The era of the primetime television soap opera reached its zenith in 1984 with the Moldavian massacre; the ‘84/’85 season cliffhanger to Aaron Spelling’s glam-bam zeitgeist, Dynasty (1981-89): the highest rated episode of this perennial favorite – triumphing in the Nielsen’s over the iconoclastic Dallas(1978-91). The eclipse cannot be overstated; Dynasty’s pop-opera catching the tail fire of the eighties spend/spend like there’s no tomorrow mentality, influencing fashion trends (everything from costume designer, Nolan Miller’s huge shoulder pads and turbans for women, to After Eight’s line of tuxedoes, jewelry and perfumes), even causing the Chrysler Corp. to christen a car in its honor. Alas, Dynasty was not nearly as sure-footed the following year, in part due to writers, Richard and Esther Shapiro’s inexplicable loss of interest in the series. Sloppy writing and ever-revolving forgettable introductions of new cast members (who failed to have the same impact as the show’s ensconced and high-priced main staples) began to take its toll. Regrettably, at a time when Dynasty could scarcely afford any more shakeups, ABC, Spelling and the Shapiros elected to split the series’ cast and its on-going storylines down the middle to launch a spinoff series; effectively sounding the death knell for Dynastyproper and, in hindsight, its offspring: Dynasty II: The Colbys.
Whereas criticisms lobbed at Dynasty had once labeled it a Dallas knockoff and wannabe, merely relocating the oil baron milieu from Texas to Colorado, these same critics now eviscerated The Colbysas ‘a clone’ rather than a spinoff. The comparisons between Dynasty and The Colbys are, in fact, fairly transparent and formulaic (right down to the mimicked main titles, both employing the same visual style; each underscored with appropriate bombast by maestro extraordinaire, Bill Conti). Nevertheless, as a series apart, as well as one subservient to its parent, The Colbysis more than serviceable, and, in many ways, bettering its predecessor: the head of this dynastic family, Jason Colby (Charlton Heston) copycatting the mannerisms of John Forsythe (a.k.a. Blake Carrington) on Dynasty: his household ruled by a demonstrative female, Sable (shades of Joan Collins’ Alexis in the luxuriating Stephanie Beacham, kitten-faced and cultured, but with a serpent’s tongue) and her brood of spoilt rich heirs; twins – polo-playing playboy, Miles (British born, Maxwell Caufield, affecting a southern California accent as the flaxen haired and well-muscled brute) and aspiring entrepreneur, Monica Scott Colby (the uncharacteristically antiseptic, Tracy Scoggins); also, their youngest, adolescently vamp, Bliss (fumbled with pouty resolve by Claire Yarlett). Nevertheless, The Colbys is hardly a clone of Dynasty – particularly in its casting of Barbara Stanwyck to play Jason’s headstrong elder sister, Constance, and introducing the suave, Ricardo Montalban as a reoccurring ‘guest’(actually a main staple, his ‘guest’ billing a curiosity), as the devious usurper to Jason’s empire; millionaire, Zach Powers. Despite its rough start with critics, The Colbys proved a People’s Choice favorite in its first season even as it entered the ratings game an abysmal #35 on the venerable Nielsen’s; the Bible by which all level of success is measured.
It did not help the show’s reputation Stanwyck took exception to the series in general and her role as the matriarch in particular almost from the moment her signature had dried on the contract. After only one season, Stanwyck openly shared her contempt for The Colbys with the press, calling it ‘a turkey’ and informing Esther Shapiro, ‘This is the biggest pile of garbage I’ve ever done! It's one thing to know you're making a lot of money off vulgarity, but when you don't know it's vulgar - it's plain stupid!’ In hindsight, Stanwyck’s admonishment of The Colbys seems grossly unmerited. Granted, Stanwyck had been the grand lady of many a class act during her Hollywood heyday. But The Colbys was not so far down a rung on that ladder to incur her ire. Charlton Heston always upheld the show’s failure had more to do with the cost to produce it than the quality of its storylines; suggesting it had been prematurely submarined by ABC; the network exploiting The Colbys to regain its market share on Dynasty before moving its’ time slot from Wednesday nights, immediately following Dynasty, to Thursdays during its mid-run, pitting its fledgling popularity against NBC’s galvanized ‘must see’ franchises: Cheers and The Cosby Show. Had The Colbys continued for a third season, one shudders to think how Fallon’s (Emma Samms) alien abduction would have been resolved. Yet, until this ill-realized and even more woefully transparent rip off of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) there was much to admire, absorb and become absorbed by in the plushly romantic and political machinations inveigling this well-healed Californian clan; the Shapiro’s throwing their backs out to deliver a tightly scripted, taut and tantalizing first season of sin, sex and drama. What likely spelled the kiss of death for the series is the Shapiro’s inability to completely untether The Colbys from Dynasty; (even referring to it in the credits as Dynasty II: The Colbys for the first four episodes) the continuous ‘crossover’ of various characters and plot lines increasingly creating a clumsy disconnect between the two series.
To follow either series meant one had to be religiously invested in both; particularly with the whole, Fallon (a.k.a. Randall Adams), Jeff, Miles lover’s triangle, begun all the way back on Dynasty’s Season 3 cliffhanger, when Fallon (then played by Pamela Sue Martin), suffering from cryptic headaches, suddenly chose to escape from her own second wedding to Jeff by driving her sports car off a nearby cliff to her fiery death in a torrential rain storm. Inevitably, these rumors were greatly exaggerated. For Jeff, having pursued an investigation into Fallon’s disappearance on Dynasty, when everyone else – including her own father – firmly believed she was dead, later learned of Fallon’s survival, it seems, only to have died again; this time in a terrible ‘off camera’ plane crash with drug dealer, Peter De Vilbis (Helmut Berger). At the end of Dynasty’s Season 5, a mysterious woman calling herself Randall Adams (Fallon, now played by Emma Samms, and suffering from amnesia) resurfaced briefly in Denver while the family was away for the royal wedding of estranged daughter, Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg); later, discovered by Colby heir, Miles (Maxwell Caulfield) and immediately swept away to California on a whirlwind love affair, culminating in Miles and Fallon’s elopement and her reappearing as his bride on the series debut of The Colbys.
