The Mod Squad: The Show That Oozed Hip, Groovy, and Cool

As we continue our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series, we move from Maine where senior citizen Jessica Fletcher solved mysteries to the streets of Los Angeles, where a hip trio infiltrates the counterculture to solve crimes.

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Airing from 1968 till 1973, The Mod Squad was a unique concept. Created by Buddy Ruskin, a Los Angeles police officer, the show took eight years to become a reality. Ruskin based the concept on his time as a squad leader for an undercover narcotic division in the 1950s.

Aaron Spelling was the executive producer. Spelling worked on a number of projects from 1960 onward, but his biggest hit shows were still in his future when he took the helm of The Mod Squad.

As soon as the jazzy theme song by Earl Hagen began, we knew this was a different type of show. The sixties hippie culture and counterculture drug scene had not been explored in depth on television before.

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In order to get the necessary evidence, three young team members were trained to go undercover to solve cases. Michael Cole was Pete Cochran, a wealthy kid who was arrested for stealing a car; Peggy Lipton was Julie Barnes, who had run away from a bad home situation; and Clarence Wlliams II was Linc Hayes, who was arrested during the Watts riots. Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews) supervised the trio. He mentored them and provided “parently” advice and wisdom. He hand-picked them for his team. (Similarly, Spelling’s Charlie’s Angel’s would also feature a father figure hand picking three non-traditional members for his crime-solving team.)

None of these kids were innocent, and their records were eliminated when they chose to work with the LA police. But they soon realized they had the ability most cops did not to inconspicuously fit in to help stop criminals from killing or hurting other young adults.

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Similar to Room 222, which aired almost the same time, The Mod Squad covered a lot of socially relevant topics: abortion, domestic violence, drug addiction, child abuse, police brutality, illegal immigration, and racism. Though the pilot was written sixty years ago, these issues are still on the front page today.

The writers, including Tony Barrett, Harve Bennett, Sammy Hess, and Buddy Ruskin, created realistic characters. These three outcasts were a bit rebellious; they lived in the gray instead of black or white. They understood good people sometimes did bad things, and racism and domestic violence were not to be tolerated. Their speech and clothing marked them as quintessentially 1960s. Linc often said “Solid” or “Keep the faith.” You would probably hear “groovy” at least once an episode.

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The team traveled in an old green 1950 Mercury wood-paneled station wagon that they affectionately referred to as “Woody.” Unfortunately, it was burned in an accident at the end of the second season.

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The show was definitely controversial. It aired at a time when westerns, rural sitcoms, and Lawrence Welk were popular. The episodes pushed the envelope a bit on topics that had been taboo on television in the past. The team was like a family and on one episode, Linc gave Julie a brotherly kiss on the cheek which had the network up in arms, but not one complaint came in. Their relationship with Captain Greer helped America see how the generation gap could be bridged.

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Stars David Cassidy and Marion Ross

Despite the controversy, the show attracted a lot of famous guest stars. Some of the actors who can be spotted during the show’s run include Ed Asner, Jim Backus, Tom Bosley, David Cassidy, Tyne Daley, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Dow, Andy Griffith, Carolyn Jones, Leslie Nielsen, Stefanie Powers, Vincent Price, Robert Reed, Marian Ross, Sugar Ray Robinson, Martin Sheen, Bobby Sherman, Danny Thomas, Daniel Travanti, and Billy Dee Williams.

Each episode ended with the squad walking away from the camera.

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The show was extremely popular given its uniqueness. It was the 28th most popular show its first year and number 11 in its third season. The show received seven Emmy and four Golden Globe nominations. In 1970, it was nominated for Outstanding Series. During its final year, it only ranked 54 and the “hipness” of the show was starting to age a bit, so it was cancelled.

It did have an afterlife. In 1979, a tv movie, The Return of the Mod Squad, aired on ABC with the original cat. In 1999, a big-screen film was released starring Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Claire Danes, and Dennis Farina. Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember it; not many people do.

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The Mod Squad could be seen on MeTV in 2014 and 2015. Apart from that, it has not fared well in syndication. Like Room 222, the show can feel dated quickly due to its language and fashion.

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The show is still celebrated for its ground-breaking scripts, and in 1997, TV Guide included an episode, “Mother of Sorrow” as 95th of the greatest 100 episodes of all time.

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While you probably won’t find it on television, it is available on DVD. Although the show may not be known by many people today, it was one of the first shows to break the barriers of going where television had not been before. In many ways, it paved the way for the creation of shows such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Miami Vice. What more could you ask for: relevant topics, well-rounded characters, and exciting plots. Although its language and fashions date it, it captures a unique time in our history and is worth exploring.

Murder She Wrote: Cabot Cove, the Murder Capital of the World

We are kicking off a new series: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Perhaps no person represents this theme better than Jessica Fletcher, the crime solver behind Murder She Wrote.

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Airing on CBS from 1984-1996, Jessica (Angela Lansbury) is one of our longest-running sleuths on television, averaging more than 30 million viewers a week in its prime. The series produced 264 episodes and four made-for-television films. The title was a play on words from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple story, Murder She Said from 1961.

Although it’s hard to picture anyone else in the role, Lansbury was not the first choice for the part; both Jean Stapleton and Doris Day turned down the role.

The creative team who worked on Murder She Wrote was the same team behind Columbo—Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter S. Fischer. While Columbo’s tag line is “Just one more thing,” Jessica’s is “I couldn’t help but notice.”

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Jessica lived in Cabot Cove, Maine. (Spoiler alert: the show was actually filmed in Mendocino, CA.) She was a widow and retired English teacher who becomes a successful mystery writer. Her first novel was The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Although she has no children, she has a network of friends and extended family in her small hometown. She had four siblings but only Marshall, a doctor, was seen on the show.

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We get to know many of the town folk. Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom) is the local doctor and one of Jessica’s best friends and a potential romance. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) works with Jessica often on crime cases. Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak) takes over when Tupper retires and moves to Kentucky. Jessica’s nephew Grady (Michael Horton) seems to get in trouble with the law often despite his aunt’s influence. Jean O’Neil (Madlyn Rhue) is the local librarian. Sam Booth (Richard Paul) is the mayor and is voted in every year because he promises to do nothing and that is exactly what he does. Eve Simpson (Julie Adams) is the local realtor and gossip extraordinaire. Loretta Speigel (Ruth Roman), keeps up with Simpson’s gossiping and is a hairdresser. Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins) is a fisherman.

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Of course, none of us would want to live in Cabot Cove because there was a huge number of murders occurring there over a twelve-year span. In fact, the term “Cabot Cove Syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. During season eight, Jessica rents an apartment in New York City to teach criminology and participate in more murder cases.

The police around the town never seem to learn. They are always ready to arrest the wrong person until Jessica solves the case. Some officers appreciate her help, knowing her skill for deducing the murderer while other officers dread seeing her show up at a crime scene.

