Fame is an American television series originally produced between 1982 and 1987 by Eilenna Productions in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television and sponsored by Yamaha musical instruments, which are prominently showcased in the episodes. The show is based on the 1980 motion picture of the same name. Using a mixture of drama and music, it followed the lives of the students and faculty at the fictional New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Although fictional, it was based heavily on the actual Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Most interior scenes were filmed in Hollywood, California. In all seasons except the third, the show filmed several exterior scenes on location in New York City.
The popularity of the series, particularly in the UK, led to several hit records and live concert tours by the cast. Despite its success, very few of the actors maintained high-profile careers after the series was cancelled. A number of the cast members were seen again briefly in Bring Back…Fame, a reunion special made for UK television in 2008.
The show was produced by MGM Television and aired Thursday nights at 8:00–9:00 on NBC beginning on January 7, 1982. Despite glowing reviews from critics, ratings were less than impressive, and NBC cancelled it after only two seasons. However, by special arrangement with LBS Communications, MGM revived the series for first-run syndication in the fall of 1983, where it continued for four more seasons, with the last first-run episode airing in the US on May 18, 1987.
Ira Steven Behr wrote twelve episodes of the series. He recalled the series thusly:-
“I did three years on Fame, which was a lot of fun and was also in syndication. We had no one looking over our shoulder. We got to do some wonderfully bizarre things on the show, and the only time they gave us any trouble was the last show I was going to write after I knew we were cancelled. It was going to be Road Warrior meets Fame. It was a show that takes place in the future, and you could only sing for the state. It was a fascist society, and we were going to have motorcycles going through the school and have Iggy Pop as the guest star. It was great, and I was in the midst of writing the episode when somehow MGM read somewhere that we planned to burn down the sets, which was a lie. We were going to trash them a bit, but it wasn’t the last episode. We had one more after that, and they stopped me from writing it“.
Following its cancellation, two versions of the series were syndicated in reruns: the original hour-long episodes, which usually contained a primary plot, a sub plot and two or more musical numbers; and a second version, stripped of the musical numbers and the sub plot and reduced to 30 minutes in length.
The show’s theme song was a pop hit for singer Irene Cara, having been featured in the motion picture. A re-recorded version of the theme, using similar instrumentation to the 1980 track, was used in the TV series and sung by co-star Erica Gimpel, who played Coco Hernandez.
Although Gimpel left the series midway through the third season (after the show moved from NBC to first-run syndication in 1983), her opening vocals were still heard on the show for two more seasons. An updated version of the song, featuring a modern, synthesized hard-rock flavor, was introduced in the fall of 1985 and performed by new cast member Loretta Chandler (Dusty). This version ran for the final two seasons of Fame.
“I Still Believe In Me”, from an episode of the series titled “Passing Grade”, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Original Song. It was performed by Erica Gimpel and Debbie Allen and co-written by Gary Portnoy who would go on to co-write and sing the theme from Cheers.
In the UK, two singles credited to The Kids from “Fame”, “Hi-Fidelity” and “Starmaker”, reached the top ten.
There were four cast members from the original movie who appeared in the television series. Lee Curreri portrayed the character Bruno Martelli, an introverted musical genius. Gene Anthony Ray who portrayed Leroy Johnson, a tough hood from the projects with a natural talent for dance who muscles his way into an audition and wins. In the film, Leroy is also illiterate, but this was not addressed in the television series. Albert Hague who played teacher Benjamin Shorofsky, a German music teacher who constantly battled with Bruno Martelli over music styles. And the final cast member from the film was Debbie Allen who played dance instructor Lydia Grant.
Although Lydia only appeared briefly in the movie, her character was expanded in the series. Debbie Allen also became the show’s original choreographer, in addition to directing several episodes, and co-producing one season.
There were also several characters carried over from the movie, played by different actors. The character of Coco Hernandez appeared on the show, played by Erica Gimpel and not Irene Cara, who was offered the role by the show’s producers, but politely declined as she wanted to focus on developing her budding singing career. Actor P. R. Paul played Montgomery McNeil in the series, while Paul McCrane portrayed the gay student in the film. The Montgomery character was changed for TV and was no longer gay. English teacher, Elizabeth Sherwood was played in the film by actress Anne Meara, but in the series was played by actress Carol Mayo Jenkins.
The character of Ralph Garci (Tommy Aguilar inheriting the role played in the film by Barry Miller) appeared in the first episode of the TV version, but was metamorphosed into the character of Danny Amatullo. The character Doris Schwartz, played by Valerie Landsburg, was in the series while the character Doris Finsecker appeared in the film version and was portrayed by Maureen Teefy.
Since 2011, reruns of Fame have been airing in the United States on the arts-focused cable network Ovation.
The series won a number of Emmy awards and in 1983 and 1984 was voted the Golden Globe Awards: Television, Best Series Musical/Comedy.
Actress, director and choreographer Debbie Allen, who had a small role in the motion picture but played a major character in the television version, also won several awards.