When Dynasty resumed for its sixth season, it was queerly minus both Emma Samms and actor, John James (the good son-in-law, Jeff Colby), the pair absconding over to The Colbys to fatten their roster; also, presumably, to ease the new series into audience acceptance by breathing into it an air of instant familiarity. Initially, the series had been designed to headline John James, the actor accepting star-billing, but at a considerable salary roll back. However, when producer, Aaron Spelling informed James, Chuck Heston would be the first name after the main title James used this as leverage to renegotiate the terms of his contract, eventually getting the same salary as he had been receiving on Dynasty. The Colbys is, in fact, exceptionally well cast. Despite the fact virtually all remaining members were new to this Dynasty spinoff everyone fits their assigned parts. Better still, The Colbysdid not suffer from the ennui presently afflicting Dynasty from its sixth season onward; its’ storylines fresher and mostly engaging – especially the dynamic crumbling relationship between Jason and Sable; he, having always loved her sister, Francesca ‘Frankie’ (Katharine Ross), and Sable, attempting to use Zach Powers as a buffer to bolster a streak of jealousy in Jason in order to win him back. Rumors abounded Philip Colby (Michael Parks), presumed dead in Viet Nam during the war (but resurfacing to bring a new round of chaos down on Jason’s house at the end of Season Two), had known all along of Jason’s affair with his wife and the fact Jeff was not his son. The contents of this revelation is first discovered in a letter Sable uses to blackmail Constance to relinquish her shares of Colby Co. back to the family – Sable, presuming Jeff is not a Colby and therefore not entitled to controlling stock in the company.
Regrettably for The Colbys, the series’ subordinate romances and subplots to these aforementioned primaries lacked staying power and consistency: Constance, forsaking the family honor in her emeritus years for a budding love affair with retired cowboy, Henry ‘Hutch’ Corrigan (Joseph Campanella), the pair conveniently dying in a helicopter crash long after Stanwyck had already left the series; Bliss’ periodic rendezvous with environmentalist, Sean McAllister (Charles Van Eman) - who also happens to be Zach Powers nephew and a spy - going nowhere fast (ditto for her flawed amour with Russian defector/ballet dancer, Kolya Nikolai Rostov, played with ineffectual lust and a truly laughable accent by Adrian Paul). Also as filler, there was Monica’s impromptu fling with record producer, Neil Kittredge (Philip Brown); the two beginning as adversaries, forced to work together after Dominque Devereux (Diahann Carroll, thoroughly wasted on both Dynasty and The Colbysas a ‘fringe’ character) hired Monica as a rival Vice President for her label, Titania Records. Alas, this ended rather abruptly after Monica discovers Neil is already married and Dominique all but disappeared from both The Colbys and Dynasty after selling off Titania. Add to this already convoluted mix, Jason’s high-powered attorney, Garrett Boydston’s (Ken Howard, another holdover from Dynasty) romp with Blake’s half-sister, and The Colbysinevitably had to fail, or at least fall short of expectations.
However, until its penultimate Season Two implosion, it is the writing on The Colbys one sincerely admires upon a renewed viewing and especially in light of the chronic narrative mess that was Dynasty proper; the Shapiro’s badly mangled introduction of a homosexual character, Steven Carrington (first played by Al Corley and later, Jack Coleman) into their rich and famous milieu; then, chronically resisting to go all the way, and frequently forcing Steven into a befuddling flagrante delicto with Krystal’s (Linda Evans) niece, Sammy-Jo (Heather Locklear). Dynastywas almost as notorious for jettisoning pivotal plots and key characters at the height of their popularity; Alexis’ sister, Caress (played with impeccable malice by Kate O’Mara) or Dr. Nick Toscani (James Farantino as a formidable baddie), or simply losing interest in other characters that had begun as strong new arrivals: the aforementioned, Dominique and Blake’s brother, Ben (Christopher Cazenove) simply falling by the waste side.
One tends to look upon favorite TV shows with very thick rose-tinted lenses. Alas, Dynasty’s storylines were usually subpar to its universal appeal as a fashionista’s wet dream. If anything, with a budget roughly identical to what it cost producers, Cliff Fenneman and Leonard Katzman to create an entire episode of Dallas, Dynasty’s costumier, Nolan Miller excelled at offering audiences style over substance; Dynasty’s viewership driven by the female market. The Colbys is every bit as lavishly appointed as its predecessor – perhaps even more so; producer, Aaron Spelling even offering up his own gleaming white Bel Air family compound as the fictional billionaire’s estate, with interior sets constructed on the Paramount Studios back lot. Unlike Dynasty, however, The Colbys offers up equal opportunity sexism, fraught with lush dollops of Oedipal oddities; chiefly, in Miles bizarre ‘relationship’ with his mother, Sable. She dotes on him, as any good mother should. But she also likes to massage his robust shoulders, hold him close to her around the waste and wipe off his well-muscled body after a few testosterone-inducing laps around the family’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. He, in turn, is slavishly devoted to her happiness; disenfranchising Jason almost immediately after discovering dad’s flirtations with Francesca and thereafter becoming tortured as a jilted suitor might, transferring his inability to inform Sable her marriage is on the rocks into a drunken seduction of Fallon, who, having regained her memory, has decided to seek an annulment from Miles to once again – and forever after – pursue Jeff. Ah me, the rich certainly do have their dalliances cut out for them.
