A candid conversation about joys, pains and incessant talk with the creators and cast
You find it on prime time. On reruns. In commercials. In critical essays. In therapy groups. In the language. (Yes, one word and uncapitalized.) In jokes ("What is Yuppie oral sex?" "Sixtysomething"). In the culture. Indeed, when was the last time the name of a TV show came to represent an entire sensibility, if not an entire generation?
For better or for worse-and sometimes for better and for worse-"thirtysomething" is seen as a mirror of the world in which many of us live. Some viewers believe it is their lives-if only their lives began each day with a riff from an acoustic guitar
The "thirtysomething" world is populated by men and women trying to grow up and to get by amid financial, familial and personal pressures. They confront lost jobs, betrayed secrets, aging parents and illness. It might be merely a hipper better written soap opera if it weren't for the fact that it is not about these crises but about a group of people we've come to know as Hope and Michael, Elliot and Nancy, Melissa, Ellyn and Gary and their assorted friends, families and lovers.
The people of "thirtysomething" are, in many ways, unextraordinary, which is what makes them extraordinary-for TV They are characters many viewers believe they could know (albeit, as one of the show's writers Points out, better lit than the people we know"). They don't carry guns or spout gags to laugh tracks. That's partly why, when Nancy was diagnosed as having cancer this season, it wasn't merely as if a family member or a friend were in trouble-it was also covered in USA Today and The New York Times.
"Thirtysomething" has come to be viewed-and adored and loathed-as the picture of the baby-boom generation, the generation coming of age that is increasingly defining America-its leadership, its values. Those who hate the show write off Michael and his well-educated friends as materialistic Yuppies who whine about how hard it is to find a baby sitter Those who love the show seem to think that the baby-sitter issue is a metaphor for how hard it actually is to balance work, children, your relationship with your husband or wife and-why not?-the political ideals that once seemed more important than anything else.
Three years ago, film school friends Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz were asked by MGM to make a television series. They were told they could do anything. First they considered a show about the dramas inside a Middle-age castle. Then they decided to do a show about themselves. The result was a surprise to critics and viewers used to car chases and sitcoms. Often these characters did nothing more than sit around the kitchen and talk. The conversation was good enough that the show went on to be nominated for a remarkable 22 Emmys in three years.
"Thirtysomething," at three, has become a Tuesday-night ritual for 30,000,000 Americans. Some of them hoot and make fun; others let the tearsflow. Some say it has affected the way they deal with their parents or with their children. Some have gone into therapy or couples counseling because of the show.
But it's not all traumatized children and heart-to-heart talks about infidelity. There is a sophisticated wit that sears modern times with a deft eye. Infact, the attention to detail is a trademark of the show. In a meeting of producers, writers and other principals, a production designer brought in paint samples to ask for opinions on what color the Steadmans' kitchen should be painted. Here is a partial transcript of the discussion that ensued:
I'm not happy with any of these colors for the kitchen, but I wanted to bring it up."
"Well, the yellow is going to hurt us for all sorts of night shots.
That's a bad idea. What are the other choices? The peaches and the blues?"
"Yes. The peaches and blues. "
How about a stencil around the border?
It would have to be motivated. What nature of stencil? "
Not to overstencil."
I just fear the magazine look."
"You know, its weird. These Steadmans never get their shit together in their home."
"Will they ever finish the kitchen?"
If they do, something else will happen: The floors will start buckling or something, so as to keep it in a constant state of disorder That's a metaphor for us."
As the national love-hate debate about "thirtysomething" reached a pitch (which in itself was very "thirtysomething," which further enraged the haters), Playboy sent Contributing Editor David Sheff (with an important assist from free-lancer Amy Rennert) to infiltrate the lives of the showy seven Principal actors and its two cocreators. It's only the fourth telvision-show-as-cultural marker to be featured as a group Playboy Interview," following Saturday Night Live" in 1977, Hill Street Blues" in 1983 and "60 Minutes" in 1985. Sheffs infiltrate the lives of the showy seven Principal actors and its two cocreators. It's only the fourth telvision-show-as-cultural marker to be featured as a group Playboy Interview," following Saturday Night Live" in 1977, Hill Street Blues" in 1983 and "60 Minutes" in 1985. Sheffs report:
"I flew to L.A. and checked into my hotel. The next morning, the digital alarm clock woke me up with a shrill scream. While I waited for a cappuccino and prepared a couple of memos to send out on the hotel fax, I called New York to talk to the woman who may or may not be my girlfriend. We discussed our feelings.
Next, I called my son at his mother's house, where he was spending the holiday. He asked me if, instead of taking Spanish, which they offer at his private school, he could take Klingon.
On my way to the studio, I stopped at an instant teller for some cash and then at a pay phone, where I used my phone card to call my home answering machine to check in for messages...
Another "thirtysomething' morning. It was enough to make me want to go out and punch a few people, drink a few American beers and, most of all, be real insensitive to my family and friends.
Instead, I headed to the set of the show that is making my life a parody.
In the "thirtysomething' offices, one of the two Debs (Petro and Yates) who work there offered me coffee and raisin bagels and cream cheese. There is a hoop and a small basketball, computers on desks, a Santa Fe-blue coffee table (upon it: The Wall Street journal, Journal of Film and Video and Psychology Today), an oak-top desk and oak shelves. On a shelf is a prop from a Saturday Night Live' skit: 'thirtysomething' breakfast cereal. WIN A VOLVO: DETAILS ON BACK.
"The interview began with a session with Zwick and Herskovitz, who oversee every detail of 'thirtysomething.'
Zwick and Herskovitz have been a team since film school. Since then, they have written and directed for the TV show Family' and have made movies together, including the make-believe television docudrama Special Bulletin,' which won several Emmys. Zwick, who has ringlets of hair and a beard so black it's almost blue, wore Stan Smith sneakers. Herskovitz, fair-haired, wore Reeboks. He looked familiar ... Oh, yeah, he played the shrink in the famous marriage-counseling episode. And by the way, Zwick, who took some time off from "thirtysomething' this year to direct 'Glory,' made his first film with a college friend named Christie Hefner For a set, they used her dad's house, the Chicago Playboy Mansion.
Over the course of three weeks, as they filmed three episodes, we spoke for hours with Zwick and Herskovitz, as well as with the principal actors. For those who are still confused, here's the cast of characters:
"The guy with the red hair That's Elliot, played by Tim Busfield. By Busfield's own account, Elliot is the fuck-up of the gang, but he has gotten lots of sympathy this season since his wife on the show has cancer Elliot wears great hand-painted neckties. Busfield was seen in Field of Dreams' and Revenge of the Nerds,' is twice married and a father and runs an award-winning children's theater company he founded in Sacramento.
"The blonde wife. This character, Nancy, gets all the breaks. Her husband fools around on her she finds out, they go to therapy, split up, get back together deal with traumatized kids-and just when things are finally going OK, she gets cancer All this has been a challenge to the actress who plays her, Patricia Wettig. She has acted on stage and in TV movies. Wettig is married, in real life, not to Elliot/Busfield but to Michael/Ken Olin. They met in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.'