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Several characters who Jessica worked with regularly included insurance investigator Dennis Stanton (Keith Mitchell); private investigators Harry McGraw (Jerry Orbach) and Charlie Garrett (Wayne Rogers); British agent Michael Haggerty (Len Cariou); and NYPD detective Artie Gelber (Herb Edelman).

Cabot Cove was almost another character on the show. Viewers loved getting to know the charming town with a population of 3650. Jessica never drove a car around town; she biked or took a cab.

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With twelve years’ worth of shows, it is not surprising that the guest star list is formidable. Just a smattering of stars include Ernest Borgnine, George Clooney, Neil Patrick Harris, Buddy Hackett, Janet Leigh, Julianna Marguiles, Leslie Nielsen, and Joaquin Phoenix

In its final season, the show was moved from its Sunday night slot with loyal viewers to Thursday night against Mad About You and Friends. The show went from 8th to 58th in the ratings and was cancelled. Although Lansbury considered retirement several times during the show’s airings, she was blindsided by the move. In a Los Angeles Times article, she was quoted as sharing “I’m shattered. What can I say? I feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn’t mean anything. It was like gone with the wind.”

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Obviously, the show was popular with viewers staying on the air for twelve years, but it was also popular with critics. Lansbury received an Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a drama every single season the show was on the air. Unfortunately, she never won.

Often when you picture a crime solver, it’s someone who is young and sexy, such as the cast on Charlie’s Angels or Magnum PI. Jessica Fletcher does not pretend to be young or anything other than a middle-aged woman from Maine. But she does like to travel, she has romantic relationships with men, and has interests and a career. What you see is what you get. Perhaps that was the biggest reason for her popularity during those twelve years.

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The show continues to do well in syndication, appearing on WGN mornings and the Hallmark Mystery and Movie Channel at night. Spend some time with the good folks in Cabot Cove and watch Jessica Fletcher solve a few murder mysteries. No one embodies murder, mystery, and mayhem more than she does.

Rizzoli and Isles: Gal Pals

We wind up our crime-solving duos series this week. I had decided to concentrate primarily on classic television for this blog. That was not anything I had to define my first few years, but now in my fourth year, I had to come up with a definition for myself about what classic television is and isn’t. For me, classic television includes television shows that are no longer on the air except in syndication. They are also shows that have something worth writing about and re-watching. Recently I wrote about a show that was on the air a few months ago, Whiskey Cavalier. It still fits the definition because it was cancelled and I think is well worth re-watching.

Today we are learning about a more recent show as well: Rizzoli and Isles. Technically, this was an ensemble cast, but Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles definitely have the same “best pal” vibe that I Spy projects. This show was more about their friendship than it was the crimes they solved, but they did solve a lot of crimes.

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I loved this show; maybe this one was special because so many of the crime shows feature males.  I can’t think of too many series where women were the focus: Cagney and Lacey is the only crime drama that comes to mind. The show was a bit different in schedule because it was typically on between June and December. In all 105 episodes were produced.

Airing on TNT in 2010, Rizzoli and Isles is the story of Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander). They are very different characters, much like Robinson and Scott in I Spy.

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Dr. Maura Isles

Rizzoli is much more like Robinson while Isles is more like Scott. Coming from a middle-class Italian family, Rizzoli says what’s on her mind, she’s more wise than smart. She’s confident and can be a bit outspoken but is loyal.

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Jane Rizzoli

Isles is thoughtful and very intellectual. She comes from a wealthy background and has a pet tortoise named Bass. She can be awkward in social situations. Rizzoli roles out of bed and grabs a solid tee, while Isles is glamorous and dresses to a T. During the seven seasons the show was on the air, they developed a very close friendship. It’s also refreshing because they aren’t 20; they are approaching or entering their forties. They’ve been busy with life and careers.

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Alyssa Milano was one of the actresses considered for the role of Rizzoli, but Harmon was cast and then auditioned with Alexander who was hired next. Harmon discussed Alexander’s audition, “We were trying to find the woman to play Maura Isles; it was a no brainer when Sasha came in. We just knew it was her, and she did such a fantastic job.”

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The rest of the cast includes Rizzoli’s ex-partner, Sargent Vince Korsak (Bruce McGill),

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Rizzoli’s brother Frankie (Jordan Bridges), Rizzoli’s mother Angela (Lorraine Bracco),

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and Rizzoli’s current partner Barry Frost (Lee Thompson Young).

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In later seasons FBI Gabriel Dean (Billy Burke) appeared as did crime scene analyst Nina Holiday (Idara Victor).  

The shows were written by Tess Gerritsen and the concept was developed in her novels, The Surgeon and The Apprentice. From back stories we learn the story from these novels. Charles Hoyt is a serial killer. Previously a doctor, he uses his medical knowledge to torture couples and then keeps the female corpse for his own use. Rizzoli and Korsak are on his trail. Hoyt knocks Jane unconscious and as he is ready to slit her throat, Korsak locates them and shoots, but does not kill, Hoyt. Jane decides Korsak could no longer trust her because she got captured and she thought he would not be able to see her without thinking of the vulnerable position he found her in.  So she asks for another partner. She begins working with Barry, but she and Korsak still share life on a daily basis.

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In the pilot episode, Jane and Maura are investigating another killer who is using Hoyt’s methods. It later turns out he is someone who knew Hoyt and continued his killing spree. Hoyt is able to escape prison and works with Stark. Eventually Jane kills Stark and wounds Hoyt. They move on from this case to investigating all types of crimes, often working with Frankie and Korsak. Korsak who is toying with retiring also owns a bar/restaurant, The Dirty Robber, where the crew hangs out. Angela manages the place.

“RIZZOLI & ISLES””Cold as Ice” / Ep 408TNTPh: Doug Hyun

I have to say what I enjoyed about the show was the mystery and figuring it out but also the witty banter and friendship between Jane and Maura. Jane and Korsak also have a very close relationship. It seems like ever since Sesame Street debuted, there has been this need for shows to speed up the pace. Watching Rizzoli and Isles is like reading a good 19th century novel. The timing is slowed down. We have opportunities to watch the characters interact and bond, and we get to know them well. They actually have long conversations and talk about their feelings.

I did try to read the Gerritsen books, but without the comedic relief, I found them too dark and could never get through the first one without getting totally creeped out. I’m sure she’s a gifted novelist, and she was credited as writer on all the show scripts, but the gore in the first book was too hard for me to read through.

“RIZZOLI & ISLES” Lee Thompson Young Angie Harmon “Boston Strangler Redux” / Ep 101 TNT Ph: Danny Feld

During season four, Lee Thompson Young passed away from suicide. His character was killed on the show in a car crash. Alexander talked about how hard it was for the cast to continue. She said his absence was felt on the set. “They have not replaced him and don’t intend to do so anytime soon, so his seat remains empty and it’s something that we have had to look at and struggle with.” There are some poignant moments when Jane stops by his desk and doesn’t say anything.