As a series, The Colbys opens strong with Jeff’s arrival in California; come to claim Aunt Constance’s shares in the company and begin his alliance at Colby Co. as an equal partner. Jason’s benevolence as the self-appointed patriarch of this family owned empire rubs Jeff’s fur the wrong way. He is belligerent and somewhat standoffish toward Jason. It’s an interesting twist on a character we thought we knew; the conservative and introspective, Jeff Colby begun as Fallon’s milquetoast suitor on Dynasty while she was still involved with his uncle, Cecil (Lloyd Bochner), even as he was preparing to marry her mother, Alexis (Joan Collins). Adding a brusque girth to Jeff’s congenial nature is perhaps giving more to the character than nature will allow and subsequently, Jeff retreats to his former, more giving self; genuinely concerned to discover he may not be a Colby after all. But before this revelation, Miles arrives home with his new bride – Fallon (a.k.a. Randall). She has no memory of Denver or her former life with Jeff. But Jeff is immediately dumbstruck with jealousy, threatening Miles and later engaging in several skirmishes – including one with Adam Carrington (Gordon Thomson) after Fallon has a momentary relapse and erroneously accuses Adam of having raped her in Denver – thus, inducing her amnesia and contributing to her flight from Jeff on their wedding day. Blake flies out to California in the hopes of jogging Fallon’s memory. It doesn’t work, however, and the family hires a benevolent psychiatrist, Dr. James Parris (Ray Stricklyn) to intervene and ease Fallon back into her former self. In the meantime, Sable has invited her estranged sister, Francesca, back into the family compound – unaware of her enduring romantic interests in Jason, and chiefly to throw a wrench into Jeff’s comfortableness since he is under the false assumption Francesca willingly gave him up shortly after birth, simply to live the good life without being saddle-bagged with a child after the premature death of her husband, Philip.
Fallon is shaken to recall her past when Jeff brings their son, L.B. (Ashley Mutrux) for a visit. The child shows Fallon pictures of ‘his mother’. Meanwhile, Miles has grown intolerant of Jeff’s meddling in his marriage. One should truly feel sorry for Miles; a hot-headed and arrogant gadabout brought to maturity by a good woman who is then plucked from his midst by this interloper from her past. Alas, Miles regresses to his former self; too cocky and self-assured; believing a good grope or forced sexual encounter will reignite Fallon’s love for him. It does not. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Bliss is lazily cavorting with Sean McAllister, an environmentalist who has actually begun their affair to gain insight into Jason’s South China Seas oil deal with Denver-Carrington. Although Jason vows never to do business with Zach Powers, he is strong-armed into accepting a deal after Blake (John Forsythe) demands a new fleet of super tankers set sail for the Orient immediately. Since Jason cannot manage the overhead alone, Zach comes on board. But Zach wants more than an alliance. He wants it all, orchestrating the spill by bribing Nikos Lavados (Titos Vandis), the captain of one of Jason’s ships, to deliberately leak the oil into San Miguel Harbor in order to ignite fervor against Colby Co. and gain control of the entire deal for himself. Jason soon realizes Lavados has a checkered past and orders Jeff to pursue him to Greece. Regrettably, Jeff gets to Athens too late, discovering Lavados has been murdered.
Meanwhile, Miles, disguised as a ship’s first mate, attempts to liquor up and interview one of the engineers, Bill Mahoney (Steve Eastin) who helped Lavados dump the oil. Mahoney is no fool, however, and a brawl ensues. Sometime later, Mahoney’s body washes up in the surf, the police suspecting Miles as his killer. Next, Miles catches Francesca and Jason together at the Five Oaks Inn after she has already elected to leave California and return to London where a proposal of marriage from an ardent admirer, Lord Roger Langdon (David Hedison) is already in the works. Back in Los Angeles, Dominique recognizes a need in Jason’s eldest daughter, Monica, to prove herself as an executive. Monica certainly won’t get any nepotism from daddy. In fact, in matters of politics and business Jason is pretty much a dinosaur, preferring the ole boy’s club. Monica jumps ship at the first possible opportunity to manage Titania Records for Dominque. Almost immediately, she comes into conflict with the other VP, Neil Kittredge over the signing of a new country/western singer, Wayne Masterson (Gary Morris) who just happens to be blind. Monica’s devotion to Wayne’s career gets more personal. But even before this can happen, Neil is put off by the time and moneys Monica is lavishing on Wayne’s career. He should talk. He’s already married, devious in his seduction of Monica – basically, to procure a ‘leg up’ in business as well as pleasure.
Sable becomes obsessed with purchasing a rare Métis for the Colby Collection, assuming it will bring her and Jason back together. He has already moved out of their bedroom because Sable is determined to have Constance committed for mental incompetency, simply a ruse to regain control over the company shares Connie has left Jeff. Jason sees right through Sable’s tricks – much more quickly than Constance does. However, together with Jeff and Adam’s help, and the discovery of a letter Constance wrote many years earlier attesting to her lifelong wish to one day bestow her Colby stock on Philip’s only son and heir, Constance hopes to trump Sable’s allegations and therefore avoid being committed to a state hospital. Regrettably, Adam has also discovered a letter, presumably written in Philip’s hand, attesting that Jeff is not his son. Perhaps, Jeff isn’t even a Colby. Constance contemplates what to do about the letter, electing to burn it in the fireplace and storm off after Sable for a show down. Too bad her aim is bad. The crumped paper lands inches from the fire, safely preserved in the grate. Constance darts from the front porch and Sable, unaware of her presence as she is backing up in the driveway, strikes her down, nearly running her over.
