After 2 years and 18 episodes, we present you the final episode of the thirtysomething podcast. We have been so lucky to interview just about everyone. If they weren’t on the podcast, we got them for the book, thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history.
September 29th, 2017 thirtysomething turns thirty. We were so lucky to be able to celebrate our favorite television show and help bring it to its own age. For our final episode Scott reads a bit of his introduction from his new book about the show, Carolyn and Scott read brand new statements from some of the cast and crew about the show turning 30. We even have a new one from an actor who was never on the podcast or the book! Then we say goodbye to all our fans of the podcast.
Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the show, the book and all the thirtysomething fun. It was great to meet all of you. Enjoy our final episode.
She broke my heart. That started it all. I sat in my room with my heart pounding and my thoughts racing. How could she have done this to me? I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper, and decided to write down my thoughts. The first thing I wrote wasn’t about what happened or a plea to get her back. I wrote two words: Chapter One.
I was 10 years old. I wrote Life In Timberline. A 6 page hand written lament about my first love.
Today, June 7th, 2017, 37 years later, my first book is published. Yes, in 2014, I self published an eBook called Scott Luck Stories, but this book, thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history, has pages, a cover, pictures and an ISBN number. This book is on sale across the globe. It can be found in book stores, online stores and on my own website. I have signed over 90 copies already and sent them out. I did it. I didn’t know at 10 years old that I was becoming a writer, although the fact that I wrote Chapter One before I shared what was on my mind, should have been a clue.
For my entire life I have written things. Movies, songs, Broadway reviews, Television series, essays, novels, blogs and magazine articles. But now I am published. This journey of bringing this book to life has been an amazing experience. My favorite part of my book is my Special Thanks section. Mostly because there are so many people who helped me get here. I love thanking people who help. I won’t repeat those thanks here. They are in my book. Did you know I have one? I do. It is fun to have a dream come true.
So let’s talk thirtysomething. It started as a podcast and just an interview with Richard Kramer. It grew so quickly, and before I knew it, I was getting emails on a daily basis from some of the artists who have inspired me the most. Writers whose words set my life on a trajectory of honesty and compassion. Actors that made me understand what creating characters was all about. I spoke with directors that shaped how I would film scenes for my movies. I learned so much about art by doing this project. I am excited to share thirtysomething with the world, but I am more excited to share how good art is crafted in a time where well crafted items are usually thrown away for something new and inferior.
I also need to thank the fans of thirtysomething. These people love this show in such a deep way. I can’t imagine the letters and comments that the people connected with the show must get. I get Facebook messages all the time with people just pouring out their hearts to me. This show touches people in a way that just doesn’t happen anymore. I am honored to take these stories and listen. I respect the show and the fans that created all these feelings.
I have had a very good year and half working on this project. I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful wife Jennifer that supports me everyday. No artist thrives without encouragement. I am lucky I have it.
There will be other projects, The Blue Rose Magazine is taking off, and I have 3 other books I want to start as soon as I can. The thirtysomething project will always be my first book that actually worked out and was born into the world — just like I dreamed as a ten-year old. I am still excited to write those magical words that I wrote so long ago. They always mean begin. Begin is such better than finish. So while I put this experience to rest, I know that I will very soon grab a pencil and paper to write again: Chapter One.
As a thirtysomething aficionado, even after thirty years, when given the opportunity to share my thoughts about one of the 85 episodes, my mind frantically begins to flip through mental photographs. I can see images and moments like stills in an old box and once I have the photos in focus the story quickly comes to mind. So the very concept of picking one over another to share my thoughts has become a rather arduous task. The question is not which one do I do but rather which one should I do first?
I settled my inner turmoil with my favorite episode. As impossible as it is for me to pick favorites from a series that continually delivered excellence in writing, acting and directing in just about every episode, I am forced to select one to start with.
I’ll be Home for Christmas.
