This mammoth TV miniseries, based on the best-selling novel by Colleen McCullough, proved to be a ratings bonanza; indeed, its viewership was surpassed only by the 1978 blockbuster Roots. Set in Australia, the story covers 42 years in the life of Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain), a Roman Catholic priest engaged in a constant struggle between his calling and his carnal desires. The women in de Bricassart's life include Meggie Cleary (Rachel Ward, in her first American TV role) and Meggie's iron-willed grandmother Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck). Also in the cast are Jean Simmons and Richard Kiley as the Clearys, Sydney Penny as the young Meggie, Bryan Brown as Luke O'Neill, Mare Winningham as Justine (Meggie's daughter) and Christopher Plummer as the Archbishop. This 4-part, 10-hour presentation earned an Emmy award for Barbara Stanwyck, and Golden Globes for Stanwyck and Richard Chamberlain. Originally telecast March 27 through March 30, 1983, The Thorn Birds was followed 13 years later by The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years, again starring Richard Chamberlain.
by Hal Erickson synopsis