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A young off-duty New York cabbie spots a pretty girl on the street, trying to hire a ride.  Intrigued, he decides he’s now “on duty” and stops for her.  She likes the guy too, and after a few “meet cute” visuals, she exits at the school where she teaches.  That afternoon, as she leaves, guess what cab (and what cabbie) is waiting for her?  Before anyone can say “musical montage”, we see scenes of a young couple newly in love, kissing sweetly.  Then, unfortunately, the following exchange occurs:

Bridget meets Bernie

“You know, this is crazy.  I don’t even know your full name!”

“Bernie… Steinberg.  What’s yours?”

“Bridget.  Bridget… Teresa… Mary… Colleen… Fitzgerald.”

“I think we have a problem….”

–the first actual lines in the pilot episode of Bridget Loves Bernie

Such is the set-up for one of the more popular romantic comedies of the early 1970’s, Bridget Loves Bernie.  It was a tumultuous time in America, with the ending of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the fall of the Nixon Presidency.  Public opinion was changing on lots of things, both political and societal, and in the midst of this change came a romantic comedy about two people deeply in love… and their families, who were as opposite as they could be.

“The important thing is for us not to over-react.”
–Bridget’s father to her mother, about to meet Bernie

Bridget (Meredith Baxter) was a schoolteacher from a rich Catholic home.  Her parents Walter and Amy (played by TV vets David Doyle and Audra Lindley, respectively) were very traditional stock, and despite the quote above, they’re very good at over-reacting.  They really only accept Bernie (and his Jewish faith) because it seems a lesser difficulty than their initial fear of Bridget bringing home an African-American (or, as Amy puts it in the vernacular of the time, “colored”).  They try to put on a brave face, but make just about every possible “enlightened” mistake they could make along the way.  Their efforts of acceptance make walking on eggshells look easy.

Of course, if the Fitzgeralds have eggshells, the Steinbergs make omelets.  Sam and Sophie Steinberg (Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald) own a deli, and are a bit awed by the wealth of the Fitzgeralds.  We meet them (and their underdog attitudes) as they arrive at the Fitzgeralds, looking for a missing Bernie.  Bridget is also missing, and so the opposing families are united in their worry.  The only things they agree on are the safety of their children, and that their relationship should be stopped before it starts….

That’s kind of difficult when Bridget and Bernie have taken matters into their own hands.  They were missing due to having an appointment at the courthouse, and their civil marriage ceremony.  Even with no priest for the Fitzgeralds or rabbi for the Steinbergs, Bridget and Bernie are still married (a fact the parents will now have to get used to).  Although it’s too late for the parents to stop the wedding, they’ll still interfere in their own ways.

Bridget and Bernie do have some allies in all this.  Bridget’s brother Michael (Robert Sampson) is a priest, but is likely one of the more level-headed members of this bunch (and understanding of the relationship).  Bernie’s uncle Moe (Ned Glass) is a guy for whom religion is important, but practicality and people will trump it every time.  And finally, we have the couple’s friend Otis (William Elliott), who shares cab-driving duties with Bernie.  Otis happens to be the African-American initially mistaken for Bridget’s beau, giving a friendly perspective on the trials the young couple is going through.

Living above the deli in Bernie’s small apartment, Bridget Loves Bernie uses the marriage, and the families and friends, to examine many of the social issues of the day.  Religious differences, political alignments, social classes, racial prejudices, and pretty much every other disparate point of view are on display here.  The surprising part is, this wasn’t new news, even in 1972.

Broadway cast of Abie's Irish Rose, 1927

“Showing that the Jews and the Irish crack equally old jokes.”
–theatre critic commenting on Abie’s Irish Rose

Bridget Loves Bernie is primarily based on an old Broadway play called Abie’s Irish Rose from the 1920’s.  Made twice into a movie (and forming the basis for more), the critics thought the show was rehashing old ideas and prejudices even then.  The play was, however, a popular success, setting (at the time) the record for the longest running Broadway show EVER.  It was also made into a radio series, running for two and a half years.  Audiences loved the idea of feuding families, as the concept had likely been around even longer (say, Romeo and Juliet?)

You would think, especially after the turbulent ’60’s, America might accept such a television series.  After all, the success of CBS’s previous season hit All in the Family (and its groundbreaking use of the Archie Bunker character) likely meant the audience was more than ready for such a comedy.  Bridget Loves Bernie was slotted in the half-hour immediately following All in the Family, and achieved enough viewer interest to become a top 5 success on all of television for the season.

But success brings attention, and attention sometimes brings controversy.  Archie Bunker was, for most people, lovably WRONG in his attitudes, demonstrably so.  Most watching All in the Family agreed.  But when Bridget Loves Bernie presented, in a bit more realistic way, disagreements many families were currently dealing with (prominently featuring religion as a sticking point), all of a sudden tradition, religion, and faith take on a slightly different color.

People get blind spots when discussing religion; more so than many other personal positions.  It tends to define much of who we are as individuals, as family, as class.  Religion, sometimes more than ethnic background, forms the basis of identity, and when we see it (supposedly) tossed away by our youth, over-reactions are common.  It is no wonder that the Steinbergs and the Fitzgeralds argue, as the relationship seems to threaten their own life-identities… or, at the very least, the identities they had believed true for their own son or daughter.

But here’s the big difference, one which was true in Romeo and Juliet, in Abie’s Irish Rose, in Bridget Loves Bernie, and even today.  RELIGION IS NOT FAITH.  Bridget truly loves Bernie, not in spite of his being Jewish, but because he’s Bernie, and that encompasses everything about him, including the fact that he and his family are Jewish.  Bernie does the same, loving Bridget (and, by extension, her family) for everything she is.  Both of them do so, allowing for their parents misconceptions and misunderstandings, for the sake of each other.

Bridget and Bernie, bridging the gaps

Love is that strong.  Faith is that strong.  Religion, on the other hand, is just rules, made by others, for the practice of faith.  But true belief, in each other, and in whatever supreme being you may have, is what makes faith real, concrete, and part of our lives.  Religion is just the (sometimes unnecessary) trappings thereof.  Bridget, Bernie, and their friends and families, learn to live beyond religion, but not beyond faith.  Your faith does not, and never will, threaten mine… and mine will never threaten yours, if we can simply agree to have both love and faith.

Some people had problems with this, as tightly woven the concept of religion was in their lives.  It was the same way with Abie and Rose’s parents, and the same with Bridget and Bernie’s, at least at first.  But some didn’t let go of this idea, and were outraged that they were somehow being portrayed as “wrong” on television (they weren’t… that’s the blind spot).  Encouraged by religious leaders, complaint letters were sent to the network (even by people who’d never sampled the show), and although the series was extremely popular, CBS got tired very quickly of all the negative publicity.

Despite all this, the show was hugely popular.  As I said, during its one and only season Bridget Loves Bernie was the #5 rated show on television… and thanks to the pressure campaign, it was still canceled.  These days, corporate masters would simply say all the right things and placate those who generated a disproportionate response, and keep Bridget Loves Bernie on the air.  And, as much as I would love to say the show would be kept on for the right reasons, it would be kept on only for the money it would generate… which tells you about the type of “faith” television networks believe in these days.  But at least the series would have continued, and positive messages of love and belief might have triumphed over blind spots and over-reaction.

Bridget Loves Bernie was that rare show that tackled topical subjects with a heart… and its heart was broken.  I would like to hope that people can find a way past their differences if love is truly in their hearts… and at the very least, understand and allow for differences along the way.  This is true for families, and just as true for strangers along the way.  Messages are more important that individual shows.  Allowing others to love, in their own way, harming no one else, is the message I will always have faith in.

Bridget:  “Our poor parents.  We chose each other.  It’s going to be tough on them.”

Bernie:  “I wouldn’t worry.  We’re going to be there to help them through the rough spots.”

MEREDITH BAXTER (Bridget Teresa Mary Colleen Fitzgerald Steinberg) had success early, as she’d been in the television business less than two years when she was cast as Bridget.  In 1976 she became a supporting member of the cast of Family, earning two Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama.  Her most popular role was as Elyse Keaton in Family Ties, which ran for seven seasons.  She’s the author of Untied:  A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, which discusses her life amid alcoholism, breast cancer, and her decision to openly declare her homosexuality.

DAVID BIRNEY (Bernie Steinberg) has earned Broadway credits, appearing in Amadeus and Man and Superman, in addition to numerous other stage roles in major theatres across the country.  He’s starred in a number of TV series, including Serpico and St. Elsewhere.  He’s best known on television for roles in various miniseries, including a star turn in the early American drama The Adams Chronicles.

DAVID DOYLE (Walter Fitzgerald) is a television veteran, guesting on numerous series.  As the featured male on Charlie’s Angels, he was surrounded by beautiful women on a regular basis (yet still shone enough to earn himself an Emmy nomination).  In his later years, he specialized in voice-over acting for many animated series, until his death in 1997 due to a heart attack.

AUDRA LINDLEY (Amy Fitzgerald) played many years on two soap operas, Search for Tomorrow and Another World, before making it to prime time with Bridget Loves Bernie (where she was nominated for a Golden Globe).  She reached stardom in her memorable portrayal of Mrs. Roper in Three’s Company, although the spin-off featuring her character not as successful.  She continued acting in recurring parts on both Friends and Cybil, until her death in 1997 at the age of 79 (supposedly with her next Cybil script on the table next to her!)

