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    Television
    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Back on set for holiday special, former soap stars reminisce about the ’80s

    Drag out your shoulder pads, squeeze into those bell bottoms, spin up that VCR, the most famous heroines of the ‘80s are back. Five doyennes of former prime-time soaps have reunited for a special movie for Lifetime premiering tonight.

    Linda Gray of “Dallas,” Donna Mills of “Knots Landing,” Morgan Fairchild of “Flamingo Road,” Nicollette Sheridan of “Knots Landing” and Loni Anderson of “WKRP in Cincinnati” costar in “Ladies of the ‘80s: a Divas Christmas.”

    This play-within-a-play features five soap opera stars who have come together to film the last Christmas episode of their popular series.

    Of course, egos aren’t in short supply on this set, and old rivalries rear their ugly heads threatening to shut down production.

    Gray, known for her role as the sweet Sue Ellen Ewing in “Dallas,” remembers how that show changed her life. “‘Dallas’ was such a hard time, I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ Then they said, ‘You’re going to have to go to Dallas, Texas, for two months.’ And I went, ‘What?’ That was so hard for me as a woman and as a mother. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never left my children and my husband. What am I doing?’” she recalls.

    “I couldn’t take the kids because they were in school. My husband said, ‘You go.’ So I made casseroles and froze them and I labeled them — long before Martha Stewart. Then came a time when I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, this is not healthy.’ And they said, ‘Well, we’ve sold it to series so you’re going to have to go back to Texas for two more months.’ But that was during the summer, so the kids came. They brought friends, so it wasn’t as bad.”

    When the show blasted off like the Saturn V, nothing was the same for her. “Every weekend for six months in a row, when the show hit its peak, someone was out at my house photographing me for some German, French or Italian magazine,” says Gray.

    “I was, like, ‘This has taken over my life. I don’t have a life.’ The kids resented it. And everybody would go out to dinner, and people would come over for autographs and I thought, ‘This isn’t what I signed on to do.’ I’m acting, yes, but I didn’t know the enormity of what I’d signed on for. It was huge. I can’t even imagine what it would be like now with people hounding you and chasing you and TMZ-ing you.”

    Nine years and more than 20 made‑for‑television movies (usually as the perennial victim) preceded Donna Mills’ role as the scheming Abby on “Knots Landing.’’

    Once she had been on the show for two years, she realized it would mark a milestone in her life. “I knew it was a good vehicle, and that it was something I should use. You can be on a show like that and not be noticed all that much, though this role was one that was bound to be noticed,” she says.

    The secret of making it in Hollywood, Mills confides, is “staying around. And you need to know it is a business. Lots of actors don’t treat it as a business and get kicked around because of that.’’

    It was typical of Mills not to just sit back while Abby made her famous. She had her own input she wanted to lend the show. She acknowledges that there was some prejudice against her because she was a pretty, blond, young woman.

    “You have to get people’s attention,” she says. “They don’t tend to look at you in any other light except what they’re used to. It takes a little bit of perseverance.”

    Morgan Fairchild, who played the scheming Constance on “Flamingo Road,” says she loves going back to the harridans she used to play on TV. “I’ve been a bitch for so long, I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way,” she says.

    “Yeah, it is kind of fun. But that is what is fun about it — taking something from me that I kind of became famous for doing: sort of these funny bitches and throwing in the one-liners and making it entertaining and fun ... “

    While “WKRP in Cincinnati” was not technically a soap opera, it was enormously popular with Loni Anderson breaking the stereotype of the “dumb blonde.” She played Jennifer Marlowe, the savvy receptionist at a struggling radio station who could always make things right when they went wrong.

    Anderson remembers the brouhaha that encircled her because of the show. “There were so many pieces to my pie and everyone was taking a little slice,” she recalls.

    “Now I don’t have that in my life. I’m not divided the way I once was. I have an innate sense of the joy of living. I like to laugh and love laughing. I think that the past is past; you can’t dwell on it. Tomorrow’s another day. I’m very Scarlett O’Hara, ‘Tomorrow I’ll make that happen.’ I always looked forward to the next day and making the most of the time you have,” she says.

    Nicollette Sheridan’s seven seasons on “Knots Landing” as the unscrupulous vixen Paige Mattheson landed her a job on “Desperate Housewives” 11 years later.

    She auditioned for the role of the neurotically uptight Bree on the show, which was a satire of the nighttime soaps. “I read the scene (for executive producer Marc Cherry). He was like, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you. It’s so exciting to have you here. ... I watched all your ‘Knots Landings.’

    “And he was so sweet and charming. The director sat there and went, ‘No, no, no, no!’ I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t see you as her.’ I said, ‘All right, well, then I’ll be off.’ He said, ‘No, the role of Edie. Edie Britt.’ I said, ‘Oh, I see. So I come in a housewife, mother of three, and leave the slut.’ So they said, ‘Yes.’”

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