In 1987, the American ABC network started broadcasting a show created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, of The Bedford Falls Company, with music by W. G. “Snuffy” Walden. “thirtysomething” (not capitalised) was a drama dealing with the lives of, well, thirty-somethings: the main characters are Michael and Hope Steadman, interfaith couple (he is Jewish, she’s Christian) with two kids; other characters include Elliot, who works with Michael in advertising; Michael’s sister Melissa; Elliot’s wife Nancy, who develops cancer later in the series; Michael’s former roommate Gary, who dates Melissa but then marries Susannah and later dies in a car crash, just as Nancy recovers from cancer; and a few others. It was a show about real life without being about anything in particular; it’s sort of a drama version of Seinfeld. It was very well received by critics and public, and aired for four seasons (85 episodes in total); it also won one Golden Globe and several Emmys.
I first heard about this show in the early 90s, and I first watched an episode in 1996 or 1997, when a cable network in the US was showing repeats every night. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that I wasn’t then in my 30s (I am now). This is one show I would like to buy in DVD, but it’s not legally available (there are a few illegal versions that you can buy on the net, but they’re not cheap and the quality — so I’m told — is very poor). Apparently there’s a company now working in restoring the original film stock used in the series and converting it to digital formats, which might be a first step towards releasing a set of DVDs…
Update 10 May 2009: the DVD is coming! Season 1 is available for pre-order from Amazon.com, to be released in 25 August. You can pre-order it from here: thirtysomething: The Complete First Season
A few years later, in 1994, the same ABC network started broadcasting another show created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, with music by W. G. “Snuffy” Walden. “My So-Called Life” wasn’t too different from “thirtysomething”, but it focused on another period of life: the high school years. The main character is Angela (brilliantly played by Claire Danes), who is in the process of finding her place in life — as are most teenagers at this time of their lives. We also get to know Brian, the geeky neighbour who’s in love with Angela; Jordan, the not-so-smart handsome guy Angela’s in love with; Rayanne, the party girl; Rickie, the latino bisexual friend of Rayanne’s (and later Angela’s); Graham and Patty, Angela’s parents, also going through interesting changes; and many others. This show was also loved by critics, and had (still has, in fact) a huge and amazingly dedicated following. Not huge enough for ABC (or maybe not huge enough at the time), as the show ran for only one season of 19 episodes. It still managed to win a Golden Globe that year (for Claire Danes).
Once again, when I first watched this show (probably in 1995) I was not in the right age bracket. Still, I fell in love with the show. I could see myself as Brian, and the way Angela showed the indecision of the teenage years was very convincing; it was beautiful. And the parts of the plot involving her parents were sort of a “fortysomething” embedded in the middle of the show. I used to have all the episodes in VHS (recorded from MTV, oddly enough), but those are long gone… I do have the soundtrack CD, though (as I do for “thirtysomething”).
Not long after, in 1996, ABC did it again with “Relativity”, another Herskovitz/Zwick show with soundtrack by Mr Walden. This one was about two twentysomethings who meet in Italy, fall in love and continue their relationship after they get back to the US; it dealt mostly with family relationships and the interaction between the relatives of the main characters. It was also short-lived: despite a large fan following, it was cancelled after 17 episodes. In 1999, the trio had a bit more luck, as their new series, “Once and Again”, had three full seasons, with a total of 63 episodes. I have to say that I watched the first few episodes of “Relativity” and didn’t like it that much, and I’ve never watched a full episode of “Once and Again”… it’s in my list for the future, though.
Which finally takes me to the point of this post. Last month, NBC aired in the US the first episode of a new series by Herskovitz and Zwick, “quarterlife” (once again, no capitals). It is a peculiar series, as it was first shown online: starting last November, short episodes were released every few days, and NBC “stitched” them together to show them as a regular 48-minute TV episode. It is about a group of twenty-somethings; the main character, Dylan, is a hopeful writer who works for a women’s magazine and keeps a video blog where she talks about her life and her friends. All other characters are somehow artistically inclined (a dancer, two film producers etc.), and the website of the series actually acts as a social network for artists. I’m not sure how it did online, but it didn’t work too well for NBC: they cancelled the show after airing a single episode (of a total of six that were produced; the other five were aired, all together, on cable a few days ago, and everything is still available online).
My impression of that first episode was that it showed some promise, but it was probably trying to hard to be “cool”. I don’t know why the ratings were so low as they were, though; it was not a particularly bad show, and I don’t think everyone had watched it online already. Sadly, we’ll never see whether it would deliver a good result… at the end of the day, Herskovitz and Zwick (and their company) have a track record of producing TV of great quality, which doesn’t always attracts that much of an audience as one would expect. Their shows are always very close to real life and real situations, and they make you think, and feel for (and with) the characters. That’s not something you see every day.