HAROLD T. STONE (Sam Steinberg) found Broadway fame as a young man, appearing on the Great White Way in 1939.  A few years later, he headed west and found a film career as a steadily working actor in movies.  He found his niche in the early days of television, appearing in well over 150 different shows.  He was a regular on My World and Welcome to It as well as Bridget Loves Bernie, but was best known for the many tough-guy guest roles he played on ’60’s and ’70’s series.  He passed in 2005 at the age of 94.

BIBI OSTERWALD (Sophie Steinberg) never achieved stardom, but in her lengthy career she did perform guest roles in series such as Route 66, All in the Family, Remington Steele, and Home Improvement.  One of her favorite roles was Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly, where she once was understudy to famed dancer Ginger Rogers.  She died of lung disease in 2002.

ROBERT SAMPSON (Father Michael Fitzgerald) was a surprising choice for comedy in Bridget Loves Bernie, considering in most of his career he’s been featured in dramatic roles.  He appeared on many early TV series, including the original Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and Combat!  After Bridget Loves Bernie, he was seen on Police Story, Falcon Crest, Matlock, and Profiler.  He was also featured in the cult horror film Re-Animator, in a significant enough role that he still makes convention appearances to this day.

NED GLASS (Uncle “Moe” Plotnick) made a career out of playing slightly disreputable small-time crooks, usually for laughs.  He played opposite comedic legends like The Three Stooges, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and Phil Silvers.  He was nominated for an Emmy for his role in Julia, and performed with everyone from Elvis Presley and Jack Lemmon to Herbie, the Love Bug.  He passed, after a lengthy illness, in 1984.

WILLIAM ELLIOTT (Otis Foster) was a recurring character on Adam-12, but other than his role on Bridget Loves Bernie, he’s best known for his roughly eight-year marriage (and later divorce) to Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick.  Elliott died in 1983 at the age of 49.

Bridget Loves Bernie has never been available on DVD.  Two episodes are available on YouTube, including the pilot, where you’ll also find the appropriately titled theme song, “Love is Crazy”.  Bridget Loves Bernie holds the distinction of being the highest rated full season show ever canceled by one of the big three networks (finishing at #5 for the year), and in this day of money and corporate decision-making, it’s doubtful that record will ever be broken.  There has been a multitude of information written about the subsequent marriage and eventual break-up (and further reasons for it) between the show’s stars, Meredith Baxter and David Birney, but this website is NOT the place for such intensely personal discourse.  Quite honestly, the themes of the show are much bigger, and so they are the focus of this article.

We love you, too.

One would like to think that, in our modern, more enlightened (?) times, the types of differences examined in Bridget Loves Bernie would no longer be prominent.  Mixed marriages of religion, not to mention race, are becoming much more commonplace, and for many don’t even rate a mention, let alone an argument.  And yet, newer disagreements are taking place all across the land, for many of the same reasons.  The fight for gender equality and the rights of civil, let alone religious, marriage for same-sex couples divides many families and households.  The depiction of Catholic vs. Jew seems almost quaint for some… and yet for others it is a difference causing permanent separation between loved ones.  The battles are old.  Just the fighters are new.

And yet, here’s the common thing, the one thing that gives me hope all along the way.  Love wins out, every time.  Only those who close their hearts and cling to rules instead of humanity lose, and they do it only by their own choice.  There’s a reason the show was called Bridget Loves Bernie… and it’s because, after all is said and done, it is not religion, or social class, or anything else that matters.  The only thing that matters is love….

Vital Stats

24 aired episodes — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 16, 1972 (the day before CBS aired the first episode of M*A*S*H)
Final aired episode:  March 3, 1973 (no pre-emptions — you don’t pre-empt a hit)
Aired at Friday, 8/7 Central?  Saturdays, 8:30, 7:30 Central.  A year later, this Saturday night became the best night of television on television, with the five shows airing on CBS all making Time Magazine’s list of the best 100 TV shows in historyBridget Loves Bernie, if it had survived, could easily have been there too.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

The subtitle for the movie Star Trek VI was The Undiscovered Country.  It refers to Shakespeare’s use of the phrase in Hamlet (Act III, Scene I) and the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.  The undiscovered country is, of course, “not to be”, as it is a reference to death and the fears of what lies beyond our existence.

Strangely enough, Star Trek and Shakespeare’s concept of death also combine in the life of one of the most creative and best writers in modern television, who gave us one of the quirkiest and most engaging shows in recent history.  The man is Bryan Fuller, and the show is Pushing Daisies.

“I’m fascinated by life and the fact that we’re conscious, and that we have thoughts that string together to form words to have conversation.  And life holds a lot of mystery.  And I think my obsession with death is really an obsession with life.”
–Bryan Fuller

The facts are these….

Life. Death. Love. Daisies.

An amazing and colorful vision appeared on ABC television screens in the Fall of 2007.  Pushing Daisies told the story of Ned (Lee Pace), proprietor of The Pie-Hole bakery and possessor of a very unique ability — he could bring the dead back to life with a simple touch.

Of course, the ability had a couple of drawbacks:  if he didn’t touch the (previously) deceased again within a minute, someone else nearby would die instead, and if he touched the person he’d saved again, they’d immediately die with no more second chances.  First touch, life… second touch, eternal death… if he EVER touched them again!!!!  Young Ned discovered these facts as a child when he tried to revive his own mother (seemingly causing the death of his childhood sweetheart’s father across the street), then accidentally causing his own mother to die once again (permanently) from a simple kiss goodnight.

Ned literally had life and death in his hands… a terrific power that became a terrible burden for him around those he loved.  (He had even brought his faithful dog back to life, but now has to pet it with a mechanical hand/back scratcher, because his own touch would mean losing his beloved companion forever!)  After the (final) death of his mother, young Ned was sent away to school and became a loner, keeping others at an emotional arm’s length throughout his life, and never told anyone about his secret.

Unfortunately, his ability to resurrect the dead is accidentally discovered by private eye Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), who figures Ned would come in real handy tracking down unsolved murders.   All Ned would have to do is “revive” the victim, allow them a minute to tell Emerson who their killer was, then let them expire in peace with another touch.  This would allow Emerson to find justice for the deceased (not to mention collect any reward money) with little of the work.  They first become partners (grudgingly) through Emerson’s blackmail threat to expose Ned, then later as friends when Ned discovers he can actually put his ability to some good use this way.  It might work… but a particular dead body changes everything….

Ned finds out his childhood sweetheart has been killed under mysterious circumstances, and convinces an unsuspecting Emerson they should take the case… but it’s really a ruse for Ned to visit the funeral home and revive his long-lost (and temporarily deceased) love, Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel).  Since the debacle with his mother, Ned’s never been tempted to keep another dead body alive, but he can’t let his true love die… so he lets the minute elapse… and the crooked funeral director dies instead.  “Chuck” (as she prefers) is amazed to be alive again, and even more amazed to discover her benefactor is Ned, the boy she loved as a child growing up across the street.  (They were long-lost sweethearts, each other’s first and only real love… no wonder he couldn’t let her die!)  Chuck is the catalyst for Ned to use his power for helping others by fulfilling their dying wishes (even if they’re already technically dead).  This puts her at odds with Emerson, as there’s only so much information that can be expressed in 60 seconds, and at odds with Ned, who has recovered the woman he loves, yet can’t touch her again without killing her.  No holding hands, no comforting touch, no kiss… Ned and Chuck are a couple in deep emotion only, for even holding hands would be the end of it all.

Ned:  “You’re supposed to be dead.  You’re pushing your luck.”
Chuck:  “Yeah, well luck pushed me first.”

Vivian and Lilly, the Darling Mermaid Darlings

Chuck and Emerson are introduced as Ned’s “friends” to Olive (Kristin Chenoweth), the waitress at The Pie-Hole.  She’s been pining for Ned’s attentions (to the point of moving in next-door to him) and wants to be involved in solving the mysteries as well.  Although Olive is unaware of Ned’s ability, she discovers that Chuck’s family thinks Chuck is still dead, and she believes that Chuck is merely hiding from them for some reason.  Olive befriends Chuck, and later also befriends Chuck’s aunts Lily and Vivian (Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene), although she doesn’t give away to them the knowledge of Chuck’s revival.  Oh, and Chuck doesn’t know about the whole “I think I killed your father” thing with Ned either….

Secrets abound, death abounds, life abounds.  See, it’s Hamlet all over.

“Everything we do is a choice.  Oatmeal or cereal?  Highway or side-streets?  Kiss her or keep her?  We make choices and we live with the consequences.  If someone gets hurt along the way, we ask for forgiveness.  It’s the best anyone can do.”
–Ned

Actually, it isn’t Hamlet.  Instead, it’s an incredibly stylistic display of color, mystery, laughter, whimsy, romance unrequited and romance unfulfilled, and a very light way to treat death.  Pushing Daisies was a mystery show, a comedy, a romance, and even on occasion a musical (because it would be a crime to put either Kristin Chenoweth or Ellen Greene in a show and not have them sing once in a while).

If we can't kiss, we'll let the toy monkeys do it for us.

It also brought the “quirky” in full force.  Aunts Lily and Vivian were known as the Darling Mermaid Darlings, famous for their synchronized swimming act (that is, until Lily ended up with an eyepatch and Vivian became agoraphobic and wouldn’t leave their house anymore).  Emerson had a long-lost daughter and a collection of pop-up books, and used the books to try to find her (don’t ask).  Chuck’s hobby was urban beekeeping (and that suit came in handy to prevent any accidental touching by Ned).  Olive became a nun at one point (I told you, don’t ask).  And Ned was a simple pieman with a long-held secret that might destroy his chance at love beyond death (twice).

Ordinary, Pushing Daisies certainly wasn’t….  For that, we thank the extraordinary Bryan Fuller.

