China Beach TV Series Overview (1988-1991)


Introduction

China Beach is an American dramatic television series set at an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War.

The title refers to My Khe beach in the city of Đà Nẵng, Vietnam, nicknamed “China Beach” in English by American and Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. The ABC TV drama aired for four seasons, from 1988 to 1991.

Outline

Created by William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young, the series looks at the Vietnam War from unique perspectives:

  • Those of the women; and
  • Military personnel and civilians who were present during the conflict.

John Wells took over most of the series beginning with the second season and many of the show’s cast members appeared later on the Wells-produced series ER.

Set in a Vietnam locale nicknamed “Bac My An Beach”, at the 510th Evacuation Hospital and R&R (the “Five-and-Dime” Rest & Recreation) facility, the series’ cast of characters includes US Army doctors and nurses, officers, soldiers, Red Cross volunteers and civilian personnel (American, French, and Vietnamese). The series also features the experiences of the characters when they return to the United States, either on leave or at the end of their tours of duty. The show does not shy away from showing the brutality of war; it provides a very gritty view of the experience and its aftermath.

The show is based on the book Home Before Morning (1983) written by the former US Army Nurse Lynda Van Devanter. The show’s character Nurse Colleen McMurphy roughly follows Van Devanter’s experiences as a nurse in Vietnam. The book takes the reader from Van Devanter’s wish to serve her country through the adventure she thought her deployment to Vietnam would be, her culture shock upon returning to “the States”, and her struggles with PTSD. The show was cancelled before it could fully address McMurphy’s PTSD issues. Van Devanter died in 2002.

Cast

  • Dana Delany as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Colleen McMurphy, USA:
    • A Catholic girl from Lawrence, Kansas and army nurse with the 510th Evac Hospital in Vietnam during the late 1960s, she has five brothers; only four of them ever appear on camera, Brian, Brendan, Conor, and Daniel.
    • Daniel was the youngest and a hippie who lived in a commune in 1967.
    • A composite of various real-life Vietnam War nurses, the character illustrates their courage, kindness, and sacrifices during the war, as well as the severe emotional scarring of non-combatant personnel during and following military service; several episodes feature the veterans in their own words, intercut with the storyline.
    • Delany won two Emmy awards for the role.
  • Nan Woods as Cherry White (seasons 1-2):
    • A naïve Red Cross volunteer (“doughnut dolly”) from Iowa, she comes to China Beach to search for her brother Rick, a Marine Infantryman, who was reported MIA after the Battle of Khe Sanh.
    • She dies midway through the second season during the Tet Offensive in January 1968.
  • Michael Boatman as SP4 Samuel Beckett, USA:
    • A draftee and a preacher’s son from North Carolina, he works in the Graves Registration unit at China Beach.
    • His job makes him unpopular with most of the other servicemen.
  • Marg Helgenberger as Karen Charlene “K.C.” Koloski:
    • A cynical part-time prostitute and civilian volunteer, she comes to China Beach seeking to make her own wealth and fortune.
  • Robert Picardo as Captain Dick Richard, USA:
    • A head surgeon and womaniser dealing with being drafted into Army and away from his family, he worked as an OB-GYN when he was a civilian.
  • Tim Ryan as Captain Bartholomew “Natch” Austen, USAF (regular in season 1; recurring in season 2):
    • A jet fighter pilot and McMurphy’s love interest.
  • Concetta Tomei as Major Lila Garreau, USA:
    • A World War II veteran, she is the career – Army commanding officer of China Beach.
  • Brian Wimmer as Corporal Boonwell “Boonie” Lanier, USMC:
    • The friendly China Beach lifeguard and manager of the Jet Set Club.
    • Wimmer’s character was originally named Lanier Boonwell and was referred to as such during the first season, although he was ultimately called “Boonie” throughout the entire run of the show.
  • Jeff Kober as Staff Sergeant Evan “Dodger” Winslow, USMC:
    • A moody Marine Force Reconnaissance operative, he serves and fights in the jungle mainly to keep other servicemen in his platoon alive.
    • Nicknamed for his ability to dodge injury and death, he is also known as a “quiet sort” who generally keeps to himself.
    • He constantly displays the “thousand yard stare”, a dull blank facial expression common among shell-shocked soldiers who have seen too much death and destruction in battle.
    • He is a friend of Boonie, McMurphy, and Cherry.
  • Chloe Webb as Laurette Barber (season 1):
    • A USO singer from Paoli, Pennsylvania, she is determined to make it big.
  • Megan Gallagher as Airman Wayloo Marie Holmes, USAF (season 2):
    • A reporter for the Armed Services Network, she is seeking a career as a world-famous reporter.
  • Nancy Giles as Private Franklin “Frankie” Bunsen, USA (seasons 2-4);
    • A female private, she was assigned to the China Beach motor pool.
  • Ned Vaughn as Corporal Jeff Hyers, USA (season 3; guest appearances in seasons 2 and 4):
    • A good-natured combat medic from Georgia, he is killed in action midway through the third season during a routine patrol.
  • Troy Evans as Master Sergeant Bob Pepper, USA (seasons 3-4):
    • A World War II veteran, he is a driver, mechanic, and non-commissioned officer in charge of the motor pool.
    • He becomes romantically involved with Lila Garreau, whom he later marries.
  • Ricki Lake as Holly Pelegrino (season 3):
    • She is a sharp-witted Red Cross volunteer.