No shocker here, this one has been a favorite for many fans for years. This is the first episode to give insight into Michael Steadman and who he really is. thirtysomething revolves around a magnificent ensemble of fine tuned characters whose intertwined lives are so beautifully written and portrayed. Like all of us, I have a favorite character and we could all sit down at a Starbucks and argue for hours about why we feel our character is our favorite, but one thing we can all agree on is that thirtysomething is truly a series about Michael Steadman and the world according to him.
Through the first few episodes we have seen Michael the doting husband, the new father, the loyal friend, the business partner and entrepreneur, but in this episode we peel back a few layers to see a more intimate side. Michael the insecure and conflicted man with jealous and creative urges that have been quietly stifled deep within.
We are introduced to a driven and ambitious side with a thirst to succeed even if it means using others along the way. At the same time, we are shown a humble man who eventually can admit his failures and will part with his will for the ones he loves, in this case Hope and Melissa.
Richard Kramer so meticulously created some of the most eloquently written and memorable scenes of the entire series just in this episode alone. We get to see Melanie Mayron at her finest.
Since this is probably being read by fellow aficionados I will forgo doing any kind of recap and rather clarify my picks for the pivotal moments that make this episode so unforgettable.
I’ve always felt that it was a nice touch to have a pregnant aerobics campaign as the current account for Michael and Elliot especially for a Christmas episode. With pregnancy being a time of great waiting, it befits this episode perfectly since both Michael and Melissa seem to be waiting for acceptance and affirmation.
Michael’s disregard for Melissa’s schedule and failure to give her notice for the necessary photo shoot indicate his lack of respect for her talent and a general disbelief in her ability to be a successful photographer.
Although Melissa and Michael are cousins there is a slight discrepancy towards their faith and acceptance of Christmas.
While Melissa welcomes Christmas as a holiday, comically using a Barbie doll at the top of her tree and introducing her to Gary as Lauren, Barbie’s Jewish friend, Michael looks within to examine his adolescence and Jewish heritage.
I love that Gary is extremely introspective in this episode. I’ve often said, when discussing the series, that Gary is the Linus of the group. He is Michael’s inner voice – out loud. While Elliot attempts to persuade Michael to use Melissa’s first shoot, Gary is the one who calls out Michael’s real issues for his apparent disregard to Melissa’s work and feelings. Michael’s hidden desire to be a writer is exposed for the first time, and we the audience have an immediate aha moment thanks to Gary’s incessant prodding.
When Melissa casually mentions to Michael and Hope about meeting Andy Aronson and his implied interest in her work, Michael scrutinizes her assuming that she is being naïve about his motives.
Thus begins the tension that later explodes magnificently in Michael’s office. Elliot and Gary have front row seats to the Melissa and Michael stand off. I don’t know how many takes that portion took to film or if the director Robert Lieberman allowed any creative freedom in the scene, but it is brilliant. There is almost a crescendo in the tension and delivery between the two characters. Their banter is uncomfortable and almost cruel and for a moment we forget that we are watching two very talented actors at work and not the cousins they portray.
Here is an excerpt from thirtysomething at thirty by Scott Ryan. This section is from the chapter about I'll Be Home For Christmas:
Ken Olin (Michael): Everything shifted in that episode. Rob Lieberman came from a very different film background. They wanted the director to bring their own sensibility to the episodes. He was a hip, contemporary commercial director. He brought this vibe to the episode. It was really liberating for me. The struggle for me was how do I bring this character to life when I am not in synch with what Ed and Marshall wanted? They wanted a quirky type of performance. Rob really helped, we had a great relationship.Richard Kramer: We really blew the lights out with that. When I was writing the fight scene for Melissa and Michael Ed said, “Take it as far as you can.” I remember Ken and Melanie shaking on the set after doing it because they were so overwhelmed by finding this in their characters.Melanie Mayron: Rob had two cameras and they had the longest lens he could find which meant the cameras were really far away. It felt like it was just Ken and I on the set. The crew was back where the cameras were. When he said action we just went for it. It was like being on stage. We could play it as big as we wanted to the balcony because the people were sitting far away on the other side of the orchestra pit. It was the only time we shot the show that way.
from - thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history published by Bear Manor Media and Scott Ryan Productions.