“I got into writing to become a Star Trek writer.  I was a rabid fan.  I had shelves and shelves and shelves of action figures in my bedroom that scared away more dates than I care to admit to.  So it was really… if back then, you told me ‘you’re gonna write for Star Trek for twenty years,’ I couldn’t have imagined a happier career.”
–Bryan Fuller

Fuller got his start by being an obsessed Star Trek fan, like so many others.  But his imagination allowed him to become part of the strangeness that is television.  Watching Deep Space Nine, he was struck by how the episodes and stories were put together, and submitted a spec script (meaning unsolicited) to the producers through Trek‘s “open script search” program (unique in the industry, and never really repeated thereafter).  His initial idea was strong enough that the producers bought it for the show, and invited him to “pitch” other stories for potential scripts.  Another idea was sold to DS9, and he ultimately ended up on sister series Star Trek:  Voyager as a staff writer for four years, contributing over 20 scripts and learning from writers that went on to produce CSI, the Battlestar:  Galactica revival, Castle, and many other successful series.

He created both the Showtime series Dead Like Me and the Fox series Wonderfalls, each featuring off-kilter storylines and unusual protagonists dealing with large issues in smaller ways.  Dead Like Me obviously uses death as a central theme, but in a very different way from Pushing Daisies.

“And I, you know, I think with death, you can’t minimize it.  It’s so big.  It’s something that holds a lot of magic and mystery for me.”
–Bryan Fuller

Magic and mystery, two very important elements of Pushing Daisies.  The mystery element is there in the form of the “procedural”, solving murders and getting clues from dead people in the morgue.  The magic… well, that was everywhere on this show.

Young Ned. Young Chuck. Young love.

There were flashbacks to Ned and Chuck as children and their innocent young love (where Young Ned receives his first and only kiss).  These were narrated by British actor Jim Dale, famous for turns as the audiobook reader for the Harry Potter series, and performances as the silver-tongued P.T. Barnum on Broadway and the tongue-twisted villain in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon.  The verbal skills served Dale well, as much of the dialogue featured in the narration (and the series as a whole) used alliteration and rhyming schemes occasionally reminiscent of Dr. Seuss.  (Dale’s flashback narration usually began with the phrase “The facts are these” used here near the beginning of this article.)

Who would kill clowns in a clown car?

Then there’s the color palette.  With the possible exception of the original Star Trek, it’s doubtful any show on television was this colorful, this bright, this saturated with hues.  Here was a show about death, yet presented in a way that was more beautiful and vivid than real life.  Add in unusual murder victims (a man claims his wife killed him, but the group then finds out he was a polygamist), weird locations (an entire village of windmills), and outrageous characters (a traveling homeopathic drug salesman, a guy with an incredibly sensitive nose who lives in a sewer, and a woman who trains dogs and uses the same methods on people), and you end up with an intoxicating concoction and a whimsical examination of love and death.  No wonder it didn’t last.

“We lost our momentum, we were off the air for almost a year, ten or eleven months we were off the air.  As much as the billboards in Los Angeles and New York are great for the people who live in Los Angeles and New York, all the cities in between weren’t really aware we were coming back.  Ten months is a long time to say, “Yeah, I remember that.”  And people generally don’t.”
–Bryan Fuller

Please God, don't let them cancel our show!

The series was a huge hit for its first season.  Pushing Daisies garnered both critical acclaim and significant audiences.  Then the Writer’s Strike of 2007 stopped everything, cutting short the season (to nine episodes) and removing the show from the public eye.  Although it returned almost a year later for 13 more episodes, the previous attention the show had received was lost and the audience never returned.  Despite 17 Emmy nominations and 7 Emmy wins over its two shortened seasons, even Ned’s ability couldn’t bring Pushing Daisies back from “the undiscovered country”.

(An aside about the biographies:  this is simply one of the most talented casts I’ve ever seen.  I had to leave out more in the biographies than I can usually find to put in for people.  They’re all simply incredible!)

LEE PACE (Ned) is primarily a movie actor, but his two TV series (Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, both created by Bryan Fuller) have landed articles on this website.  He was first noticed in the Sundance/Showtime film Soldier’s Girl, a role for which he lost 25 pounds and gained a Golden Globe nomination.  He will be seen in both parts of the upcoming Twilight Saga movie series, Breaking Dawn.

ANNA FRIEL (Charlotte “Chuck” Charles) began acting professionally in Britain at the age of 13, appearing in series such as G.B.H., Emmerdale, and Brookside (gaining a National Television Award  in the UK for “Most Popular Actress” in the latter role).  Also a Golden Globe nominee for Pushing Daisies, she’s spent succeeding years focusing on other projects, appearing onstage in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in London’s West End and playing the villain in the upcoming miniseries Neverland.

CHI McBRIDE has been a regular on many series, playing both comedy and drama with ease.  First featured on The John Laroquette Show, he’s appeared on The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, Boston Public, The Nine, and House.  His current gig is as a regular on the series Human Target.  His nickname “Chi” is actually short for Chicago, his hometown.

KRISTIN CHENOWETH is a star in almost any medium, and an unstoppable force with a huge voice in a tiny body.  While her own starring TV series died a quick death (Kristen), she’s been a Broadway stalwart winning a Tony Award for the revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and a nomination for Wicked (an award she lost to her co-star, Idina Menzel).  On television she’s played Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, and now has a recurring role on Glee.  She’s also cited as the inspiration for Aaron Sorkin creating the Harriet Hayes character in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

SWOOSIE KURTZ is another amazingly talented performer, earning Tony and Emmy awards herself.  First a regular on the Tony Randall series Love, Sidney, she later starred in the series Sisters and is currently seen on Mike & Molly.  Her stage career includes performances in House of Blue Leaves, Fifth of July, and Imaginary Friends.  Her unusual first name comes from the type of plane (“half swan, half goose”) her Air Force father flew on many missions during WWII, a plane that hangs in the National Museum of the USAF.

ELLEN GREENE began her performance career as a cabaret singer, moving quickly to the world of New York theatre.  She originated the role of Audrey in the Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors, and reprised the role in the cult hit film version with Rick Moranis.  She’s recently appeared as Miss Adelade in a star-studded concert version of Guys and Dolls at the Hollywood Bowl, and been seen on episodes of The Young and the Restless.

Pushing Daisies garnered many fans, especially during its inaugural season.  Some fans were moved to create great websites dedicated to news and information about the series, like this one.  A limited number of episodes are available at The WB website (the show’s production company), and these are rotated out every week so you can see what you’ve missed.  Both seasons are available on DVD (with yummy extras).  A first-season music CD was released, with the second-season music just announced for April 2011.  A special limited edition comic book came out during Comic-Con 2007, and news is that the story of Pushing Daisies will live again in comic form in the Spring of 2011 with new stories by Bryan Fuller AND a soundtrack likely available online with the original cast!  (Even when this show does a comic, it’s different!)  Finally, the Paley Center in L.A. did a retrospective on the show with the entire cast and some of the production staff, and that event was filmed and is available on DVD and Video on Demand through Amazon.

Everything about Pushing Daisies screams unique, from the storyline to the music to the colors to the acting and writing.  Bryan Fuller was just a typical fan of television watching at home, and ended up becoming a TV creator and producer involved in some of the best and most inventive television made in the last two decades.  He’s approached J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot Productions with ideas on adapting their rebooted Star Trek for television after the current movie run is done, helping resurrect the venerable TV franchise from the dead once again.

His story, and the story of Pushing Daisies, gives hope to all those whose dreams and efforts may have died that there is still life.  There is still a way for dreams to come true.  There is still hope for amazing things.  The Pieman’s magic touch may be fantasy, but it was wrought out of a combination of reality, hard work, and dreaming impossible things that come true.  And that is really the definition of both Star Trek and Pushing Daisies.  Life after death.  The facts are these….

Vital Stats

22 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  October 3, 2007
Final aired episode:  June 13, 2009, although the majority of episodes ended the previous December, as ABC simply burned off the final three episodes on Saturday nights long after the show was officially canceled.
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  With the exception of the burnoff episodes, Pushing Daisies aired on Wednesday nights at 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“Life is complicated.  Love is simple.”
–Trevor on Cupid (2009)

Simple?  Really?  Face it, Valentine’s Day is not made for those who have yet to find their soulmate.  The search for that “perfect match” can be long and trying, and a person can get their heart broken more than once along the way.  Those looking for that special someone often wish that the journey weren’t quite so difficult, or that there was somebody out there who could  help them.  People turn to friends, books, even computers and online dating services to be successful.  But it doesn’t always work.

Then, when you least expect it, sometimes love just falls into your lap, like a gift from the gods.  Sure, it still takes a lot of work, and you really can’t take anything for granted.  But suddenly the possibility is there… if you don’t screw it up.  All you need is a little help.  All you need on your side is Cupid.

Trevor and Claire circa 1998

Debuting on ABC in 1998, Cupid opens with psychiatrist and author Dr. Claire Allen (Paula Marshall).   She has written a number of best-selling books on love, but can’t get it right in her own life.  Although she’s great at helping others find that “special someone,” for some reason she’s always found a way to foul it up for herself, mostly by thinking about it too much.  With other people, she does the thinking for them, and lets all that mind stuff get out of the way of their hearts.  But she can’t get out of her own way, because she’s “thinking” instead of “living”, let alone finally getting to the possibility of “loving”.

