Fans of thirtysomething were treated to a reunion of the creators and cast of classic drama that aired on ABC from 1987 to 1991. Creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick were joined on stage by actors Polly Draper, Timothy Busfield, David Clennon, Melanie Mayron, and Peter Horton to talk about a show, which, at the time was different than anything on television.
During that particular era of TV, Herskovitz says that the landscape was filled with doctor, police and lawyer franchises. He admits that he and Zwick weren’t looking to do TV at the time as they were more steeped in film. Even so, they created a simple show about the relationships between baby boomers in Philly.
“It wasn’t written like a TV show,” said Draper. “It was different from what I have seen before. This bridged the gap [betwen film and TV] and changed the whole course of TV history.”
Mayron compared the drama to The Big Chill, adding, “It didn’t read like a TV show…it was way above that.”
With the show, Zwick and Herskovitz set out to do what they wanted to do. They tackled intimate, personal stories and stayed away from big-picture issues. “You have to keep out the giant dramas or they would drown out these [smaller] stories,” said Herskovitz.
That’s not to say these big issues weren’t on the show’s purview. Zwick wanted to find authenticity in these intimate stories which later fed into issues of greater and grander importance.
The series pushed boundaries with shows that were a “meditation upon a theme.” They tackled struggles of everyday people such as financial woes, losing businesses, terminal illness, deaths of friends and how it affected their relationships. It was a show about life that reflected the era.
Because the show was so progressive and attempted to reflect real life, it led to notes and requests from ABC. With the second episode, Zwick said that ABC was worried that the show was too dark and they asked him to lighten it up. Zwick said “No.” The show was also groundbreaking in that it was one of the first prime-time show to two gay men in bed together — but they weren’t allowed to kiss — even though the original script had them kissing. Herskovitz fought to have the on-screen kiss, but one of the actors in the scene, David Marshall Grant, said that he didn’t need the kiss because the fact that two gay men were in bed together on ABC prime-time television was revolutionary, further paving the way for representation on television.
The push for creativity and telling of progressively intimate stories of thirtysomething was the lifeblood of the series and has legacy which is why Zwick appreciates networks and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon that leave artists alone and let them do what they want with their shows. The result has been great, non-homogenized work — much like thirtysomething.