Cliffhangers attempted to revive the genre of movie serials in a made-for-TV format. Each hour-long episode was divided into three 20-minute (including commercials) segments featuring different storylines. During the series' run, three serials were featured - a mystery, a science fiction/western hybrid, and a horror story:
- "Stop Susan Williams": Susan Anton stars as a beautiful TV journalist investigating the murder of her brother, and stumbling on a vast international conspiracy.
- "The Secret Empire": the adventures of a U.S. marshal (Geoffrey Scott) in the Old West who stumbles upon a futuristic underground city run by aliens.
- "The Curse of Dracula": starring Michael Nouri as Count Dracula, who is living undercover as a college teacher in 1979 San Francisco.
The series was cancelled after only 10 episodes were aired, by which point only "The Curse Of Dracula" had reached its conclusion. However, one unaired episode (which did air overseas) featured the two concluding chapters of "The Secret Empire" as well as the final part of "Stop Susan Williams." American viewers later got a chance to see the concluding part of "Stop Susan Williams" in the TV-movie "The Girl Who Saved The World" which re-edited the eleven installments into a single two hour movie ("Curse Of Dracula" was also re-edited as two TV-movies for later airing).
"Cliffhangers" was, at the time, the most expensive TV series ever produced due to three simultaneous production units being required. The hope was that if, after 10-12 serial episodes, a serial caught on, that it could be spun off as a series, but the network soon tired of the financial burden and never let it build an audience. The fact that it aired opposite "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley", which were the #1 and #2 most popular shows in television at the time, certainly didn't help.
The series was created by Kenneth Johnson and staffed by many young writers who went on to become quite successful, including, Craig Faustus Buck, Harry Longstreet, Renee Longstreet, Andrew Schneider, Sam Egan, Richard Christian Matheson, and Jeri Taylor.