Her newest patient (recently institutionalized) is Trevor Hale (Jeremy Piven), who seems normal in many respects except for one thing — he has this belief that he’s actually the ancient Greek god Eros, or as he is also known by humans, Cupid.  Trevor tells Claire that his apparent mission, as Cupid, is to make romantic matches for 100 couples so he can go back to Mt. Olympus and once again become a god.  This mission isn’t really a mission though… it’s a punishment.  Cupid was a bit lax in his duties (according to Trevor) and now he has to prove his worth through 100 perfect matches here on earth — without the use of his bow, arrows, or magic of any kind.  He’s got to do it the old fashioned way, as a mortal.  Claire still thinks he’s a bit crazy, yet Claire’s mission (or punishment) from the mental health commission is to help Trevor back into human society… and forget all this Cupid business.

“I only get credit for a match if it’s true love… the kind of love you’d cross oceans to find.  Romeo and Juliet counts.  Romeo and the coat check girl doesn’t.”
–Trevor/Cupid

Easier said than done, as Trevor/Cupid really wants to go “home” and he sets out to start matchmaking… with less than perfect results.  He says he’s used to doing things the easy way, with “magic”, and while he knows a lot about what love should be, he doesn’t necessarily know that much about the much harder human process of getting there.  For that part, he needs help, and he decides that’s where his human guide Claire comes in.

It takes two... tries

Trevor discovers Claire is good at some things, but her supposed “expertise” as a relationship therapist goes against what he knows about the final product… so he promptly goes about debunking pretty much everything she’d ever believed and taught.  Trevor’s good ideas of passion and “living in the moment” occasionally resemble more modern-day sexual hook-ups for some than lasting relationships, so occasionally Claire might have a better idea of what will keep a couple together.  The truth is somewhere in the middle, so the running battle is on between the two.  They try to help people find true love while they learn that love may be standing right beside them, if only they’d look at each other.  The audience can tell from a mile away that they’re fated to be together, no matter what missions they may have or how blind they can be to the obvious.

“We’re all hungry for true romance and true connections.  We have two characters with divergent points of view, but they’re united in trying to help others strengthen their own relationships.”
–Scott Winant, producer/director

Cupid got great reviews and 14 episodes on Saturday nights, a time period that was quickly becoming a TV wasteland (and who would watch a romance show late on Saturday when lovers are out dating anyway?)  The series ended up with one episode left unaired and a Dear John letter from the network.  It didn’t look like Cupid would get to shoot any more arrows.

But love (and television) can be surprising.  After creator Thomas’ next fantastic show Veronica Mars became a high-profile hit, both The CW and ABC came back like competing lovers to ask for a revival of Cupid.  Since The CW had recently canceled Veronica Mars and ABC was the original home of the show, Thomas went with ABC.  Maybe there was still a relationship here after all….

 

Claire and Trevor, circa 2009

In 2009  ABC ordered Cupid as a mid-season replacement.  A few modest changes ensued:  New actors were hired for the leads (Sarah Paulson and Bobby Cannavale); the last names of the two lead characters were changed, from Allen to McCrae and Hale to Pierce; the venue of the series moved from Chicago to New York (although both versions were shot on location, providing a more realistic counterpoint to the slight fantasy element of the show).  But for the most part the series premise was intact:  Trevor was still either crazy or a god, Claire was still thinking too much, and they were still meant for each other.  The search for 100 couples and true love was on again.

“Fifteen years of training has prepared me to help these people.”

“And being the god of love for 3000 years has prepared me for what?  Desk job at Hallmark?”

–typical Claire and Trevor, no matter which version

Both versions of Cupid suffered (to at least some extent) from the Moonlighting syndrome, in which potential couples are set up to possibly be the “perfect match” for each other (arguing all the way), and then obstacles are put in the way of the romance.  The audience wants to see them together; the couple is shown to be exactly what each other wants and needs; and pressure starts building on the writers and producers to actually get them together and release all the pent-up romantic tension that the series has built.  And fans are waiting on the edge of their seats for it to happen, if the build-up is done right.

The problem is, giving in to the fans is exactly the wrong thing for a show to do in this case.  The engine of the show is the sputtering relationship between the leads, that “perfect match” that never quite gets struck.  The moment you do go to that point, when feelings are acknowledged and love consummated (emotionally or sexually), the engine sputters and there’s no place for a show to go.  The trick becomes finding something else to sidetrack the characters instead, the big roadblock that will keep them from becoming devoted lovebirds for the run of the series.  In the case of Cupid, the roadblock is actually rather straightforward once you buy into it.  Both Claire and Trevor had to finally discover if Trevor was really the Cupid of mythology.

“I just knew I wanted to write it as though he might be… or he might not be.  There wasn’t some big secret that the writers were in on.  The original suggestion [was made] that we treat him like Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  That was the mandate.  I believe most viewers absolutely wanted him to be Cupid.  I think I leaned, slightly, to the notion that he was off his rocker.”
–Rob Thomas, creator/producer

There are different ways this could have gone.  Trevor could have been actually crazy, but in such a way that Dr. Claire was still the perfect match for him, as long as she didn’t try to “fix” him anymore.  Trevor might have actually been the mythological Cupid, and Claire loses him when couple #100 finally gets fixed up, but she’s learned what love might be along the way and she’s able to find her own soulmate.  The original Greek mythology of Cupid has him marrying Psyche, a mortal.  This is even mentioned in the first episode of each series.  (Telegraph much?  Claire is a psychiatrist!)  All great ideas for stories, but they all depended on one thing:  getting to that hundredth couple.  They were going to need a few more revival series for that.

like any relationship, we keep on trying

The second version of Cupid lasted only 7 episodes on Tuesday nights.  Again, the casting was great, but perhaps the execution wasn’t the best, as the newer version sacrificed some sweetness for more modern cynicism at times, trying too hard not to become saccharine.  It’s hard to find that balancing act between sparring and romance without crossing the Moonlighting line.  While the actors (in both versions) may have been the perfect match, the tone and the writing just didn’t make a match with the viewing audience and Cupid was reduced to being a myth once more.

JEREMY PIVEN (’98 Trevor/Cupid) is probably best recognized for his role as Ari Gold on Entourage, for which he’s won three Emmy Awards.  He was also featured on Ellen and The Larry Sanders Show.  He’s also known for a stage career, although one Broadway engagement was cut short due to mercury poisoning, likely contracted from his 20-year habit of eating fish twice a day.

PAULA MARSHALL (’98 Claire) is a veteran of many shows, including regular stints on Snoops, Cursed, Hidden Hills, Out of Practice, Veronica Mars, and Californication.   She recently starred on the comedy Gary Unmarried.  Oh, and one of her first jobs was in an episode of the original Grapevine, another second-chance romance you can read about here.

BOBBY CANNAVALE (’09 Trevor/Cupid) first came to fame in the series Third Watch, but is best known a recurring part on Will & Grace, for which he won the Emmy for Best Guest Actor.  He also was on multiple episodes of Cold Case.  Another veteran of Broadway, he was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in Mauritius.

SARAH PAULSON (’09 Claire) is one of our favorites, appearing as Merlyn in the cult favorite American Gothic (which will forever make her repeated line “Someone’s at the door” one of the most scary phrases in TV history).  Other starring roles included the series Jack & Jill, Leap of Faith, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

“I think a good romantic story is always worth telling.  People want to feel like it’s possible that it could work out great.”
–Bobby Cannavale

The 1998 version of Cupid (all 14 episodes) is available for streaming on YouTube, where you can also find some promo spots for the 2009 version along with some interviews with Cannavale and Paulson.  Fans of the show have also shown their love by creating some great websites full of interesting quotes and information about the shows.  Neither versions is available on DVD however, so it’s the bootleg route once again if you must.

How different are the two series?  Not only are large chunks of dialogue repeated almost word-for-word in the pilot episodes, but the plot for the first 2009 episode was one that creator Rob Thomas had planned for the 16th episode of the original (if it had run that long).  Thomas also wanted original actors Paula Marshall and Jeremy Piven to reprise their roles in the 2009 remake.  Unfortunately, Marshall was already committed to the sitcom Gary Unmarried and Piven was involved with HBO’s Entourage.

The recasting brings up an interesting idea:  What if only one had been available?  We could have seen Marshall psychoanalyzing Cannavale, or Paulson rolling her eyes at the antics of Piven.  Could either of those shows have succeeded where the originals failed?  There’s no way to know, obviously, but it just shows how unpredictable the true course of winning at love (and television) can be.  Maybe we need the help of Cupid to figure it out….

Vital Stats

Cupid 1998

14 aired episodes — 1 unaired episode
ABC Network
First episode aired:  September 26, 1998
Final episode aired:  February 11, 1999
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Worse, if that’s possible.  Saturdays at 10/9 Central

Cupid 2009

7 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First episode aired:  March 31, 2009
Final episode aired:  June 16, 2009 (although the series was canceled a month earlier)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  A bit better time slot, Tuesdays at 10/9 Central.  One has to wonder if an earlier time slot would have helped a drama with comedic overtones like Cupid.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“This is not a docu-comedy, you know.  It’s not a story about news or a story about Boston.  It’s a story about people.  Goodnight Beantown is just a medium to bring together two adult people and try to do adult stories.  And I don’t mean X-rated adult.  I mean intelligent adult, where people get together and talk and spar with each other.”
–Bill Bixby, talking about fellow star Mariette Hartley and Goodnight Beantown

Chemistry on a television show cannot be overrrated.  It’s that mysterious quality characters (and actors) have that keeps audiences coming back for more, even when sometimes plots or situations aren’t quite perfect.  When a show doesn’t have it, even the best premise can die quickly.  Find people you like in roles that show off that rarity, and suddenly a viewer becomes a fan of most anything they do.

