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Series / Centennial

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Only the Rocks Live Forever...

A miniseries that aired in 1978-1979, during the heyday of TV miniseries, and based on the acclaimed James Michener novel. Just like most of his historical novels, the series follows the events set around a region of Colorado, starting the the formation of the land some million years ago! From there, it skips ahead to the beginning of western expansion. Characters and their long lines of descendants then make up the cast, as the story unfolds with the frontier they've made as their home becomes a trading post, then a cattle ranch, until a Western town slowly forms into a modern one, all over the course of two centuries.

Unlike most miniseries at that time, Centennial was possibly the longest and most ambitious of projects, with a budget of $25 million and rounding out at over 26 hours long! That's with commercials.

Now with a recap page.


  • Adaptation Distillation: Whether it is for the sake of simplicity or because the miniseries is already large, the TV adaptation differs from the original book in a number of ways. In particular:
    • The second and third chapters of the book are condensed and given a passing mention in the prologue of the first episode of the miniseries, starting with the fourth chapter and Lame Beaver. The second chapter, focusing on the animals, also features the appearance of a Diplodicus, who is only given a passing mention in the final episode of the miniseries where its remains were unearthed.
    • The ninth chapter of the book showcases hunts and extinction of the Buffalo, which is only given a passing mention by Amos Calendar in Nate Person in the seventh episode of the miniseries.
    • The eleventh chapter of the book goes into detail the establishment of the Central Beet plant by Hans Brumbaugh's son Kurt, but in eleventh episode of the miniseries, it is glossed over.
    • The series leaves out an entire generation, making Paul Garett the grandson of Jim and Charlotte Lloyd instead of their great-grandson. This omits his also being descended from Levi Zendt and Max Mercy, which makes him a descendant of Pasquenel on both sides. The series doesn't edit the family tree from the book, however, which confuses the issue.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book never covers Levi Zendt's death. It's just mentioned in passing by a third party that Lucinda is a widow. The series has him run over by a train after slipping in the snow, followed by his friends' reaction and a funeral.
  • Artistic License – Religion: In the miniseries, Skimmerhorn justifies his slaughter of the Native Americans by claiming they are Lamanites who had their skin darkened for rejecting God. He claims this is from The Bible, but it is actually from The Book of Mormon. In the original novel, it's explained how Skimmerhorn acquired this Mormon belief without actually being a Mormon.
  • Brick Joke:
  • Cattle Drive
  • Dawn of the Wild West: The first hours of the miniseries are set during the early 1800s. The Twilight of the Old West is depicted towards the end of the series.
  • Dead Hat Shot Levi's hat as he slips under the train
  • Deadly Dust Storm: Circa 1935, the older son of a poor family drove the local bus (school bus?) in a dust storm, got stuck and suffocated.
  • Duel to the Death: Frank Skimmerhorn and Maxwell Mercy
  • Evil Colonialist: Nearly all the bad guys in the series are some version of this trope.
  • End of an Era: Happens more than once given the time-span. The time of the native tribes give way to the white settlers of the Wild West which gives way to the modern world we know by The '70s.
  • Fate Worse than Death Amish shunning
  • Freudian Excuse: Frank Skimmerhorn's genocidal hatred of Native Americans comes from a time when almost his whole family was killed by Sioux Indians.
  • Generational Saga
  • Gold Fever: Lame Beaver discovers gold in a stream, but unaware of it's value he molds the rocks into gold bullets. The location of this hidden stream dies with him in battle, but Pasquinel and Mc Keag find the "yellow bullets" afterwards. Pasquinel spends the remainder of his life trying in vain to find the gold.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sam Purchase and arguably Jaques Pasquinel
  • The Great Depression
  • Green Aesop: The final episode, "The Scream of Eagles", is set in the contemporary 1970s and is all about this trope.
  • The Gunslinger: averted as the hired killers prefer long range assassination
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Jake Pasquinel is a hate-filled murderer and bigot, not only against the whites but against Pawnee and other Indians not of his own tribe . . . and when he constantly predicts that the U.S. government's greed for Indian land will be insatiable and all negotiations useless, he's absolutely correct.
  • Knight Templar: Frank Skimmerhorn believes God has spoken to him, and tasked him with a "crusade" to eradiacte all Indians from Colorado.
  • Meaningful Name: Colorado is the Centennial State, having been granted statehood in 1876.
  • Mountain Man. Pasquinel and Alexander McKeag. Sam Purchas is a less worthy example.
  • Narrator: David Janssen as Paul Jarrett, a modern-day descendant of the original settlers of Centennial.
  • Noble Savage: Played straight, lampshaded, averted... the Native Americans in the story are shown to be complex individuals
  • The Sheriff
  • Shown Their Work: To the point that the book has an appendix at the end of each chapter just to show off the facts that wouldn't fit into the main body of the narrative.
  • Too Happy to Live: Elly Zendt
  • Uptown Girl: After her husband's death, Charlotte Seccombe (the now wealthy owner of the Vennford Ranch) falls in love with Jim Lloyd, the ranch foreman.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Frank Skimmerhorn's vicious campaign against the defenseless Arapaho is initially celebrated until the grisly details come to light: Mervin Wendell gets rich by taking advantage of naive homesteaders and is regarded as a pillar of the community.
  • The Western: Especially the episode The Longhorns
  • You're Insane!: Colonel Skimmerhorn is told this. His reply is, "No, sir. I'm right."