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Both Harmon and Alexander got to try their hand at directing an episode during the final year.

The show ranked in the top five cable programs for five seasons and was the number one basic cable program during its fifth season. So why the cancellation? TNT apparently wanted to rebrand itself as the network that offered edgier shows. At least the writers had some notice and were able to satisfy viewers by sending each character into a new journey. Korsak gets to finally retire and he’s newly married. Frankie and Nina get engaged. Jane begins a relationship with an FBI officer and decides to accept a job at Quantico.

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Maura is finally ready to leave her career and take a chance at becoming a writer. She is going to Paris to live for inspiration. However, at the end of the show, we find out Jane is coming along for a two-week vacation.

Maura and Jane might be physically separated, but they will always be best friends. They have changed each other. Jane has drawn Maura out of her shell, allowing her to take the risk of writing. Maura has softened Jane and allowed her to become more vulnerable as she begins a new love relationship.

Rizzoli & Isles

Everything about this show just seemed to gel so well. The characters were believable. With all the interactions, they appeared like a family. The cast felt that also. Alexander talked about their working relationships. “I think the chemistry between Jane and Maura and all the cast make it a little family.”

Alexander discussed her role as Maura: “I have really enjoyed playing Dr. Maura Isles. I really can say in seven years, I never had a boring day playing her. It was never tedious for me to play her. She’s a sunny personality and curious and interested and funny. I was constantly amused by the role. I will miss playing her.” She also discussed the way her character and Rizzoli interacted. “Some of my favorite scenes on the show have been those where she’s (Maura) spewing some strange vocabulary and weird analysis, and Jane is looking at her like she has no idea what she’s saying, and she (Jane) says, ‘Can we just go get ice cream?’”

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Harmon also discussed how she felt about the crew. She talked about how the relationship with Isles developed and grew. She said she thought part of that came from the fact that “there’s a lot more character to these characters. We see their back stories and we see their present situations, and that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedural. . . . It’s more of a roller coaster ride. It’s definitely got a lot more grit to it. And, we don’t pretend to be the smartest people there. We’re not like, ‘This is how we did it, and now we’re just going to show you how to go catch them.’ The audience gets to figure it all out with us.”

Harmon appreciated Jane. She said “Rizzoli is just an intricate and important part of my life. I don’t know that I’m going to be able to just say good-bye to her. I’m hoping that a part of her hangs around in my personality for the rest of my life.”

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She also expounded on the rest of the cast. “Jordan is hilarious. Jordan will do 50 takes. He has become like my little brother.”

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“We’ve all become very, very close in our roles and Lorraine is like my mom. I call her Mom. . . .I text her, ‘Ma, the girls are coming in town. When can you have dinner? And they think of her as a surrogate matriarch. We’ve become very, very close.”

About McGill she said, “I’ve known Bruce most of my life. I think it’ll be the hardest for probably Lorraine, Bruce and me . . . I guess the show business gods keep bringing us back together, and I’m so thankful for it. I’ve learned so much from him. . . . I adore him.”

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I adore all of them. Luckily, for fans, all the episodes have come out on DVDs. This is one of those shows I look forward to watching again to reconnect with old friends.

I Spy: With My Little Eye A Very Sophisticated Show

As we continue our crime-solving duos series, today we learn about I Spy featuring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. They were a pair of spies who traveled the world posing as tennis pro, Kelly Robinson, and his coach, Alexander “Scotty” Scott. They work for the Special Services Agency which was part of the Pentagon. The show aired on NBC from 1965-1968.

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David Friedkin and Morton Fine, writers, and Fouad Said, cinematographer, formed Triple F Productions. The show was filmed at Desilu Productions. Fine and Friedkin took on co-producing the show. Friedkin also appeared as a guest actor in two of the episodes. Continuing the job-sharing duties was was Sheldon Leonard. Leonard was the executive producer. He also directed one of the episodes and guest starred on the show.

The theme music was written by Earle Hagen. (For more on Hagen and his composition of music from the series, see my blog dated)He also wrote specific music for each of the countries the team visited. He received Emmy nominations all three years, winning in 1968.

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Cosby’s character was written as an older mentor to Robinson, but Sheldon Leonard changed the role once he saw Cosby perform. Culp said Cosby was not very interested in the series and insulted the producers during his audition. Culp acted as a mediator and Cosby was hired.

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Like future shows such as Miami Vice, The X-Files, or Castle, the partners had great chemistry. They had witty and clever dialogue and often improvised much of their banter. Friendship was the main theme of the show, not the crimes. The actors developed a close friendship that lasted long after the show did. The characters were also very different. Culp was the athlete who lived by his wits. Cosby was the intellectual who didn’t drink or smoke.

This was the first TV drama to feature a black actor in a lead role. Some of the NBC affiliates in the south refused to air the series. Truly a color-blind series, the two spies did not encounter racial issues. It also made history– being one of the first shows to be filmed in exotic locations around the world. The pair visited Acapulco, Athens, Florence, Hong Kong, Madrid, Morocco, Paris, Tokyo, and Venice.

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Like the western genre in the 1950s, spy shows were popular in the 1960s. Unlike Get Smart or the Man From UNCLE, I Spy was more realistic. The duo didn’t rely on unbelievable gadgets or campy villains.

Some of the episodes had more comedy than others. “Chrysanthemum” was inspired by The Pink Panther. The episode, “Mainly on the Plains” starring Boris Karloff, was about an eccentric scientist who thinks he’s Don Quixote. However, many shows took on more serious and contemporary themes. “The Tiger” was set in Vietnam.

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During the three seasons the show aired, an incredible number of guest stars chose to work on the show. Some of these talented celebrities included Jim Backus, Victor Buono, Wally Cox, Delores Del Rio, Will Geer, Gene Hackman, Joey Heatherton, Ron Howard, Boris Karloff, Sally Kellerman, Eartha Kitt, Martin Landau, Peter Lawford, Julie London, Vera Miles, Carroll O’Connor, Don Rickles, George Takei, Cicely Tyson, Leslie Uggams, and Mary Wickes.

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Both Culp and Cosby were nominated all three years for Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, with Cosby winning all three years.

While the series was extremely popular, it was always over budget due to the high costs of filming. During the third season, ratings began to decline. The show was moved from Wednesdays to Mondays. It was on against The Carol Burnett Show. Unfortunately, the network refused to move the show back to its original night. They offered Sheldon the choice of renewing the show in the current time slot or the chance at creating a new series. Leonard realized that Culp and Cosby were tired of the show and ready to move on. In all, 82 episodes were filmed. 

