Home Television Drama Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich Man, Poor Man

1 9 7 6 – 1 9 7 7 (USA)
Book 1: 9 x 60/120 minute episodes
Book 2: 21 x 60 minute episodes

One of the first American television miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man aired on ABC from 1 February to 15 March 1976.

Adapted from the best-selling 1970 Irwin Shaw novel, Rich Man, Poor Man was a limited twelve-part dramatic series consisting of six two-hour prime-time made for television movies.

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The televised novel chronicled the lives of the first-generation immigrant Jordache family.

The story focused on the tumultuous relationship between brothers, Rudy (Peter Strauss) and Tom Jordache (Nick Nolte), as they suffered through 20 years (1945-65) of conflict, jealousy, and heartbreak.

The serial was enormously successful, leading the weekly ratings and ending as the second-highest-rated show for the 1976-77 television season.

Along with its enormous audience popularity, it also garnered critical praise, reaping 20 Emmy nominations and winning four – two for acting achievement, one for directing, and one for the musical score.

The success of Rich Man, Poor Man hinged on its employment of several innovative techniques. The narrative struck a unique combination which contained both the lavish film-style production values of prestigious special event programming while relying upon the “habit viewing” characteristic of a weekly series.

Also, by utilising historical backdrops like McCarthyism, the Korean War, campus riots, and the Black Revolution, Rich Man, Poor Man suggested larger circumstances than those usually found in a traditional soap opera.

However, the limited series also liberally applied a range of risqué melodramatic topics including adultery, power struggles, and alcoholism. Another inventive concept introduced was the use of multiple, revolving guest stars throughout the series.

While the three principal cast members were relatively unknown at the time, shuffling better-known actors throughout the six-part series was a way to maintain interest and achieve some form of ratings insurance on the six-million dollar venture.

By invigorating the concept of adapting novels into television miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man began a rapid proliferation of similar prime-time programming, including a sequel.

The continuation, Rich Man, Poor Man – Book II, was a twenty-one part weekly series that aired in the fall of 1976 and followed brother Rudy’s further career as a US Senator. In the last original episode, Rudy and Falconetti (William Smith) faced each other with guns in hand and shot it out, apparently leaving the two of them lying bleeding to death on a sidewalk.

A further sequel, Beggar Man, Thief (1978) introduced the Jordache’s previously unmentioned sister, Gretchen.

Although the sequels were not as successful as their predecessor, the idea of extended televised adaptations of popular novels quickly became a component of network schedules.

In the season following the debut of Rich Man, Poor Man, all major networks scheduled at least one miniseries, including an adaptation of Harold Robbins’ The Pirates and Alex Haley’s historical epic Roots.

Rudy Jordache 
Peter Strauss
Tom Jordache 

Nick Nolte
Julie Prescott Abbott Jordache
Susan Blakely
Axel Jordache 

Edward Asner
Mary Jordache 

Dorothy McGuire
Willie Abbott 

Bill Bixby
Duncan Calderwood 

Ray Milland
Teddy Boylan 

Robert Reed
Virginia Calderwood 

Kim Darby
Sue Prescott 

Gloria Grahame
Asher Berg 

Craig Stevens
Joey Quales 

George Maharis
Linda Quales 

Lynda Day
George Nichols 

Steve Allen
Smitty 

Norman Fell
Teresa Sanjoro 

Talia Shire
Marsh Goodwin 

Van Johnson
Irene Goodwin 

Dorothy Malone
Kate Jordache 

Kay Lenz
Sid Gossett 

Murray Hamilton
Arnold Simms 

Mike Evans
Al Fanducci 

Dick Butkus
Clothilde 

Fionnula Flanagan
Brad Knight 

Tim McIntire
Bill Denton 

Lawrence Pressman
Claude Tinker 

Dennis Dugan
Gloria Bartley 

Jo Ann Harris
Pete Tierney 

Roy Jenson
Lou Martin 

Anthony Carbone
Papadakis 

Ed Barth
Ray Dwyer 

Herbert Jefferson Jr
Arthur Falconetti 

William Smith
Col. Deiner 

Andrew Duggan
Pinky 

Harvey Jason
Martha 

Helen Craig
Phil McGee 

Gavan O’Herlihy
Billy 

Leigh McCloskey
Wesley Jordache 

Gregg Henry
Billy Abbott 

James Carroll Jordan
Maggie Porter 

Susan Sullivan
Arthur Falconetti 

William Smith
Marie Falconetti 

Dimitra Arliss
Ramona Scott 

Penny Peyser
Scotty 

John Anderson
Charles Estep 

Peter Haskell
Phil Greenberg 

Sorrell Brooke
Annie Adams 

Cassie Yates
Diane Porter 

Kimberly Beck
Arthur Raymond 

Peter Donat
Claire Estep 

Laraine Stephens
Senator Paxton 

Barry Sullivan
Kate Jordache 

Kay Lenz
John Franklin 

Philip Abbott
Max Vincent 

George Gaynes
Al Barber 

Ken Swofford
Senator Dillon 

G. D. Spradlin