Prime Time

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

First novels are often quite autobiographical. When celebrities such as Joan Collins break into print, readers are bound to wonder where fictional invention ends and factual re-creation begins. In the case of PRIME TIME, the attempt to match real people with invented characters is all the more tempting as Collins appears to have mined her own best-selling autobiography, PAST IMPERFECT, for the raw material of the novel.

PRIME TIME is the story, told from the vantage point of several characters, of the casting and development of a television drama series which bears a striking resemblance to that in which Collins has so long participated. Vying for the female lead, a role which will transform their sagging careers, are a legendary superstar since childhood (Emerald Barrymore), a sex object in the Marilyn Monroe mode (Rosalinde Lamaze), an Academy Award-winning actress past her professional peak (Sissy Sharp), a saintly young actress on her way up (Sabrina Jones), and an English cabaret singer whose professional career and personal life are both in a shambles as the novel begins (Chloe Carriere).

As the competition for the coveted role in what is destined to be a financial blockbuster unfolds, Collins is able to comment caustically on the world of “money, sex, power and glamour” that purports to be the television industry in the 1980’s. Her view of the industry differs very little from that already sketched by her sister, Jackie, in her own very successful series of novels.

PRIME TIME is an interesting and intriguing look at an industry and a life-style which continue to captivate the American public. Nevertheless, a careful description of which couturiere produced the clothing worn by various protagonists is not an adequate substitute for psychological insight. Moreover, introducing real figures into a fictional narrative without allowing them to interact with the characters does little to give a sense of verisimilitude to the novel. PRIME TIME is, however, an obvious candidate for a television miniseries--which was probably the author’s intention.