Fame (1980)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Musical Drama, Prime-Time Drama [TV]  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States   |  
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Synopsis by Hal Erickson

Created by Christopher Gore and based on the 1980 movie hit of the same name, the weekly, hour-long musical drama series Fame was set in New York's famous High School of the Performing Arts, where gifted students prepared for careers as professional singers, dancers, and actors. Carried over from the movie version were Debbie Allen (who also directed and choreographed several episodes) as no-nonsene dancer instructor Lydia Grant, actor-composer Albert Hague as bearded, imperious music teacher Benjamin Shorofsky; Lee Curreri (who wrote most of the series' original songs) as music student Bruno Martelli and Gene Anthony as dance student Leroy Johnson, who in later years joined the school's faculty. Debuting January 7, 1982 on NBC, the series version of Fame featured scores of other regulars, many of whom went on to substantial show business careers. Among those introduced in Season One who appeared on the show for the longest period, were Erica Gimpel as singer-dancer Coco Hernandez, Carlo Imperato as aspiring stand-up comic Danny Amatulo P.R. Paul as drama student Montgomery McCall, Valerie Landsburg as wannabe actress-writer-director Doris Schwartz, Carol Mayo Jenkins as strict English teacher Elizabeth Sherwood and Ann Nelson as ditsy school secretary Mrs. Gertrude Berg. Several of the earliest episodes were told from the viewpoint of new student Julie Miller (Lori Singer), a cellist. Though a favorite of teenage viewers and extremely popular abroad--as witness the many "Kids from Fame" concerts performed all over the world by the leading players--Fame tanked in the ratings during its season and a half on NBC (ironically, it received five Emmies in this period, four in its first season alone). Cancelled by the network on August 4, 1983, it was brought back by popular demand on a locally syndicated basis by home studio MGM and LBS Communications in the fall of that same year, remaining in production for the next four seasons. Most of the regulars from the network Fame were retained for the syndicated version, with the exception of Lori Singer. Erica Gimpel (Coco) was active in the earliest syndicated episodes, but left midway through Season Three, returning for a handful of guest appearances later on. Inasmuch as the series was set in a high school, there was quite a bit of cast turnover over the next few years. Among the regulars who were most prominently featured were Cynthia Gibb as Holly Laird, Janet Jackson as Cleo Hewitt, Nia Peeples as Nicole Chapman, Jesse Borego as Jessie Velasquez, Billy Hufsey as Christopher Donlon, Page Hannah as Kate Riley, and Carrie Hamilton (the daughter of Carol Burnett) as Reggie Higgins. Because it was deemed necessary to add a "menace" to the syndicated version, Ken Swofford joined the cast as the school's obstreperous, rule-bound vice principal Quentin Morloch. Other "adult" characters seen in the non-network version were Dick Miller as Lou Mackie, owner of the kid's favorite hangout, Lou's Lanes; Graham Jarvis as Morloch's replacement, Principal Dyrenforth; and Eric Pierpoint as drama teacher Paul Seeger, the successor to previous drama instructors Mr. Crandall (played by Michael Thoma, who died at the beginning of season two) and Mr. Reardon (Morgan Stevens). The format of the series adhered closely to that of the original movie: Straightforward dramatic plotlines, punctuated by exuberant musical numbers and elaborate student-staged productions (never mind that the real High School of the Performing Arts never put on such productions, much less "starred" the same students week after week!) At first, the series was fairly realistic, dealing with the genuine triumphs and heartbreaks of show business; gradually, the stories grew more and more exaggerated and fantastic, incorporating broad takeoffs of "The Wizard of Oz", "The Prisoner of Zenda", "Cyrano de Bergerac" and the "Sherlock Holmes" canon. Many of best-received episodes were plotless documentaries, culled from actual "Kids from 'Fame'" concert footage. The last first-run episode of Fame was telecast in 1987. Ten years later the property was briefly revived by another syndicated series, Fame LA; and in the early 21st century, the show was reformatted as an American Idol-style talent show, with Debbie Allen returning to host the festivities.