40th Anniversary of Cliffhangers

NBC’s short-lived Cliffhangers debuted 40 years ago today in 1979. It lasted just ten weeks. The hour-long series consisted of three separate serial dramas: Stop Susan Williams, starring Susan Anton; The Secret Empire, starring Geoffrey Scott; and The Curse of Dracula, starring Michael Nouri. When NBC cancelled the series due to low ratings, it left the last episode unaired.

As a result, two of the three serials–Stop Susan Williams and The Secret Empire–literally ended with cliffhangers The Curse of Dracula concluded during the tenth episode.

Check out my articles about Cliffhangers:

Here’s a promotional spot for the series premiere of Cliffhangers:

Notice how The Curse of Dracula is referred to as Dracula ’79, an early working title for the serial.

After the cancellation, production company Universal Television edited Stop Susan Williams and The Curse of Dracula into made-for-TV movies. The series has never aired in syndication in the United States, although all 11 episodes did air intentionally internationally. Cliffhangers has never been released on home video, although I know there are people who would love the opportunity to see it again.

Did you watch Cliffhangers four decades ago in 1979? Did you have a favorite serial? Would you buy the series on DVD if available? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

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19 Replies to “40th Anniversary of Cliffhangers”

  1. Would I like to see “Cliffhangers” again? YOU BET!! In fact, when the “TV Shows On DVD” website was still active, this show was on my wish list for shows I hoped would be out on DVD one day. I was only 2 1/2 years old when “Cliffhangers” premiered, and I remember watching “Stop Susan Williams” and “The Secret Empire”. In fact, the latter show was my favorite! I especially liked the hooded red capes the aliens wore—it made them look like Superman!

  2. I remember that show and always hated the fact that NBC didn’t finish Stop Susan Williams or The Secret Empire. BTW, I was 20 when Cliffhangers aired!

  3. This series likely failed mostly because NBC ran it against ABC’s HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. I also recall NBC sacrificing THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW, THE CHUCK BARRIS “RAH-RAH” SHOW (which my 7th grade science teacher “assigned” us to watch once), and THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO here. I don’t think NBC had a hit here until Jan. 1983, when it premiered THE A-TEAM after SB XVII and ran it against those by-then aging sitcoms. L&S was pretty much fatally wounded that fall when Cindy Williams left after 2 episodes of its 7th & final season, leaving the series essentially “Laverne & Furniture” (as a friend referred to it).

    I never watched CLIFFHANGERS, partly because fantasy-adventure series rarely appealed to me and mostly because I had Boy Scout meetings Tuesday nights. (Yes, I missed HD and L&S, as well as THREE’S COMPANY, because of these meetings.)

    1. It’s timeslot is what killed “Cliffhangers”.

      In a different time period, this unique idea might have been a hit, especially if all the serials had started with “Chapter One” and with each serial running a different number of episodes so that they didn’t all end at the same time (except for perhaps the season finale).

  4. I remember all those shows [you left out Grandpa Goes To Washington with Jack Albertson], but why would your teacher tell you to watch Rah-Rah? Was the subject bad TV…LOL!! Good joke about Laverne minus Shirley, would you believe they even redid did the schmozzle [sp?] song with young girls? TV shows like these is why I never became a Cub Scout!

  5. The schizoid approach to “Cliffhangers” can be seen in how a lot of the budget went to hire Susan Anton for “her” storyline which meant that “Curse of Dracula” and “Secret Empire” were populated more by low-budget Universal contract players in big roles. Carol Baxter, the damsel in distress in “Dracula” had only a couple bit parts on “Battlestar Galactica” before getting this big role. And in “Secret Empire” they gave a plum role to Diane Markoff who played the waitress at Danny’s on “Quincy M.E.” and it was her total ineptitude as an actress that led to them firing her, recasting the part with Stepfanie Kramer and concocting a plastic surgery element to explain the new actress.

  6. This story makes a lot of sense as Susan Anton was sort of a hot property then and could have been a “Charlie’s Angel”! However, you must give props to Marj Dusay and Louise Sorel, 2 talented actresses who supported on “Stop Susan Williams” and “Curse Of Dracula” respectively!

  7. I watched all 10 episodes of this show when it aired in 1979 ( I was 12 at the time). I would love to a company like Shout Factory release this on DVD with all 11 episodes included and perhaps even the three tv movies entitled The Girl Who Saved the World, Dracula ’79, and World of Dracula that were cobbled together from the episodes as extras.

  8. I think you mean “internationally” instead of “intentionally.”

    NBC announced plans to start their own streaming service in 2020 so there’s some chance it could show up there, not likely right away though since they have more popular content to show. They may not feel they could make enough money on a DVD. There are apparently off-air recording of the show from later re-airings.

    Their big mistake was in not realizing that not everyone likes every type of show, so one might be interested in only one or two of the three shows which would really mess with ratings. Running each as a mini-series would have made more sense.

  9. Loved the show, I was only 10 but fell in Love with Susan Anton, wish she did not fall off the face of the earth though, also liked her coin (lol), think of this show often, wish it was remastered and able to be purchased Blu-ray or DVD

  10. I remember watching the show when I was 11 and loved it. I wanted to know if the cowboy escaped the giant tarantula or if Susan Anton got eaten up by the pariahs. It was weird when the Dracula series and there were still two shows left.

  11. Loved this show and very disappoint when I sat to watch it and didn’t come that night. My favorite was THE LOST EMPIRE.

  12. Of course I would love to have this series on dvd even if only 1 of the 3 actually finished. I watched the show faithfully when it aired. I grew up watching televised movie serials or chapter plays from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s in black and white. Here was a chance to watch cliffhangers in COLOR!. I was never a fan of silly sitcoms with even sillier canned laughter (like L& S or HD). My viewing consisted of westerns and action series like Bring Em Back Alive and Tales of the Gold Monkey. My favorites usually lasted one season and were gone. There are some many tv series that don’t deserve to be on dvd. Why put out last season right after it starts a new season? Who determines what shows up on dvd? Many of my favorite westerns are available but I have been looking for Lancer with James Stacy for years.

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