The expensively mounted miniseries North and South was originally telecast in six two-hour installments between November 3 and 10, 1985. Four screenwriters--Douglas Heyes, Paul F. Edwards, Kathleen A. Shelley, Patricia Green--were called upon to fashion a workable script from John Jakes' sprawling best-seller. The story covers the two decades prior to the Civil War, beginning in 1842. Real-life historical events are filtered through the eyes of two rival clans: the Mains, a South Carolina plantation-owning family, and the Hazards, a family of Pennsylvania industrialists. While top billing goes to Kirstie Alley as "Northern Belle" Virgilia Hazard, most of the footage is devoted to the fluctuating friendship between Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) and George Hazard (James Read). The huge guest-star cast includes Gene Kelly (in his TV miniseries debut), Elizabeth Taylor, Leslie-Anne Down, David Carradine, Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Hal Holbrook (as Abe Lincoln) and Johnny Cash (as abolitionist John Brown). The recipient of seven Emmy nominations, the 561-minute North and South was filmed back to back with its equally lengthy sequel, North and South, Book II.
by Hal Erickson synopsis