The Office’s Melora Hardin on playing Baby in Dirty Dancing: The Television Series

Consider the obvious: Not one of the following Dirty Dancing remakes or spin-offs, Dirty Dancing (1988 TV series), Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), or Dirty Dancing (2017), ABC's recent remake that starred Abigail Breslin, came remotely close to capturing the ethereal magic of the original film,

Released into theaters in the late-Summer of 1987, Dirty Dancing captivated audiences.

John and Baby Distressed T-shirt

Dirty Dancing was a box office success; the movie grossed over 200 million dollars; the film recouped it's 6 million budget less than four weeks after its release. The coming-of-age story, set in 1963, saw the high school and college-age young women, but also, middle-aged housewives, with aspirations to escape their humdrum suburban existence, coming out in droves; audiences could not get enough of the movie. Women identified with Francis “Baby” Houseman, and they fell in love with Johnny Castle—it leads to repeat business.

The film was such a phenomenon, in fact, that when it came to home video for the first time, in October of 1988, in less-populated parts of the United States, Dirty Dancing could still be found in movie theaters. For example, if you lived in the town of Ionia, Michigan at this time, you could see the movie at the city’s, historic, single-screen movie theater, or you could go next door—literally—and rent it from the video store.

Fans that have grown up with the movie playing in the background have often speculated on its success. 

  • Why did it become a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s? 
  • Why does "Dirty Dancing" bring us back to it time-and-time again? 
  • Do we revisit it because it's a love story, or because it's a coming-of-age story? If our reasoning brings us back to it, because it’s a coming-of-age story, and we understand that it’s set in an innocent time that will lead to the loss of innocence itself, does 
  • Dirty Dancing mimic coming-of-age in reality? 
  • Is it an analogy for America's own coming-of-age, our loss of innocence in the age of assassination?

Receiving atrocious reviews, ABC's 2017 Dirty Dancing, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights are easily forgettable. But, if there's one remake, or prequel, or spin-off that's managed to come the closest to capturing the lightning in a bottle of the original, it was the 1988 CBS Dirty Dancing television series. Airing on CBS from October 1988 until late-January 1989, the series starred Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson-Gould on NBC's The Office), and Patrick Cassidy. The CBS Dirty Dancing series received warm critical reviews; playing Francis "Baby" Kellerman and not Francis "Baby Houseman, actress Melora Hardin got the best press—it was said, by critics, that she was a better Baby than Jennifer Grey.

What made the show great was its ability to expand on the characters created by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein. Having an opportunity, each week, to explore characters like Baby and Johnny in a 30-minute slot, though, proved to not be conducive to a majority of the Nielsen ratings share. The show was canceled on CBS after airing on 11-episodes.

Why was the CBS Dirty Dancing TV Series of 1988 canceled?

HARDIN:With low ratings, CBS’s Dirty Dancing TV was canceled on January 28th, 1989. The show had stiff competition in the era; also on the air in the Fall of 1988 were Midnight Caller, Murphy Brown, Empty Nest, Mission Impossible, Dear John, China Beach, Baby Boom, and Roseanne. It seems likely, also, that with the October of 1988 home video release of Dirty Dancing, the possibility that audiences at home had simply grown tired of the dance movie phenomenon is feasible.

Melora Hardin looked back with us here at TVStoreOnline.com in 2013 about her time on Dirty Dancing: The Television Series via interview:

You mentioned Dirty Dancing: The Television Series a moment ago...Television critics at the time said that you were a better "Baby" than Jennifer Grey...Getting cast as Baby...Did you feel any pressure that you'd have to live up to any expectations that fans of the Dirty Dancing movie might have in the character coming to CBS?

HARDIN: I didn't. I really felt like the producers were saying that they were going to make the show something different from the movie. I had been a dancer my entire life and I really wanted to work with [Dirty Dancing choreographer] Kenny Ortega. Being a dancer, getting the part of Baby Kellerman on the show, I was annoyed by the character’s inability to dance, because I could. Patrick Swayze was actually my first dance teacher. I got to work with him when I was fifteen years old. He was so hot, too. He looked just like Johnny Castle, even back then.

The show was canceled after a handful of episodes...Where do you think it went wrong? Did it not find an audience? Was it on a wrong night? Was it because it didn't focus in on the Johnny and Baby characters, solely? The show had more of an ensemble storyline….

HARDIN: I think it was just bad timing. That's the case with so many shows that get canceled before they really get anywhere. Look at The Office, for example. Had reality television not been at its peak, the show might not have succeeded, in my opinion. The whole documentary style of The Office I think really offered an audience something that reminded them of something real. Dirty Dancing: The Series was great. It had a great team behind it, and it really had a great cast too.

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