1 9 8 7 – 1 9 9 1 (USA)
85 x 60 minute episodes
Thirtysomething was a comedy/drama series that kept returning, months after it had supposedly telecast its last show, due to audience appeal.
The series centred on seven thirty-something yuppies who were long-time friends. Four of the seven were married couples when the series began and three were single.
Michael Steadman (Ken Olin), an advertising copywriter struggling with his liberal Jewish background, and his wife Hope (Mel Harris), a part-time social worker and full-time mother are the “settled” couple.
The Steadmans were offset against Elliot (Timothy Busfield, pictured at left), a not-really-grown-up graphic artist who was Michael’s best friend at Penn, and his long-suffering wife Nancy (Patricia Wettig), an illustrator who separated from him and developed breast cancer in subsequent seasons.
Three unmarried friends also date back to college days: Ellyn (Polly Draper, pictured below right) is a career executive in city government; Gary (Peter Horton) teaches English at a liberal arts college; and Melissa Steadman (Melanie Mayron), a freelance photographer, is Michael’s cousin.
While the two couples wrestle with their marriages and raising their children, the three others have a series of love affairs with outsiders to the circle.
For Gary (after a quasi-incestuous relation with Melissa) fate holds a child out of wedlock with temperamental feminist Susanna, the college’s denial of tenure, his life as a house-husband, and finally – in one of the most publicised episodes – sudden death in a cycling accident.
“Real life is an acquired taste” was the network promo for the series, as its makers explored the boundaries between melodrama and realism.
Thirtysomething spearheaded ABC’s drive to reach a demographically younger and culturally more capital-rich audience. Cover stories in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly explored the parallels between the actors’ and characters’ lives, as well as the rapport generated with the audience.
The show was in the vanguard for centring on post-feminist “sensitive new-age” men and dealing with touchy issues within sexual relationships. It was also the first series to show a homosexual couple in bed together.
Well-reviewed by TV critics, Thirtysomething won a Peabody Award in 1988 and an Emmy for best dramatic series in the same year. But in spite of this, the series failed to attract a large enough audience for ABC to keep it on the air.
When the series was eventually cancelled due to poor ratings, a Newsweek article reflected the baby boomers’ sense of loss: “the value of the Tuesday night meetings was that art, even on the small screen, reflected our lives back at us to be considered as new.” Hostile critics, on the other hand, were relieved that the self-indulgent whines of yuppiedom had finally been banished from the schedules.
The series was created by Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, who were baby boomers themselves and had previously written the successful series, Family.