The Civil War epic "North and South," in repeats on the Family Channel, may seem as long as the war itself.
OK, that's a slight exaggeration. But the sprawling saga based on John Jakes' bestseller clocks in at 24 hours. (And that's not including the poorly received 1993 third installment.)
The first 12 hours of "North and South" debuted in November 1985 on ABC, and the series was a huge hit. The same with "North and South Book II," which aired the next spring. Miniseries, or in this case maxiseries, were still popular with audiences. Cable had yet to have much of an effect and viewers were still willing to watch a story unfold over several nights.
The series isn't exactly great television. There have been far better ones, including "Roots," "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds." But "North and South" is delicious entertainment with enough sex, action, incredibly staged battle sequences, romance, dirty dealings, beautiful costumes, sets and gorgeous performers to keep your eyes glued to the set.
David Wolper of "Roots" fame was the executive producer of the $25-million epic, which followed the lives of two family dynasties: the aristocratic Mains of South Carolina and the industrial Hazards of Pennsylvania. The two families become intertwined in the 1850s when handsome Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) become the best friend of George Hazard (James Read) at West Point. Of course, when the Civil War breaks out, the two become officers in opposing armies.
Lesley-Anne Down co-stars as Orry's great love, Madeline Fabray, who is forced into marriage with the vile plantation owner Justin LaMotte (David Carradine). A pre-"Cheers" Kirstie Alley plays George's sister Virgilia, a fanatic abolitionist who marries a runaway slave (Georg Sanford Brown).
Elizabeth Taylor pops up in Part II as a madame of a New Orleans bordello. Philip Casnoff plays the opportunistic Army commander Elkanah Bent, who is the illegitimate son of a U.S. senator (Gene Kelly). Robert Mitchum is the doctor who saves Orry's leg and whose daughter Constance (Wendy Kilbourne) falls for George. Gene Francis is Orry's youngest sister Brett, who is attracted to George's brother Billy (John Stockwell in Part I and Parker Stevenson in Part II).
Read and Kilbourne married in real life, as did Francis and Jonathan Frakes, who played Stanley Hazard.
* "North and South" airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on the Family Channel.