As Michael’s conflict increases so does his guilt. As Christmas nears, we see Michael battle within himself and questions what is right. Ashamed with his behavior and embarrassed by his actions he reveals his greatest side. The side we shall see throughout all the episodes to come. Michael, in the end, will always do what he feels is right. We tend to always see the fight within us all. He brings Melissa’s photographs to the gallery owner, and he surprises Hope with a Christmas tree with once again, Gary’s help. And as good prevails, after trying to correct his mistakes and an attempt at making things right, Michael is rewarded in the end. As he enters his home he finds Hope and Janie waiting to light a menorah and Melissa, his loving and forgiving cousin waiting to embrace him and welcome him home.
As we celebrate the thirtieth birthday of thirtysomething, I have been trying to think of fun ways to discuss the show. Of course, one way is my new book thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history which will be released on June 7th. You can pre-order it from this website. The book lets the actors, directors and writers talk about the episodes. But what about the fans? I thought it was time for you to have your say. I put out the word for fans to send me their top 5 episodes. I gave each vote a weighted number, 10 points for #1 and 2 points for #5. The votes have been tallied. Here are the top 10 episodes voted on by you, the fans, and this time there is no electoral college to mess things up.
Let the countdown begin:
10. Happy New Year – Written by Richard Kramer Season 4 Episode 72
Michael and Hope have a New Year’s Eve party and all but one of the group attends. This episode, according to writer Richard Kramer, is his tribute to the James Joyce novel, The Dead. Richard told me about the challenge and the gift of writing an entire story that had to stay in one set, the Steadman household. I am not surprised this is a fan favorite because this episode shows all of our friends together. It feels like family. The problem is, death is hanging over everyone. Nancy is not in this episode, but her cancer lingers over every smile that Elliot (Tim Busfield at his very best) shows. He tries just a little too hard and we can feel his sadness. I loved getting to talk to Richard about this episode because I totally disagree with him about what this episode means, but I guess he gets to win because he wrote it.
9. Fighting the Cold – Written by Joseph Dougherty Season 4 Episode 77
Another gathering at Hope and Michael’s house where death is an uninvited guest. Viewers were put through an emotional roller coaster the week before this episode aired. Now the show comes to a cold, cold place where everyone has to deal with the loss of Gary. This is another episode that takes place in one set; we have everything we need here. Joe Dougherty says this is the best directing he has ever done. It is some of the best directing that anyone has ever done. The way this episode handles flashbacks is spot on. The set looks cold and we feel the pain that Susannah is going through. Patricia Kalember gives a great performance in this one.
8. Strangers –Written by Richard Kramer Season 3 Episode 44
Last week I wrote an entire blog about this episode. You can read a detailed explanation of this episode here. This episode mattered to people because it displayed homosexuality just like it showed everything else on thirtysomething – just how it is in real life. Television and America needed to be told to start facing AIDS and homosexuality back in 1989. I am hopeful it doesn’t need to be told those things today, but it probably does. Love is love is love is love. As I mentioned in the blog, it is the Melissa story that is truly moving in this fan favorite.
7. Tie: Michael Writes A StoryWritten by Joseph Dougherty Season 2 Episode 34
Michael Writes a Story is very pivotable in the journey of Michael’s life. He is out of work and decides to take a stab at writing. It doesn’t play out as he hoped. In the meantime, Miles Drentell is offering Michael an offer he can’t refuse, a job. The juxtaposition of art and commerce collide to tell a story that, for me, is the most personal. After seeing how high this ranked, I must not be alone. This is a fun episode to watch the first time, but the second and third time, you start to see how much this decision changed the Steadman family.
Closing The Circle – Written by Richard Kramer Season 4 Episode 80
In Closing the Circle, Michael’s life is changed because of forces outside of himself. Everyone else has moved on from Gary’s death. This episode brings to a close the story of Gary/Susannah/Michael. An unlikely threesome of people who were all headstrong. I am never a fan of ghosts on television. When people ask me why, I always say because thirtysomething did it right, so no one else should even try. When I interviewed Richard Kramer, who also directed this episode, he said the above shot was his favorite. It shows how alone Michael feels at this moment. The end of this episode breaks my heart every time. I have told Richard that no man has made me cry as much as he has.