"You know-me Perfect. This guy, Michael Steadman, gives the rest of us men a bad name. His business falls apart, his father dies, his wife gives him dirty looks when he's just trying to make an honest buck, yet he always remembers to say and do the right thing. In real life, he is Ken Olin, a Hill Street Blues' alumnus. His character slipped from grace briefly when he was trying to persuade Hope not to use her diaphragm. I'll pull out,' he told her On prime time.
Mrs. Perfect' He didn't pull out. Hope Steadman is pregnant again. Not only is Hope the perfect mom, an understanding and supportive wife and, incidentally, beautiful, she has the right politics, too. Mel Harris' real-life husband is Cotter Smith, a star of Equal Justice,'a new ABC series. She has recently been seen in several made-fortv movies, including one in which she played a victim of the Ku Klux Klan.
"The gal with the gravelly voice. In one episode, we learn that Ellyn has a tattoo on one lower cheek, which was great news. Polly Draper, a veteran of the theater, wore a cowboy shirt during our interview. We discovered that she has an endearing way of not finishing her-well, sort of like-oh, ah, well, never mind
The one with the cute, crooked smile. It was a very hot moment when Melissa described how it felt to be with her new, younger stud boyfriend And when he's inside me,' she said, it's like. . . '
Both Melissa and the woman who plays her, Melanie Mayron, are photographers and single. Mayron used to appear in TV movies as a much heavier person. When she recently appeared in a scene in a bathing suit, guys on the set whistled and stomped. Very un 'thirtysomething.' Oh, crooked smile. It was a very hot moment when Melissa described how it felt to be with her new, younger stud boyfriend And when he's inside me,' she said, it's like. . . 'Both Melissa and the woman who plays her, Melanie Mayron, are photographers and single. Mayron used to appear in TV movies as a much heavier person. When she recently appeared in a scene in a bathing suit, guys on the set whistled and stomped. Very un 'thirtysomething.' Oh, guys in flannel shirts and Ban-Lon . . .'she said
"The guy with all the blond hair When I met Peter Horton at a trendy restaurant in Santa Monica (Busfield said the place was for Yuppie bastards), he was fulminating about President Bush's foreign policy when two small children at the next table started crying louder and louder until we couldn't hear each other without shouting. Horton threw up his hands: Did Marshall and Ed write this?' He has directed some of 'thirtysomething's best episodes, was crowned one of Us magazine's ten sexiest bachelors and was married to Michelle Pfeiffer.
Now that we know the players, join us as we enter their lives and discover the answers to these and other existential questions: Will Melissa be able, to handle the fact that her stud boyfriend, no matter how good in bed, is a decade younger than she? Will Ellyn's latest leave his wife for her? Will Gary give up his bachelor life to marry his girlfriend, mother of his baby? Will Michael continue to sell out to wonderfully evil adman Miles Drentell? Will Hope-perfect, pregnant Hope-do something about those glances she's been throwing at a political activist? Will Nancy die of cancer? And-most important-what color will the Steadmans paint their kitchen? Stay tuned."
DS: What's the biggest difference between thirtysomething and the rest of television?
HERSKOVITZ (co-creator): I would say that we're the only show that takes the depiction of reality as one of our central aims.
DS: But isn't the general wisdom that television and reality are a contradiction in terms-that TV is all about escape?
HERSKOVITZ: It's absolutely proven that, generally, people don't want to see reality on television. Television's role is basically escapist. People have difficult days, they go home and want to be entertained. That's true of me, as well.
DS: So you hit them with anxious couples, failing businesses, ovarian cancer and baby-sitter problems.
HERSKOVITZ: Our point in coming up with thirtysomething was to suggest that maybe there is a place on television for the exception to the rule. I think it's been a mistake all along to think that just because stupid TV shows do well, intelligent shows can't do well. It just doesn't follow.
DS: Ed, do you believe thirtysomething proves that people actually want to see real-life problems on TV?
ZWICK (cocreator): It's not just reality. This is not the Loud family. We are distilling reality, the way one reduces sauces. It becomes more potent. We are giving the illusion of reality while using traditional structural elements of film: rising action, complication, climax and denouement. It takes some sleight of hand so the seams don't show. You're left with a sense of verisimilitude, but it's calculated in dramatic terms.
Herskovitz returns; Zwick continues.
I'm just using all your ideas, Marshall, and making them into my own.
HERSKOVITZ: Almost everything he says, I thought of, almost everything I say, he thought of
ZWICK: We can finish each other's sentences -
HERSKOVITZ: And often do.
DS: How true to life is the sense of community on the show? You have seven main characters who are constantly dropping in on one another-are friendships like that?
BUSFIELD (Elliot): Personally, I don't have time for friends. I don't want any more friends. With the children's theater I'm involved in, the TV series, directing an episode, other acting projects and a wife and two kids I don't give enough attention to, when am I going to find time to stop by Ken Olin's house and stick my head into the kitchen and say, "Hey, guys, what are you up to?"-and then stay around to hang out in their laundry room for three hours?
Kenny and Patty are probably my best friends on a day-to-day basis, and they've had this new house for about a year-but I've never been there.
MAYRON (Melissa): That's a big part of the appeal of the show, I think: the unreal nuclear family, which is a substitute for the real nuclear family everybody yearns for. I'm in L.A., my parents are in Philadelphia, everyone is scattered....
HORTON (Gary): In the darker ages, the average person met a hundred people in a lifetime and there was, consequently, a lifetime of intimacy. What's happened now is you see a hundred people when you turn your TV on or when you drive to work. It's so overwhelmingly vast that it's hard to find a sense of community. There is now the tendency to go through anything-a divorce, a death-alone, feeling that you're the only one who has the problem. Thirtysomething provides a sort of community center. We can laugh at ourselves in that same intimate way. The show provides us with a connection to one another. You can go to work and talk about what happened to characters on thirtysomething. It's safer than admitting something happened to you and that it's you who is scared.
HERSKOVITZ: Early in the first season, my brother in Boston asked me, "Do your friends drop in like that all the time?" I said, "Hell, no. Are you kidding?"
ZWICK: There are other glimpses of unreality in the show. I was on Nightwatch the other night. Off the air, Charlie Rose asked, "Do you think the characters on thirtysomething stay up late enough to watch Nightwatch?" and I said, "I don't think the characters on thirtysomething stay up late enough to watch thirtysomething."
HARRIS (Hope): I don't stay up that late. About all I watch is Ducktales occasionally in the afternoon with my son.
DS: Has this sense of a thirtysomething family spilled over into your private lives?
MAYRON: In a way. Polly and I live around the corner from each other. Sometimes we have garage sales. Polly and I and a bunch of friends are standing there selling stuff. I remember once turning to Polly and saying, "It's so thirtysomething I can't stand it."
DRAPER (Ellyn): Yeah, and when that happens, we know it would be so thirtysomething even if we weren't on the show. Since we are, it's even ... weirder.