Casting directors crave that valuable chemistry, searching for the right person to be both believable in a part and still let their own qualities shine through.  They hope to hire the stars that may have previously built up that fan base and will bring viewers to a show.  It’s true in drama, comedy, and even in local newsrooms, where many anchor pairings have either reached new lows or new heights depending upon how well they got along.  Sometimes, it’s saying hello to disaster.  Sometimes, it’s waving Goodnight Beantown.

Matt, Susan, and Jennifer

The gentle romantic comedy Goodnight Beantown premiered on CBS in 1983.  The title comes from the sign-off line used by long-time Boston anchor Matt Cassidy (Bill Bixby), the respected star of WYN-TV’s nightly newscast.  But local broadcasting was changing in the ’80’s, and “hard” news was quickly being replaced by a “softer” approach.  Those in charge brought in a new co-anchor, Jennifer Barnes (Mariette Hartley) to join Cassidy as on-air host and bring a new perspective to the presentation.  Needless to say, Matt did NOT approve of the idea of him needing help, to the point of deliberately reducing her sign-off to a little wave goodnight.

A professional rivalry ensues, with her stealing his catch-phrase the next night.  After some escalating one-upmanship, a rather prickly professional relationship is born, as they both learn to respect each other’s work.

A personal relationship might also be in the news, although they don’t know it right away.  As he leaves for work on the first day of this new arrangement, Matt helps the 13-year old Susan moving in across the hall of his duplex.  Susan convinces Matt that her mom would be a terrific blind date for him, and later convinces mom that the cute guy across the across the hall is interested.  When the professional rivals discover they’ve been set up as potential love interests for each other, a push-pull relationship is born.  With a gentle nudge from Susan, they could probably fall in love, if only they didn’t have to work together.

Bringing work home: L-R, Jennifer, Valerie, Matt, Albert, Frank

Back at work, other changes would soon occur at WYN-TV.  Valerie Wood (Stephanie Faracy) was a “Features” reporter on “lifestyle” stories.  Valerie’s overly sensitive heart may have been in the right place, but her brain was occasionally on vacation.  Sports reporter Frank Fletcher (Jim Staahl) was always on his game… and when he wasn’t chasing after other skirts, he had an unrequited crush on Valerie, who was oblivious to both his interest and his supposed charm.  This crew was watched over by news director Albert Addleson (G.W. Bailey).  He did his best to control these various personalities in his newsroom, at least for the 30 minutes they were on the air.

“How come my opinions are always opinions and yours are always facts?.”
–Jennifer Barnes to Matt Cassidy, debating as usual

Yes. No. Yes. No... Maybe.

Before the nightly cameras rolled, the fur flew at work.  Matt was very much a traditionalist, not chauvinistic per se, but rather set in his ideas about how news should be gathered and presented.  Jennifer was probably a bit more aggressive in her pursuit of stories (if only to prove herself), and more willing to use unusual methods to cover them (like when she investigated “ladies of the evening” in Boston… and Matt got arrested when he “propositioned” her to stop.)  Yes, the relationship was sometimes adversarial, but it was surprisingly smart.  It didn’t resort to immaturity, and was a welcome change portraying two reasonable adults with opposite points of view who ultimately could get along (and even fall in love despite their differences).

“Mariette is so much fun to play with.  The kind of verbal tennis we play on the show is the same way we do in our personal lives.  We start in makeup in the morning and one of us throws a verbal challenge at the other.”
–Bill Bixby, again talking about Mariette Hartley

Real adult relationships (the kind that don’t constantly rely on sexual tension) are tricky to portray on television, because if that mysterious thing called chemistry isn’t present, then those portrayals don’t stand a chance.  Fortunately, both Bixby and Hartley had built up plenty of goodwill over their individual careers among the viewing audience, and they made a pretty good romantic-comedy team.  They had actually played husband-and-wife previously, with Hartley earning an Emmy for her dramatic performance as the doomed wife of Bixby’s David Banner on the second season premiere of The Incredible Hulk.

“I know I am associated with television and I can’t seem to break that.  It seems to be my lot.  You could do worse.  I could be not working at all!”
–Mariette Hartley

Smile for the Polaroid camera

While some thought her award was more due to her spectacularly well-received series of Polaroid commercials with James Garner (of Maverick and The Rockford Files fame), Hartley had been a well-known and popular actress for many years.  Memorable roles in everything from the original Star Trek to prime-time soap Peyton Place and numerous guest star television roles had given her significant recognition.  Her performance in Goodnight Beantown was enough to earn her a second Emmy nomination, this time for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.  She’s such a television favorite that she’s one of the few women who have received Best Actress nominations in Comedy (Beantown), Drama (Hulk and Rockford Files), and Limited Series categories (M.A.D.D., Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

“I have even more rapport with Bill than with Jimmy.  Bill is quicker–he’s like a terrier while Garner is more of a sheepdog.”
–Mariette Hartley on working with Bixby and Garner

Bixby had already been beloved by television viewers for many years.  His previous series included My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Magician, and The Incredible Hulk.  That’s over 280 episodes and eleven and a half seasons of being welcomed into people’s living rooms prior to Goodnight Beantown.  Here was a man who had earned not only viewers’ respect, but their loyalty.

Bixby was also a producer and occasional director on Goodnight Beantown, so he was particularly concerned with the portrayals of all the characters, even if some others wanted him to be the “star” attraction.  He was more than willing to share the limelight with his fellow actors, knowing it was the relationships between them that would ultimately sell the show to viewers.  This sometimes meant his Matt was the one to be “wrong” in some way, in order for Hartley’s Jennifer to be an equal foil.  Bixby was secure enough as an actor to be shown in a less than flattering light.  His fan base liked him so much he didn’t always have to be “right” as long as he wasn’t a complete villain.

Between them, Hartley and Bixby had that mysterious chemistry.  The two were great real-life friends, and brought their underlying respect and camaraderie to the onscreen relationship for all the world to see.  Goodnight Beantown premiered as a mid-season replacement (starring  Bixby, Hartley, and Gold with different supporting players) in the Spring of 1983, and although only five episodes were produced and aired at the time, the promising tryout of the show earned it a Fall slot on the CBS schedule.  But that Fall slot might not be all it was cracked up to be.

“We’re doing fine in the ratings.  We’re number 26 right now and that is exactly where I want to be.  I never wanted to be number one—ever.  This year is getting off to the same kind of start as ‘Eddie’s Father’ did on its first year.  I think we have a good basic sound following audience which is still finding us.   And that is what every show needs.  We’ve had everything you can imagine thrown at us by other networks.  They’re stunting with heavy-duty movies.  But we know they’re going to run out of movies sooner or later.”
–Bixby on the beginning of the Fall season

CBS knew the Fall was going to be difficult, even with the promise Goodnight Beantown showed.  The Sunday night time slot for the show was the most competitive on television that year, and Beantown was the newest show of the bunch.  In the hopes of gaining even more of an audience, changes were made.

No, do it THIS way...

G.W. Bailey’s Addleson was added to the show at this time.  The show’s previous news director (played by George Coe) was deemed too similar to the point of view of Bixby’s Matt.  Addleson was more comical, and more middle-of-the-road between Matt and Jennifer.  The new season also brought the addition of Valerie and Frank, giving the two news anchors other people to bounce their personalities off of (and not be quite so directly confrontational with each other).

The net result of these changes made for a better show from a dramatic and scripting point of view, but the power of the Hartley and Bixby chemistry together was diluted in some ways.  The tone and the comedy were a bit softer and more intelligent than the prevailing shows it aired with, so when push came to shove it was the odd show out.  The stars sharing their screen time with others to that degree plus the added competition for the series in the Fall led to a final sign-off (and a little wave goodnight) for Goodnight Beantown.

BILL BIXBY (Matt Cassidy) hosted the kids’ series Once Upon a Classic, featuring dramatizations of many favorites of literature.  He was also a prolific television director in addition to his previously mentioned work.  He directed 3 episodes of Goodnight Beantown, as well as helming duties on Sledge Hammer!, two of the three sequel Incredible Hulk TV-moves, and Wizards and Warriors.  He was a regular director on the sitcom Blossom, his last assignment finishing just six days before he succumbed to a battle with cancer in 1993.

MARIETTE HARTLEY (Jennifer Barnes) has performed in many issue-oriented TV-movies, and she’s passionate about those causes because she’s had to deal with many of them in her own personal life.  Her family history includes alcoholism, suicide, and depression, and her own diagnosis with bi-polar disorder.  Her best-selling memoir Breaking the Silence was published in 1990 detailing her life and struggles.  She is a co-founder of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

TRACEY GOLD (Susan Barnes) had quite a career just as a teen actress, playing daughter in various series to Shirley Jones (Shirley), Nell Carter (the original pilot for Gimmie a Break!), and Alan Thicke (Growing Pains, her most famous role).  She later had her own personal battles with anorexia nervosa, detailed in her book Room to Grow:  An Appetite for Life.

G.W. BAILEY (Albert Addleson) is best known for his role as Rizzo in the M*A*S*H television series.  He also appeared as a regular on St. Elsewhere, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, and the Police Academy series of movies.  Currently he can be seen on The Closer on TNT.  For the last 10 years he has been the executive director of the Sunshine Kids Foundation, providing transportation and events to kids suffering from cancer.

STEPHANIE FARACY (Valerie Wood) was a featured actress in the landmark mini-series The Thorn Birds, and later became a regular on His and Hers and True Colors.  She’s a working guest actress, having recently appeared on Castle, How I Met Your Mother, and Desperate Housewives; and Get Him to the Greek on the big screen.

