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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > TV Mini-Series > Rich Man, Poor Man (1976 – 1977/Universal TV Mini-Series/A&E DVD Set)

Rich Man, Poor Man (1976 – 1977/Universal TV Mini-Series/A&E DVD Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Main Program: B



It is hard to say how much the TV Mini-Series helped television become a force to be taken more seriously, but it did contradict the stereotypical notion that TV was just a “boob tube” or “idiot box” and that in its own way, the medium (long before cable, satellite, HDTV and big screen TVs became the norm or even existed) that it could deliver high quality classy experiences beyond British imports and public television.  Along with TV movies, ABC (as in American Broadcasting Company) was developing the mini-series and it would soon become the #1 Network for the first time in its history when it broadcast Rich Man, Poor Man in the 1976 -1977 season.


A huge event project based on the Irwin Shaw novel, ABC and Universal Television backed the ambitious and then-expensive project, but both companies were on a roll and network TV (along with movie studios) still took smart risks.  Well promoted and conceived, the show was a huge ratings mega-hit that stunned audiences, shocked the entertainment establishment and became an American television classic.  Heading for its 35th Anniversary, it holds up very well and has even appreciated well.


Featuring all 34 episodes on 9 DVDs of the series, the series follows the Jordache family from 1945 (as WWII ends) to the late 1960s (as the country is in a new turmoil) as two brothers (Nick Nolte as Tom, Peter Strauss as Rudy) try to find their way to success though the changing times and how what they bring with them as the sons of an immigrant father (Ed Asner), the personal choices they make and who they meet affects them and those around them forever.


Well written (Shaw did some of the scripting himself, along with Dean Riesner of Dirty Harry and Play Misty For Me), well acted and well paced, the money was on the screen and it boasted a cast that was impressive then and remains impressive to this day, also including Susan Blakely, Kim Darby, Ray Milland, Murray Hamilton, Mike Evans, Norman Fell, Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Dorothy Malone, George Maharis, Dorothy McGuire, Steve Allen, Andrew Duggan, Lynda Day George, Robert Reed, Dick Butkus, Herbert Jefferson Jr., Kay Lenz, Tim McIntire, Lawrence Pressman, Dick Sargent, William Smith, Craig Stevens, Frank Aletter, Nicholas Hammond, Julius Harris, Gavan O’Herlihy, Julius W. Harris and in a touch that continues to evoke The Godfather films, Talia Shire.  It was like the cast of an old Hollywood epic, the kind they did not make anymore and viewers loved that too.


Harve Bennett was the producer and made sure this was not just a cheap soap opera, exploitation piece and succeeded.  Yet the series is an achievement that has been lost in the shuffle of bad TV and bad cable TV since, plus maybe more than a few political interests would like this to be forgotten because it is such an honest portrait of the older America that worked so well, which is what viewers were celebrating every time they tuned in.


The directors on the series also deserve mention for doing such a fine, seamless job together covering all the material.  First is Bill Bixby, the popular actor (also appearing in this mini-series) who was directing as far back as his hit The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, who also became a consistent and underrated journeyman director.  Then there is Boris Sagal, whose record of TV show directing is stunning, but was also responsible for feature films like The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and some interesting telefilms as well.  And finally there is David Greene, who is a rare director (like John Moxey) with a great track record on U.S. (The Twilight Zone, Coronet Blue, Lucan, Ellery Queen) and U.K. (The Saint, Man Of The World, The Persuaders!) TV and helmed the ever-interesting 1973 feature film version of Godspell.  That is three fine filmmakers at the peak of their powers also making this all work and its success possible.


Especially at this time, Rich Man, Poor Man is more relevant than ever, reminding us how great mainstream American TV could be and still can be (like Mad Men) when talented people come together and make things happen and have something to say.  It launched new careers and confirmed old ones, with Nick Nolte in particular continuing to establish himself as one of the greatest actors of his generation.  Now that it is on DVD, it is worth revisiting and if you have never seen it, you should make this a must-see TV on DVD set for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.



The 1.33 X 1 image was lensed by Director of Photography Howard Schwartz, A.S.C., (Wanted: Dead Or Alive, the 1966 Batman theatrical feature film, 1969 Immortal telefilm, 1977 Incredible Hulk TV movie pilot) who always had a knack for making the small screen have more life to it than many cinematographers (even good ones) could, so he get some much overdue credit for making this a huge hit as well.  This is a transfer from older film materials and can look good, but as this was shot on 35mm film, could look even better, which will bare itself out when (hopefully not if) Universal and A&E release this set on Blu-ray.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono can show its age, but is not a bad recording for its time, featuring a score by the beloved composer Alex North.  The only extra is an audio commentary track on the first episode with star Peter Strauss, hosted by TV Historian David Bianculli, but if the sequel mini-series is issued, we hope to see more bonus content.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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