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.
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.
Julie Prescott Abbott Jordache
Jo Ann Harris
Herbert Jefferson Jr
James Carroll Jordan
G. D. Spradlin