Twenty-two years ago, thirtysomething introduced a prosperous, self-involved new demographic. As the show hits DVD, its creators look back fondly.
Author Willa Paskin Photography Courtesy Abc Photo Archives
IT NEVER SEEMED all that promising, really—a prime-time drama about a handful of baby boomers trying to cope with their blessed lives. The series, arriving on DVD this month, revolved around two married couples—one happily, the other less so—and three single friends. It won an Emmy for best drama in its first season, was canceled after its fourth and gave birth to a new word (check the dictionary).
Admittedly, some viewers found the series a mite whiny—after all, what do all these good looking, well-off Philadelphians have to complain about? But thirtysomething set itself apart by taking relationships and feelings as seriously as CSI takes blood spatters. Two decades later, it remains more intense, insightful, and brutally honest about the difficulties, compromises and pleasures of marriage and friendship than anything currently on the air (watch the episode “Therapy,” about a troubled couple in counseling, and try not to squirm—or sob like a baby).
To hear the show’s creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, tell it, when they began working on the series, they were thirtysomething themselves and every bit as wishy-washy as their stand-ins, Michael and Elliot. They were also so snobby about TV as a medium that “in some perverse way, we hoped to be canceled so we could go back to making films,” Herskovitz explains. “We tried to make a show that was so specific to our experiences that no one else would want to watch it.”
“We just did what we wanted to do,” Zwick adds. “We put it all out there.”
As a result, thirtysomething’s audience was more passionate than plentiful; the show was simply too honest to be a massive hit. Early on, Herskovitz asked a friend what he thought. “That’s my life,” he said. “Why watch it on TV?”
Yet thirtysomething had a longer run than any of the shows Herskovitz and Zwick have made since. Neither My So Called Life (think teensomething) nor Quarterlife (twentysomething) lasted more than a season. Once and Again (fortysomething) lasted three. So how do they feel about being known for critically adored but doomed series? “It’s always been more my sensibility to be the tragic Byronic hero than the romantic lead,” Zwick laughs.
“Although,” Herskovitz chimes in, “I would prefer to be the extremely rich Byronic hero.”
WILLA PASKIN already knows how to kvetch like a thirtysomething despite being just twentysomething.
What else to watch on the go in August
David Lynch, the director of creepy, singular films like Blue Velvet, took to the highways to film short interviews with regular Americans, who offer up tales as, well, Lynchian as anything in his oeuvre. At interviewproject. www.davidlynch.com
Carl Deal and Tia Lessin juxtapose the terrifying footage New Orleans native Kimberly Roberts shot as the Katrina floodwaters rose, with her wrenching, if uplifting, experience when she returned to the shattered city. On DVD August 25
Eye-candy for 18-month-olds, Wee See is a collection of animated shorts consisting entirely of black-and-white geometric shapes, with a mesmerizing score by Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree. Available on DVD from www.weeseeworld.com
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