Ah, the American television miniseries. What was once commonplace on network TV has become a relic of the past, a fleeting reminder that before reality TV filled every empty slot on a network’s schedule that profound and intelligent television used to exist. Most people know the names of a few of these miniseries: Roots, The Thornbirds, and Lonesome Dove just came to mind.
But there always has to be the one that started it all.
Rich Man, Poor Man is that miniseries. A two-part, thirty-four chapter anthology that first aired on ABC in February of 1976 (Chapters 1-12), it would be followed in September by Book II, which aired from September 1976 through March of 1977. Needless to say this was an extensive broadcast risk that ended up paying off in the long run and created a whole new genre for TV viewers to tune into.
Rich Man, Poor Man is a compelling and at times heart-wrenching miniseries about two brothers out to achieve the American Dream. While one finds success, the other encounters a series of failures that make him question what that Dream really is. It’s a story that spans decades in these two brothers lives taking them from the end of World War II through the tumultuous times of the 60s.
A young Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss star as the two brothers Tom and Rudy Jordache, German immigrants out to make America the land of opportunity they believe it to be. Their hardships, struggles, conflicts, and successes became the subject of discussions and debates over the course of the miniseries much like people do with reality shows today.
Fans of classic TV shows will enjoy watching a veritable Who’s Who of TV and film stars who pop up throughout the miniseries, including: Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk), Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch), Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Norman Fell (Three’s Company), Talia Shire (Rocky), Dick Sargent (Bewitched), and many, many more!
While it would have been cool to see a retrospective featurette with the still-living cast, you do get an insightful and informative commentary on Book One, Chapter One with Peter Strauss (Rudy Jordache) and Television Historian David Bianculli.
For an excellent miniseries, I recommend the award-winning Rich Man, Poor Man. And, if you’re feeling ambitious, read the Irwin Shaw novel that the miniseries is based on first, then watch the miniseries, then write a compare and contrast essay about the differences and similarities between the two versions. It’s worth 100 points, grammar and spelling count.
Rich Man, Poor Man is available NOW on DVD!