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The show holds up well today.  The dialogue is timeless, and scripts are sophisticated and well written. The plots are realistic, but they are secondary to the relationship of Robinson and Scott. The exotic locations add a romance and intrigue to the show as well. The complete series is available on DVD and well worth watching.

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Of course, it’s hard to talk about a Cosby show without acknowledging the effect his legal issues have had on his work.  While I don’t condone his behavior and am sad that someone so talented (and preachy about character) would resort to such offensive actions, what makes me even sadder is that both I Spy and The Cosby Show were wonderful shows that featured talented casts. That so many people have to suffer because one person’s actions were unethical and selfish seems unfair.

One thing I’ve had to learn doing my research on all these classic shows is sometimes you have to separate the character from the actor. It’s possible to love a character even when the actor or actress who portrays them is a crummy human being. Of course, there are more of the other scenarios. Fred MacMurray was every bit as nice as Steve Douglas and Howard McNear was even nicer than Floyd.

Hopefully these shows get their due and their reputation for their well-written scripts overcomes the stain Cosby saddled the shows with.

Moonlighting: An Unusual Romance

We are in the midst of our series about crime-solving duos. We looked at husband and wife teams on MacMillan and Wife and on Hart to Hart. Today we tackle the wise-cracking David Addison (Bruce Willis) and the sophisticated Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) on Moonlighting.

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Madelyn Hayes was a successful model who lost all her savings when her investment advisor left the country with her money. Her only assets are her house and a run-down detective agency she used for tax write-offs. Detective Addison convinces her to try something new and run the agency. Addison and Hayes agree on almost nothing except that they both think it’s important to find missing people, foil murder attempts, and spy on unfaithful spouses. Addison is a bit of a ladies’ man, carefree, and easy going; Maddie is not. David is a tap beer in a red cup and Maddie is an exotic champagne in a crystal goblet.

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Maddie renames the agency Blue Moon, which was the name of the shampoo she was best known for promoting.

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Rounding out the cast of characters are Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley), the receptionist/secretary, and Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong), another gumshoe. These were both quirky characters but lovable in their own way. Agnes usually answered the phone in rhyme. Herb is well meaning but not the brightest light bulb. Later in the series, these two explore their own romance.

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The role of Maddie Hayes was written for Shepherd.

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Addison’s role was harder to fill. Robert Blake and Rick Dees were both considered for the role. Willis was one of the last people to audition for the spot; he was chosen from about 3000 actors.

Jazz great Al Jarreau cowrote and sang the theme song. The lyrics to the show are:

Some walk by night
Some fly by day
Nothing could change you
Set and sure of the way

There is the sun and moon
They sing their own sweet tune
Watch them when dawn is due
Sharing one space

We’ll walk by night
We’ll fly by day
Moonlighting strangers 
Who just met on the way

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Beginning in 1985 and running until 1989 on ABC in the Tuesday night time slot, the series resulted in only 66 episodes. The show was a new genre. It was a mystery and had drama and romance but was also intentionally funny. It can best be compared to some of the screwball comedies from the 1930s and ‘40s such as It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, or His Girl Friday. The show was also recognized for creating some unusual plots and filming techniques. For example, in one episode, David and Maddie are told about a murder that occurred in a 1940s nightclub. Black and white dream sequences show us how each of them imagined the murder happening. The episode, “Atomic Shakespeare” is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, performed in iambic pentameter. The show begins with a young boy being reprimanded by his mother for watching Moonlighting instead of studying for his Shakespeare test.

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Filming the shows was always expensive due to the specialized lighting and cinematic effects. The estimated cost per episode was a whopping $1.6 million. A typical script for a one-hour length show is about 60 pages. Scripts for Moonlighting tended to be twice as long. An episode from Moonlighting took 14 days rather than the average seven to film. The attention to detail and quality took its toll. Production delays occurred often, and shows weren’t completed in time for airing, resulting in reruns when only 16 of the required 22 episodes were finished each year.

It didn’t help that Shepherd became pregnant during the run of the show, and Willis broke his clavicle skiing. Both of these situations added to the delays. It got so ridiculous that it became a running gag. ABC had an ad campaign showing network executives impatiently waiting for the most recent Moonlighting tape. Television Jeff Jarvis narrated an introduction to one show, telling viewers he wanted to summarize what had been happening on the show that year because it had been so long since a new show had aired.

Despite the problems with filming, both viewers and critics loved the show. Moonlighting received 41 Emmy nominations with 7 wins including one for Willis for Lead Actor in a Drama. In season three, ratings went from 20th place to 9th place.

During the fourth season, Maddie and David finally get together, ending the sexual tension and back-and-forth attraction between the two characters. The ratings then began to decline a bit, but the show still came in at 12th place.

The reason for the ratings drop in the final season, as well as the eventual cancellation of the show, was usually placed on the two stars and their relationship. It’s amazing how much chemistry the characters had because they did not get along well from the start, and it only got worse as the series continued. By the fourth season, they were rarely on the set at the same time. Willis was also developing into a movie star, and after Die Hard, he didn’t want to continue dealing with all the negative issues the show produced.

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The finale includes Agnes and Herb’s wedding and a weird plot where David and Maddie find the Blue Moon sets being dismantled and learn that the show has been cancelled. The two stars try to figure out what is happening, and the show ends with a message that Blue Moon ceased doing business in 1989.

The limited number of shows made it unpopular for syndication. The series was released on DVD, but they are hard to find and very expensive. On ebay.com, the complete series was going for $250. Amazon listed season three for $99 and season four for $149.

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The show was an interesting concept. With actors breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, the interesting plot themes, cinematic lighting and filming techniques, the quick and witty banter between David and Maddie, and the cultural and literature references, it’s not like any show that has aired before or since. It’s always hard when you have two characters attracted to each other when trying to decide if they get together or not. If they do, the audience is often disenchanted with the show; if they don’t, it can drag on too long, so it’s a hard timing to get right. It’s too bad the DVDs are so pricey, especially since syndication was not an option for the show. The characters hit it off perfectly even if the stars did not. There are a lot of factors that made this show special.

Hart to Hart: Mystery and Romance

We continue our crime-solving duos with Hart to Hart. The Harts are like the MacMillans in that they are also a glamorous and wealthy couple based in California. Unlike Mac who had a career with the San Francisco Police Department, Jonathan (Robert Wagner) was a self-made millionaire. He ran Hart Industries. His wife Jennifer (Stefanie Powers) was a freelance journalist. They were both amateur sleuths, and they found themselves in the middle of a mystery whenever they vacationed. They often traveled on their private jet. Rounding out the cast was Max (Lionel Stander), their butler, cook, chauffeur, and right-hand man, and their dog Freeway, a Lowchen breed. The show aired in 1979 on ABC and was cancelled in 1984, producing 111 episodes.

