Continuing my look at Civil War related television shows with the 1980s.
The 1980s saw the presidency of Ronald Reagan and a return to “traditional American values.” However, this decade also saw the fewest number of Civil War related television programs to date.
The decade’s first program was 1982’s The Blue & the Gray. This three part CBS miniseries was shot entirely in Arkansas and featured an all-star cast that included Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges, and Gregory Peck as Abraham Lincoln. It was written in part by famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton.
The plot revolves around the families of two sisters, one who lives in Pennsylvania and the other in Virginia. The family is divided by the war, but still remains close to each other. The families also have an amazing knack for having a family member being at almost every major event of the war.
The project fulfilled a long time dream for Peck, who had always wanted to play Lincoln, but the then 66-year old actor was concerned about taking the role as he was a decade older than Lincoln was at the time of his death.
Another 1982 production was The Shadow Riders. Base on the Louis L’Amour novel, this made-for-television move also aired on CBS and starred one of its biggest stars at the time, Tom Selleck with Sam Elliot and Katherine Ross. Selleck and Elliot play two brothers who fought on opposites sides during the Civil War. After the war they return to Texas only to discover that Confederate rebels have kidnapped their family. (Though set in Texas, the film was made entirely in California.)
Arguably, the most ambitious Civil War related television project to date was ABC’s The North and South trilogy. The nine-hour Part One aired in 1985. Part II, also nine hours, aired in 1986 and the four and a half hour Part III (subtitled Heaven and Hell) aired in 1994. Produced in part by David L. Woper, these mini-series were based on the North and South books by historical novelist John Jakes. They featured an all-star cast that included Patrick Swayze, Leslie-Anne Down, a pre-Star Trek Jonathan Frakes and his future real-life wife Genie Francis, with Hal Holbrook again playing Abraham Lincoln. Much of the filming took place in Charleston, S.C.
Part One deals with the lives of two West Point cadets, Orry and Charles, one from South Carolina, the other from Pennsylvania who despite obstacles and the coming war, become fast friends. Part one ends with the start of the Civil War.
Part Two deals with the issues the two men face both militarily and personally during the war. It ends with the two men staring at the ruins of Orry’s plantation , with George promising to renew their friendship and help Orry rebuild his life.
Part Three starts with the murder of Orry. George’s desire to find justice for the murder during the turmoil of Reconstruction is the basis for this mini-series.
Parts one and two received excellent reviews, high ratings and combined for 10 Emmy nominations. Part Three received poor reviews and the ratings suffered.
The last production of the 1980s was Lincoln based on the novel by Gore Vidal. Shot in entirely in Richmond, Va. for $8 million dollars this mini-series starred Sam Waterson as the 16th president and Mary Tyler Moore as Mrs. Lincoln. This 188 minute production about Lincoln’s presidency was nominated for seven Emmys, winning “Best Director” award for Lamont Johnson, though many faulted the film for historical inaccuracies.
Though the 80s were famine for Civil War television events, the next decade would be a feast. Stay tuned!