MAYRON: A lot of us went to Patty's birthday party the other night at a restaurant. The whole restaurant was looking at us.
DRAPER: I was the first one to leave. I heard people saying, "Look! There's Ken Olin!" "Is that Peter Horton?" Some guy said, "My God, they're all here!" His friend was very cool about it. He turned to him and said, "They look plastic to me." Laughs)
BUSFIELD: I didn't go to the party, but I'm probably closer to them than ninety-nine percent of the people who did show up. Kenny and I, for instance, are incredibly close partners. He knows more about me than anybody else. Elliot and Michael are the main characters of thirtysomething and a lot of that is because Ken and I are able to carry our relationship from off camera to on camera; people accept it as a real relationship. And, of course, I lie in bed with no clothes on with his wife.
DS: By the way, why do you lie in bed with Keris wife? Why do you think Ken and Patty, married in real life, weren't cast that way?
BUSFIELD-. I think Ed and Marshall saw a strong leading Jewish man with your classic goyim babe, which is who they're both married to laughs)-great-looking WASP women. Patty was a cheerleader jock. She's not right for Ken's wife. She would be miscast.
DS: Marshall, was it for the sake of creating some tension on the set or were there other reasons for not casting Ken and Patty as a married couple?
HERSKOVITZ: My wife and I had become friends with Ken and Patty because our kids were in nursery school together. When we were casting the pilot, their names came up on the casting list. Ken came in and read the part of Michael. Kenny is this handsome, athletic guy he looks so together, not at all how we visualized Michael. We originally saw him as kind of schlub. But we couldn't put Ken out of our minds; he was the guy. Patty came in and read both Hope's part and Nancy's part but she just wasn't Hope. There's no other way to put it. She read Nancy so well that we never looked for another Nancy after we heard her.
DS: Ken and Patty, when we saw you together, it seemed for a moment as if you were cheating on Hope and Elliot.
OLIN (Michael): That's just so fucking ridiculous !
WETTIG (Nancy): We did get that for a few months, but people have gotten used to it.
BUSFIELD: I think the hardest part for Kenny in watching me be married to his wife is that he knows I'm a pervert. When Kenny and I went to Houston together years ago, I was separated at the time and my major goal was to have sex as much as possible with as many women under the age of twenty-one as I could. Two and a half years later, I'm in bed with Ken's wife and he's thinking, This is absolutely the last person in the world I would want doing love scenes with my wife-because I know Busfield !
DS: Let's talk about the show's impact. Has thirtysomething influenced the kind of drama that's shown on television?
BUSFIELD: Definitely. Steve Bochco brought continuing story lines into prime time in Hill Street Blues; Glenn Gordon Caron, in Moonlighting, showed how fast you can actually talk in a TV show-how many jokes you can get into a thirty-second span and not have an audience get them until the next commercial; and Ed and Marshall have shown that you can go into relationships away from plot. You can talk !
DS: There's a unique voice to thirtysomething. Where does it come from?
ZWICK: From certain college dining halls or dormitories-and it has all sorts of literary antecedents. How about joseph Heller by way of Ingmar Bergman?
HERSKOVITZ: And Woody Allen by way of Frank Capra. But Bergman was big for both of us.
ZWICK: Scenes from a Marriage influenced me deeply.
BUSFIELD: Ed and Marshall think they are supposed to like Bergman when, in fact, they really like James Bond. I mean, Ed and Marshall did this episode called Housewarming. Now, what two guys wanted to play the roles of terrorists shooting off the high-powered rifles? Ed and Marshall. They wrote it just so they could do it. When Ed Zwick leaves thirtysomething for two minutes, what does he do? Direct Glory, a movie about the
ZWICK: The list of our influences goes on and on. Bunuel. The Herb Gardner plays such as A Thousand Clowns. French movies. Ettore Scola, We All Loved Each Other So Much or any of those wonderful movies about the currency of relationships. We steal from everybody. Andre Dubus, Ann Beattie. Cheever. Woody Allen has definitely been a kind of beacon for both of us.
BUSFIELD: It's no wonder that when you listen to these guys, you don't understand ninety percent of what they say. You need at least an M.B.A. or M.E.A. I needed the Oxford English Dictionary to read the first scripts they wrote. Laughs
DS: Well, one criticism of thirtysomething is that it's too ponderous. How do you respond?
ZWICK: I cop to being too ponderous on occasion. But I think we go to great lengths to try to leaven most of the more serious moments with some recognition of absurdity
DS: How about the criticism that you are obsessed with petty issues?
HERSKOVITZ: I believe strongly that if you go into any home, office, gas station or factory in America and get close enough to those people, you will find that they are incredibly upset about incredibly minor issues-so-and-so is getting more money, someone is being mean at home.... The so-called petty issues become the major issues in people's lives.
HARRIS: Because even when we're dealing on a very minute level, we're also dealing with the important things, the big issues. Sometimes what you're having for dinner in the middle of a crisis in a family situation is what is important right then.
WETTIG: There have been criticisms that in the early shows, we weren't political or politically aware. "Come on, you're not curing cancer here, so why are you taking everything so seriously?" Well, I sometimes wish that in my real life, I had that kind of perspective. Something of small scale can happen to me and I respond to it in a very full, emotional way In an idealized world, you would match the size of your emotions to the size of the event. But that's not what people do, which is why I support the show.
BUSFIELD: In the beginning, Michael and Hope fussed about things that were ridiculous to fuss about. Nancy and Elliot were dealing with bigger things-separation, their children. It's easier to be sympathetic to that than if the stroller is too much money
I mean, there was a show about Michael and Hope's trauma of having people over to the house for a dinner party. Come on.... But the show where Michael is self destructing? That's cool to me. Hope, pregnant, thinking about having an affair? I like that a lot. Gary making a mistake and actually sleeping with Melissa? I like that, too. But Elliot's kid won't come out of his room on Thanksgiving? That's bullshit. If he were my kid, forget it. Threaten him. Tell him you're going to pull his teeth out, dangle him from the roof, but get him out of the room !
DRAPER: You know why we're criticized more than other shows? We're not about car chases or murders. And everybody is an expert about relationships. Lawyers either love or hate L.A. Law. Everyone gets to love or hate thirtysomething.
DS: Some of the episodes have been so realistic that viewers have felt uncomfortable watching them. Do you set out to make people squirm?
HERSKOVITZ: No. We just set out to deal with issues that interest us. We might be more willing to look at certain personal issues than other shows are.
DS: Some people aren't just made uncomfortable by thirtysomething. They hate it and are very happy to tell just about anybody that.
HARRIS: I think it's because it can be very painful for some people to watch. "This is my life. I have enough of it without seeing it on television."
MAYRON: There are a lot of people who watch and are very grateful and a lot who don't want to be reminded; they don't want to deal with the things we deal with.
DRAPER: It can be hard to watch if you're with someone you're going through the same thing with.