- Debbie Allen as Lydia Grant
- Albert Hague as Benjamin Shorofsky
- Michael Thoma as Greg Crandall (Season 1)
- Carol Mayo Jenkins as Elizabeth Sherwood (seasons 1–5, final episode of season 6)
- Ann Nelson as Mrs. Gertrude Berg (Seasons 1.07-6)
- Morgan Stevens as David Reardon (season 2, recurring seasons 3 & 4)
- Ken Swofford as Principal Quentin Morloch (Seasons 3–5.09)
- Graham Jarvis as Principal Bob Dyrenforth (Seasons 5.10-6)
- Eric Pierpoint as Paul Seeger (Season 6.03)
- Gene Anthony Ray as Leroy Johnson (seasons 1–6)
- Carlo Imperato as Danny Amatullo (seasons 1.02-6)
- P. R. Paul as Montgomery MacNeil (season 1, final episode of season 6)
- Lori Singer as Julie Miller (seasons 1–2)
- Erica Gimpel as Coco Hernandez (seasons 1–3.08, recurring seasons 4–5, final episode of season 6)
- Lee Curreri as Bruno Martelli (seasons 1–3.23, final episode of season 6)
- Valerie Landsburg as Doris Schwartz (seasons 1–4.24, final episode of season 6)
- Billy Hufsey as Christopher Donlon (seasons 3–6)
- Cynthia Gibb as Holly Laird (seasons 3–5.10, final episode of season 6)
- Janet Jackson as Cleo Hewitt (season 4)
- Jesse Borrego as Jesse Velasquez (seasons 4–6)
- Nia Peeples as Nicole Chapman (seasons 4.02–6.10)
- Page Hannah as Kate Riley (season 5.10)
- Loretta Chandler as Dusty Tyler (seasons 5–6)
- Carrie Hamilton as Reggie Higgins (seasons 5.10-6)
- Michael Cerveris as Ian Ware (season 6)
- Elisa Heinsohn as Jillian Beckett (season 6.02)
- Olivia Barash as Maxie Sharp (season 6.12)
- Carmine Caridi as Angelo Martelli (seasons 1–2)
- Judy Farrell as Charlotte Miller (seasons 1–3)
- Michael DeLorenzo as Michael (seasons 1–3)
- Bronwyn Thomas as Michelle (seasons 1–4)
- David Greenlee as Dwight Mendenhall (seasons 2–5)
- Stephanie E. Williams as Stephanie Harrison (season 2)
- Connie Needham as Kelly Hayden (seasons 1.05–2.21)
- Jimmy Osmond as Troy Phillips (season 2)
- Sam Slovick as Cassidy (season 4)
- Dick Miller as Lou Mackie (seasons 4–6)
- Robert Romanus as Miltie Horowitz (seasons 5–6)
- Caryn Ward as Tina Johnson (seasons 5–6)
- Carolyn J. Silas as Laura Mackie (season 6)
- Denny Dillon as Corky (season 6)
- France: Series started on March 6, 1982 on TF1
- UK: Series started on June 17, 1982 on the BBC. Only the first four seasons were screened by the BBC, the full series was broadcast on The Children’s Channel in 1992.
- Sweden: Series started on September 5, 1982
- Israel: Series started in 1982
- Italy: Series was renamed “Saranno famosi”, started in January 1983 on Rai Due
- Brazil: Series started in 1983 on Rede Manchete
Presented by Justin Lee Collins, and apparently filmed the previous summer, the show followed the presenter around the United States as he tracked down actors from the series and then staged a reunion. The programme showed Collins appearing to surprise the former cast members in locations including restaurants, a recording studio, a gym, LAX airport and a cinema, before interviewing them and persuading them to take part in the reunion.
The actors featured in the programme were Debbie Allen, Carol Mayo Jenkins, Lee Curreri, Erica Gimpel, Valerie Landsburg and Carlo Imperato. Also interviewed were Irene Cara, who did not appear in the TV series but sang the theme song and played Coco in the original motion picture, and the mother of the late Gene Anthony Ray. It was not stated whether other actors from the series had also been approached but had declined to take part. Excerpts from the TV series were shown throughout the programme. The final scenes of the programme showed the six principal actors and a number of backing dancers taking part in a recreation of the title sequence of the TV programme.
The programme was made for and broadcast on Channel 4, despite Fame having originally been shown in the UK on the BBC.
Fame U.K. Reunion 2019
In May 2019 8 members of the cast: Lee Curreri, Erica Gimpel, Carlo Imperato, Valerie Landsburg, PR Paul, Cynthia Gibb, Jesse Borrego and Nia Peeples perform 2 Reunion Concert in Liverpool. This is the first time in over 35 years that the cast have performed together. In addition to the concerts there is a 3 day fan Convention: The Fame Family Experience, the first of it’s kind anywhere in the World. Carol Mayo Jenkins, Loretta Chandler and David Greenlee are special guests at the convention.