Nancy Sinatra made a guest appearance in the first-season finale, re-creating concerts she performed for US troops in 1966 and 1967.

Release

China Beach was a critically lauded, but poorly rated series.

China Beach debuted in rerun syndication on the women-focused Lifetime, on 04 November 1991.

Home Media

Before being released on DVD, the series’ only home video release was the 2-hour pilot movie on Warner Home Video, in 1990.

In December 2012, it was announced that the series, among the most-requested television shows not available through either VHS or DVD following its broadcast run, would be issued on DVD in a box set (including new interviews with cast members and various bonus features) and released on 15 April 2013, through StarVista Entertainment (affiliated with TimeLife). The collection includes 302 songs heard during the series. To mark the show’s 25th anniversary, a 21-disc collector’s set was released 01 October 2013.

Music rights long delayed the release on DVD. More than 250 songs were licensed; seventeen could not be, and were either deleted or replaced.

Trivia

  • The show is based on a 1983 memoir by Linda van Devanter, reprinted in 2001:
    • Van Devanter, Lynda; Morgan, Christopher (1983). Home before morning: the story of an Army nurse in Vietnam. New York: Beaufort Books. ISBN 9781558492981. LCCN 82020651.
  • Two additional memoirs by medical personnel stationed at the actual China Beach:
    • Walsh, Patricia L (2009). River City: a nurse’s year in Vietnam memoir. Boulder, CO: Toa Press. ISBN 9780982298909. LCCN 2011281929.
    • Pitlyk, Paul J. (2012). Blood on China Beach: my story as a brain surgeon in Vietnam. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 9781475959451. LCCN 2012920798.
  • Fiction:
    • The Healer’s War, 1989 Nebula Award-winning novel of magical realism by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, RN, five-year US Army veteran, based upon her year at My Khe Beach, Da Nang, nicknamed China Beach.
  • ABC persisted with the show for four seasons, but the final season was put on hiatus in fall 1990 and did not air its finale until 22 July 1991.
    • As a result of the scheduling, Dana Delany was eligible for (and ultimately won) a Best Actress Emmy Award in the fall of 1992, a year after the series broadcast its final episode and over a year and a half after many of the scenes were filmed.
  • The title sequence theme song was “Reflections” by Diana Ross & the Supremes (although several episodes instead used “We Gotta Get out of This Place” by Eric Burdon with Katrina & The Waves).

Tie-In Novel

John Sacret Young stated at the Paley Centre, prior to the show’s October 2013 release on DVD, that he had written a follow-up novel, titled Reflections, wherein Colleen, now in her 60s and recently widowed, returns to Vietnam and reconnects with the retired Dick Richards and venture capitalist K.C. Koloski. Young also hoped to adapt it into a TV movie.