UK, EIRE, TURKEY, SOUTH AFRICA, HONG KONG, CROATIA ONLY No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex USA ( 427513AT ) HART TO HART, Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, 1979-84 VARIOUS TV PROGRAMME STILLS

Sidney Sheldon had written a script called “Double Twist,” featuring a married couple who were spies. Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg decided to update it as a television show. The original opening credits tell the story of the Harts narrated by Max. We never do learn Max’s last name. As he shares, “This is my boss—Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. He’s quite a guy. This is Mrs. H—she’s gorgeous. What a terrific lady. By the way, my name is Max. I take care of them, which ain’t easy, ‘cause their hobby is murder.”

Spelling and Goldberg originally wanted Cary Grant for the part of Jonathan. Grant was 75 and decided he did not want to come out of retirement. Once Wagner was hired, the network wanted his wife Natalie Wood to play his wife on the show. She didn’t think that was a good idea. Suzanne Pleshette, Kate Jackson, and Lindsay Wagner were among the actresses considered for the role of Jennifer. Wagner had worked with Powers on an episode of his show, It Takes a Thief and suggested her for the role. Wagner also suggested Sugar Ray Robinson for Max’s part. However, the network thought it was a bad message to send having a black man work for a wealthy white couple. Stander had also worked with Wagner on It Takes a Thief.

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The script was given to Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite. Mankiewicz had written several Bond films. He made his directorial debut on this show as well.

The setting for the Hart estate was a house that June Allyson and Dick Powell had lived in with their children. It was named Amber Hills and situated in Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles. As a twist, June guest starred on an episode during season five, “Always Elizabeth.”

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The theme for the show was composed by Mark Snow. He would compose music for a variety of show, including The X-Files.

Like Dallas and Dynasty, the show was recognized for its opulent furnishings and beautiful clothes. Nolan Miller who would outfit the Dynasty characters, also provided the clothing for his show.

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The show also featured a cast of guest stars. During the period it was on the air, some of the guest stars included David Doyle, Eva Gabor, Elaine Joyce, Bernie Kopell, Dorothy Lamour, Roddy McDowell, Juliet Mills, Diana Muldar, Anthony Newley, Julie Newmar, Jill St. John, and Jerry Stiller.

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They had a great chemistry. Powers said that this role was her most memorable. One of the things that kept their relationship fresh was that they often took on different roles for their cases. They might be a chemist and industrial magnate or a lady with her chauffeur.

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Of course, they also had the money to take off for a spree whenever the mood struck them. It’s easier to keep romance in your life when you can hop off to some island for a fun week. They might show up in London, Paris, Athens, Hawaii, Mexico, or Asia. They were always kind to each other and interested in their hobbies, activities, and interests. Powers recalled that the couple didn’t have sex, they had intimacy.

So, how do the Harts stumble upon these murders? In Acapulco, they learn a senator has been assassinated due to bribery and corruption in the silver industry, so they investigate. In Hawaii, Jennifer overhears a woman plotting the murder of her husband. A Hart employee is murdered during a jungle exploration, so Jennifer and Jonathan travel to Peru to figure out why.

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Wagner and Powers were also friends. Powers had gone to ballet when she was younger with Natalie Wood, Wagner’s wife. Powers was involved with William Holden. In a cruel twist of fate, both Wood and Holden died in 1981.

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When the show was cancelled, the stars were shocked. The ratings had fallen but not drastically. Wagner said being axed without any warning was disappointing. He said, “I think we could have been written out with the taste, dignity, and style the audience responded to.” The viewers were also outraged and wrote the network thousands of letters.

A decade later in 1993, the network decided to create a series of Hart to Hart movies. Eight 90-minute movies were made between 1993 and 1996. Both Wagner and Powers returned. Stander appeared in the first five movies but passed away from cancer in 1994.

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Like The Thin Man movies, it was just fun to watch the Harts. They were a glamorous, loving couple who were clever and witty. They also were “good” people, not a snobby bone in their bodies. We could live vicariously through them, their romance, and their mysteries.

MacMillan and Wife: The Show That Bridged the Generation Gap

Before launching into this week’s topic, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been following and reading my blog. This week begins my fourth year writing this blog. I was worried I would find enough topics to fill the first year but next year is already outlined, so another year of classic television is on the way. It has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot.

This month we are looking at crime-solving duos.  We start our series learning a bit more about McMillan and Wife. McMillan and Wife began as part of The Sunday NBC Mystery Movie which included Columbo and McCloud. The shows rotated each week, so fewer episodes were produced of each than a typical weekly show.

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McMillan and Wife debuted in 1971 and was on the air until 1977, yet only forty episodes were produced. Leonard Stern was the creator, writer, and executive producer of the show; he previously produced Get Smart.

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Stewart “Mac” McMillan (Rock Hudson) was an attorney and US Navy veteran who apparently had been involved in some CIA activities. He is now Commissioner of Police in San Francisco. He gets involved in high-profile cases. His wife is Sally (Susan St. James), and her father was a detective for the San Francisco Police Department; she learned a lot from him and helps her husband solve crimes. Sargent Charlie Enright (John Schuck) helps Mac with his cases. Sally and Mac have no children (it’s confusing because Sally was pregnant twice on the show, but the children are never mentioned in the show later). Their housekeeper Mildred (Nancy Walker) also lives with the couple. Mildred’s character resembles the role Thelma Ritter played in Pillow Talk, where Hudson starred with Doris Day. She is a sarcastic, hard-drinking woman and is always ready to offer her opinion, but she is devoted to Mac and Sally.

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Once Hudson was cast as Mac, the show got priority in development. Several actresses were considered for the role of Sally, including Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh, but Hudson was most comfortable with St. James.

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Hudson was 21 years older than St. James, but their relationship worked. Mac is supposed to be in his 40s and Sally in her 20s (he was 46 at the time and she was 25). Sally is self-confident and is not afraid to speak her mind. However, she is also a wife who loves her husband, and one of the running gags on the show is that Mac had dated a lot of women in his past, and when Mac and Sally are out and about, they typically run into some gorgeous woman who says, “Hi Mac.” Sally usually responds with a jealous comment or a withering look. The difference in their ages actually worked well for demographics. Hudson appealed to older viewers while St. James attracted younger viewers.

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Often the cases Mac solves happen during events the couple attends. One episode featured a burglary at a charity event they were attending; once they found a skeleton in their house after an earthquake. Another show had Mac abducted by mobsters and replaced with a surgically-made twin replacing him.

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An interesting fact is that the interior of their house in the pilot episode was in fact Hudson’s home. In the first regular episode, the MacMillans bought a new house. In the final season, the setting changed to an apartment.

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Sally and Mac led a glamorous life. The scripts were well written, and the dialogue was witty and clever. The couple was often compared to Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies. Mac and Sally have a lot of their best conversations after they go to bed at night.

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Sally was known for wearing a football jersey for her nightgown. The jersey was an authentic 49ers Jersey, number 18, George Washington, a wide receiver. Washington was a four-time Pro Bowler. He made a guest appearance on the show in season four, “Guilt by Association.”