MAYRON: It can be very revealing about relationships, expose a deep level of what we go through.
ZWICK: Which is why, for some, the show is a revelation: It shows a world they sense even if they fear it-that is rarely acknowledged by popular culture. Zwick leaves to answer a phone call.
HERSKOVITZ: The show has a tendency to validate people's private experiences. It can make them feel that a situation that is very painful, that has made them feel isolated, is actually shared by many people in many different circumstances.
Television has preached a kind of absolutism of behavior. Characters had to be upstanding, forthright and never ambivalent, never conflicted. The idea that some of those icons may be flawed, may be hurting like you does establish a kind of validation for one's personal pain.
Another phone interruption; Herskovitz leaves to take the call as Zwick returns.
DS: Would you finish his sentence, please?
ZWICK: What was the subject? I'll give you the verb.
DS: That thirtysomething validates the experience of viewers.
ZWICK: Well, that harks back to the Capraesque dictum about a movie speaking to people alone in the dark, that it must give them something they can relate to. I can imagine a person going to therapy after seeing some of our shows.
DS: Polly, when your character went into therapy, did it relate to your own life?
DRAPER: It was a little disturbing. I mean, when Ellyn looked back and saw herself as a young girl going through her mother's drawers to find out some proof that she was really loved, I was-really weirded out. It made me remember that as a little girl, I once went through all the family's scrapbooks. I was looking for pictures of my father holding me or playing with me. There were pictures of him with my older sister; when you're the first-born, they're always taking pictures. But I was the second-born and there were no pictures of my dad playing with me. That show really jolted your memory of things like that.
DS: Tim, the episode in which Elliot and Nancy went to a counselor was very painful-and won a batch of awards. How did you feel about it?
BUSFIELD: It was very eerie doing the marriage-counseling scenes with Patty I had gone into marriage counseling with my first wife and really got a lot out of it. In the therapy scenes for the show, I think I played more of my first wife in real life the way I didn't want to give in, then gave in a little, got defensive, gave in even more but never really gave in. My wife at the time was the one who was more resistant like Elliot. The writing was so close and the fights were so familiar, there were several times when I wanted to call Patty by my ex-wife's name-just as I believe Patty was really fighting with Kenny. Don't let her tell you any different -
DS: Well, Patty?
WETTIG: I think if I ever went through a divorce-and I hope I never have to-it would be unique. I don't think, If this ever happens to me, I'm prepared. Not at all. There is no confusion between my real life and my acting life. But it's just that I do usually draw from my personal life....
BUSFIELD: Patty and I are probably the ones who draw most from our personal lives. If it doesn't relate to our lives, we don't feel comfortable. We feel our work is our best when we understand why we're doing what we're doing. Patty will often say, "I would never do this." I'll try to adapt myself to any situation, but if the needle on my shit sensor goes into the red, then I'll always bring it back to what I know.
WETTIG: When my character got cancer, that was nothing I have had, or ever hope to go through: a mature woman, a woman who has children, facing her death. I've had nothing personally that makes me relate to that, but as an actor, it's very challenging. I investigate my own feelings. What would it feel like? But you can't really know.
HARRIS: When Michael's father was dying of cancer, it was very difficult for me, because my father had died of cancer and the actor actually resembled him. It evoked a lot of memories; I was glad it was Michael's father dying and not Hope's.
BUSFIELD: For me, doing therapy was therapeutic. But other episodes, the ones about Michael and Elliot's business going under, were more therapeutic than anything else. It was healthy-and incredibly unusual-to see that it's OK to embrace a male and say, "We have problems. I'm screwed up." I shy away from that much more than I shy away from any problems I have with a woman. My wife gets the best and the worst of me daily. The screaming, the yelling, the passion-it's all there. But to show it to another man! Those episodes were always the toughest, to open up and show a genuine love for another man. You think, God, they're gonna think I'm a fag and all that crap that we're brought up thinking.
DS: Then are you conscious of the new male role models you're showing sensitive, New Age guys?
OLIN: I suppose so and it is, I imagine, validating for a lot of men who have similarities to those kinds of characters. On the other hand, Michael Steadman, from what I read, is not as salient a role model on television as Vinnie whatever-his-name on Wiseguy. From the five minutes I watched, I can say he probably is pretty much the male role model, a lot more than Michael Steadman is.
HORTON: In the shows about Elliot and Michael's business going under, we showed something you never see on TV Failure, man. We're never taught that we can fail. We were raised in a generation where the only option was success.
DS: Do you also agree that there's some resemblance between the show and your real lives?
HORTON: This show sometimes does parallel our lives in certain ways. I remember the first year, when Tim and Nancy-I mean, Tim and Patty-I mean, Elliot and Nancy laughs were getting divorced. Tim had just gone through a divorce; Mel had just gone through one; I was going through one. It can be very therapeutic when a lot of what gets illustrated on screen is directly out of our lives. We'd do those scenes on the set and end up in tears.
DRAPER: My marriage was splitting up then, too. I was going through that, so I was able to identify with Nancy and Elliot when they were breaking up. When they were in therapy, I could really identify.
DS: Therapy and psychology seem to be an underlying theme to the show, and some people think that's what's wrong with thirtysomething that it's too touchy feely.
OLIN: Well, three of four of the primary writers on the show have had a lot of experience with therapy and analysis. That's what differentiates it.
DS: Marshall, what is it about therapy that makes it such an important theme in the show?
HERSKOVITZ: It's something we care about deeply. We've made a conscious effort to minimize showing therapy on the show because of the stigma that goes along with it, but the underpinnings of the show are completely based in psychoanalytic theory We try to get across the insights of therapy using behavior in normal relationships. If you show therapy itself too often, it can become a creative crutch-a cheap and easy way of giving subjectivity an inner life. We've allowed Ellyn to be in therapy, so we occasionally write her therapy into the show. But we're not dealing with therapy with the other patients.
DS: What would Freud say about that slip?
HERSKOVITZ: I have the flu.
ZWICK: You're unguarded.
DS: Or could it be that you guys are actually frustrated therapists? Marshall, you even played the therapist in the marriage-counseling episode.
HERSKOVITZ: Frankly, I always wanted to be a therapist and I haven't given up on doing that. It sort of runs in the family. My mother and brother are therapists.
ZWICK: And my sister.
DS: A recent poll showed that eighty-three percent of the baby-boom generation accept therapy or would seek it if they felt they needed it. So why do you think there's such a stigma attached to it?
HERSKOVITZ: There is a tremendous fear in this culture of experiencing feelings. People are terribly threatened by processes that allow them to experience their feelings. I believe that the very people who say it's weak to be in therapy, who say you should solve your problems by yourself, are unconsciously terrified by what they imagine would happen if all those forbidden feelings came forth.
Basically, American culture is, at its roots, Calvinist and Puritan. There is such a deep strain of suppression of emotional life, of real intimacy and-and -
ZWICK: And demonstrative behavior.
ZWICK: I think that you'll find a whole cross section of our culture that feels that way and cannot stand the show.
