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Lifetime's 'Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas' has decadence, drama, an epic food fight

There was one rule for the epic food fight scene in "Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas."

There would be only one chance to film the pivotal, and messy, culinary chaos sparked by the Avengers-style collection of glam 1980s TV actresses, including "Knots Landing" stars Donna Mills, 82, and Nicollette Sheridan, 60; Morgan Fairchild, 73, of "Falcon Crest" fame; "Dallas" star Linda Gray, 83; and Loni Anderson, 78, best known for "WKRP in Cincinnati."

"We were only going to shoot that food fight scene one time. That's it," says executive producer Larry Thompson, who assembled the '80s Dream Team for the Lifetime holiday movie (Saturday, 8 EST/PST, and streaming Sunday). "We weren't going get these ladies redressed and fix their hair to shoot it twice. We didn't have time. So we rehearsed. 'You hit so-and-so with that. Just make sure you get it. Because we're not doing it again.'"

"The food fight was one take," says Gray, who wore – and wrecked – a gown worthy of "Dallas" matriarch Sue Ellen Ewing, whom she played on the CBS nighttime soap. "And it was fabulous."

Here's how "Ladies of '80s" came together, and descended into delicious diva decadence.

Nicollette Sheridan puts pie in Morgan Fairchild's face during the "Ladies of the '80s" food fight.
Nicollette Sheridan puts pie in Morgan Fairchild's face during the "Ladies of the '80s" food fight.

'Ladies of the 80s' united pioneering TV women whose characters were 'in control'

Hollywood manager Thompson, 79, first proposed the "Ladies of the '80s" idea to his longtime client Mills.

"I said, 'Hey, maybe we should put the gang back together for a movie,'" Thompson recalls. Mills says the group aimed to channel the power relationships she had as villainous Abby Fairgate with Sheridan's Paige Matheson on CBS' 1979-93 soap "Knots Landing," a spinoff of "Dallas."

"People loved what happened between us on the screen and still remember it," Mills says. "They want to see that again."

During their shoulder-pad-enhanced 1980s TV reign, the actresses felt the responsibility of playing "very strong female characters running companies, swapping men and being in control," says Sheridan. "Back in the '80s, people would tell me I was their role model. You can wear a short skirt and still run a damn company!"

Tapping into that power makes the "Ladies of the 80s" appealing even to Lifetime viewers who weren't alive in the decade, says Fairchild, who played glamorous attorney Jordan Roberts on "Falcon Crest," which aired from 1981-90.

"This recalls that the '80s were a breakthrough for strong women characters in a genre that had been mostly dominated by male characters," Fairchild says. "With these nighttime soaps, you had women dictating their own lives, picking their own lovers."

The food fight scene in "Ladies of the 80s" featuring (from left) Linda Gray, Donna Mills, Morgan Fairchild, Loni Anderson and Nicolette Sheridan.
The food fight scene in "Ladies of the 80s" featuring (from left) Linda Gray, Donna Mills, Morgan Fairchild, Loni Anderson and Nicolette Sheridan.

Anderson, who played whip-smart office receptionist Jennifer Marlowe in the CBS radio station comedy "WKRP" from 1978-82 had to be indoctrinated into the soap-drama delivery.

"I'd never been on a soap; I was the odd man out here," says Anderson. "These ladies were my teachers. They taught another rhythm for drama, really drawing out the lines. Slowly."

What's the plot of 'Ladies of the '80s'?

"Ladies of the '80s" tells the tale of five actresses who reunite to shoot the final live Christmas episode of their long-running soap opera. There's a youthful love story between the soap's producer, Alex (Travis Burns), and director, Nell (Taylor Ann Thompson, Larry Thompson's daughter).

But most of the movie revolves around the bickering but devoted co-stars. The action features an over-the-top collection of the soap actresses' past screen confrontations, a staple of the genre. Shooting the slapfest required "wigs, makeup and a little digital help," says Larry Thompson.

"Oh honey, we all got ours in," Fairchild says of the slap scene. "Mine was a simple, 'How dare you?' with a slap. But I was hoping for a punch."

Nicollette Sheridan puts pie in Morgan Fairchild's face during the "Ladies of the '80s" food fight.
Nicollette Sheridan puts pie in Morgan Fairchild's face during the "Ladies of the '80s" food fight.

The scene peaks with what Thompson calls the "slapfest coup de grâce" – Mills pushing Sheridan into a pool, a nod to the iconic 1983 "Dynasty" lily pond brawl between Alexis (Joan Collins) and Krystle (Linda Evans).

Even Sheridan riffed off this battle after stepping into to play Alexis in 2018 for CW's "Dynasty" reboot during a pool blowout with her screen daughter Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies).

"Water seems to be part of whatever I do, even fighting with my daughter in 'Dynasty,' " says Sheridan.

Nicollette Sheridan getting gravy poured on her head by Loni Anderson in "Ladies of the 80s."
Nicollette Sheridan getting gravy poured on her head by Loni Anderson in "Ladies of the 80s."

What happens in the 'Ladies of the '80s' food fight?

The dinner destruction breaks out when cameras are rolling for the fictional soap opera's live broadcast. Mills gets the action started with a glass of wine to Gray's face, who retaliates with a mashed potato face smear.

Sheridan put vigor into her whipped cream pie shot to Fairchild.

"I had never put a pie in anybody's face before, so I was rubbing it in. I didn't know it was going up her nose," says Sheridan.

"You almost suffocated me," says Fairchild, laughing. "For three days my eyes had pie film over them."

"Ladies of the 80s" stars (L-R) Donna Mills, executive producer Larry Thompson, Nicolette Sheridan, Linda Gray, Morgan Fairchild and Loni Anderson.
"Ladies of the 80s" stars (L-R) Donna Mills, executive producer Larry Thompson, Nicolette Sheridan, Linda Gray, Morgan Fairchild and Loni Anderson.

Anderson completed her soap apprenticeship by slowly pouring gravy on Sheridan's head before the skirmish turned into a free-for-all.

"I did enjoy dumping that gravy boat," says Anderson. "All I kept thinking was that the gravy was destroying that beautiful hairdo."

Even after the food damage, the divas insist they will re-assemble.

"We all feel that there's a sequel," says Fairchild. "Even a 'Ladies of the '80s' franchise.'"

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas' boasts star-studded cast