Rushed to the hospital, Constance is expected to make a complete recovery. Alas, her heart isn’t in it, having lost the one man she truly loved, Hutch Corrigan, after Monica’s impromptu arrival at Hutch’s farm to confront the pair. Assuming Hutch is a con artist out to get Constance’s money, Monica spills the beans about her grandmother’s true identity. Hutch was wounded by Constance’s betrayal then. But now, with Connie in the hospital, he quite simply cannot stay away. The two are reunited and reconciled; electing to give their twilight years romance another try. Jason, however, is done with Sable. She doesn’t understand this as yet, but he will never love her as he did before. Nor does he intend to stay away from Francesca who, in order to avoid destroying her sister’s love, has retreated to London and accepted Lord Langdon’s proposal of marriage. Langdon is flabbergasted and frankly, so is Jason. Will it last? On a night time soap as heavily laden with intrigues as The Colbys? Surely, you jest!
Season One of The Colbys is a mighty entre into this circuit of prime time sin and corruption; the Shapiros keeping the series taut and tantalizing – the drama expertly built over the course of each episode, but also culminating with a deliciously shocking season cliffhanger. While Dynastywas primarily known for its cat fights, The Colbys has its share of manly brawls; mostly Jeff, chivalrously coming to the aid of Fallon. Mid-season, Miles begins to stalk his wife, feigning congeniality and then taking her for a harrowing drag in his sports car; the ordeal ending only after Fallon manages to get the keys away from Miles. Later, Miles sneaks into Fallon’s bedroom while she sleeps, planting a note on her pillow that reads ‘I’ll never let you go’, and sometime later still, he arrives at the family’s beach house to confront Jeff and Fallon full on; engaging Jeff in a brutal fist fight that prematurely ends when Miles is successful at tossing Jeff over the edge of a guard rail down a very steep ravine leading to the beach. Alas, afterward Miles comes to his senses and rescues Jeff; presumably, so their animosity may continue.
Driven by Sable’s venom and his own jealousy, Miles takes Jeff to court to contest his parentage. At trial, Francesca is put on the stand by Sable’s attorney, Arthur Cates (Peter White) and forced into a confession; that her marriage to Philip was unstable, further plagued by the revelation Philip was impotent. Jason comes to her aid, revealing his affair with his brother’s wife has sired the child – Jeff. Wounded by this discover, upon returning home Sable points Jason’s favorite hunting rifle at him, but at the last possible moment she shoots a coffee table instead. Nevertheless, Jeff is a Colby. Worse, he is Miles’ brother – a bitter fact both Miles and Sable must endure. Miles behavior becomes increasingly erratic. He forces himself on Fallon but later apologizes for his ‘indiscretion’. She somehow forgives him, but after L.B. suffers a bout of meningitis, Fallon realizes she loves Jeff more and wants to re-marry him – at the Colby mansion no less.
Miles is, of course, shattered by the news – crashing their engagement party. At the last possible moment, he retreats from making a complete fool of himself. Alas, he also confides in Monica it is only a matter of time before Fallon and Jeff’s pending marriage implodes. He intends to wait it out and remarry Fallon then. Mile’s mental condition continues to deteriorate. He spies on Jeff and Fallon as they make love in the pool house and steals one of her favorite scarves, which he frequently sniffs, clutches and ties like a noose around his clenched fists before returning it to Fallon unharmed. In hindsight, one really has to feel for Miles; increasingly considered the ‘lesser’ of Jason’s two sons as the family becomes involved in the perfect wedding; lavishly appointed and represented by the Carringtons; Blake, his son, Steven (Jack Coleman) and Dominique. Blake tells Jason he intends to have his oil shipped from the south China seas, whatever the means – having inked a deal with Zach Powers in the event Jason cannot get the necessary permits to proceed on his behalf. Fallon and Jeff are married. Bliss and Sean elope. But their planned Vegas marriage and Fallon and Jeff’s honeymoon are both cut short after learning Miles has been arrested for Mahoney’s murder. Jason finagles a bond hearing and Miles is released from jail temporarily. Sable and Jason rally to his side and the crisis brings them both closer together. Meanwhile, Constance has hired a private investigator to follow Sable, suspecting her of an affair with Zach and proven when he turns up at Sable’s office, professing love; a conversation recorded by hidden microphone.
Miles is being framed for Mahoney’s murder by John Moretti (Vincent Baggetta); an overzealous district attorney with an axe to grind against the Colby clan because Jason backed his opponent for the appointment. Moretti holds a hearing where he offers a crucial piece of ‘evidence’ against Miles; a mallet discovered next to Mahoney’s body, part of Mile’s old Ferrari’s tool kit with his fingerprints all over it. As Miles cannot recall the night’s events – suffering from a drunken blackout – he too begins to doubt his own innocence. Meanwhile, Moretti has Jeff arrested in connection with Lavado’s murder in Athens. As Jason races to uncover the truth that will save Jeff from being extradited to Greece to stand trial for the Captain’s homicide, Jeff and Miles investigate the theory of the missing mallet from his current tool kit. Jeff reminds Miles the absent mallet was stolen not from the kit that belonged to his old Ferrari, which he accidentally totaled in a fit of rage after Mahoney’s disappearance, but actually is missing from his new Ferrari kit, purchased long after Mahoney’s body had already washed up.
At the same moment, Zach begins to suspect his nephew, Spiros Koralis (Ray Wise) of plotting against the Colbys as a way to set himself up for Zach’s inevitable fall, thereby gaining control of Powers Shipping and fulfilling his lifelong dream to destroy his estranged father, whom he blames for the death of his mother. Spiros has been pursuing Bliss. She eventually winds up in his bed. But Zach realizes Spiros made a slip when he admitted he knew a Greek cab driver was the prosecution’s star witness against Jeff, claiming to have seen him go into Lavado’s apartment in Athens shortly before he was killed. Armed with this information, Zach sends Bliss packing and threatens Spiros with exposure, ordering him out of his life for good.