DS: Before and after therapy, were the roller-coaster ups and downs in Elliot and Nancy's marriage carefully plotted?
ZWICK: We had no idea what would happen. All of a sudden, we realized that their marriage was in trouble.
HERSKOVITZ: My wife at that time -
ZWICK: Your wife at that time as opposed to your wife at this time?
HERSKOVITZ: My wife, comma, at that time, comma, started working on a script in which Nancy and Elliot separated. Without telling me. She showed us the pages and we discovered that Nancy and Elliot were going to separate. When they went into therapy together, we found ourselves wishing that they didn't have to get separated, because it was going so well-so we had them go back and forth and they ended up together again.
ZWICK: I think that you'll find a whole cross section of our culture that feels that way and cannot stand the show.
DS: Is that how a lot of the plot turns are decided?
ZWICK: Some things we knew from the beginning. When we decided to give Michael and Elliot a business, we decided it would fail. It took a year and a half for that to happen, but we knew that far in advance. On the other hand, we decided that Peter Horton should have a girlfriend on the show-we wanted to finally put him in a relationship and see what would happen to him there. We found Patricia Kalember, a wonderful actress we wanted to cast for the part, and then got a call from her agent, who said that Patricia had just called up, embarrassed, to say she couldn't take the part because she was pregnant. Well, what better situation to put Gary in than for him to find a girlfriend and all of a sudden, she gets pregnant?
It seemed to follow the course of contemporary relationships whereby you meet someone, sleep together, have a baby, buy real estate, fall in love and then decide whether or not to get married.
DS: It's interesting to note that ail three single characters are now in relationships-or are trying to be.
HORTON: We've shown, I think, what it really is like being single and dating in your thirties. We've shown how difficult it is to fall in love in your thirties. That's why you have Ellyn going for a married guy and Melissa going for a much younger guy. To try to find a mate in your thirties or forties, especially when you're a woman, is very difficult. I think it's a lonely life out there right now. People are generally pretty isolated.
MAYRON: I have tried to have Melissa show something very real about being single that it's OK to go for your dreams and not worry about having to settle. I think that's important: not feeling bad about being unmarried.
DRAPER: That's what it sort of always comes down to: that deep down, we really just want to be married and have those babies. Laughs Which is probably true.
DS: Do you have any say in what turns these women's lives will take?
MAYRON: At the beginning of the year, I give Marshall and Ed a list of issues that I think Melissa should deal with, things I want to see. I want to watch what Melissa and Ellyn are going through so I know how to live my life. Polly told me that they would do a show for us if we could come up with the idea. We sat around thinking, OK, what trouble can Melissa and Ellyn get into? It was like Lucy and Ethel.
DS: Do you have any say in what turns these women's lives will take?
MAYRON: At the beginning of the year, I give Marshall and Ed a list of issues that I think Melissa should deal with, things I want to see. I want to watch what Melissa and Ellyn are going through so I know how to live my life. Polly told me that they would do a show for us if we could come up with the idea. We sat around thinking, OK, what trouble can Melissa and Ellyn get into? It was like Lucy and Ethel.
DRAPER: We wanted to do a comic one together. We like working together in that way and we aren't given that much opportunity to do that. We came up with the video-dating idea. We were speaking for the silent minority that asks, "Could I just please be single without everyone thinking there's something wrong with me?" We got a lot of response from both men and women who said that problem always comes up.
DS: Is Ellyn going to end up with her married boyfriend?
DRAPER: Laughs I don't know. It depends on how much money he asks for next year. That's what happened with my last boyfriend-he bit the dust because he wanted too much money from MGM. Suddenly, our romance was on the skids.
DS: In some ways, it must be nice to have someone else making the big life decisions for Ellyn.
DRAPER: Definitely. I'd really like that in my own life. Maybe I can get Marshall and Ed to write my life: "Could you come in and tell this guy that he's asking too much of me and cancel him out, please?"
HORTON: Who wants to be single? I don't like it at all. It's awful. I think the Forties and Fifties illustrated the problems that come from staying with someone beyond when you should, but the Seventies and Eighties revealed the problems of dropping something way before you should. It's hard; there are no rules for relationships anymore. When do you say, This is it, that's enough? We're all trying to find the answers to that.
DS: When you and your ex-wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, decided it was enough, was it more difficult because you were both famous?
HORTON: You'd like to be able to go through something like we went through on our own and leave it alone for a while, but you can't. It's everywhere you go. When I see the portrait of us in the media, it's this odd picture. But we're both very settled with it right now. We feel very comfortable as friends. She's an amazing woman, one of those who come along rarely, maybe once every fifty years. But we get along better as friends than as spouses.
DS: Will your next wife probably not be on the cover of magazines as one of the sexiest women in America?
HORTON: Being married to somebody and having kids-that's something you want to do with someone who has a little more normal life, someone who doesn't have to carry the baggage of that kind of stardom, that kind of attention.
DS: Unlike Gary, and despite your divorce, it sounds as if you believe in marriage.
HORTON: Marriage is very profound. Your natural tendency is to go for immediate gratification, but love takes time, it takes pain. It's like reading a book versus watching television. Marriage was developed to help force us to learn the lessons of love, which are long-term lessons. We've come a long way. The Sixties broke it up, the Seventies experimented with it and the Eighties were trying to put the pieces back together. One thing we've done on the show is to genuinely show the pain of separation and divorce through Nancy and Elliot-and the value of marriage through Hope and Michael.
DS: Less conventionally, the episode in which two gay men were shown in bed for the first time on prime-time network TV caused a furor. Ed, Marshall, were you surprised by the reaction?
HERSKOVITZ: I felt like the most naive rube about the reaction to that show.
ZWICK: I anticipated more of a shit storm than you did, I think.
HERSKOVITZ: Well, I felt like we were in Hollywood in 1958, having a black man kiss a white woman.
ZWICK: The most political-and threatening-part of it was the offhandedness of the scene.
HERSKOVITZ: Which is what many people wrote in about. It was made to seem normal.
MAYRON: In that episode, my character was wrestling with what her friends thought about her new boyfriend, a younger house painter. The gay guy was her friend and she was trying to help him not be afraid to follow his heart and go for love. What sex the person was had absolutely nothing to do with it. I mean, people are people and love is love. But people on the streets stopped to say, "I can't believe you supported him!"
DRAPER: The scene with the two men in bed was so sexy. It was so compelling to have it treated so matter-of-factly.
WETTIG: I thought it was interesting that the most intimate relationship in that entire show was between the two gay men, but they weren't allowed to kiss. It was a network thing. You couldn't have them kiss. Because of that, it had to be all the electricity and the energy without the act.
HORTON: I actually had a problem morally with that show. Two guys met and spent the night together. Afterward, they talked about Aids-about all their friends who were dying of it. You wanted to say, "Wait a minute, guys, why do you think that's happening?"
DS: Melissa's gay friend told her, "Don't worry, we were safe."
