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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough your personal mileage may vary, many would readily argue that author Arthur Hailey’s greatest legacy is his 1968 novel, “Airport,” which gave us one pretty solid motion picture and three sequels which, although they provided a series of diminishing returns, nonetheless make for a highly entertaining Sunday afternoon marathon. Still, when we look back at Hailey’s works, let us not count out the novel which preceded “Airport.” Released in 1965, “Hotel” told the story of the St. Gregory Hotel, located in New Orleans, and it was successful enough at the time to spawn a movie adaption in 1967, starring Rod Taylor, Melvyn Douglas, and Karl Malden. It would take more than a decade and a half, however, for someone to get the bright idea to make it into a TV series.
That someone was the one and only Aaron Spelling, and in 1983, his reputation was still riding high on the late ‘70s success of such guest-heavy series as “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island,” not to mention the then-current triumph of the glitzy “Dynasty.” As such, he decided to take the concept of Hailey’s novel and combine the feel of both types of shows, delving into the lives of the rich and powerful individuals who stayed at the St. Gregory. One presumes that Spelling felt that an insufficient amount of such folks would pass through Nawlins, however, as he opted to transport the locale of the hotel to San Francisco.
When the two-hour pilot for “Hotel” – which, appropriately, kicks off the set – made its network debut, what particularly caught the eye of viewers was the casting of the legendary Bette Davis as Laura Trent, owner of the St. Gregory. Alas, Davis suffered a stroke not long after filming the pilot, necessitating her replacement. Enter Anne Baxter, who, like Davis, was known far more for her film work than anything she had done on television up to that point – well, with the possible exception of a highly memorable episode of “Columbo,” that is. Baxter was given a new character to play on “Hotel,” but Victoria Cabot still held the same status as Laura Trent, exuding power and class while letting the St. Gregory’s general manager, Peter McDermott (James Brolin), all of the heavy lifting. In turn, Peter had assistance from his staff: promotions manager Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca), PR director Mark Danning (Shea Farrell), security director Billy Griffin (Nathan Cook), receptionist Julie Gillette (Shari Belafonte), and Dave and Megan Kendall (Michael Spound and Heidi Bohay), a young married couple who work as bellhop and desk clerk, respectively.
Here’s the problem with “Hotel,” however: it has aged very, very badly. It feels every bit of an Aaron Spelling production, and not in a good way. Oh sure, the guest-star formula means that we’re privy to appearances by some of the most familiar faces to grace the silver screen and the small screen. Let’s just pick one name from each episode and show you what we mean: you’ve got Shirley Jones, Stewart Granger, Heather Locklear, Robert Vaughn, Robert Reed, Lynn Redgrave, Cathy Lee Crosby, Martin Landau, Scott Baio, John Davidson, Lorenzo Lamas, Tori Spelling (what a shock), Gary Collins, McLean Stevenson, Adrienne Barbeau, Jose Ferrer, Tom Smothers, Robert Stack, Roy Thinnes, Louis Jordan, Shelley Winters, Sally Kellerman, and even Engelbert Humperdinck! Unfortunately, the series offers some of the most melodramatic claptrap you’ve ever seen, and the attempts to be a bit edgy – for instance, in the pilot, a hooker (Morgan Fairchild) takes on a client in the hotel and ends up getting gang raped by a bunch of rich frat boys for her trouble – more often come across as laughable.
If you’ve already indulged in Spelling’s other series and survived, then there’s no reason to steer you away from “Hotel,” as it’ll still give you a chance to see a lot of fine actors, even if they aren’t always playing to their strengths with the material they’re given. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing out loud for all the wrong reasons.
Special Features: None, unless you count the inclusion of the two-hour pilot.