6. Tie: Ellyn’s Wedding – Written by Jill Gordon Season 4 Episode 79
Just when the show was at its darkest point, they give us the highest peak of happiness in the series. Ellyn and Billy get married. This episode is structured as a fun flashback that tricks us and plays with our expectations. But it is the end musical montage that sticks with me. Director Scott Winant designed the ultimate wedding montage set to the Ray Charles classic, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” I don’t see how anyone can watch Polly Draper’s acting and not cry at the end of this episode. After having so many sad cries, we needed a happy cry so badly at this point in the series.
We Gather Together – Written by Susan Miller and Richard Kramer and Edward Zwick Season 1 Episode 6
My guess is fans of the series watch this episode every Thanksgiving, hence it ranked high on the list. The gang gets together for Thanksgiving while Hope stays upstairs and looks at pictures. One thing that ties all of these top episodes together seems to be the feeling of friendship. This is the first episode in the series that really showed us that they are actually a family, not just friends. That theme grew deeper and deeper as the series continued. What could be more familiar than gathering together at Thanksgiving with our loved ones?
5. The Go Between – Written by Joseph Dougherty Season 3 Episode 61
The two part story about the take over of DAA begins here. This episode probably has the most plot of any in the series. We have watched Michael and Elliot grow in the business world since the pilot. This episode brings all those moments to a head. The cliff hanger ending of Michael firing Elliot is shocking as he sits next to Miles, the heir apparent. When I was doing research for the book, I found out they were supposed to win and Miles was supposed to leave the show. At the last minute, Marshall said, “Are we crazy? Why would we lose Miles?” Good choice.
4. Arizona – Written by Susan Shilliday Season 3 Episode 59
Not that anyone asked, but this is my all time favorite episode of thirtysomething. Michael and Hope visit Hope’s parents to celebrate her parent’s anniversary. This put our favorite couple trapped in a house where they can’t escape each other. This is where we see the cracks in their marriage, magnified by the watchful eye of Hope’s mother, the wonderful Shirley Knight. This was the last episode written by Susan Shilliday and the last episode that Edward Zwick directed for the series. I guess when you hit perfection you get out. I like to say this episode is an hour of what marriage is really all about. If you have forgotten this episode, go watch it again and thank me later. The fact it ranked #4 I guess means, you haven’t forgotten it.
3. Therapy – Written by Susan Shilliday Season 1 Episode 11
I feel like I could spend the entire paragraph just writing about how this is only the 11th script for this series. This episode is so good it should be much later in the series. One of my greatest honors in writing the book was the fact that I got to interview Susan Shilliday. Her scripts are so personal and well written. This episode finds Nancy and Elliot working on their marriage in therapy. The arguments between the characters are so real that viewers forgot that they were watching television. You know how I said I can’t stand ghosts on TV, well that goes double for shows that use a therapy session. If you can’t do it as well as this episode does, then don’t even bother. Also, the “B” story, Ellyn’s tattoo, is the best use of a “B” story. If anyone ever asks me to teach a class on television, I will use this as an example of a perfect script.
2. I’ll Be Home For ChristmasWritten by Richard Kramer Season 1 Episode 9
I consider this the first great episode of thirtysomething. It isn’t that the first 8 aren’t good, they just aren’t to the level that the show develops to. In this episode we really see who Michael is, we see how important family is and we learn about Melissa and Michael. I watch this episode every Christmas and cry. I always think that when Melissa steps out of the shadows, I won’t cry. Not this time. I can hold it in . . . but nope, I cry. This is my favorite Richard Kramer script. It came in second place with a bullet. No doubts, no ties. This is obviously an episode that the fans cry at too. It’s Hanna-claus. Happy Pagan Ritual.
AND THE #1 FAN EPISODE IS . . .