HORTON: I guess we could have shown a shot of the used rubbers and panned up to the ... I don't know. I just don't think you can deal lightly with AIDS.
DS: Still, why do you think it's so accepted to see rape and murder on TV and yet such controversy is stirred up when two men are shown in bed together?
HERSKOVITZ: I think sexuality is the area where it's hardest to tell the truth in television. It's a never-ending battle.
ZWICK: It's the area we keep coming back to and trying to explore.
HERSKOVITZ: And we've made lots of headway-whether it's Hope putting in her diaphragm or teenagers having sex.
ZWICK: Or even just simple moments. In the episode where Michael's father got cancer, Michael hadn't been dealing with Hope and all of a sudden, he turned to her, grabbed her and said, "I want you, I want you." There was a rawness and a sexuality to that that was honest. There was some concern that he was objectifying her. Damn right. It may not have been attractive, but it was very human.
DS: When it comes to sex have there been things you couldn't do?
HERSKOVITZ: In the original script for the therapy episode, Nancy told the therapist she was upset that Elliot wanted her to go down on him. We were not allowed to say that. On NBC, it would have been OK, but according to ABC, oral sex does not exist. The speech went, "You either want me to go down on you or you want me to wear something...." It became, "You want me to wear something or. . . " and she trails off and can't say it.
DS: Also, rumor has it that you had to cut a scene in which Elliot masturbated.
HERSKOVITZ: That was our decision.
DS: Did you get nervous about how people would react?
ZWICK: It finally just didn't serve the story I don't think it's something we wouldn't try to do again.
HERSKOVITZ: But poor Timmy was sure happy we cut the scene.
BUSFIELD: I didn't care. Everybody else was relieved. I told them, I'll do it." And I'd do it today I'll do whatever those guys want me to do. They created Elliot and they pay me an exorbitant amount of money every week. Whatever they want me to say or do, I'll say or do. I don't remember ever asking them not to do something in the script, including the masturbation scene. I said to them, "We're going to lose a lot of rating points," but I thought, If you guys want me to do it, I'll whack it. If that'll make you guys happy, I'll grease the ol' monkey
DS: Polly, Ellyn's married boyfriend has now left his wife. Do you mind being cast as a home wrecker?
DRAPER: Well, what I like is that this is being done from the other woman's viewpoint, not the wife's and not the husband's. That's very rare and interesting. In Ellyn's case, she really feels like she's in love for the first time. And it's been established that she's a highly moral person, not someone who likes to do this sort of thing.
DS: Is there a reason you chose to look at infidelity?
HERSKOVITZ: Infidelity is one of the major issues of married life. It's one of those problems that we keep coming up against.
DS: In one episode, Michael spoke of the subtler issue of being married and still being attracted to women-to every attractive woman who walks by, in fact.
ZWICK: It's part of that dialectic that we want to show.
DS: Isn't that also what gets people worked up about the show-when seemingly real characters who stand for certain moral values don't behave as viewers think they should?
HERSKOVITZ: But it's important to note that morality is not the first concern when we make the show. It's third or fourth on the list. Our prime concerns are -
ZWICK: Thematic -
HERSKOVITZ: Dramatic and psychological.
ZWICK: Then comes showing the truth.
HERSKOVITZ: The fact that we are more concerned about showing the truth than about moralizing disturbs a lot of people.
DRAPER: I'm always shocked to see how different shows affect people-even my own family. My brother was really angry about the first episode with the married man. People take all this very seriously. When I dumped my boyfriend, women were really pissed off-all America was on my case for that.
MAYRON: Hey, I felt that way. That's how much I got into it.
HARRIS: Well, for us, not only is there the emotionality about the character, there's the emotionality about our friend who is playing it. It's that thing of separating life from fantasy. And it's something we all do with difficulty.
DS: Do the rest of you ever find yourselves confusing fact and fiction?
DRAPER; Yes. Patty was stunned that I would be writing a children's book in real life. In the show, her character is doing just that, while my character doesn't really like children that much.
HERSKOVITZ: The confusion happens with our show more than with other shows because of our commitment to depicting reality. We learned so much from writing the old TV show Family-the notion that you could do domestic drama in a serious way, deal with serious issues. But on Family, the details of their lives, the texture, was very unreal. There was never any business of life, never any real-life clutter.
HORTON: Which goes back to why people don't view us as actors, they view us as the characters. And they have no inhibitions about letting us know how they feel about it. When Gary's girlfriend became pregnant, people came up to me and said, "I really think the fact that you're having a baby without being married is despicable."
DRAPER: Yes, yes. After it came out that Ellyn had a tattoo on her ass, people were following me down streets, in malls, saying things like, "What side is it on?" One woman very discreetly came up to me and whispered, "You know, you can remove a tattoo with a laser."
DS: Do people ever call you Ellyn?
DRAPER: Oh, yes. I don't answer when they do.
DS: We imagine it would be a real sign of trouble if a man cried out Ellyn" at the wrong time.
DRAPER: You mean in bed? Laughs Yeah. It hasn't happened, but when I was first separated from my husband, one of the guys I was going out with was basing his whole relationship with me on what he thought of Ellyn. It was like he thought he knew me. I was being damned before I had ever done anything.
BUSFIELD: I was in a supermarket and some woman came up and slapped me because she thought I was being a shit to Nancy. Men have come up to me to give me very sincere advice: "Whatever you do, don't admit to the affair."
HERSKOVITZ: In a piece in The New Yorker, someone quoted a friend who said she saw Tim Busfield doing a commercial and thought, My God, Elliot is so desperate he'll try anything-he'll even try acting. Laughs DRAPER: Some guy came running up to me in the airport and practically pounced on me to say that he and his wife are shrinks and that every Wednesday, a group of shrinks from their community get together to discuss our problems on the show the previous night in order to better deal with their patients.
WETTIG: I guess it happens to all of us. The other day, I called to order a pizza. The person on the line said, "Is this Nancy?" and I said, No," but he said, "I recognize your voice. It's Nancy." I said, "This is not Nancy."
DS: where do you and Nancy diverge?
WETTIG: I'm probably more strong-minded and more opinionated than Nancy. She seems so nice on television.... To Olin What would you say is the difference between me and Nancy?
OLIN: Your personal hygiene.
WETTIG: That's it. Nancy's neat. Laughs
OLIN-. What, I'm supposed to try to come up with some fucking interesting answer about how I'm different from Michael? This is like root canal.... Well, for one thing, Michael Steadman doesn't talk to the press. You know, I find it so-so interesting that people fixate on the idea that we are these people. The point is that in thirtysomething, the writers and the directors and the cast have been extremely successful at creating an illusion of domestic intimacy, sometimes on an excruciating personal level, so there is even more of a tendency to make the characters us.
WETTIG: It's because of television-people become their characters. It's no different for the people in M*A*S*H or All in the Family.
DS: Ed and Marshall, which actor would you say is most different from his or her character?
HERSKOVITZ: Either Mel or Tim. The notion that even one person in the TV audience could dislike Elliot is astonishing if you know Tim, who is the dearest person on the face of the earth.
