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The Love Boat gets serious on land…
Hotel premiered on September 21st, 1983, and the show ran five seasons in the time slot following the always popular Dynasty. It worked because it was self-contained, an hour of guest stars going through the motions with stories resolving neatly inside sixty minutes. They would check in, reveal some problems, and check out a little wiser with almost everything solved. It was a gilded fantasy world where most of the action took place in the gaudy lobby of the fictitious St. Gregory Hotel in San Francisco. It was a perfect backdrop for weekly intrigues and romances.
In all honesty, the show felt like a landlocked Love Boat, but it showed far more class. There were plenty of the same "D List" celebrities that stepped out of cabs and checked in, but James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) and Connie Sellecca (The Greatest American Hero) anchored the cast as managers. The story lines were a bit more serious, and everything was amped up a notch in the glamour and glitz department. Aaron Spelling was the mastermind behind the show, and it looks like his type of affair. The production was only loosely based on the 1965 novel by Arthur Hailey, but somehow the author's name appears above the title.
The trademark Spelling formula is to feature tons of guest stars crammed in to every episode until the seams almost burst from overstuffing. Aaron Spelling tries to emulate "old Hollywood" with television personalities standing in for studio company players who would have populated the silver screen back in the day. Check out the guest list for the pilot: Morgan Fairchild, Lloyd Bochner, Jack Gilford, Shirley Jones, Pernell Roberts, Stephanie Faracy, Lainie Kazan, Bill Macy, Erin Moran, Alejandro Rey, former child star Lee Montgomery, and singer Mel Tormé. Yep, all these people in the first episode.
What makes the First Season special is a feature-length pilot episode starring Bette Davis as the hotel's owner. Davis was supposed to stay a cast member, but she became ill early in the taping of the first season. In a strange "life imitates art" move, Bette's nemesis from All About Eve—Anne Baxter—took over the role and Bette was not asked to return when she recovered. Ironically, "Eve" won the part and kept it. Watching the pilot it's a hoot to see Bette Davis bump up against TV actors, and later on the same can be said for watching Baxter do it. The two women represent the glamour Spelling was trying to conjure, and the difference is neither lady has to put any effort into appearing regal and legendary.
The DVD from the CBS division of Paramount contains only the series with no bells or whistles. There are six discs crammed into a single size case. Inside there is a nice guide which provides the episode title, original air date, brief synopsis, and a list of guest stars. There are only about four episodes on average for each single sided DVD, and the transfers look good considering the age and format. The show debuted in 1983, and technically it shouldn't look incredible but the archives seem to be in excellent shape. The DVDs display a nice color balance and a surprising amount of detail. There are scratches and speckles that pop up now and then, but overall video quality is crisp. The English mono soundtrack does fine by the dialogue, although I missed stereo once Henry Mancini's theme song kicked in. There are no supplements, and that seems to be a shame. Certainly juicy gossip about Bette Davis and her rapid departure would have been nice, or anything about the production and its genesis.
Hotel is a handsomely made anthology series that showcased a revolving guest list of fading movie and television stars given one last shot at glamour on the small screen. It's the kind of show that made Aaron Spelling famous, although it seems fewer people remember this when you compare it to Dynasty, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Charlie's Angels. If you're looking for some well worn nostalgia and the likes of Scott Baio, Scatman Crothers, Robert Stack, and Connie Stevens, you've come to the right place. Hotel: The First Season trots all of them out plus many more, and puts them in a ritzy temporary home in San Francisco. This is a long-awaited DVD set, and technically it represents the show well. Too bad about the lack of extras, but at least now we can marvel at the handsome James Brolin for a full day or two with marathon sessions of the series.
Guilty of being beautiful and formulaic, Hotel is free to check in anytime it wishes.
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