Hotel: Season 1
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Hotel: Season 1

There are a lot of people who look down upon the venerable television known as the soap opera or more commonly just the soaps. There are frequently accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator of the population; that only lonely housewives and shut-ins become fans of this format. The fact of the matter is this is actually a respectable and rather difficult genre to master. One fact remains consistent no matter what your overall opinion of soaps may be is this is one of the most addictive format possible. Although the genre began as afternoon programming that could fill in the time for homemakers between finishing their daily chores and starting the family dinner. During this hour or so those housewives needed to escape their mundane lives to one of excitement and romance. As more homemakers left their homes to work outside the networks began to realize to inherent power of this type of series and began to create prime time soaps. True to form these quickly became the most popular series around and broadened the fan base to include the men in the household. All over the nation people would gather around the water cooler at work to discuss the latest exploits in their ‘stories’. This format was merged with another popular format, the anthology serieswo resulting in one of the hits of the eighties, ‘Hotel’. It used its standing core cast for blended ‘continuing’ story lines which were then merged via guest stars with episodic, usually romantic episodic stories. While it never rivaled ratings juggernauts such as ‘Dynasty ‘or ‘Dallas ‘it did manage to garner a loyal fan base and remain on the air for five season starting in this series has joined the growing list of classic television season sets on DVD thanks to CBS Paramount.

This series came from a producer who ruled the airwaves for decades; Aaron Spelling. He was the undisputed king of popular television in the seventies and eighties. ’Hotel’ was given a golden time slot directly following Dynasty to provide a well used boost in audience numbers. The fundamental premise was loosely based on the novel by the same name from Arthur Hailey. This book also served as the basis for a popular movie in the sixties. Many have referred to this series as the Love Boat in dry dock. The underlying premise remains basically the same. You take a location conducive to the intersection of many lives and have these stories play out interwoven with the drama of those there to serve the rich and powerful guests. The setting used here is perfect; the fictitious St. Gregory Hotel in San Francisco. It is the epitome of old world charm, grace and elegance with a long reputation of catering to the whims of the wealthy and powerful. Sure this series is contrived and all too frequently corny but those are exactly the attributes that make this do much fun to watch. This is a guilty pleasure that still holds up decades later.

Some of the more soap opera like aspects here is in the initial setup. In order to forge a connection to the novel and movie they have the owner of the hotel as Mrs. Laura Trent (Bette Davis) as the widow of the owner in the film. After the first episode Ms Davis fell ill and never returned. She was replaced by Anne Baxter playing the late husband’s half sister. Complex family relationships are common in the soap world but are thankfully not over used here. Instead the running story lines are distributed among the core cast of characters. The owner may be important but the daily operation of the establishment falls to the General Manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin). It is up to him and his staff to keep the grand hotel running smoothly and the guests happy. It falls on him to make sure those checking check out happy and most of the time with a significant other. At one point he becomes romantically involved with another senior staff member Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca). Her job was as the promotions manager; making sure the various functions of the hotel proceeded without a hitch. Both Sellecca and Brolin were already veterans of television; she was a regular on the cult classic ‘Greatest American Hero’. Brolin would go on to marry Barbra Streisand and his oldest so Josh would become an award winning actor on his own. At this time James was an established TV heart throb on shows like ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ the junior staff of the hotel provides a twofold purpose. First it opens up some of the running plot lines involving the central cast and it allows for the interaction with the guest stars of the week. Helping to promote the hotel is Mark Danning (Shea Farrell), the public relations director. He is naturally outgoing and charming. In order to add a little touch of adventure there is the head of security, Billy Griffin (Nathan Cook), a former professional con-man. Young love is represented by the married couple Dave Kendall (Michael Spound) and his bride Megan (Heidi Bohay). He works as a Bellhop and she is at the front desk. Both positions allow for direct contact with the guests. One of the other cast members who would appear in every episode was Shari Belafonte who portrayed receptionist Julie Gillette. One thing that worked well with this series was ho the focus extended to regular working people that the audience could readily identify with.

The core of each episode was the guest stars fir that week. Like other romance driven anthology series like the ‘Love Boat’ or ‘Love American Style’ the romantic entanglements were frequently contrived and almost always featured star that were still recognizable although somewhat past their prime. In the stories here do have some comic relief but generally are presented in a more dramatic vein. Overall the series holds up extremely well and is still entertaining.

Posted 07/21/09

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