Based on Arthur Hailey's 1965 novel of the same name (which had also inspired a 1967 feature film), the series was produced by Aaron Spelling and set in the elegant and fictitious St. Gregory Hotel in San Francisco (changed from the New Orleans setting of the novel and film). Establishing shots of the hotel were filmed in front of The Fairmont San Francisco atop the Nob Hill neighborhood. Episodes followed the activities of passing guests, as well as the personal and professional lives of the hotel staff.
Rich aristocrat Victoria Cabot (Anne Baxter) ran the St. Gregory Hotel, assisted by general manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin) and his staff. McDermott and assistant general manager Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca) became romantically involved. Halfway through the series Cabot died, leaving McDermott her share of the St.Gregory Hotel. When McDermott inherited half of the St. Gregory, he ran the hotel and promoted Francis to general manager.
Other staff members included: the charismatic guest relations director Mark Danning (Shea Farrell); ex-conman now head of hotel security, Billy Griffin (Nathan Cook); reception manager Julie Gillette (Shari Belafonte); and young couple Dave and Megan Kendall (real life spouses Michael Spound and Heidi Bohay), a bellhop and a desk clerk, respectively; and Harry the bartender (Harry George Phillips). Characters Eric Lloyd (Ty Miller); Cheryl Dolan (Valerie Landsburg) and Ryan Thomas (Susan Walters) were added to the cast during its final season.
Cast members Brolin, Sellecca, Belafonte and Cook appeared in every episode of the series. In later years, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., made numerous guest appearances as an opponent of Victoria Cabot and Peter McDermott who plants his daughter, played by Michelle Phillips, in the hotel staff as the concierge.
Bette Davis appeared in the pilot episode as hotel owner Laura Trent, and publicity for the series indicated that Davis was to be a regular on the program. However, the onset of ill health forced Davis to withdraw from the series and Anne Baxter, who had played her nemesis in the 1950 film All About Eve, was brought in as Victoria Cabot, Mrs. Trent's sister-in-law. When Davis's health improved it was intended to bring her back, however, with Baxter on board fulfilling the series matriarchal role it was decided to make Davis' character an offscreen character, who though mentioned, was never seen. Ironically, Davis would outlive Baxter by four years and the series itself by over a year.