NBC’s Fame received one of The Hollywood Reporter‘s odder reviews when it premiered on Jan. 7, 1982. First, the writer wanted to make it “enormously clear” that he was not reviewing Fame, the 1980 Alan Parker-directed movie about talented teens who attend a New York City high school for the performing arts.
He went on to say that there were times when the TV series, spawned from that United Artists movie, came close to the film’s high quality and “there are split-seconds when it exceeds its feature film parent. But generally it doesn’t. All of which is not to say that Fame the series isn’t first rate. It is.”
It was not exactly a review you’d put on a billboard, but favorable nonetheless. In a way, it predicted Fame‘s TV run itself — not a typical success, but a success nonetheless. On NBC, the series had a tough time in the ratings, ranking 60th out of 77 shows in its first season as it went up against CBS hit Magnum, P.I. (Fame exec producer William Blinn said, “We’re hoping Tom Selleck gets fat or bald or something.”)
It was canceled after its second season but lived another four years in first-run syndication. And while it struggled in the U.S., Fame was a success in the U.K., among the BBC’s top 10 programs each year. “When we arrived in England, it was like we were the Beatles,” says star/director/choreographer Debbie Allen, who reprised her role from the film. “We did a show with the cast at the Royal Albert Hall, and Princess Diana was there.”
Plus, Fame did well during awards season: It won Golden Globes in ’83 and ’84 for best musical or comedy series and had 38 Emmy noms and nine wins. “The show inspired so many,” says Allen. “When I meet Queen Latifah or Lil’ Kim, they tell me it was Fame that motivated them to be in show business.”
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.