JIM STAAHL (Frank Fletcher) has segued from comedic actor to comedic writer, having written for numerous adult and kids shows like Sledge Hammer!, Bobby’s World, and Dragon Tales.  His acting career included regular appearances on Mork and Mindy and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  He also teaches comedy writing for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program.

“I’m disappointed only in the sense that we were trying to aspire to something a little softer and not quite so hard-hitting… and communicating between two male and female adults.  And we did it.”
–Bill Bixby

Goodnight Beantown isn’t available on DVD, but two episodes are on YouTube for streaming in chunks.  There are great fan sites devoted to both Bill Bixby and Mariette Hartley (and I’m grateful to both sites for many of the individual quotes used in this article).  Much more information about their legacy on television and in life can be found there.  These sites are two more examples of the devotion these stars engender in their viewers even today.  And just for fun, here’s a YouTube link to one of the Hartley/Garner Polaroid commercials from 1981.

A final wave Goodnight

Very few actors and actresses like Bixby and Hartley become so welcome on our TV sets and in our living rooms.  Even more rarely do they come together in the same vehicle for our enjoyment.  Despite the changes that were made in order to supposedly “help” the show, nothing anyone altered could replace the basic idea of chemistry.  It is what makes the best characters work, the best relationships work, and the best television shows work.  Mess with that magic and you invite peril.  But there will always be a place in our hearts and on our screens for those we love.

Vital Signs

18 episodes — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  April 2, 1983
Last aired episode:  January 18, 1984
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No, the most competitive slot that year was Sunday nights.  The show aired at 8/7, then 9:30/8:30, then 8:30/7:30 for a set of reruns late in the ’84 season.

Comments and suggestions welcomed as always.

–Tim R.

“I look out on this city of night… and tonight I am one with it.  I see the pathways and crossroads… the rush of possibilities, and I feel every point of light that is a life; each with its wonders and terrors.  I see how, in a single night, a world can be transformed.  How in one terrifying and wondrous moment my world was transformed… on a night as dark and glittering as this… two years ago, I found Catherine….”
–Vincent, from Beauty and the Beast

A new world... and a new love... awaits

Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) is a Radcliffe grad, a young and beautiful corporate lawyer; a woman who seems to have it all–except a true motivation and reason for living, rather than just existing in her (relatively privileged) world.  That all changes on one fateful night when, mistaken for someone else, she is horribly beaten, scarred, and left for dead.

However…

She’s found by Vincent (Ron Perlman), who also hides his “scarred” face (but never his compassionate heart), and taken underground.  Unknowingly, Catherine has just entered a world apart from hers, a world unknown to her… Once Upon a Time, in the City of New York.

“We’re below the city, below the subways.  There is a whole world of tunnels and chambers that most people don’t even know exists.  There are no maps to where we are.  It’s a forgotten place.  But it’s warm and it’s safe, and we have all the room we need.  So we live here and we try to live as well as we can, and we try to take care of each other.  It’s our city, down here.”
–Vincent, introducing Catherine to the world she never knew.

Catherine discovers a society of people who have, whether through necessity or choice, walked away from “the world above” and created their own existence below the city of New York.  A community based on peace and understanding, greater than any individual, who never turn their backs on anyone… especially an unusual child left on the steps of St. Vincent’s hospital years ago.

Vincent and "Father" -- Noble and True

The child was brought to Dr. Jacob Wells, one of the founders of this group.  Jacob is popularly known as “Father” (Roy Dotrice), both for his role in creating this new and just society, and for essentially being the “father” of the young foundling, who has grown up to become Vincent.  For you see, Vincent, while he has the greatest heart and soul of any human, looks more like a lion, with fur, claws, teeth…. and nobility.  And it is he, at the risk of discovery by the world “above”, who brought Catherine here to be healed by Father.  It was Vincent who brought to her light… and life, again.

Catherine’s injuries included, for a time, her eyesight, and so she only knew Vincent (at first) through his voice, his tenderness, and his compassion… and fell in love with him, and he with her as well.  And although she recoiled at her first sight of him, her heart overcame her surprise, gladly, overwhelmingly, and soon a love of the ages was born.  Theirs is an inspired love, a connection, stronger than fate, emotion, or passion.  It is the kind of love destined to last longer than time itself, and greater than words are ever needed to express.

Thanks to that love, and the discovery of an entirely different life, Catherine returns to “her” world with a new mission, to become a “Helper”, both to the underground group, and to the downtrodden others with nowhere to turn in the world above.  The former corporate lawyer takes a job as an overworked assistant for the D.A.’s office, with her new boss Joe Maxwell (Jay Acovone) and a new-found purpose to help others.  And thanks to the “connection” she still shares, Vincent can sense when she is in trouble and come running to help when needed.  Now, if this was an ordinary TV series, that would be the extent of the premise.  But Beauty and the Beast was no ordinary show, not by any stretch of the imagination.

If CBS had their way, the show would have simply been a formulaic “damsel in distress” show, with Catherine investigating the week’s crime, ending up in danger, and Vincent rushing in to save the day (and then off again, unseen, as her mysterious “savior”).  The focus would have been on the world “above”.  But that’s not quite how it happened.  The fans (and there are a lot of VERY loyal fans) responded, not to the “fears” of the world above, but to everything else the show had to offer in the world “below”….

“At last, a few people learned to put aside their fear, and we began to trust each other, to help each other.  Each of us grew stronger; those who took the help, and those who gave it.  We all were part of one another, one family, one community.  Sometimes we forget this, and so we meet here each year to give thanks to those who have helped us, and to remember– even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light….”
–The candle-lighting opening of Winterfest, a tunnel community celebration.

Those who “shared the light” included people like Jamie, Mouse, Winslow, Kipper, Pascal, Mary, and the others who lived “below”, and to their “Helpers”, the people topside who kept their secret, like Catherine.  The show created a wondrous world beneath the mean streets of New York, a new world where people seemed to have become better than most of our “usual” society; where communication meant quotations of Shakespeare, and dreams were based on virtue instead of avarice.  Most of all, it was a world that could create the amazing connection between Vincent and Catherine, where even dreams pale in comparison to their relationship….

“…for we have a bond stronger than friendship or love… and although we cannot be together, we will never, ever, be apart….
–Catherine, in the opening credits.

Not only was there a bond between Vincent and Catherine, but there became a bond amongst the fans of the show.  After premiering in 1987, it quickly spawned a fandom similar to that of Star Trek and some other “niche” shows, even more so in dedication, if not in size.  The televised “tunnel” community, as Utopian as it was, became a model for the “fan” community.  And that, truly, is the lasting legacy of the show, and the uniqueness of its fans.  Lifelong friendships have been made because of this show.  Lives have changed because of this show.  And if you think this is hyperbole, then I invite you to visit the Yahoo Groups site of Beauty and the Beast fans, still going strong (and I mean STRONG) almost a quarter of a century later.

There have been yearly, in-person conventions, the most recent being just this past month in San Diego.  This year’s convention also included a surprise visit from the Beauty herself, Linda Hamilton, whose appearance was webcast and just put online, and next year’s live gathering will be held in New Orleans (More info on live gatherings can be found here).  But, in keeping with the “underground” nature of the tunnel society, the fans have adopted their own yearly Winterfest, a virtual celebration unique to the show.  Online, you can find fan fiction, artwork, poetry, games, articles, opinion, and lots and lots of general love and joy for all those other souls who wish to share, as Vincent once put it, “their better selves”.  Each year, a weeklong online celebration is held, with all this and more….  And, as Winterfest on the series always started with a candle-lighting ceremony, symbolically pushing back the darkness of the ordinary world, so too do all these people connect with each other, virtually and in reality, to bring light into each other’s lives.  Of all the shows and fans I’ve talked about in this column, Beauty and the Beast fans continue to be, as a whole, the most passionate, the most involved, and the most positive people I’ve ever met.  They’ve truly created their own community, all based on a wonderful hidden world, the positive themes of the show, and the characters they love.

crossing over into a new and wondrous world

LINDA HAMILTON (Catherine Chandler) was told by her college drama instructor that she’d never make a living as an actress.  She then went on to star in the first two Terminator movies (as well as Beauty and the Beast), and supposedly earned $1 million for her part in Terminator 2, not to mention being considered at one time for the part of Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.  She has suffered from bi-polar disorder for much of her life, and has become an outspoken advocate for others with the condition.  She continues to act occasionally, and will have a regular role on the Showtime series Weeds in the coming season.  She’s also been announced as the (long-lost) mother of the lead character this fall on Chuck (which means, in some fictional world, she was married to Chuck‘s father, Scott Bakula, which makes genre fans cheer even more….)

RON PERLMAN (Vincent) was a “faceless” actor for most of his early career, playing behind the Beast makeup as Vincent, but also doing numerous voice-over roles in commercials and animation.  He finally was seen, himself, regularly in the TV version of The Magnificent Seven, then followed with more voice-over work until his movie (and mask) work in the Hellboy series.  He is currently seen, sans masks, as one of the leads in the critically acclaimed series Sons of Anarchy.

ROY DOTRICE (Father) dates his television career back to 1957, and until Beauty and the Beast was usually cast as the heavy in guest roles on series like Tales of the Gold Monkey, Remington Steele, and The A-Team.  He was a regular on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Madigan Men, and played the “ultimate” father role of Zeus on Hercules.  Most of his work in recent years has been in England, in addition to a cameo with Ron Perlman in the movie Hellboy II.