Jason belabors the discovery of Sable and Zach’s presumed affair. As season one draws to a close, Monica receives a phone call from Neil, out with the flu; arriving at his fashionable apartment to discover him in bed with his not so estranged wife instead. Wounded by this betrayal, Monica takes off in the Colby private jet without first checking its fuel gauges; the plane stalling in midair and seemingly destined to plummet from the sky. Meanwhile, Sable surprises Jason with an anniversary party just as he has professed his love to Francesca with plans already begun for their elopement. Jason confronts Sable with the tape recording of her romantic overtures to Zach and she retreats in tears to Zach’s yacht where he has already plotted an even more deliberate conquest. Jason arrives on deck, struggling with Zach for control of a pistol. Climbing topside to see the two men in her life fighting, Sable startles Jason and the pistol accidentally goes off; a single round grazing her head.
In the resulting chaos, Sable presumes her hospital recovery will draw Jason nearer to her side. But actually, he elects to fly to the Dominican to marry Francesca. Alas, Sable will not stand for it. In pursuing Jason down their winding staircase, Sable trips and falls, badly bruising and knocking herself unconscious in the process. Revived, she sends for Moretti and publicly accuses Jason of spousal abuse. Moments before their private plane is set for takeoff, Jason and Francesca are confronted by a small army of California’s finest, pistols drawn; Moretti revealing to Jason he is being arrested, likely to be prosecuted for the attempted murder of his wife.
Season Two of The Colbys is a more problematic affair on several levels; chiefly because of the sudden and unexplained absence of Constance; Barbara Stanwyck finagling herself loose from her contract at the end of the first season after it was merely hinted in Season One’s finale she was bound for a cruise with Hutch Corrigan from which neither character will ever return. Stanwyck was such an integral part to the first season’s success – like Chuck Heston, a real heavy hitter with the pedigree adding stardust to the magic – her loss ultimately deprives Sable of an arch nemesis. Worse, the writers attempt to keep up the illusion Stanwyck is still a part of the show, despite her screen credit removed from the main titles; often referenced in family conversations as ‘enjoying herself’or ‘coming home soon’; spoken to on the telephone without any cutaways to Stanwyck on the other end. It’s an awkward transition at best. Why the Shapiros never simply endeavored to write her character out at the end of Season One or kill her off at the start of Season Two remains a mystery.
Just as Dynasty was notorious for unceremoniously unloading major characters from season to season, The Colbys begins to suffer from hints of the same sloppy writing at the start of Season Two before regaining its momentum mid-season; the Shapiro’s unable to pen themselves out of a few key plot points established in Season One and choosing instead, simply to ignore them as though they never happened in the first place. So, we quietly forget about Lavados and Mahoney’s murders and move on – to more misshapen affairs, mismanaged marriages and badly bungled business deals. The first of these is Miles’ subsequent marriage to Channing Carter (Kim Morgan Greene); a seductive basket case who marries into the family before revealing she is barren and therefore unable to perpetuate the Colby bloodline. Channing’s Uncle Lucas (Kevin McCarthy) has an agenda of his own – a weakly established smear campaign against Jason only periodically referenced thereafter. In the meantime, Monica becomes reacquainted with Jason’s Washington contact, Senator Cash Cassidy (James Houghton), who was a married man when she knew him back in college and whose child she bore without his knowledge. Cash is still married to Adrienne (Shanna Reed), but quite determined to rekindle the embers of his love for Monica.
Sable drops the suit against Jason for spousal abuse when she realizes Moretti might send her to prison for fraud instead. As Jason and Francesca plan to wed, Sable orchestrates a deal to remain the mistress of Jason’s maison, provided she stays out of their lives. Bliss begins an impassioned affair with Kolya 'Nikolai' Rostov (Adrian Paul); a dancer from the Ballets Russes, who, together with his sister Anna (Anna Levine) are under the watchful command of a ballet master and former dancer extraordinaire, Sasha Malenkov (Judson Scott) who may also be pulling double duty as a spy for the KGB. Cash makes his play for Monica during a lavish gala held at the Colby mansion; Jason threatening to finish off the senator’s career the way he did his father’s long ago if he persists. Meanwhile, learning of Channing’s inability to have a child, Miles gets drunk and picks a fight with Jeff, the pair winding up in the swimming pool in their tuxedoes. The more inebriated of the party guests shed their clothes and jump in after them; turning the night’s festivities into a sacrilege of the cultured evening Sable had planned in the hopes to raise money from her wealthy friends in support of the arts.
Alas, Channing’s infertility is a myth. Behind Miles’ back, she is taking birth control. Learning of the couple’s predicament, Sable offers to take Channing to her family’s physician, Dr. Waverly (Georgann Johnson) for a second opinion. Channing reluctantly agrees, but later confides in Waverly she will not be having any children by choice, owing to her witnessing her own mother’s death during child birth. Unable to leave well enough alone, Sable turns her attention to Jeff and Fallon’s standoffishness toward Miles. Fallon confides in Francesca she is uncertain of her baby’s paternity. Meanwhile, Sable manages to investigate Waverly’s files without her consent, learning Fallon is actually five months along in her pregnancy. Perhaps, it is Miles’ baby she is carrying – not Jeff’s. Armed with this knowledge, Sable shares the ‘good’ news with Miles. Fallon threatens an abortion, but Sable once again intervenes, hiring Arthur Cates to establish Miles’ rights as the potential father.
Senator Cassidy brings Adrienne and his young son, Scott (Coleby Lombardo) to Los Angeles. Monica spends time with Scott and begins to suspect he is the love child she had with the Senator eight years earlier, but gave up for adoption. Pressing Arthur Cates on the matter, he advises that Monica learn the truth from Constance. Monica immediately telephones Connie who is still on her whirlwind vacation in the Far East with Hutch, somewhere in India. Constance revives Monica’s worst fears. Scott is her son. We shift focus to the affair between Kolya and Bliss. Things heat up when Koyla attempts to see Bliss by sneaking off in the dead of night and breaking into the Colby mansion. Jason forces Koyla back to the hotel where Sasha is waiting. Kolya now convinces Anna if they are ever to live their lives they must defect. Regrettably, in their daring escape from the Hotel Excelsior, Anna is subdued by Sasha and KGB bodyguards, forcing a standoff. Kolya leaps from a second story balcony to his safety; Sasha taking Anna against her will to the airport for a planned getaway back to Russia. Putting his plans to build a space station in serious jeopardy, Jason contacts the American consulate on Koyla’s behalf. Kolya is granted political asylum. But at the last possible moment, Anna bows under pressure and is taken back to Moscow.
