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Retro : Forbidden Lust Redux : 'THE THORN BIRDS' AIRS AGAIN, PAVING THE WAY FOR AN ABC SEQUEL

July 18, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The year 1983 was a golden one for TV miniseries.

ABC scored a huge success that February with its ambitious maxiseries "The Winds of War," based on Herman Wouk's mammoth bestseller. Just one month later, ABC surpassed "Winds" with "The Thorn Birds," a lavish, immensely romantic 10-hour adaptation of Australian Colleen McCullough's 1977 bestseller.

"The Thorn Birds," which ABC repeats beginning Sunday, is the second most-watched miniseries of all time--ABC's "Roots" is the first. When "Thorn Birds" originally aired March 27-30, 1983, the miniseries scored a staggering 41.9 rating and 59% of the audience. "Thorn Birds" was nominated for 16 Emmys and won six.

Produced by the "Roots" team of David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, "Thorn Birds" boasted a first-rate cast: Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, Bryan Brown, Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Mare Winningham and Christopher Plummer. It also had fantastic Henry Mancini score, which surprisingly was never released as a soundtrack.

"Thorn Birds" had something for everyone--sex, religion, lust, passion and melodrama. The sprawling epic, set in Australia between the years 1920 and 1962, focused on the tortured lives of Ralph de Bricassart (Chamberlain ) and Meggie Carson (Ward). Father Ralph was torn with his desire to advance within the priesthood and his love for the beautiful, headstrong Meggie, who lived on an Australian sheep farm.

Needless to say, the Catholic Church was none too thrilled when Father Ralph and Meggie consummated their relationship in one of the hottest love scenes depicted on network TV.

Chamberlain gave one of his best performances as Father Ralph and received an Emmy nomination. Ward, a British model who made her film debut in 1981's "Sharky's Machine," was a more than adequate lifelong object of his affections.

Stealing the show in the first installment, though, was then-76-year-old Stanwyck. The veteran actress won an Emmy as Mary Carson, Meggie's strong-willed grandmother, who had lust in her heart for Father Ralph. Jean Simmons and Richard Kiley also picked up Emmys as Meggie's parents, Fee and Paddy.

Real love also blossomed during the production of "Thorn Birds." Ward and Bryan Brown ("Breaker Morant"), who played Meggie's loutish husband Luke O'Neill, married shortly after "Thorn Birds" aired.

The "Thorn Birds" saga will continue next year on ABC: Production is scheduled to begin in January on "Thorn Birds: The Missing Years," a four-hour ABC movie that will focus on sections of the novel not covered in the original miniseries.

"The Thorn Birds" air Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m. and concludes Saturday at 9 p.m on ABC; the miniseries also is available on Warner Home Video.

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