Yes, I know, it was just a set of over-indulged, baby-boomers turned whining yuppies who didn’t know that they had it made. It has been much ridiculed and much loved and I, for one, never forget about that bunch of friends having thirtysomething experiences in Philadelphia in the late 1980s.
Here in Britain, television has given us a new channel, Sky Atlantic, that is dedicated to showing all those great American tv dramas that have consistently now for over twenty years knocked British TV drama into a cocked, period drama, old hat.
So if you want to see the first series of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm and, yes thirtysomething then they are all there still shining in their TV splendour.
Before I “sell out” totally to the kind of dilemma that haunted those original thirtysomethings, all is not perfect there in the loathsome Rupert Murdoch’s new channel – the brand new series Broadwalk Empire is a dull set of cliches in spite of the always wonderful Steve Buscemi and the pilot sleepily but expensively directed by the usually wonderful Martin Scorsese. No, not all wonderful but those old shows…well, they are television heaven.
I was reminded of the tragic demise of British television from its once unbeatable position in television drama when I read this morning that the BBC Trust have come out with some new and potentially disastrous ideas about British radio. The BBC Trust is a committee of the great and good who pontificate about what they think we should be watching or listening to but who are really meant to be there to save us all from the Stalinist management team that runs what should be the World’s greatest broadcasting organisation.
For many people now stepping gingerly over the wreckage of British television, three of our public service radio stations at least held up our morale.
1) The World Service – the station that represented British culture throughout the World – now deprived of government money has been thrown back into the BBC’s budget and is now to have major cuts and it is already preparing to ditch some of its staff.
2) BBC Radio Three – the only unashamedly and uncompromisingly non-dumbed down classical music station in the World – is to be made more accessible to “young people” and to widen its ethnic and regional profile. So no longer to be about music that makes demands on its audience. Now, if the BBC Trust has its way, it will be “approachable” to anyone who just happens to land on that airwave. Young people and ethnic minorites are as free as everyone else is to listen in, why shouldn’t they be?
3) BBC Radio Four – the supreme example of British talk radio – old-fashioned at times maybe, irritating too but in terms of news coverage, political, intellectual and cultural analysis, it is simply light years away from anything else in British broadcasting. This too, if the BBC Trust, is to get its way, will be made more approachable, lighter and more user friendly for “younger” listeners. Dumbing down is the phrase that comes to mind and, if you don’t believe me, just look at what that attitude did to British Television. The Trust also want Radio Four to reach out to more to its regions and to be less “London Calling” – I have no problem with that.
Behind the BBC Trust’s recommendation is the criticism that these radio stations are too middle class, too middle-aged, too white and too South-Eastern English. It is true that the over-whelming majority of the audience fits into that description but I beseech you, our publicly funded broadcaster, not to throw away the things in British culture which all ages, regions, all classes and all races ought to benefit from. Your job is to let all British citizens have the opportunity to understand and engage in this country’s culture not to flitter it away. If these stations go the way of all the rest in British broadcasting, we will all have to turn to American, Danish and French broadcasting for anything where our brains are meant to engage.
Back to thirtysomething. It has many claims on our affections. It was the first, or one of the first, series where what had always been the territory of the soap was elevated into one hour weekly dramas made on film with cinema production values and a level of character analysis that drew you in to the lives of its characters. It was the fore-runner of the two decades of great american television dramas that has been my principal reason these days for turning on my television set.
So welcome back thirtysomething. It is good to see you again even if it is also a bit of a challenge too. Who was I then when I watched the original transmissions so enthusiastically? Ex-hipppie Gary (Peter Horton) naive, emotional and politically dedicated, struggling to find himself in grown up life, zany Elliott (Timothy Busfield) who wants life to be a game but who could be never quite wild enough or compromised, idealistic Michael (Ken Olin) who just wants it all? I, and we, were all of them – we were the women too – Nancy (Patricia Wettig) who could see the skull beneath the flesh, Melissa (Melanie Mayron) who knew how to fight when she knew she was drowning but who could always put on a smile, Ellyn (Polly Draper), vulnerable, sexy and destined to be disappointed and Hope (Mel Harris) who was, yes lets admit it, a moaner who was never satisfied. I shared their hopes, dilemmas and disappointments.
They all had it made and, sometimes, I do wonder why I ever complained. We are, I know, a pampered generation. Hey, and they also got to live in that great city, Philadelphia. When I eventually got to go there, I have to admit that I looked out for those guys – I didn’t see them but I had brought them with me so that was OK. They are still with me all these years later too.