Meanwhile, Fallon and Jeff’s romantic weekend at a ski lodge is ruined when Miles gets wind of their plans and beats them to the retreat with Channing in tow. A snow storm and slight avalanche create a needless delay and Fallon suffers mysterious pains. While Miles and Jeff set aside their differences to go for help, Channing pretends to telephone a local doctor. Instead, she feigns the lines are down. But Jeff and Miles have made it into town. Francesca arrives with the Colby helicopter. Channing lies about the telephone, but then it rings and Francesca realizes she is not only lying, but her jealousy might have brought serious harm to Fallon and the baby. She vows to keep a watchful eye on Channing from now on. Jason begins to suspect something is foul when Constance wires $2 million from a private account while she and Hutch are in Nepal. Alas, sending Miles and Jeff to Kathmandu to look into Connie’s sudden disappearance reveals the couple was being stalked by a mystery man named Hoyt Parker. Miles and Jeff learn the devastating news; Connie and Hutch have been killed in a plane crash. Relaying the message to the rest of the family, Jason mourns his sister’s loss.
At the reading of Connie’s will, Sable discovers Connie has granted Miles a controlling interest in the company by bestowing on him the remainder of her Colby voting stock. Miles is overjoyed. But Channing remains contemptuous of Fallon’s baby. Alas, Hoyt Parker (Michael Parks) has arrived in Los Angeles, tailing Jason and Francesca to the Colby Ranch in Eureka. There, he attempts to murder the couple, firing shots from a high-powered rifle. Jason manages to frighten him away with his pistol. Back in Los Angeles, Adrienne pits Scott against Monica, telling the boy Monica is the one responsible for tearing their family apart. Scott begins to hate his natural mother, also his dad, especially when Cash elects to move back to Washington. Resenting both his parents, Scott runs away. Adrienne barges in on Jason and Francesca with the revelation Monica is Scott’s real mother. Bliss becomes pouty after Koyla is seen smooching with prima ballerina, Georgina Sinclair (Nana Visitor). Although Koyla manages to smooth things over with Bliss, Georgina later sneaks into his apartment while he is in the shower, pretending she has spent the night with him by turning up in her negligee and emerging from Koyla’s bedroom just as Bliss arrives to spend a quiet night with him.
Jeff and Fallon clash over her need to work. She takes up interior design. But Jeff resents her jeopardizing her own health as well as that of their baby. Zach buys up Synchodyne; one of the company’s Jason has been doing business with on his space satellite project, thereby embroiling both their interests on the project. Like it or not – and he does not - Jason will have to do business with Zach. In fact, he has already made inroads into an affair with Sable, syphoning information from her about Jason’s future business plans while proposing with an expensive engagement ring. Jason is blinded by his hatred for Zach, still believing he had something to do with framing Miles and Jeff for Lavados and Mahoney’s murders. After a lone assassin, Henry Logan (Steven Lambert) takes dead aim at Jason immediately following a press conference (Jason spared certain death when Cash throws himself in harm’s way and takes the bullet instead), the family rallies to Jason’s side; all except Sable who is nearer still accepting Zach’s proposal of marriage.
As Cash hovers between life and death, the bullet lodged precariously close to his spine, and with the real possibility of paralysis, Monica and Adrienne severely clash over their jealous love. Scott, who had forsaken Monica because he thought she was trying to ruin his parent’s marriage, now begins to suspect Adrienne is being unfair to Monica instead. When Cash regains consciousness he asks for Monica – not Adrienne – leaving Scott even more confused. Adrienne lies to her husband that she doesn’t know where Monica is. But Scott tells his father Monica is in the waiting room and rushes off to tell her the good news; Cash will not be paralyzed. Meanwhile, Hoyt Parker resurfaces yet again, buying 60,000 shares of preferred stock in Colby Enterprises for $2 million under a phony name, ‘Saturn Financial’. Jeff is not so easily fooled, tracing the transaction and suspecting the payout is, in fact, Connie’s money stolen by Hoyt in Katmandu shortly before the plane crash. Zach gives Sable just twenty-four hours to make her mind about marrying him. Channing’s attempts to gain sympathy from Jeff regarding Fallon’s standoffish nature towards her fall on deaf ears. Too bad Fallon and Jeff quarrel. In her frantic chase to catch up to her husband, Fallon loses her footing on some of L.B.’s marbles, tumbling down a flight of stairs, sprawled unconscious on the marble tile in the foyer. Seeing Channing poised on the landing, Miles assumes the worst – that his wife has pushed Fallon…possibly to her death.
Mercifully, Fallon survives the ordeal, as does her baby, brought forth prematurely by C-section. After an episode of complications, paternity is established. Jeff is the father. This, of course, leads to a renewed rift between Miles and Channing. She elects to get off her birth control to satisfy his need to have an heir. A temporary chink in the armor arises when Miles learns Channing was deceiving him about her barrenness all along; easily rectified when she confirms she is pregnant with their child. Jason and Francesca set a date to marry. But their nuptials are interrupted by an unlikely wedding crasher: her ex, Philip Colby (a.k.a. Hoyt Parker). Francesca is torn in her allegiances. Acting on a hunch, Jason flies to Singapore where he learns from a mysterious lady, Maya Kumara (Bianca Jagger) that Hoyt Parker and Philip Colby are one in the same. Meanwhile, Zach discovers it was Philip who tried to kill Jason at the ranch in Eureka. He alerts Sable, knowing she will use this information to try and reenter Jason’s life and thus, put an end to their romance. Nobly, Zach steps aside. He really does love Sable after all. Meanwhile, Francesca and Philip become involved; Sable, for once, attempting to be principled, tries to stop Jason from entering the beach house, thereby catching Francesca and Philip locked in a passionate embrace.
