This musical comedy-drama was based on the 1980 film about students and faculty at New York City's High School for the Performing Arts. The series essentially picked up where the film left off, with talented kids learning about hard work and dedication-along with rejection and the usual problems of being an adolescent. And it has worn well; Fame's formula was updated successfully for the hybrid musical-drama Glee. Several of the movie's cast members moved over to the television version, including Debbie Allen (instructor Lydia Grant; Allen also produced and directed many episodes), Gene Anthony Ray (aspiring dancer Leroy Johnson), Albert Hague (music instructor Benjamin Shorofsky) and Lee Cufrreri (keyboard player/composer Bruno Martelli).
Others in the ensemble cast included Valerie Landsburg, Erica Gimpel, Cynthia Gibb, future superstar Janet Jackson (as Cleo Hewitt) and Nia Peoples as Nicole Chapman. Critics loved the talented cast and the realistic stories-but Fame suffered in the ratings against CBS' megahit Magnum, P.I. After one and a half seasons, NBC pulled the plug. But MGM Television (with financial help from the BBC and Australia's Seven Network) began producing new episodes for local stations and worldwide distribution, starting in the fall of 1983. It became an even bigger hit than during its NBC run. There were a number of cast changes during the syndicated run, but it was popular enough to run for four seasons. Like Glee many years later, the cast members were featured on records and in live production but few of them achieved long-running careers.
In 1997, a spin-off of Fame was produced; the new Fame L.A. again featured a talented young cast studying and performing, this time in hip Venice, California. But Fame L.A. didn't catch on, and ran for just one season. In December 2008, UK's Channel 4 aired a 90-minute special which reunited some of the original Fame cast members in the States. Host Justin Lee Collins interviewed some of the show's former stars, including the mother of Gene Anthony Ray (who died in 2003 from stroke complications). Fame's theme song, which Irene Cara made a top-ten hit when the movie was released in 1980, was also used in the series. The TV version was initially sung by Erica Gimpel (who played the Coco Hernandez role that Cara performed in the film), before new cast member Loretta Chandler did the vocals for the show's final seasons.
Published on December 11th, 2018. Written by Mike Spadoni for Television Heaven.