ZWICK: And Hope possesses a kind of moral authority and judgmental quality, for better or worse, that Mel, delightfully, does not possess. She is much more emotionally accessible than her character.
DS: Mel, how do you feel about being identified with as perfect a character as Hope?
HARRIS: I don't think she's perfect. She's just rather exacting and demanding. In that respect, we're alike. But basically, I don't think I'm a lot like Hope. I don't give people such a long rope. I'm very shy. Hope's married and I'm married, Hope has a kid and I have a kid and we're both pregnant. But I'm tougher, harder and shorter.
DS: Peter, how about you and Gary?
HORTON: Gary is a Peter Pan, someone who can't accept responsibility, who can never commit to relationships. There are serious differences between us. I've always been a huge fan of marriage; I've never had trouble committing. I think Gary made a pact with himself when he was twenty: "I will never be like the adult world; I refuse to give up my ideals." He probably hung on to that longer than he should have-and I think I did, too.
DS: Melanie? You and Melissa are both single, both photographers. Are you similar in other way?
MAYRON: On the outside, Melissa is pretty similar to me, but the way she behaves and the way she reacts emotionally are not how I would react. Melissa can be really outspoken and blatantly honest and I'm not that way. I'm much safer, more political. And Melissa is a lot more insecure than I am.
BUSFIELD: The actor in me says, Don't say Elliot is like you, because you won't seem to be as good an actor. But Elliot is very much like me. Unfortunately. Elliot is the side of me I would choose not to be but I'm forced to live with. He's like the Devil on my shoulder. Elliot admits that he's a screw-up. I'm a screw-up. I can admit it, but Elliot admits it to thirty million people a week.
DS: Do you like Elliot?
BUSFIELD: Definitely. Elliot is probably the most fun guy to be around and the nicest guy to everybody. You never see Elliot be a dick, except in his relationship with Nancy But the guy can't get a break. He has an affair and he can't get his marriage on track, so he leaves his wife and he gets shit for that; his business goes under; he gets back together with his wife, and then she gets cancer. The main thing I like about Elliot is that he doesn't try to be anybody's version of what he's supposed to be. DS: Can it become a hindrance in your careers to be so tied to your TV characters? Tim, some reviewers said they couldn't see anyone but Elliot when they saw you in Field of Dreams.
BUSFIELD: Yeah, some people said Tim Busfield played his basic whiny Yuppie. They just used it as an opportunity to rip on thirtysomething. But it hasn't been a problem for me. I also played Poindexter in Revenge of the Nerds. They're all so drastically different.
DS: Did it come up for you, Ken, in your movie coming out this summer, Queens Logic?
OLIN: Oh, that movie's never coming out because they decided I'm too much like Michael Steadman. Laughs
WETTIG: No. Not really.
OLIN: Not really.
DS: What's your character in the film?
OLIN: I play an artist, a working-class guy from Queens. He doesn't talk too much. Except when he does interviews. No, he doesn't talk and he doesn't shave. Otherwise, he looks just like his evil twin brother, Michael Steadman.
WETTIG: They were separated at birth.
OLIN: Which one's Jewish, which Italian? Laughs
DS: Marshall and Ed, is thirtysomething's success-the fact that you're still around after three years-a vindication of all the criticism it has received?
ZWICK: Thirtysomething disproves every theory I would imagine the networks have about what people supposedly want from television.
HERSKOVITZ: Although thirtysomething isn't a terribly high-rated show.
ZWICK: Yes. We're also thirtysomething in the ratings.
DS: Though you're often very high in ratings, as far as desirable demographics are concerned. Presumably, the network and MGM aren't supporting your show simply because they believe in what you're doing.
HERSKOVITZ: Noooo. They're making money off it. But it is also true that the people running the networks have, in the past five years, opened their eyes to other ways to approaching the audience. Roseanne would not have been on the air several years ago. The exceptions, however, are still few.
DS: Do you think that thirtysomething may be influencing network programing?
HERSKOVITZ: I hate to say it, but the only definite influence I've seen our show have on television programing is in commercials. We have had a real influence on commercials.
HORTON: Unfortunately, what they take to do commercials is our style, which for us is the result of an inner drama that needs to be expressed through a style. The commercials just objectify the style and thereby take away the concept. They evoke an emotion but miss the essence.
DS: There is a market called the thirtysomething audience. Do you find it ironic that the term has entered the language as a description of a market?
HERSKOVITZ: Yes, particularly since Ed and I were there writing the pilot and I turned to him and asked, "What should we call this thing?" and he said, "Thirtysomething." That was it.
DS: How would you define the thirtysomething generation?
ZWICK: I remember a poem that goes, "Generations have soft boundaries." It is not just people in their thirties.
HERSKOVITZ: it has more to do with the "something" than with the thirty"-the informality of that, the vagueness, the willing ness to endure ambiguity.
ZWICK: I think it describes a particular moment in a life that was or is defined by hard choices, certain rites of passage, acceptance ... a lot of different things. It happens to people in their twenties and in their forties and fifties, as well.
DS: Does it annoy you when people say that the show is about whining Yuppies?
ZWICK: Not the whining part. But I take extraordinary exception to the term Yuppies.
HERSKOVITZ: If anything, I take even more exception to it. A Yuppie to me is someone who is only materialistic. That's how it's used by advertisers and demographers. However, the term has come to include anybody who is of a certain age, has a job, a marriage, a mortgage and a car, or who wants to have all those things. That used to be called the American dream. Now it is looked on in some onerous way.
ZWICK: It's the assumption that the decision to partake, in some measure, of that dream goes hand in hand with an abandonment of political principles or personal ideals.
DS: But don't you question whether a materialistic generation has, in fact, lost its idealism?
HERSKOVITZ: Of course we wrestle with those issues, but that's not the point. First of all, the pejorative aspect of this unwittingly comes from a Marxist critique of our culture: that there is something inherently dangerous and evil about the bourgeoisie. But this country was founded on the principle of the middle class. The other thing that bothers me is that there is an undercurrent in American culture having to do with hating our young. We don't pay our teachers; public education has gone to shit. Adolescence is now construed as being at war with society -
ZWICK: Or, worse, as only preparatory for the adult phase of society -
HERSKOVITZ: The point being that the negative idea of a Yuppie comes with the notion that young people on the rise are seen as bad, that young people with ambition and drive are evil.
DS: Well, if drive and ambition are all there is -
HERSKOVITZ: Everyone would say ambition was evil if it became everything. But that's not the way the term Yuppie is now being used. It is the objectifying of a large number of people.
ZWICK: And in objectifying them, dismissing them.
HERSKOVITZ: And, by the way, people who have written about the show have talked about the acquisitive people on thirtysomething. Well, in the first season, only one purchase was made-a computer. Michael drives a 1973 Volvo 1800S. Elliot drives a 1981 VW Rabbit.
DS: You tackled this issue directly in one episode: Michael argues that he and Elliot should take on a client even though they abhor his politics.