Considering that there were only forty episodes produced, this show had an incredible number of guest stars. I apologize for the long list, but it’s the only way to capture how impressive it is. The stars included sport celebrities Dick Butkus, Rosie Grier, Alex Karras, and Bobbie Riggs.

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It also featured a Who’s Who of television sitcom royalty: John Astin, Meredith Baxter, Tom Bosley, Michael Constantine, Bert Convy, Wally Cox, Richard Deacon, William Demarest, Donna Douglas, Barbara Feldon, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Larry Hagman, Alan Hale, Shirley Jones, Stacy Keach, Bernie Kopell, Julie Newmar, Charlotte Rae, Charles Nelson Reilly, Dick Sargent, Natalie Schafer, Susan Sullivan, Karen Valentine, and Dick Van Patten.

The show, like McCloud and Columbo, was quite popular with viewers. The ratings were impressive until the sixth season.

Unfortunately, the last season had too many changes to overcome. St. James decided to leave to concentrate on her movie career. Schuck left to star in the sitcom, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Walker left for her own sitcom, The Nancy Walker Show. Sadly, Walker and Schuck would have been better off staying because both their shows lasted only 13 episodes. St. James starred in a couple of movies, but they weren’t anything memorable. She would go on to star in Kate and Allie in 1984.

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On the show, Sally was killed in an airplane crash. Mildred was said to leave to open a diner, so her sister Agatha (Martha Raye) took over her job. Schuck made a few appearances but was said to have been given a promotion to lieutenant which kept him too busy to assist Mac much. The show may have been able to overcome one of these changes but not all of them. Much of the strength of the show was the relationship between Mac and Sally. Walker’s funny bantering and actions provided a comedic relief for the show. When Raye took over, she was just scatterbrained and loud; the appeal of Walker was not part of her character.

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It’s wonderful the show lasted five good seasons, but it might have lasted many more if the original cast had been retained. At the other end of the spectrum, Columbo aired off and on until 2003 and is remembered by more viewers.

DVDs were released for all six seasons between 2005 and 2014. With only forty shows in the series, this would be a fun binge-watching week-end show to tackle.

Who’s the Boss? On This Show Everyone Acts Like a Boss

As I finish 1980s Rewind today, I chose a heart-warming show that followed the typical formula by standing it on its head, Who’s the Boss. The show was created by Martin Cohan and Blake Hunter. Cohan was a producer and writer for The Bob Newhart Show and wrote for many other shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hunter wrote and produced episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati.

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Instead of the successful senator who hires a housekeeper like The Farmer’s Daughter, on this show Angela Bower (Judith Light), an advertising executive, hires Tony Micelli (Tony Danza), a former baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals) to be her housekeeper. Instead of Uncle Charlie like My Three Sons, the show has Mona (Katherine Helmond), Angela’s mother giving wise advice and sarcastic comments. Tony has a daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano) and Angela has a son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). All together they form one typical family unit. The show was on ABC for eight years from 1984-1992, so viewers literally watched the kids grow up. Tony is laid back and flexible, while Angela is a bit more uptight and organized. Angela and Tony functioned as parents on the show, but they also had the possibility of a romance between them.

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After a shoulder injury, Tony is forced to change careers. He wants his daughter to experience a better life. The Bowers live in Connecticut in an upscale neighborhood. Originally, the show was titled “You’re the Boss,” but it was changed to plant a question of who really ran the house. However, viewers all realized that the kids were really the bosses.

WHO’S THE BOSS? – “Angela Gets Fired: Part II” – Airdate: September 30, 1986. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ALYSSA MILANO;DANNY PINTAURO;KATHERINE HELMOND

The cast jelled very well together. They had their differences of opinion, but they grew close and experienced the normal family ups and downs when five very different people spend so much time together. Mona’s wit and targeted observations kept things light and funny.

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During most of the series, Tony and Angela try to avoid the romance developing between them. They both date other people. They also become best friends, relying on each other as a husband and wife would. They often discuss issues the kids are having. They both “parent” each of the kids. They both grow and change during the course of the series. Angela becomes less tense and risks opening her own firm. Tony enrolls in college. Producers always seem to waiver “between should they get together or not.” Shows like Castle, That Girl, and Friends struggled with keeping the magic alive and keeping the show realistic. Somehow the producers and writers for Who’s the Boss kept the tension and potential romance alive for seven years. During the last season, they realize they are in love with each other.

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There were many stars who appeared on the show during the years including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Mike Tyson, and Leslie Nielsen. One of the episodes was when Robert Mandan appeared on a few episodes as Mona’s love interest. Mandan had played her husband on the show Soap.

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The theme song lyrics were written by creators Cohan and Hunter. Titled “Brand New Life,” the music was composed by Larry Carlton and Robert Kraft. Three different versions were used over the years: Larry Weiss sang it from 1984-1986; Steve Wariner from 1986-1989; and Jonathan Wolff from 1989-1992.

WHO’S THE BOSS? – “Samantha’s Growing Up” – Season One – Airdate: January 8, 1985. (American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.) ALYSSA MILANO, JUDITH LIGHT, KATHERINE HELMOND, TONY DANZA

Early reviews were lukewarm. Critics liked it but they were a bit dismissive of it being a real hit. Viewers didn’t agree. They loved the show. During its tenure, the show was nominated for more than forty awards, including ten Primetime Emmys and five Golden Globes. From 1985-1989, it ranked in the top ten.

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The show aired on Tuesday nights for the first seven years. In the fall of 1991, the network moved the show to Saturday nights against The Golden Girls. The ratings went down after the move and the network decided to cancel the show. There was a great debate about whether Tony and Angela should marry in the finale. Sam had married earlier in the season and Tony and Angela admitted they were in love. However, Danza was opposed to the marriage and there was a concern that if a wedding took place, it might affect the syndication options. Instead of a wedding, Tony and Angela break up. But in the last scene, Tony is at Angela’s house applying for the job of housekeeper, very similar to the very first episode of the show.

The show created a spinoff but in a far-reaching definition of spinoff. In one episode, Leah Remini was a friend of Sam’s, a homeless model. Beginning and ending in 1989, the show Living Dolls starred Remini, Michael Learned, and Halle Berry.

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While Tony went back to school during the series, Danza emulated him in real life. He graduated with an education degree. He wrote a book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. He taught English at a school in Philadelphia.

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The cast of Who’s the Boss was a close-knit one, and they still keep in touch almost twenty years later. Light commented that they are all still close and she said she probably kept in touch with Tony the most. “He checks in all the time just to see how the kids are doing, he’s very sweet.” Danza once discussed how emotional it was for him to give Milano away as a bride on the show. “She was like my little girl, you know. She started on this show when she was 10. Now she’s 19, we married her off. I mean, it’s easy to get emotional, it really is.”