1. Second LookWritten by Ann Lewis Hamilton Season 4 Episode 76
There are some twists that we just don’t see coming. There are moments of television that will live in us till we die. Second Look is one of those episodes. This episode came in first place by a ton. It crushed everything else. With a script that handles death so simply, direction by Ken Olin that doesn’t give the viewer a moment to prepare and acting from Patty Wettig and Timothy Busfield that is just heart breaking, I am not surprised this is the number 1 pick. Cancer, death, friendship, loss and love. This episode has it all. Here is an excerpt from thirtysomething at thirty from writer Ann Hamilton about how she was chosen to write this script.
Ann Lewis Hamilton: Ed and Marshall were very democratic in how they would hand out big scripts. It was kind of the luck of the draw that I got to kill Gary. My dad had died ten years earlier and I never liked on television when death is too Bergman. I wanted to write about the simplicity of it. I wanted people to say, “Gary’s dead. Gary’s been killed.” When my father died very suddenly of a heart attack, there was not a lot to say except, “My father died.” It was the simplicity of the lines that I really like. -Except from thirtysomething at thirty
Great list of episodes. Thanks for voting everyone. There is one thing I want to point out. Every list submitted by a fan had 1 episode on it that no one else voted for. Think about that. Everyone has that one episode that only they love. I think that speaks volumes about the series. So while episodes like Nancy’s Mom or Undone or Her Cup Runneth over might not have made the top 10 list, they received votes by fans who love the series. Next week’s #thirtysomethingthursday is going to be huge. Tune in and see what I have in store for you. Be sure to pre-order the book, thirtysomething at thirty, at this site to get the free postcard of the front cover and for me to sign it.
“Strangers,” the 44th episode of thirtysomething, aired back in 1989, or was that 1889? The world went crazy for a moment because two men had the nerve to sit side by side, shirtless in bed and have a conversation. Last week the Entertainment Weekly did a 5 minute oral history about the episode (Will it be ungracious of me if I scoff? I wrote a 370 page oral history about thirtysomething. 5 minutes??!!) Advertisers pulled out of the episode, ABC threatened the producers and the Christian right protested. The episode played and the world went on. But what were the true lasting effects of this episode? If you watch “Strangers” in 2017 it is pretty tame. No one would bat an eye. I don’t think even VP Pence would try to pray the gay out of it.
So how controversial is this episode, written by Richard Kramer and directed by Peter O’Fallon? Not at all. Two men meet, have an affair and then are too afraid to call each other the morning after. So, is that why it is called “Strangers?” No. The stranger in this episode is someone who is very familiar to thirtysomething viewers. The stranger is Melissa Steadman, the wonderful Melanie Mayron. Melanie won the best supporting actress Emmy the previous season for another episode written by Richard Kramer, “Be A Good Girl.” Richard claimed Melanie was his muse on thirtysomething. He wrote some of her greatest scenes in the series. With all due respect to Melanie’s performance in “Second Look,” which is the single most heartbreaking moment in a heartbreaking episode, I submit “Strangers” is Melanie’s best work in the series. Work that is not given a mention today whenever television historians talk about the episode.
Melissa is dating Lee Owens (Corey Parker.) Lee is younger than Melissa and she is embarrassed by that. She doesn’t want her friends to meet him, she doesn’t want to be judged. So she does what we all do when we are scared, she tries to ruin everything. The end of the episode has a fantasy sequence where Melanie plays 3 different roles. She boxes herself as she watches from the crowd. The reason “Strangers” resonates with thirtysomething fans thirty years later, isn’t because two men sat in bed next to each other. It is because Richard Kramer looked into our deepest hidden fears where we all know that the only obstacle in our way is ourselves. That human moment of facing who the stranger is, ourselves.