JAY ACOVONE (Joe Maxwell) kept being “that guy who keeps showing up” in various series, not quite a regular, but playing the same character multiple times.  He’s been in multiple episodes of Murder, She Wrote, Renegade, Silk Stalkings, Providence, and Stargate SG-1, including the final movie episode of that show.  He’s also been on a number of episodes of General Hospital.

The show is set in New York, obviously, and fans thought it would be a great idea to sponsor a bench in Central Park (near a “supposed” location of one of the entrances to the tunnel world, in the show).  Through the monetary efforts of fans, a park bench was installed, with a very specific inscription.  It said:

“Even the greatest darkness is nothing,
so long as we share the light.”
Beauty and the Beast (TV)  1987-1990
Dedicated by its devoted fans.

There’s a complete series DVD set (as well as individual season sets), but they’re remarkably devoid of extras.  A “soundtrack” album, titled Of Love and Hope, was also released, and it not only includes some of the gorgeous music from the show, but also Perlman, in character as Vincent, reciting Shakespeare sonnets and other famous literature, much of it featured on the show itself.  And here’s the opening of the show on YouTube, where you’ll also find many other fan-created videos using scenes of the show, especially numerous love themes, for obvious reasons.

“SND” fans (and you know who you are), please read no further.  I have to be complete, and at least mention, briefly, what else exists, and what “SND” means.  For those who wish to continue, please do so after the Vital Stats section, where I will add more to the story of the show.  For those who wish to remember the show as it should be, thank you, for your love, and for your light.  –Tim R.

Vital Stats

44 episodes of the first two seasons — 12 more episodes (explained below) — no unaired episodes.
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 25, 1987
Last aired episode:  May 26, 1989 (second season);  August 4, 1990 (third season)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central:  Most definitely yes, and one of the best shows ever to do so.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always….

——

Now then….  I’m going to break a couple of rules here with this blog:  First, and most obviously, I just wrote about a two season show that ran 44+ episodes, a bit longer than most.  This show was so good, so important, and so personal for me to write about, that I felt I needed to.  Besides, I “connected” with the true love of my own life (whose name also happens to be Catherine) while this show aired, and I’d be more than remiss if I didn’t dedicate the best of this article above to her.

However…. here’s the second broken rule:  I didn’t talk about the whole show.  Deliberately.

Just to be complete, I have to mention the third season.  Beauty and the Beast was essentially “canceled” after its second year, rabid fan base and all… except that CBS ordered 12 more episodes to be aired at mid-season, ultimately on Wednesday nights.  The problem with this was, Linda Hamilton’s contract specifically said that if the show got any less than a full season order (or a fall season order, there’s some conflict about that…), then her participation was not guaranteed… and it’s kind of hard to have a show called Beauty and the Beast without the Beauty.  Linda agreed to approximately 10 days of shooting, to resolve the cliffhanger ending of the second season, and her scenes were interspersed throughout the 12 episode third season… aired out-of-order, no less, thank you CBS.  And the writers, in their infinite wisdom, introduced another female lead (Jo Anderson) to “search” for the now missing Catherine, and, in the ultimate insult to the fans, KILLED OFF the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast.  On television, at least, Catherine was dead.

Outrage is too mild a word.  Hell, Revolution is too mild a word.

Suffice to say, most fans completely IGNORE the third season, and any and all events therein, to the point where the acronym “SND” was developed online, meaning “She’s Not Dead” (referring to Catherine, of course).  Therefore, Vincent, Catherine, and the tunnel world still exist, if only in the hearts, minds, and joy (not to mention the fan fiction) of those who have been touched by the show.  You can’t (and SHOULDN’T) even mention 3rd season on the newsgroups, at least without significant fair warning, such is the negative reaction of many to the portrayal of those events, even now.

In other words, the fans have taken Beauty and the Beast, and the love of Catherine and Vincent, as their own, and refuse to see the darkness that the show became.  You see, there’s also a benediction at the end of Winterfest on the show, and I think it’s best to end this piece with it, seeing how the fans feel about not only third season, but the series as a whole:

“Darkness almost engulfed us, but our unity gave us strength.  Our shared light showed us the truth.  As we part for another year let us remember… Darkness is only the absence of light… and all winters end.”

The love between Vincent and Catherine may have had a winter, but it will never end.  No matter what happened in the “television” world, there’s far too many in “our” world who will never let it happen.  Their light will always be shared… and the story continues….

Vincent and Catherine at Winterfest -- A Love Lasting Forever and Always

Mankind has always held a fascination with what goes bump in the night… in particular, those beings with fangs that drink the blood of others to survive.  Vampire legends have existed for centuries; many cultures have stories about fanged beings/demons/spirits that feed off the blood of the living.  But these creatures are often depicted as evil in nature.  Only in more recent times has the legend, in its various incarnations, taken on the guise of the tortured hero fighting against his “evil” nature in order to help the living.  And let’s not forget the human lover, forever pining for a way to be with her undead love!  Wait – that sounds remotely like the latest craze “Twilight”… but before there was Bella and her vampire love Edward Cullen, we were given Dracula and Mina… Detective Nick Knight and Dr. Natalie Lambert… Angel and Buffy… and Mick St. John and Beth Turner of Moonlight.

“It’s just a different world.  There are no demons, there are no other entities.  It’s a world where there are vampires, and they’re around, and they’re living among us.”
–Executive Producer Joel Silver, on why Moonlight is not a clone of Angel.

Debuting on CBS in the fall of 2007, many felt Moonlight was, at best, another version of the TV cult favorite, Angel.  Like its predecessor, Moonlight‘s hero fought against his baser vampire instincts and tried to live as a human while helping the living.  But this incarnation of the vampire legends has some major differences to it.  Mick (Alex O’Loughlin) doesn’t sleep in a coffin, but in a freezer, supposedly because vampires truly are “dead” (as opposed to “undead”) and to stem the decomposition of their bodies, must “sleep” in a frigid environment.  And drink human blood.  Mick chooses to get his supply of blood from a fellow vampire (who works at the morgue) who acts as his “supplier”.  No “fresh from the tap” blood, if he can avoid it!  And he can be up and about in the sunlight.  Well, for a limited amount of time, as discovered in episode 4, Fever.

Mick solves crimes as a Private Investigator.  Some have a human nemesis, but there are also those with a slightly supernatural twist, involving other vampires.  Yes, there are other vampires, less noble than our hero.  Meet Mick’s best friend, Josef (Jason Dohring).  400 years old, Josef revels in being a vampire, and often chides Mick for not accepting what he, Mick, is.  But Josef’s not all bad; he values their bond, and Mick can always turn to him for support.

Then there is Mick’s ex-wife, and his sire, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon).  Oh my.  Not a nice lady at all, Coraline turned Mick into a vampire 60 years ago, on their wedding night.  So.  Not.  Nice.  Mick leaves her as the result.  Years later, in a desperate attempt to win Mick’s love back, Coraline kidnaps a female child, intending to turn her into a vampire as well, in order to create the “family” that Coraline believes Mick wants.  Mick rescues the child and sets fire to the house, supposedly destroying Coraline.  But in this show, the dead don’t always stay dead… and the past doesn’t always stay in the past….

Sophia Myles and Alex O'Loughlin of Moonlight

Fast forward about 20 years and meet beautiful news reporter, Beth Turner (Sophia Myles).  Beth, we learn, was the child Mick rescued oh so long ago.  But does she remember?  Involved with lawyer Josh Lindsey (Jordan Belfi), Beth’s life is on the fast track to perfection… career, marriage proposal… then she meets Mick.  Together they begin solving crimes.

Beth is a strong female role in the show, despite her petite, blond look.  An internet investigative reporter, Beth has an “in” with the local police via Lt. Carl Davis (Brian J. White), helping her to land her story ahead of others.  Although there are times Mick must come to her rescue, there are also times when she comes to his.  Case in point is episode 4, Fever, where Beth moves beyond her innate fears of his vampirism to let him drink her blood in order to heal, and then there is her identifying… well… better let you watch the episodes to see what else.  Despite her growing feelings for Mick, Beth struggles to come to terms with how to let Josh down gently, but never gains the opportunity and instead must deal with the sudden and tragic loss of his life.  This drives a wedge between Mick and Beth, for Mick could have “helped” Josh (in Beth’s eyes anyway).  Ah conflict – it drives the story and thickens the plot!  Where shall these star-crossed lovers go from here?

“It gets pretty dark.  It gets intelligently dark.  I mean, when they touch on the mythology or they explore the mythology, they really get in there and talk about why people do things… I think that’s what’s interesting about the show.  It’s incredibly well-written and it’s effortlessly funny.  And that’s the way it’s shot – it’s heavily stylized; it’s like watching a film.  I think it can find an easy fan base because there’s something for everybody.  Whether you’re just purely into the mythology or purely following an actor that you like on the show, once you’ve arrived there, I think you’re going to be interested.”
–Brian J. White (Lt. Carl Davis)

Although critics decried it at first, the pilot finished first among total viewers the 18-49 age brackets, and quickly found a strong fan base.  Critics continued to give it negative reviews, citing poor writing and acting as primary reasons.  But the fans held on.  In 2008, Moonlight won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Television Drama.  With this award under its belt, creators Trevor Munson and Ron Koslow instructed their writers to begin writing episodes for a second season.  On December 4, 2007, Les Moonves, then President of CBS, stated that Moonlight was likely to be given a second season.  Sadly, despite the high hopes of everyone involved, Moonlight became another victim of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America strike, going on hiatus indefinitely with only 12 episodes of the original 13 episode order produced.

