Hollywood Flashback: NBC’s Pricey ‘Supertrain’ Took a Short-Lived Ride

Sony Pictures hopes audiences are all aboard for Bullet Train, David Leitch’s action comedy starring Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and Brian Tyree Henry that hits theaters Aug. 5.

Trains have a history of transfixing Hollywood, dating back to 19th century silent-film footage of the vehicle that was so realistic, it reportedly caused audiences to flee in fear. But one project that didn’t captivate viewers as expected was the NBC drama series Supertrain.

Launched in February 1979 with stars Edward Andrews and Robert Alda, the show centered on a luxurious, nuclear-powered train and followed in the footsteps of ABC’s popular Love Boat by focusing on passengers’ personal lives — which involved murder, abduction, mystery and romance — amid the cross-country voyage. Skyrocketing costs for the lavish train sets led the network to spend at least $7 million ($28.6 million today) on the pilot, making it the most expensive series in TV history at the time.

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Alas, critical reception was bumpy, with The Hollywood Reporter‘s review referring to the show as “routine melodrama” despite praising the “fabulously imagined locomotive serving as the setting.”

Despite the lavish production, ‘Supertrain’ was “leaden in the ratings,” said THR on April 13, 1979.

The Hollywood Reporter

After three episodes, unimpressive ratings led the network to retool the creative team, and its sprawling roster of 10 series regulars (in addition to rotating guest stars) was whittled down to five. One of those remaining performers was Harrison Page, who recalls not only the painful cast exodus but also sudden story changes.

“We lost a lot of original castmembers because they just started over, and I was no longer a porter,” he tells THR about his character’s profession. “I became a PR guy, and I dressed differently. But I felt like I was very lucky to be chosen to stay on.”

Although the show was canceled after nine episodes, the experience remains a positive one for Page, a lifelong train fanatic who went on to star on series such as Sledge Hammer!, Quantum Leap and, most recently, Better Things. He effuses, “To be cast on a show about a train, that was the top of the line right there.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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