Unable to prevent this inevitable discovery, Jason is further wounded when Francesca confides in Jason her love has transferred back to Philip. The last act of Season Two (and regrettably, the series) is rather unevenly scripted. Monica and Scott reconcile after he discovers she is his real mother. And although previously the Shapiros attempted to illustrate at least the possibility of Cash divorcing Adrienne to be with Monica, in the season finale we discover Cash has decided to move back to Washington with Adrienne and Scott instead. Running true to form, Sable has other ideas. She kidnaps Scott from the Holmby Hills Academy, luring the unsuspecting child to spend a day at the beach with her instead. One of the sloppiest bits of writing follows as Francesca, unable to decide where her loyalties are – either with Jason or Philip – ridiculously tries suicide by swimming out to sea, presumably to drown. Mercifully, Jeff is nearby, diving in after his mother and carrying her limp body back to the Malibu motel she has been staying at ever since moving out of the Colby mansion. Misguidedly, Jeff blames Jason for his mother’s misery. Even worse, despite the overwhelming evidence Philip is up to no good, Jeff is determined to give him ten percent of his voting stock in the company.
Jason is powerless to prevent Jeff’s decision. A tearful Channing telephones Miles to inform him she has decided to abort their child. She cannot go through with the pregnancy owing to her fears of dying in labor. Miles is horrified. Alas, he doesn’t know where his wife is, leaving the first dangling narrative thread never to be resolved. The next is equally as problematic: Jeff, having left Fallon with Francesca at the Malibu motel, returns to discover Francesca has left after learning Jason is on his way. Jason confronts Philip with Zach’s information about the attempt on his life. He discovers the high-powered rifle with a marksman’s scope and ammunition in Philip’s closet, vowing to do a forensic powder test, also to match the slugs recovered from the trees at the ranch, thereby establishing for Francesca and Jeff that Philip was the sniper in the woods. Jason orders Philip to leave town immediately or else. Idiotically, he also informs his brother of Francesca’s whereabouts. She has moved to the Five Oaks Inn, and presumably, is waiting for Philip’s return. Armed with this information, Philip races to the inn and confronts Francesca. She informs him he is mistaken about her enduring love for him. Francesca instead tells Philip she has lied to Jason to spare him any further grief. Enraged, the pair struggles and Francesca is accidentally knocked unconscious.
Philip steals Francesca’s car and heads for the Mexican border with Francesca out cold in the passenger’s seat. However, while pulling into a remote station to fill up on gas, Francesca manages to sneak a call from the car phone to the Colby mansion, informing Fallon of her whereabouts and Philip’s intensions before he returns, snatches the receiver from her grip and drives off in a rage. Fallon alerts Jason of the kidnap and he and Jeff board the Colby Enterprises copter for a rendezvous with destiny. Regrettably, Jason’s hotshot piloting and pursuit of Francesca’s car leads to a perilous wreck, the luxury sedan overturning in a steep ravine. Jason hurries to Francesca’s side as Jeff telephones for an ambulance. Discovering her lying battered and bloody near the vehicle, Jeff alerts Jason Philip has mysteriously vanished without a trace. Francesca, weak but conscious, confesses she has never stopped loving Jason. Nevertheless, she now believes he must return to Sable and become a family once more. Francesca tells Jeff he has always been a part of her life, faints and presumably dies. Meanwhile, Fallon, as headstrong as ever, has taken matters into her own hands; driving into the desert in search of Francesca and Philip, but predictably winding up lost and isolated on a desolate stretch of highway. As the sun goes down, Fallon’s car battery dies and a mysterious light appears on the horizon. Materializing as an alien mothership, its cryptic time traveler beckons her aboard before taking off, presumably for the farthest reaches of outer space.
Until this very end, The Colbys was fairly engaging, full of salacious intrigues and devious backstabbing audiences from the 80’s simply lapped up with gusto. It is one of television’s great tragedies The Colbys was not picked up for a third season as the writers had obvious plans to further flesh out various narrative bloodlines left open-ended in this Season (and series) finale. Speculation has run rampant as to why The Colbys never returned, especially since it seems to have hit its stride in Season Two. True: it never ranked higher than the mid-teens in the Nielsen Ratings, despite being more lavishly produced and expertly written than Dynasty was for quite some time. Perhaps The Colbys was merely too expensive to continue; ABC financially strapped and up for sale at the time the series went off the air. Some have suggested right from the start The Colbys was never designed to endure, but merely made to boost Dynasty’s own sagging ratings (which it did) and act as an easily sacrificed reboot for the original series.
