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Television: Boomer Bards

3 minute read
Michael Krantz/Los Angeles

There’s more than one way to film a sex scene. You can use MTV’s strobe-lit quick cuts of gleaming torsos or Melrose Place’s campy, heaving melodrama. But when Rick and Lily, the fortyish divorces (O.K., Lily doesn’t have hers yet) whose romance fuels the new series Once and Again (ABC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. E.T.), first make love, it’s done like this: long, somber takes. Clumsy false starts. Cuddling. Tears. And talking. Lots of talking.

Yes, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz are back. Three times before–with thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Relativity–they and the team of intensely loyal writers who make up the production company Bedford Falls have explored the quiet dramas of ordinary life. Their latest effort, starring the winsome duo of Sela Ward and Billy Campbell, is, like its predecessors, a smart, angsty and intimate reflection of its creators’ aesthetic and personal concerns.

But are they anyone else’s? No Bedford Falls series has ever cracked the Nielsen Top 20; only thirtysomething (1987-91) lasted more than a season. “The highest rating we ever got,” Zwick says with a laugh, “was the first 15 minutes of the thirtysomething pilot. The numbers dropped by the end of the hour, and they never came back up.”

Their influence, though, transcends ratings. thirtysomething’s young professionals sitting around chatting about nothing–it must be said–paved the way for successors as varied as Seinfeld, Friends and Wasteland, which debuts on ABC on Oct 7. And echoes of My So-Called Life, this decade’s ur-teen drama, resonate in Dawson’s Creek, Felicity and the like. “We consider that show the ultimate standard of quality,” says Tony Krantz, CEO of Imagine Television, which produces Felicity. “Ed and Marshall are role models for us.”

Zwick, 46, and Herskovitz, 47, met as American Film Institute students in the mid-’70s and cut their teeth churning out genre work. But the only scenes they cared about, says Zwick, were “the ones where the cop’s at home with his wife and kids.” When their hit 1983 nuclear-scare TV flick Special Bulletin gave them a shot at their own series, Herskovitz recalls, “we said, ‘What if we just do the stuff we’re interested in?'”

And being baby boomers, what they were interested in was themselves. The result was thirtysomething, the landmark domestic saga whose characters’ exploration of their own emotional landscapes owed a lot to the writers’ penchant for self-examination. Not much has changed a decade later. “The minute I told Ed I was separating from my wife in ’93,” says Herskovitz, “he started to talk about all the stories you could tell.”

Like My So-Called Life and Relativity, the 1996-97 series about twentysomething lovers, Once and Again tracks the younger generation as well, observing with typical precision as boomer idealists and cynical Gen-Yers navigate one another’s crises and expectations. A daughter’s insecurity leads her mother to confront her own sexuality. A father’s first serious post-divorce infatuation sparks his daughter’s first semi-adult rebellion. A son’s condoms end up–well, you’ll want to see that for yourself.

At least Zwick and Herskovitz hope you do. “I think the culture is more open now to the vicissitudes of human behavior,” says Herskovitz. And in this highly confessional, Oprah-era America, whose very President is an over-emoting boomer man-child, he just might be right.

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