Friends, as a kid when I was growing up there were a few things my Father would love to talk about above everything else – namely his favorite television shows when he was a young man and teenager. Classic fare such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, and The Outer Limits. Another element of his youth that he enjoyed sharing with me were his memories of seeing the classic serials or cliffhangers that used to be run before a feature film at the local movie theater. Like those that featured Commando Cody in the Republic Pictures produced Radar Men from the Moon or Zorro Rides Again and more importantly – the Flash Gordon serials from Universal Pictures starring Buster Crabbe. With that knowledge you might understand why in 1979 when NBC began broadcasting the promo for their new television series entitled Cliffhangers that my Father was eager to check it out.
Cliffhangers was an obvious attempt by showrunner Kenneth Johnson (The Bionic Woman, Incredible Hulk, and V) and NBC to try and capture the excitement that the serials of old were able to provide. The show ran an hour in length but was split-up in three 20 minute segments – each offering a totally different style of cliffhanger. Stop Susan Williams was a globetrotting adventure featuring the titular Susan Williams (Susan Anton) as a reporter who stumbles upon a world conspiracy – trying to stay ahead of those attempting to silence her and get the story out to the public.
The Secret Empire found Jim Donner -Geoffrey Scott of Dark Shadows fame – who happened to be a U.S. Marshal from the 1880s and while out on the plains manages to find the secret entrance to a lost civilization – the Secret Empire. Being a lawman you can bet that the iron rule of the Emperor of said Empire doesn’t set right with him… nor do the villain’s plans for taking over the World. A fun fact about this segment was that anything that took place on the surface was presented in sepia tone with the Secret Empire itself being in full color.
Last but certainly not least was The Curse of Dracula which found Count Dracula in then modern times as a Professor at a night school – the Prince of the Undead had become weary of his long life and found a peace of sorts and the love of a Woman. The Count was played by Michael Nouri (The Hidden) and the romance he was lucky enough to find was that of Mary (Carol Baxter)… a sticking point was the fact that Dracula had killed her Mother. There was also the issue that Mary was with the Grandson of the Count’s most hated foe – being the present meant in this case the immortal Prince had to deal with Kurt Von Helsing (Stephen Johnson).
Now considering that Cliffhangers attempted to go against the powerhouse combo of ABC’s Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley… it didn’t end well for Kenneth Johnson’s attempt to revive the serials. I’ve read online that the hopes were that if one of the three segments had proved popular enough it would have been spun off into a television show of it’s own – with it being replaced by a new serial. Only ten episodes of Cliffhangers managed to be aired before the plug was pulled by NBC – with The Curse of Dracula being the only of the three segments to completely tell it’s story. However both the Stop Susan Williams as well as The Curse of Dracula were later shown as a movie of the week with The Girl Who Saved The World and Dracula ’79.
How would you like to watch an episode of Cliffhangers – you can do that right this minute thanks to Wendi Hendrix being kind enough to upload it on YouTube!