In today’s TV world of reboots and revivals (take your pick on which word you prefer), ABC has ordered a pilot for what it refers to as a sequel to drama thirtysomething, focusing on the grown-up thirtysomething-year-old kids of the original characters. Since I take my TV very seriously, I did the math and, yes, little Janey and Leo Steadman, and Ethan and Brittany Weston, are indeed in their 30s!
Returning, meanwhile, will be original stars Ken Olin (Michael), Mel Harris (Hope), Timothy Busfield (Elliot) and Patricia Wettig (Nancy).
“The show became so deeply embedded in pop culture,” ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said at the current Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena. “Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskowitz have been approached many times over the years and have always declined to do a sequel. Three decades later, the young cast have now become thirtysomethings themselves. Today’s thirtysomethings are yesterday’s millennials, they are the first generation raised with the Internet, all of which provides a stark contrast to the original.”
While nothing is confirmed, my assumption is that now sixtysomething-year-old quartet will be appearing on a recurring basis if the pilot is picked up to series. Ken Olin, after all, is busy producing This Is Us. But what about the other actors from the original series?
Which characters will return?
Peter Horton as likable Gary Shephard, of course, is certainly not coming back (unless it is in a flashback). His character, if you recall, met an untimely death after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle at the same time we waited word on Nancy’s battle with cancer.
But I am hoping to see Melanie Mayron as Michael’s cousin Melissa and Polly Draper as Ellyn, Hope’s childhood friend, also give us a glimpse of their lives now.
Wouldn’t it also be cool to see David Clennon as evil Miles Drentell, Michael and Elliot’s former corrupt boss, show his aging face? Interesting footnote: Clennon revisited the character on early 2000s ABC drama Once and Again.
Then there is David Marshall Grant as Melissa’s friend Russell Weller and Peter Frechette as his partner Peter Montefiore. You might recall that highly controversial scene in a 1989 episode of thirtysomething titled “Strangers,” which featured the pair in bed the morning after sleeping together. At the time, five of the show’s sponsors pulled their ads, costing the network an estimated $1.5 million in advertising revenue. ABC, in fact, never repeated the episode. Today, that scene would be no big whoop!
While I have been balking (and squawking) over the glut of all these reboots (or sequels, in this case), chiding the networks for their lack of creativity, this time I will make an exception. ABC’s thirtysomething is one of those important TV series from yesteryear, which — in my humble opinion — ended way too soon. “We were all surprised when we did not get a fifth season,” I recall Ken Olin telling me in an interview. “But the writers at the time felt they did not have enough new stories to tell.”
–Did Michael and Hope stay out in Los Angeles?
-Are Elliot and Nancy still together?
-Did Nancy have any further bouts with cancer?
-Did Michael and Elliot ever work together again?
-Does Hope have a better relationship with her children than she had with her mother Ruth (Shirley Knight)?
-Did Melissa or Ellyn every settle down?
-Did Melissa ever get over losing Gary?
-Did any of the characters ever have more kids?
Naturally, we all also want to know (which so many of us face now) is what life is like as a sixtysomething year old. While the emphasis on this proposed new thirtysomething is on the new generation of characters, inquiring viewers from the original series (who remember watching and totally relating to it) would like a new platform for this more advanced age.
-Have any of the now older characters faced age discrimination?
-Are they on good terms with their children?
-Have they turned into current versions of their parents?
Note to producers : Sixtysomething matters too!
Did You Know?
To whet your appetite for this potential new thirtysomething, here are 10 facts you may not know about the original series:
1. Debuting on September 29, 1987, in the Tuesday 10 p.m. ET hour on ABC, thirtysomething was never a “hit” from the traditional Nielsen ratings standpoint. It never finished any of its four seasons ranked in the top 30 of all shows in primetime. But, like medical dramedy St. Elsewhere on NBC at the time, it demonstrated the importance of the coveted 18-49 demographic. Most of the audience watching the series was in that age range, which was who the networks and advertisers wanted to target.
2. thirtysomething immediately followed Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in its first two seasons.
3. The dramas it faced in the course of its four-season run included The Law and Harry McGraw (a spin-off from Murder, She Wrote) and Island Son on CBS; and Crime Story, Midnight Caller and Law & Order on NBC. That’s right — Law & Order began its 20-season run on NBC opposite thirtysomething! CBS also scheduled a movie to compete.
4. The series was influenced by theatricals Return of the Secaucus Seven in 1980 and The Big Chill in 1983.
5. Timothy Busfield was only 29 when he was cast in the pilot of the original thirtysomething. Presently, he is married to that former “Half-Pint” from Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert.
6. The series was instrumental in getting the term “thirtysomething” added in the Oxford English Dictionary.
7. Patricia Wettig is one of the few actors historically to win an Emmy Award for the same role in both the lead and supporting categories. She won her first of three Emmys on thirtysomething as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in 1988. Her next two were for Best Lead Actress in a Drama in 1990 and 1991, respectively.
8. thirtysomething, in total, won 13 Primetime Emmy awards (including Outstanding Drama Series in 1988). In addition to Patricia Wetting, Melanie Mayron, Timothy Busfield and Shirley Knight each took home a statuette.
9. There was talk of doing a live episode of thirtysomething, which never did surface. But ABC’s current emphasis on doing live events (including a live installment of sitcom The Conners on February 11) could make this an option for the proposed new series.
10. ABC drama Homefront, starring Kyle Chandler, which was set in the fictional city of River Run, Ohio, replaced thirtysomething in the Tuesday 10 p.m. hour in the fall of 1981. It ran for two seasons.
ABC will announce its fall 2020 primetime schedule at an event in New York City the second week in May. While nothing is a given, I do think there are so many more stories to tell on thirtysomething. And as much as I want to learn about the new generation, let’s not forget about what life twice that age is like, too.