or producers. It has become very difficult for a writer in television to prove himself to that point where he will be hired for a major motion picture. Television, as it is constituted now, is corrupting and therefore destroying talent. Is it so conditioning the audience to the results of this that eventually the audience will wholeheartedly accept an inferior product -which is the safest kind of product to turn out? I don't know. Maybe the primary comment to be made is that very few people who create television watch much of it.

Mr. Smith: They haven't the time -the desire -or what?

Mr. Monash: They haven't the desire.

Mr. Smith: Is TV discouraging to you? You've been in it since 1952. Does it seem less exciting to you now than it was then?

Mr. Monash: Yes, and I can't blame it entirely on television. When I first came in TV it was exciting. To be writing anything - I had not really been a writer just to sit down at a typewriter for seven hours was a challenge. And the money was pouring in. It was an exciting kind of money. It was new money. It was fresh money. I am not sure I wasn't like a child with a new toy. I don't remember when I became bored. Now it isn't a toy. And I am not a child. The game has become my business. And I am twelve years older.

COMMENT BY MR. MONASH I was interviewed by Cecil Smith some hours before the first episode of Peyton Place was to be aired. I felt quite apprehensive, and that apprehension is fully reflected in the interview. Because of that, I did not stress some of the creative opportunities which would make the continuing drama attractive to members of the Academy. I do believe that we are groping toward the television novel and that Peyton Place does indicate some of the possibilities of that eventual form. When television programming does permit its suppliers (and I am using the business word) to treat serious mateajal at length and in depth, it will become rewarding to TV's creative suppliers (and now I am using the gratifying word). I do feel that -somehow, someday- American television will begin to grow. If it does not, then many of us will have to grow ourselves, have to grow away from and apart from television. For most of us, of course, this is a gnawing concern.

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I'm currently watching the show (up to episode 328) and Wikipedia says Leslie Harrington last airs with ep. 417, but he wasn't even in that episode and now he's practically disappeared. Is Wiki right and Leslie got a non-exit, or is the site wrong and I just have to wait? If so, does anyone know when he does?

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As I continue to watch, I have managed to answer my own question. Leslie left town after Martin showed The Mill and Rodney and Betty remarried. I've updated the Wikipedia page to reflect his correct exit and that of Julie, who returned for the wedding and Constance and Eliot, who had a brief return with a phone call with Eli a few episodes after they had left town.

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PP TNG didnt fare well in the ratings and that was the end of that.

 

Did they not use the iconic outdoor set? It looks like some suburban mini mall...

Edited by Paul Raven

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A collection of some very fascinating short promos from various characters. That end music is hilarious -- I'll use it in my head as I make stunning announcements and revelations. Poor Dr. Rossi... he's so nice, his doesn't work quite that well.

 

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2 minutes ago, dc11786 said:

Shout! is releasing another round of episodes on March 31. I was expecting this. Hopefully, they will continue to release more episodes.

I saw the listing for it. I might pick it up even though I don't have the previous releases.

 

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5 hours ago, dc11786 said:

Shout! is releasing another round of episodes on March 31. I was expecting this. Hopefully, they will continue to release more episodes.

Great news. I torrented the first volume, so I guess I'll make honest and buy the first two in anticipation for this.

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OMG, it took them a whopping nine years to release volume three, but this is great news. Like continuing releases of FAMILY and ST. ELSEWHERE, I had given up on seeing new DVD boxsets of PEYTON PLACE. I am thrilled. At a running time of 825 minutes, we should be getting about 33 to 35 episodes, depending on whether they are the full broadcast versions or the edited-for-syndication ones (more likely).

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