China Beach Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Mimi Leder … (13 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Sacret Young … (12 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Christopher Leitch … (5 episodes, 1988-1990).
    • Michael Fresco … (4 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • Fred Gerber … (4 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Michael Ray Rhodes … (4 episodes, 1989).
    • Rod Holcomb … (3 episodes, 1988).
    • Steve Dubin … (3 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Michael Katleman … (2 episodes, 1990).
    • Kevin Hooks … (1 episode, 1988).
    • Dan Lerner … (1 episode, 1988).
    • Bethany Rooney … (1 episode, 1988).
    • Peter Medak … (1 episode, 1989).
    • Sharron Miller … (1 episode, 1989).
    • David Burton Morris … (1 episode, 1989).
    • Michael Toshiyuki Uno … (1 episode, 1989).
    • Neema Barnette … (1 episode, 1990).
    • Robert Ginty … (1 episode, 1990).
    • Diane Keaton … (1 episode, 1990).
    • David Soul … (1 episode, 1990).
    • Gary Sinise … (1 episode, 1991).
  • Producer(s):
    • John Sacret Young … executive producer (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Geno Escarrega … co-producer / producer / line producer / associate producer (56 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Wells … supervising producer / producer / co-executive producer (55 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Fred Gerber … producer / coordinating producer / co-producer (38 episodes, 1988-1990).
    • Mimi Leder … producer / supervising producer (38 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • Christopher Nelson … co-producer / associate producer (25 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Georgia Jeffries … supervising producer (21 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Patricia Green … supervising producer (17 episodes, 1988-1989).
    • Barbara Marshall … associate producer / co-producer (17 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Carol Flint … producer (16 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Lydia Woodward … producer (16 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Rod Holcomb … supervising producer (6 episodes, 1988).
    • John Lugar … producer (6 episodes, 1988).
    • Darryl Levine … associate producer (6 episodes, 1991).
  • Writer(s):
    • John Sacret Young … (creator) (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Sacret Young … (story) (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Sacret Young … (teleplay) (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Sacret Young … (writer) (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Sacret Young … (written by) (62 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • William Broyles Jr. … (creator) (61 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • William Broyles Jr. … (writer) (61 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • William Broyles Jr. … (story) (61 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • William Broyles Jr. … (teleplay) (61 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • William Broyles Jr. … (written by) (61 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Carol Flint … (written by) (19 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Carol Flint … (story) (19 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Carol Flint … (teleplay) (19 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Wells … (story) (17 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Wells … (written by) (17 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • John Wells … (teleplay) (17 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Lydia Woodward … (story) (14 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • Lydia Woodward … (written by) (14 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • Lydia Woodward … (teleplay) (14 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • Susan Rhinehart … (written by) (7 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Susan Rhinehart … (teleplay) (7 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Susan Rhinehart … (story) (7 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Josef Anderson … (written by) (5 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Josef Anderson … (teleplay) (5 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Cathryn Michon … (teleplay) (3 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Cathryn Michon … (staff writer) (3 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Toni Graphia … (written by) (2 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Alan Brennert … (written by) (2 episodes, 1989).
    • Patricia Green … (written by) (2 episodes, 1989).
    • Georgia Jeffries … (written by) (2 episodes, 1989).
    • Paris Qualles … (teleplay) (2 episodes, 1990).
    • Paris Qualles … (written by) (2 episodes, 1990).
    • Ann Donahue … (written by) (1 episode, 1988).
    • Terry McDonell … (written by) (1 episode, 1988).
    • Glen Merzer … (written by) (1 episode, 1989).
    • Neal Baer … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1990).
    • Martin M. Goldstein … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1990).
    • Fred T. Yakovich … (written by) (1 episode, 1990).
    • Dottie Dartland Zicklin … (story) (1 episode, 1990).
    • Angela Ventresca … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1991).
  • Music:
    • Paul Chihara … (54 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Shirley Walker … (3 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • John Rubinstein … (2 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Geno Escarrega … (2 episodes, 1990).
    • Nathan Wang … (2 episodes, 1990).
  • Cinematography:
    • Richard Thorpe … (27 episodes, 1989-1991).
    • John J. Connor … (21 episodes, 1988-1989).
    • Francis Grumman … (11 episodes, 1989-1990).
    • Charles Minsky … (1 episode, 1988).
  • Editor(s):
    • Erwin Dumbrille … (17 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Jacque Elaine Toberen … (16 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Christopher Nelson … (8 episodes, 1988-1991).
    • Randy Jon Morgan … (8 episodes, 1988-1990).
    • Irvin Paik … (4 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Deborah Sahagun … (2 episodes, 1990-1991).
    • Mort Fallick … (2 episodes, 1990).
    • Kurt P. Galvao … (1 episode, 1990).
    • Leslie Gaulin … (1 episode, 1990).
  • Production:
    • Sacret.
    • Warner Bros. Television.
  • Distributor(s):
    • American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1988-1991) (USA) (TV).
    • Veronica Omroep Organisatie (Netherlands) (TV).
    • Warner Home Video (2004) (USA) (DVD).
  • Release Date:
    • Pilot: 26 April 1988.
    • Season 01: 27 April 1988 to 08 June 1988.
    • Season 02: 30 November 1988 to 03 May 1989.
    • Season 03: 20 September 1989 to 30 April 1990.
    • Season 04: 29 September 1990 to 22 July 1990.
  • Running Time: 47-48 minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.