ZWICK: Yes, we're arguing the issue. We'll be arguing it more and more this year.
HERSKOVITZ: Now, as Michael becomes more and more successful, we intend for the whole issue of conspicuous consumption to come up more.
DS: You said you acknowledge the criticism about the characters' whining. Why does the thirtysomething generation
HERSKOVITZ: We were coddled. We were given an amazing license.
ZWICK: License to voice our displeasure about-whatever.
HERSKOVITZ: And to be arrogant. But there's much more to it. Our puritan culture says, Life is hard. You do not indulge your emotional life. There is a stoical renunciation of free emotional exchange. But, the thinking goes, we are a generation that faces no difficulties. We've had an easy life, we're spoiled and weak, which is why we give vent to our emotions. That's an attack on thirtysomething and on our generation. But I think something more subversive is going on. We-this generation, that is-are attacking the basic construct of our culture: the way we raise children, the way we behave toward our parents
ZWICK: What our sexual relationships should be -
DS: Whining as revolution?
DS: How about those who say the show is too white, too upscale?
BUSFIELD: I think that's bullshit. I think that's like saying that Monet used too much blue. Ed and Marshall do not have an obligation to society to represent all aspects of mankind, all kinds of problems.
DS: How long do you see the show continuing?
HORTON: I think Ed and Marshall will get to the point where they just can't do it anymore in the next couple of years. Once that happens, the show is over.
BUSFIELD: We know it's going to be over someday, and we're going to have to go back to doing the Quinn Martin kinds of things.
DRAPER: Not now, you won't !
MAYRON: Quinn Martin is dead, isn't he?
DS: Have you contemplated forty-something, fifty-something and beyond?
ZWICK: I don't know. It would be fun to leave them and pick the characters up ten years from now and see where they are, wouldn't it?
BUSFIELD: Excuse me again. I'd like to interject something. just in case: my apologies to Quinn Martin.
HORTON: Forget it, Tim. If he isn't dead, you are. Laughs
DRAPER: I definitely want to get into some low-rent characters after this. It was a freedom when no one knew who I was. If the part called for a hooker, I could go in and everyone would think I was really slutty. Now I have to convince them I'm not Ellyn.
DS: Ken and Patty, how has the success of the show affected your lives?
OLIN: Well.... Chuckles
WETTIG: I can see you're thinking of something clever to say.
OLIN: No, actually. It's just that this whole thing is hyping our participation in the show to a level that's out of proportion.
WETTIG: It's our job. We've had this job for three years.
OLIN: Sure, it's changed our lives to a degree. We live with a degree of celebrity now; the anonymity in public is gone. We're treated differently.
HARRIS: But it's not my whole life. There are other things that mean far more to me than my work, not to decrease its importance. But my son and my husband and my family-if ever my work got in the way, I would give it up in a second.
BUSFIELD: Directing the childrens theater is infinitely more important than any work I do as an actor. It's a craft to me, at times an art, but working with the kids is far more satisfying.
OLIN: Can we ask you a question? Are you going to have all the women from the show in Bunny outfits on the cover?
WETTIG: Ken, I didn't want to tell you, because I knew you'd be upset ... but they asked us to do the centerfold.
OLIN: They're just going to pick each of your best body parts.
WETTIG: We could come u with a very good body among the four of us. Trust me. But this is getting a little sexist....
DS: OK, a safer topic: How well does thirtysomething deal with politics?
HORTON: Sometimes I wish we could do more. He throws down a copy of The New York Times; the headlines are about the invasion of Panama. You want to deal with what's going on out there. I mean, this action in Panama is so myopic and self-centered! There just seems to be this blind acceptance in the U.S. of whatever feels emotionally correct, without any involvement intellectually.
The idea that we went in because two Americans got killed is ludicrous.... Ten years ago, American nuns were killed in El Salvador and our response to that was to send millions of dollars in aid. That's not what this country is supposed to be about. We're supposed to be the bastion of morality, of principle. And the timing! A superpower decides to invade a small country when the other superpower is going through a very unstable, transitional time. And while we're at it, sending those envoys to China a few weeks after Tiananmen Square-where's the moral statement?
DS: How do your political concerns filter into thirtysomething?
HORTON: About all I can do is wear T-shirts about El Salvador. I get in whatever I can. They'll throw in a line about Central America occasionally
ZWICK: This show's subject is the human heart, so its politics are the politics of emotions rather than the politics of issues. Topical political issues have importance in the show only insofar as they have some emotional content for the characters.
HERSKOVITZ: It's hard enough to do a television show about seven people and their private lives and also convey their relationship to the world.
ZWICK: Though it's very clear that the politics of the characters on thirtysomething are basically very liberal-we get a lot of letters complaining about that.
OLIN: These days, by the way, if you want to sell movies or television, you'd better not do it through liberal politics. I mean, we can't even get a Democrat elected President in this country We're electing the most conservative, environmentally unconscious individuals.
DS: What about all the people who, like Michael and Hope, are wrestling with the pull of their financial obligations and their political values?
HORTON: It's an ongoing issue. But if you stay home and say, "I'll compromise my beliefs so that I can get the bills paid," then you've got to, on some level, not be too shocked when your President invades a small country like Panama even though there are a whole host of moral implications that are appalling.
DS: What would you like to think thirtysomething's effect on society could be?
DRAPER: To Zwick and Herskovitz You guys usually answer these kinds of questions.
HERSKOVITZ: just one thing?
HARRIS: I think it would be nice if people would remember we did a really quality show. We worked hard and cared about it. We did the best we could and maybe opened up some avenues for other shows.
HORTON: The traditional wisdom up to this point in television circles was that you had to give people obvious, crude entertainment. But we're proving that people want, at times, to be challenged. There's certainly a place in life for just checking out and letting yourself be entertained. But entertainment is not the staple of life, just the dessert. The staple should be involvement.
DS: How about the show's legacy? What will it be?
BUSFIELD: I think if people learn anything from thirtysomething, it's that you've got to work out your problems or they ain't gonna go away. The deep problems. Communicate. You don't communicate, you don't work it out. And you learn that your problems are probably universal. And you need to be able to say you're fucked up.
OLIN: The notion that, as people have said, "thirtysomething has changed my life" you know, that's a crock of shit. I'm not saying that it is of no consequence. I'm not saying you shouldn't do politically conscious material. I'm just worried that we overemphasize the significance of what we're doing.
WETTIG: The best that movies and television can do is make you stop and think about things. When our show is good, it makes you stop and think.
OLIN: I'm not saying that it doesn't have significance. It breeds a certain amount of discussion, and discussion is really good. It's wonderful if people discuss any piece of work. But when actors take on importance because of their roles, it's dangerous.
WETTIG: To think that we are experts on matters of the heart because of the show is nonsense.
DS: OK, then. Last chance. Anyone: What do you hope will be the most positive, long-lasting legacy of thirtysomething?
BUSFIELD: (After a beat) Residuals.