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Milano was also very close to Light. A couple of years ago, the two stars ran into each other for an event, and Milano tweeted, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing Judith Light. Nothing.”

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They were all saddened by the death of Katherine Helmond in March of 2019. Danza also discussed Helmond in an interview. “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming and profoundly funny.” After her death, he commented that “She was such an influence on me. No matter what problem I had, I could go to her. Very few people could match her. She was a consummate professional. She never made a mistake and she always got the laugh. She was the sexy older lady who could keep up with the young people. She just had a way about her.”

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1646629a) Who’s The Boss , Katherine Helmond, Tony Danza Film and Television

Light also discussed Helmond. “She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world and will be deeply missed.”

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Her television grandchildren also remembered her fondly. Milano paid the following tribute to her: “My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!” Pintauro said she was “the best TV grandmother a boy could ask for. Even still, I’m just as devastated as I was when I lost my real grandma. A beautiful soul has left us for the next chapter, may you make them laugh Katherine!”

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This is another one of those undervalued shows. Although there were some really great shows on television during the mid and late 1980s, some of the top-rated shows on in this decade included Knot’s Landing, Charles in Charge, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Facts of Life. Who’s the Boss was a much better written and acted show than any of these. The show combined the best elements of sitcoms and created a fresh approach to a family comedy.

Our House: Learning the Art of Compromising

As continue our Rewind 1980s month, today we take a look at Our House, another family dramedy. Our House debuted in 1986 on NBC and ran for two seasons, producing 46 episodes.

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James Lee Barrett created the series. He would receive credit for writing all 46 episodes. He passed away a year after it was cancelled. He also developed and wrote the scripts for In the Heat of the Night.

The premise of the show is that three generations of family members live together and cope with the ups and downs of daily life. When John Witherspoon (Patrick Duffy) passes away, his widow Jessie (Deidre Hall) moves her three children from Fort Wayne, Indiana to California to live with her father-in-law, Gus (Wilford Brimley), a widower.

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Gus thinks his grandkids should be raised the same way his kids were, but Jessie doesn’t always agree with his rules and methods. Gus’s neighbor and best friend Joe is a bit easier to get along with. When Gus invites the family to move in with him, Joe (Gerald O’Laughlin) says, “You’re set in your ways. It could be fatal.” The kids had to learn that beneath Gus’s gruff exterior, he was a gentle and loving man, and he had to learn how to impart life lessons to them without sounding like an old grouch. During the run of the show, Gus learns he must change his view on some things, and his grandkids realize he has a lot of wisdom to share. The show manages to uphold traditional values while exploring contemporary social issues and being open minded about them.

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Gus likes living alone, being retired, and enjoying quiet time, but he knows Jessie needs help to and does the right thing. One of the things viewers remember most about this show was the beautiful old Victorian house they lived in.

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Deidre Hall plays the part of Jessie. She is best known for her role of Marlena on Days of Our Lives, and it’s interesting to note that she continued playing the role of Marlena while she starred in this show. Dee Wallace Stone, the mom on ET, was originally offered the part, but she declined. When Jessie gets to California, one of her priorities is to become financially stable. She gets a job as an administrative assistant. Eventually Jessie begins dating again which is hard for both her and Gus.

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Kris, 15 and the oldest, is played by Shannen Doherty. She wants to get into the Air Force like her father. Doherty would go on to find fame as Brenda on Beverly Hills 90210.

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David (Chad Allen), 12, is the middle child and only son. Allen would later appear on Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman for five years.

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The youngest is Molly, 8, played by Keri Houlihan. She is a sweet and mild-tempered girl who wants to make everyone happy and for everyone to get along. Molly also brought her dog, Arthur, a basset hound.

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Joe Kaplan is the same age as Gus. While they don’t always agree, Joe is sometimes the voice of reason for Gus. Gus always listens to him and respects his viewpoint even if he thinks it’s the wrong perspective.

Michael Baum of the Los Angeles Times wrote of this show: “Our house is such a nice, sweet, good-natured show, and Wilford Brimley is so wonderfully endearing in the lead role . . . Please, NBC, preserve this warm and entertaining show for all us softies at heart.”

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Unfortunately, the show was up against Sixty Minutes, and the ratings never achieved anything significant. If Sixty Minutes wasn’t bad enough, in season two it also had to face The Disney Sunday Movie. It ranked 59th in season one and 71st in season two.

I’m not sure why the network was not willing to move the show in season two and see if more viewers turned in without the pressure of Sixty Minutes.

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I understand this show was not of Shakespearian quality, but it was a wholesome show and never really got a chance to get off the ground. Having a diverse group of people and different ages learn to live together peacefully under the same roof was interesting to watch. Everyone learned about compromise and family values. The cast was made up of good actors and the plot was different from most other family shows at the time. Brimley had just the right amount of crotchetiness. His character sets the tone for the entire show. He could have been too grouchy, turning off viewers but he made the show charming instead.

thirtysomething: love it or hate it?

Continuing our Rewind 1980s, today we delve into the show that was thirtysomething. If you want to start a heated debate, just ask a group of people what they thought about the show. Everyone has a definite opinion, and the answers vary greatly. This is Us and A Million Little Things remind me a lot of thirtysomething. They are shows I look forward to every week. Not surprisingly, Ken Olin who played Michael on thirtysomething is the executive producer of This is Us; he also has directed many of the episodes, and Timothy Busfield who played Elliot Weston on the show has also been a director on This is Us.

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Gary, Melissa, Ellyn, Michael with Janie, Hope,
Nancy with Ethan, Elliot with Brittany

I loved the show when it was first on the air. The first couple episodes I watched on DVD had a few moments that seemed a bit too introspective and overthought, but as the series progressed, I remembered why I loved the show so much. Choosing between a show where characters might overthink occasionally versus some of the mindless shows currently on television, I’ll take the first option every time.

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A typical thirtysomething scene

Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, who both worked on Family, created this show for United Artists Television. It was on ABC for four seasons from 1987-1991. A group of baby boomers, made up of single friends and married couples living in Philadelphia, experience life after college. Originally the show was called “Thirty Something,” but it was changed to thirtysomething before it aired. The word “thirtysomething” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary after this series became so popular.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the memorable music from the show. W.G. Snuffy Walden and Stewart Levin were the composers for the theme song and much of the music that was heard in the background. A CD was released in 1991, titled “The Soundtrack From thirtysomething”. I have that CD and still listen to it from time to time. Walden would go on to compose music for many series including The Wonder Years, The West Wing, and Nashville.

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The series was extremely popular with young adults. It won 13 Emmy Awards and was nominated for 41. It also won two Golden Globes.

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The Steadmans

Although this was an ensemble cast similar to Friends, the main characters were Hope (Mel Harris) and Michael (Olin) Steadman. Michael runs an advertising company with Elliot (Busfield).