Curiously, when Dynasty returned the following year without its sister series, only Stephanie Beacham’s Sable and Tracy Scoggins’ Monica came along for the ride; the producers also welcoming Jeff and Fallon back into the fold because not to do so would have left an epic void in the franchise. Virtually none of the plot points left dangling in Season Two of The Colbys is resolved on Dynasty; not Sable’s kidnapping of Scott, nor what has become of Miles and Channing, or the family’s youngest, Bliss (a dead end character with a badly scripted love life to begin with). Fallon was eventually discovered wandering in the desert, professing an alien abduction never taken seriously by her husband and dropped as a viable explanation. John James has always insisted the idea of Fallon being sucked into the air by an otherworldly spacecraft was meant to suggest Fallon having a complete nervous breakdown. If The Colbys had returned for a third season, a considerable focus would have been paid on Jeff nursing his wife back from the brink of this mental implosion, presumably with the aid of a skilled psychiatrist. Alas, audiences were never to learn if Zach Powers successfully gained control over Jason’s company. And what ever became of Philip? Good question. Did Francesca die in the wreck? Did Miles prevent Channing from going through with her planned abortion? As far as Dynasty was concerned, The Colbys never happened; Sable suddenly forsaking her enduring love for Jason to become a thorn in Alexis’ side on Dynasty; the claws-out clash between two feral cats substituting for the sudden absence of Linda Evan’s Krystal – who had suffered her own breakdown and was presumably recovering in a clinic in Switzerland at the end of Season Seven. Actually, Dynasty’s high-priced roster of talent became too much for the network to bear. They ordered cuts, Evan’s Krystal the first sacrificial lamb and Joan Collins only appearing in a handful of episodes for the last two seasons of Dynasty’s very sad last act.
Personally, I have always found Stephanie Beacham’s Sable a far more ingenious creation in all her flawed spite and self-pity than her counterpart on Dynasty, Joan Collin’s perpetually vindictive, Alexis. While there is nothing to touch Collins’ oversexed super-bitch, dynamically brought to life and fascinating in all her heartless resolve, Sable is a far more intriguing viper, quite simply because she frequently allows us to see past the venom. She isn’t heartless, but using revenge as her weapon of choice or, more appropriately, as a shield to guard against her wounded heart. Beacham has likened her frequent sparring matches with Katherine Ross’ Francesca (whom she greatly admired and befriend behind-the-scenes) to ‘killing Bambi’. Interestingly, there are less sisterly confrontations and catfights in The Colbys, something for which Dynastywas justly famous and legendary. In place of the clawing and cussing we get manly chest-thumping; chiefly between Jason and Zach, Miles and Jeff, and the penultimate big reveal, between Jason and his estranged brother, Philip (a.k.a. Hoyt Parker).
With the more recent seismic downward shift in the American economy, the uber-rich trappings of The Colbys, bedecked and bedazzling in all their west coast Armani/Gucci/Cartier and the like chic, seems even more absurdly decadent than it must have in the 1980's. Living through that decade, though hardly in as resplendent surroundings as this fictional California clan, I’ll simply go on record with ‘you just had to be there’. The 80s, with all its whack-tac-u-lar and energetic pop culture fueling a feverous ‘feel good’ that spread its savory optimism throughout the land – and, in fact, the world, dramas like The Colbys primed America’s collective need, at least then, to believe such outlandish opulence was not merely attainable – but equally as desirable. People who lived any other way were just plain crazy. And The Colbys, like their sister affiliate – Dynasty – proved an even older and truer maxim; that in life, money cannot buy real happiness. For those aspiring to this ‘good life’ – this was, and remains, a very comforting message. The political, social and emotional upheavals these folks went through in only two seasons is the stuff of Greek tragedy, ever so slightly updated and severely glammed to the gills for all aspiring Bel Air beauties and their studly menfolk. I feel sorry for today’s generation of television viewers, deprived of this archetypal escapism into deliciously unreal fantasy fiction. It does warm the soul - truly, even if one could argue most of the characters on The Colbys sorely lacked one of their own.
Shout! Factory debuts The Colbys on DVD and while hardly the mess that their Season 1 and 2 releases of L.A. Law are, the transfer quality herein ranges from very impressive to marginally substandard, presumably owing to the quality of available archival elements. I’ll simply diverge a moment herein to point out that NBC/Universal has provided marvelous upgrades to their Little House on the Prairie franchise, newly remastered for Blu-ray and looking better than ever (in fact, light years younger than its forty plus years might suggest), and, at a price point under $20 that makes its collectability virtually a no brainer. What a bargain! If such commitments are indeed possible for vintage TV releases (and clearly – it is) then I really don’t see the point not to do it for other releases – especially one with superb production values like The Colbys. The only hindrance against such an endeavor, apart from cost (a problem NBC/Universal seems to have ironed out – enough to make their releases feasible), would be if the series itself was shot and/or edited on digital tape rather than film.
The Colbys, however, was shot on film - not digital tape, a salvation that ought to have yielded better results on the whole than what is on tap in this otherwise lavishly appointed box set. Image quality toggles between fairly crisp to downright soft and slightly blurry. Close-ups are often stunning, revealing an incredible amount of fine detail in hair, makeup, jewelry etc. Digital anomalies such as edge enhancement have been kept to a bare minimum and are only obvious and distracting in a few episodes. However, color density is not very consistent. Some episodes are richly saturated while others look faded and careworn. A few episodes suffer from lower than anticipated contrast levels, creating an overall murkiness to the presentation.
All of these episodes are riddled with age-related dirt, scratches, etc. Honestly, folks – a simple run through the blue emulsion photographic cleaner could have fixed at least half these issues; a good digital artisan and colorist going in with his tool box of digital clean-up software to fix the rest. I would have also preferred some expert color timing applied to level off and create a more consistent color density from episode to episode. Ho-hum. No use in critiquing what’s not there. The Colbys doesn’t look any worse than a lot of 80's TV product transferred to DVD. That isn’t saying much, however. For those merely looking to re-watch a beloved series from their past, this set will likely do the trick. Better still, the mono Dolby Digital audio sounds fabulous. Bill Conti’s bombastic main titles and orchestral bridges scattered throughout have an enveloping quality; dialogue sounding very natural, except in one episode from Season One where there appears to have been some sloppy post sync – everyone’s lips and the sound issuing from them suffering from a very rubbery quality.
Shout! has also given us a ‘making of’ as it were: a documentary split in two, featuring co-stars, John James, Maxwell Caufield and Stephanie Beacham. Their insights are a lot fun. Alas, they are brief too and everyone is kept apart. It is three separate interviews we get rather th