Richard Kramer: I feel incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to write that episode. I was supported by Ed and Marshall at a period when not everybody would have been supported. One of the principles of the show was that we couldn’t do an “important” episode. I wasn’t trying to write the gay scene. It was very much about something else. It was about the burden of self consciousness and absorbing what other people think of you. Melissa was letting that be an obstacle in her life.Melanie Mayron: The theme of the episode was how we sabotage relationships. Russell sabotaged his and Melissa sabotaged hers. We get something good and then we stand in the way of it. - from thirtysomething at thirty - Bear Manor Media and Scott Ryan Productions
The reason this episodes sticks with me all these years later is a small scene between Melissa and Lee. Melissa is fretting over her friends meeting Lee. Corey Parker does some of his best acting when he responds with, “No one is watching, No one cares.” I wish I would have taken these words to heart sooner in life, I bet we all do. These little gems are peppered through all of Richard Kramer’s scripts, as well as all episodes of thirtysomething.
Even though I have talked to Richard many times, he was a huge help on the book and always made himself available to assist, I have never asked him this question. Did he listen to Billy Joel’s The Stranger when he wrote this episode and picked the title? Billy Joel sings in his 1977 song, “Well we all have a face that we hide away forever and we take it out and show ourselves when everyone is gone.” They could have used that song and it would have fit, but it probably would have been a little too Mad Men end credits-like. thirtysomething was a great show because it never hit the nail right on the head, it just set up the nail and laid the hammer on the table and let you finish the work yourself.
While television fans can look forward to the return of Twin Peaks and Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2017, they can also look back at one of the pop culture icons from 1987. thirtysomething, a show about 7 friends in their thirties, turns thirty on September 29th, 2017.
When we were introduced to Michael and Hope they had just had their first child and were deeply in love. Conversely, we also meet Elliot and Nancy who are ten years into a marriage and falling out of love. Over the next four years these characters, along with Melissa, Ellyn and Gary, go through so many changes that a network executive would panic today. These 7 characters became so real to us that fans had trouble separating the actor from the character.
Fans related so closely with each story that they connected it directly to their own lives. The show became a poster child for the baby boomer generation. Cancer, business failings, death, parenting and being single were just a few of the topics covered. The writers took all the normal plots from night time television and threw them aside. The main story in the pilot is about finding a baby sitter . . . and that is it. The series moved slowly and with purpose. The characters’ lives as well as their homes were messy. Anyone who has raised a toddler knows that the floor of your house is always covered with toys and laundry. The creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, brought this reality to television for the first time. For years, I kept going back to the series because I missed these characters and always wondered, why couldn’t another show do “real life” this well?
Parenthood tried, Brothers & Sisters tried, This is Us is trying right now on NBC. While those shows were good and This is Us even has Ken Olin, Michael Steadman, as the executive producer, none match the simplicity of thirtysomething.
On June 7th my book, thirtysomething at thirty, will finally be published. I was able to interview the entire main cast, Michael, Hope, Elliott, Nancy, Gary, Melissa and Ellyn. I spoke with every writer who wrote more than 2 episodes of the series. I spoke with the creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. I then assembled all those interviews into a round table reunion of the people who crafted thirtysomething.
There are over 150 photos in the book, the final script that was never filmed and essays from Peter Horton (Gary), Ann Lewis Hamilton (wrote “Second Look”), Joseph Dougherty (wrote all the great Miles episodes) and even an essay by the Mad Magazine editor, Nick Meglin, who paid the thirtysomething set a visit.
There is a special section all about the directing of the series where all the directors talk about the rules of directing on the series and what they learned from Marshall and Ed about staging a scene. Most of the cast would eventually direct an episode of the series. They tell tales of what it was like to watch dailies with the rest of the cast at lunch every day.
thirtysomething may not be streaming anywhere (really, Netflix?) but it is engrained in the memory of the fans that adored it. 2017 serves as the year that the show finally reached its own age. thirtysomething at thirty set out to tell the story of the series and honor the amazing work that these artists did over a 4 year period that we are still talking about thirty years later.
Recently Stacy Wessel interviewed Scott Ryan about his new book, thirtysomething at thirty. You can listen to that interview below. They talk about their love thirtysomething, Scott’s experience talking with the cast and some of the extras that are in the book. You can order the book by clicking here.