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The Westons

He and his wife Nancy (Patricia Wettig) are good friends of Hope and Michael. (In real life Wettig and Olin are married.) Michael’s best friend is professor, Gary Shepherd (Peter Horton), and Hope’s best friend is Ellyn Warren, (Polly Draper) who works for the city. Michael’s cousin Melissa (Melanie Mayron) is also part of the inner circle.

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Ellyn and Gary pretend to be dating as a prank on Hope and Michael

She dated Gary in the past and there is always a “will they or won’t they get back together” vibe between them.

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Michael and cousin and friend Melissa

Michael and Hope have a baby when the show begins, and the Westons have two young children, Ethan and Brittany. The children are all central characters in the show.

Intelligent scripts and realistic plots make the show a classic. As the show evolves, Michael and Elliot have to give up their company and go to work for someone else, Gary and his girlfriend Susannah (Patricia Kalember) get pregnant which leads to their marriage, Ellyn and Melissa have various serious relationships before they find their soulmates, Nancy pursues her dream of being a children’s author and illustrator, the Westons separate, and Hope is constantly weighing the advantages of being a stay-at-home mom versus returning to her writing career. Melissa’s career as a photographer skyrockets including work for Vanity Fair and a Carly Simon album cover. In addition, there is the unexpected storyline when Nancy battles ovarian cancer. She is told she is in remission and her friends throw a party at her hospital room, when Michael gets the call that Gary has been killed in a car accident on the way to see them.

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Susannah and Gary get married
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Michael and Elliot

In an article on hollywoodreporter.com in 2017, Craig Tomashoff interviewed Herskovitz about the creation of the show and the casting.

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Nancy helping Gary with teaching children’s literature

Herskovitz explained after quickly putting the script together, based in part on the concept of the movie The Big Chill, they had to find their ensemble cast. He said each character was a totally different experience. When Busfield walked in the room, they said he was cast before he even read a line. Marshall and Olin were already friends, so they cast Ken as Michael and then hired his wife but explained she was going to be married to another character. She only had one line in the pilot so she was a bit worried about the character, but they promised her that her character would be developed more fully. Horton was also a friend of Herskovitz’s. They lived in the same neighborhood and their wives were also friends. He wanted to be a director, not an actor. But when he read the script, he thought it was the best pilot he had ever seen, so he came on board. Mayron and Draper were both brought in for auditions. Mel Harris auditioned for Zwick and Herskovitz but then heard nothing. She had only been acting for about a year or so at that time. She finally got the call that she was hired.

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Michael and Gary

The group worked very well together. The show focused on friendship and feelings. As Mayron once described it, rather than the big things in life, the show was “about the minutiae of life, not the disease or crime of the week.”

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Melissa and her soulmate

This was seen in the marital relationships as well.  Although there were a few big things that came between Hope and Michael, most of their arguments were smaller, petty things that most couples argue about from time to time. Hope wanted help with cleaning the house; Michael felt the laundry wasn’t done often enough. We didn’t see anything romanticized–the house needed repairs and trying to get a babysitter was a frustration. However, we did see things that were romantic. In the middle of a conversation about their daughter, when it was quiet, Michael and Hope would have a loving moment.

Busfield said the actors chose to focus on each other and insulate themselves a bit. Horton said “Ken, Tim and I became almost like brothers. We meshed in each other’s lives, never feeling competitive with each other. Tim was the most practical of all of us.” Because the cast was so close and they shared their lives with one another, Zwick admitted, that “we mercilessly robbed the cast of their life experiences.” Occasionally, someone in one of the actor’s past would not be happy seeing a story from their life on the screen.

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Busfield said the cast realized how important their characters were to the viewers and how much they related to them, sometimes in negative ways. Once in a grocery store, a woman came up and slapped him across the face because of the way he treated Nancy. She apologized when he reminded her that was not him but his character. Wettig said a woman asked her where she did her chemotherapy and then shared with her that she had just been diagnosed with cancer and had to find a treatment facility. Mayron started wearing her suspenders backward for Melissa just as a unique fashion. One day when she was out and about, she saw a lot of girls doing the same and they told her they were copying her. Horton’s story was that he had been a dedicated fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. One day at an event he had a tap on his shoulder and when he turned around, he saw David Crosby who shared that he was a huge fan of Horton and thirtysomething.

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Susannah coping with Gary’s death

The show mirrored real life for viewers. Many people were dealing with internal struggles and thought that they were the only ones who experienced such thoughts. There was a comfort in the realization that other people had the same feelings. Viewers had an intimate relationship with the cast.

Most of the characters wanted to do something big with their lives and careers. They are now at the turning point where that may come true or they might have to re-adjust their perspective of what’s important. The married friends are jealous of their single friends at times and the single friends return the favor. Nothing is black or white.

If you think of life as a mosaic masterpiece, you realize each episode of the show looked at one tile piece in-depth. It can be exhausting and feel overwhelming to do that, but once you do, you develop an appreciation and understanding of the artwork as a whole that you would not achieve just looking at it as one thing.

THIRTYSOMETHING, (L-R), Peter Horton, Rachel Nagler, Patricia Wettig, Mel Harris, Timothy Busfield, Jason Nagler, Polly Draper, Ken Olin, Melanie Mayron, Season 1, 1987. (c) MGM Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

When the show came out, critics were divided.  Some loved it; some hated it. Gene Seymour from the Daily News, wrote that is would “bring you down” and “make you uncomfortable.” However, he also said the show “deserves your attention.”

When the series was cancelled four years later, things hadn’t changed that much. An ABC spokesman said the show was cancelled partly for ratings decline and partly because Zwick and Herskovitz wanted to make feature films. At that time, Francesca Chapman, also of the Daily News, wrote that the series “has told us stories we already know and made it fascinating” and that “they were all the more gripping because a good story, told realistically and in detail, a story that doesn’t necessarily have a punch line or a happy ending, is an unusual thing on TV. After tonight, it will be all the rarer.”

The cast was featured on a reunion episode in 2009 on Good Morning America. When the show turned 30 in 2017, it propelled a lot of articles about the cast and the significance of the show. The show had not been forgotten.

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GMA Reunion 2009

When thirtysomething started in 1987, it provoked a lot of disagreement about the show. When it went off the air four years later, the debate had still not been settled. Now thirty-two years later, there is still not a definitive answer. You love it or you hate it. While I admit, when I began re-watching the episodes from the first year, I was surprised that I saw too much whining which was a big criticism of the show originally. But once the season got underway, the whining was replaced with in-depth discussions about life and friendship. I loved it, and I’m grateful to the show for creating a place on television today that can feature a show like This Is Us. Just when you think you’re going to give up on television and just read, a show like that comes along and brings you hope that it’s not all a wasteland and that there is treasure to be found if you take time to look for it.