Beacon Hill (lost television soap opera; 1975)
Beacon Hill is an hour-long television soap opera series that aired Tuesday nights on CBS from August 25th to November 4th of 1975. The show's idea came from Beryl Vertue, the creator of Emmy award-winning British television series Upstairs, Downstairs, who decided to create an Americanized version of the show and then sold it to Robert Stigwood Co., which in turn leased it to CBS for $200,000 (about $954,000 adjusted for inflation as of October 2019).
While seemingly originally set to only be 90 minutes long, the two-hour premiere of the series was broadcast ahead of the set September 8th season start in order to better compete with rival networks ABC and NBC. ABC's president, Fred Silverman, had previously worked with Beacon Hill while as a CBS chief executive, and decided he wanted to challenge the series by airing a rerun of the popular television movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden in the same time slot. Strategically being aired during a baseball game on NBC, and despite the challenge presented by Fred Silverman, the premiere was a hit with audiences garnering 42% viewership for that time slot (60% in Boston where the show was staged), and becoming the highest-rated program in the country.
Despite the series starting off well with its September 2nd broadcast also being the top of its time slot, it began to slump to third in its spot when the new competition came from ABC and NBC with Marcus Welby, M.D. and Joe Forrester respectively, gaining only 27 percent of television audiences in comparison to Joe Forrester which had 36% viewership. Due to this competition, multiple ideas were brought forward in order to increase ratings. One of these was to introduce Jean Marsh from Upstairs, Downstairs as a cast member.
CBS also had the idea to swap the show's time slot with Kate McShane, as both series were low in the Nielsens rating system at 64th and 62nd respectively out of 70 spots. It was believed that since Kate McShane was a legal drama, it would benefit going against Joe Forrester which was a police drama rather than rival lawyer show Petrocelli, and that Beacon Hill would be better off airing after CBS' Cannon that aired before Kate McShane since it had higher ratings at the time than Switch, which aired before Beacon Hill in its current time slot. Due to a slight increase in ratings for the show, however, CBS held back on the decision to swap the two series until after their announcement to cancel the show entirely alongside Three for the Road.
Many factors were involved in the show's low ratings. Some criticized Beryl Vertue for making the show too British, as it was felt that the show didn't have an American feel to its humor and entertainment. Beryl Vertue stated that the American television scene was twice as fast as what she was used to in Britain. Others saw it to be simply an older version of Peyton Place. Especially in Boston, people criticized the historical inaccuracies presented in the show. Some stated the series would have been better focusing on the chauffeur, and that it wasn't as similar to Upstairs, Downstairs as they had hoped. Lastly, some found the series' to air too late, it's advertising to be too pushed coming off in a touted manner, and that there were too many characters to follow. Due to this plethora of possible factors, CBS decided to air episodes in front of a live studio audience after cancellation in order to determine where the issues lied.
The show was a financial failure for CBS as it had cost anywhere between $500,000 and $900,000 for the pilot as well as an estimated $200,000 extra for each of the thirteen episodes produced. However, despite this, it was notable for bringing series production back to New York City, as well as being the first series to regularly include a viewer discretion warning.
Plot Synopsis[edit | edit source]
The series follows the Lassiter family, a Catholic Irish family who live in Louisberg Square on Beacon Hill in 1920's Boston. The family has many servants that work for them including cooks, butlers, chauffeurs, and house cleaners, and the series revolves around the clash between the family and workers, which can be separated into the "Upstairs" and "Downstairs" portions, highlighting class distinctions.
Availability[edit | edit source]
To date, no footage of the series has surfaced online. However, the pilot episode is held at the UCLA Film and Television Archive with a promo also being held in the Paley Centre for Media Collections.
See Also[edit | edit source]
- Executive Suite (partially found television soap opera; 1976-1977)
- Kate McShane (partially found legal drama series; 1975)
References[edit | edit source]
- An article stating the series' cancellation on November 4th, as well as mentioning the possible cost of the pilot and reasons for cancellation. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article showcasing how the series was sold to CBS, as well as disproving rumors associated with the show, and showcasing the casting. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article from January of 1975 stating that the production crew of the series was working on a 90-minute premiere at the time. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article stating that Fred Silverman was wanting to challenge the series with a TV movie. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article describing the strategic airing of the premiere, and how it garnered 42% of the total television audience for that time slot. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A newspaper article stating the high viewership for the show's premiere in Boston, as well as criticisms for its historical inaccuracies. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article describing the show has the nation's highest-rated when it first premiered. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article showcasing the show's slump to third in its slot. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article describing the first troubles the series had once it faced actual competition. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article describing that the show had introduced Jean Marsh as a new cast member to the series. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A page describing the thought process of the scheduling swap with Kate McShane. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A newspaper article describing the success of Phyllis and Joe Forrester, stating CBS' decision not to swap the show with Kate McShane. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- CBS making its announcement that it would cancel the series due to low ratings. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article showcasing the programming swap after the announced cancellation. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A criticism of the shows humor and overall feel, with comparisons to Peyton Place. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A page looking at Paul Rudd's character, and how the series would have been better focussing on him. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- A comic mocking the size of the show's cast. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- The Upstairs, Downstairs website page for Beacon Hill which has excerpts describing the cost of the show and the viewer discretion warnings. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- An article mentioning the production in New York. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- The UCLA holding for the pilot. Retrieved 24 Oct '19
- The promo held by the Paley Centre for Media. Retrieved 24 Oct '19