Fearful of the show’s fate, fans of the series coordinated with the American Red Cross to hold a series of charity blood drives around the country and Alex O’Loughlin stepped forward as spokesperson for the organization.  Fan-based crusades have, in the past, managed to save a show from cancellation – witness classic Star Trek, Jericho, Veronica Mars, to name a few.  Four new episodes were shown after the strike ended, but on May 13, 2008, CBS officially announced it was canceling the show and the final episode aired on May 16, 2008.

Cops and Vampires

Moonlight was considered an atypical show for CBS, despite its supernatural lead-in Ghost Whisperer (and DON’T get me started on the recent news regarding THAT show’s fate!).  But I have to wonder… if they don’t want the fans to care about the characters (or those that portray them), then why pick who they do?  Come on – we all know this show was made to grab two specific audiences.  They came after the men by giving it the premise of a cop show… and leggy, svelte women and cute, petite Sophia Myles.  And trust me, I don’t begrudge them that move!  How else would I get hubby to watch the show, hmmm?  And they came after the women with its supernatural romance theme… and hunky Alex O’Loughlin… in sexy, open shirts and covered in water… Wait… did I really write that?  Sure, why not admit it.  I drooled too.  But there was also some good writing involved.  After all, Mick didn’t fly (although he did leap pretty far at times) nor did he turn into a bat.  Ok, maybe not every episode was superlative but – come on, even the longest running series has had a few clunkers!

Oh, and did I mention that Mick gets his wish eventually… he gets to be human again?  Okay, okay, only briefly, and he does get a new sire in Josef (or is that a step-sire?), all thanks to Coraline.  She came back for him… she became Human… for him.  Remember, I said the dead don’t always stay dead….

ALEX O’LOUGHLIN (Mick St. John) hails from Sydney, Australia, where he started his film career in 2004.  In early 2007, he had a recurring role on The Shield, before being picked for the lead in Moonlight.  Following the ending of the series, he remained under contract with the production company for a year.  He has guested on the acclaimed series Criminal Minds, and was in the short-lived 2009 series Three Rivers (with new episodes yet to air this summer).  You can see him in the 2010 film The Back-Up Plan, starring opposite Jennifer Lopez, and starting this fall in the updated CBS version of Hawaii Five-O, as Detective Steve McGarret (“Book ’em, Danno”).  And yes, he was considered for the role of James Bond, before it was given to Daniel Craig.

SOPHIA MYLES (Beth Turner) is from England where she was bitten by the acting bug at age 16.  She starred in several BBC series before 1999, when she headed to Cambridge to study Philosophy.  Shortly thereafter, she dropped out of college to pursue acting full time.  Sophia was cast as Johnny Depp’s wife in the 2001 film From Hell, and had a supporting role in Underworld, before co-starring as Lady Penelope in the live-action version of Thunderbirds.  In 2006, Sophia won the lead role, Isolde, in Tristan & Isolde.  More recently she could be seen in the little-known movie Outlander.  And let’s not forget her role as Madame de Pompadour on the BBC’s Doctor Who.

JASON DOHRING (Josef Kostan) spent three years on the TV series Veronica Mars before playing the 400 year old vampire on Moonlight.  Jason was oft known to note that his characters on the two shows were fairly similar… at times.  the oldest of 5 children, Jason has the unique status of being the only single birth child – he has 4 younger siblings, a set of twin brothers and a set of twin sisters.  All five have appeared in television off and on since the early 1990’s.  Jason has recently been seen guesting on CSI, and has a movie coming out in 2010.

SHANNYN SOSSAMON (Coraline) was born in Hawaii but raised in Reno, Nevada.  Immediately after high school, she headed for LA to become a dancer.  Acting was not even a consideration at the time.  Besides finding work as a dancer, Shannyn worked as a DJ with her then boyfriend, and did commercials.  While she was shooting a commercial she found the backing/support to go after the leading female role in A Knight’s Tale, opposite Heath Ledger.  She can currently be seen in the new series How to Make It in America, as Gingy Wu.

TREVOR MUNSON (co-creator/producer) originally conceived of the character, Mick Angel, a “hard-boiled, blood-sucking Phillip Marlowe” and spent two years writing a novel about him.  The unpublished work “Angel of Vengeance” was then adapted into a film script, which was shown to CBS Programming head Nina Tassler.  Nina paired Munson with Ron Koslow and Moonlight was created.  Munson has a MySpace page where you can read chapters from his novel.

RON KOSLOW (co-creator/producer) has, what I consider to be, two excellent references to his vitae – he produced (and wrote for) both the series Roar in 1997 and Beauty and the Beast from 1987 – 1990.  Beauty and the Beast brought him three Emmy nominations, but no wins.  Moonlight was the last series he actively worked on.

The cast of Moonlight

“Well, everybody knows I love vampires, witches, werewolves, warlocks–I love them all… the response to Moonlight was actually more actor-centric.  So I think it certainly measures our decision on the show, but–right now, like I said, I don’t question the choice we made.  As I said, I’m not getting as much mail, and most of those comments were actor-centric.”
–CBS Programming head Nina Tassler

Nina Tassler was cited as saying that Moonlight would never go over to the CW network, despite the fact that CBS and CW actually are owned by the same company, and Moonlight‘s fan base has always been more typically in line with the usual CW demographic instead of CBS.  Gee, Nina – one should never say never!  As was written earlier, the dead don’t always stay dead, because you can watch reruns of Moonlight starting June 3, 2010 on the CW!!  And if that isn’t enough for you, you might want to purchase the DVD, which contains all 16 episodes on a 4-disc set.  Released on January 2009, it received the 2009 Saturn Award for Best Television Series Release on DVD.

Vital Stats:

16 aired episodes
CBS network
First aired episode:  September 28, 2007
Last aired episode:  May 16, 2008
Actually aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Close!  It aired Fridays 9/8 Central with a lead-in from Ghost Whisperer.

Catch you at the reruns!

–JoAnn M.

Thanks for the article, JoAnn.  Comments and suggestions, as always, are appreciated.  Back to me next week.

–Tim R.

“It’s almost like a time warp.  We’ve got a lot of the same crew and same producers [from 1992].  Bottom line, relationships are timeless and so are problems with them… and Miami exudes this sexuality that’s very enticing.”
–actor Steven Eckholdt, Grapevine (both versions)

In 1992, CBS had a mid-season comedy called Grapevine.  Way, way before its time, it honestly would do better now, with a twitter universe and a facebook world.  Unfortunately, as far as building a lasting audience relationship, it’s already struck out.  Twice, in fact.

And yet, I loved it.  Really, I did, though almost nobody else even remembers either version of the show.  It’s like that secret fling that no one else knows you had, way back when.

The premise of this half-hour comedy was a group of three friends talking (gossiping?) about people in their lives and their romantic relationships.  It interspersed quick, one-liner comments from these friends (made directly to the audience) with various scenes of the relationship-in-progress, eliminating the need for some of the boring set-up and exposition.  This made the story about the couple-of-the-week much faster, and much funnier.  Each episode concerned a different couple, making the show really a romantic-comedy anthology, with commentary by the regular cast, set primarily in the sunny resort area of southern Florida.

The three friends are Susan, David, and “Thumper”.  Susan (Lynn Clark), who works for a cruise line, is dating restaurant owner David (Jonathan Penner), while “Thumper” (Steven Eckholdt) is a TV sportscaster and David’s dedicatedly single younger brother.  So, between the cruise line, the restaurant, and sports, there are lots of avenues for particular stories to arrive, and the make-up of the regulars insures that we have commentary (and snark) from many points of view, be it male, female, single, committed to a relationship, etc.  And so, we’ve taken 1970’s Love, American Style romance vignettes and moved them into the MTV age.  (And this version would still be ahead of its time today, in my opinion.)

This show’s pace was very fast, with quick cuts and isolated quips, so you really wanted to be paying attention.  It was designed like a music video, bouncing from scene to comment to comment to scene again.  For example, most half-hour comedies have maybe a dozen scenes during their 22-minute running time (after subtracting commercials and credits).  Grapevine had between thirty and thirty-five.  This thing moved!

Doing a show in this manner was unheard of on network television at the time, especially when the show was also filmed entirely on location in South Beach, with a single camera like a theatrical film.  (Most sitcoms are filmed like a play, with multiple cameras for character reactions and such.)  Oh, and no laugh track.  You had to pay attention to figure out where the jokes were.  It was like you’d taken The Real World:  Miami from MTV and made it into a scripted romantic comedy.

The other thing that Grapevine borrowed from MTV was a rather frank and open emphasis on sexuality, both in the plot twists and in the conversations of the friends.  Most of the episodes dealt rather significantly with not just the relationship of the week, but with the topics of temptation, affairs, the loss of virginity, friends becoming lovers, and other questions concerning intimate personal relations.

“I’m not being coy by saying this, but this show is a romantic comedy about relationships, and it would be naive to say that most relationships, especially passionate relationships, don’t involve a great deal of sex, or thinking about sex.  Since my goal was to tell stories as lifelike as possible, they think and talk as much about sex as people who are caught up in a relationship might.”
–David Frankel, creator and producer

Realize that the show wasn’t on cable, and that the environment of network television at the time wasn’t really as radical as one might think.  The show aired between Murphy Brown and Northern Exposure, and Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown character received significant criticism from then Vice-President Dan Quayle concerning her becoming a single mother on that show.  If single motherhood was going to get high-profile criticism, imagine the attention infidelity and temptation as regular plot elements would receive, let alone just the relatively free commentary about those subjects, be it humorous or not.

And Grapevine debuted only about a month after Quayle’s remarks.

guest star Dean Cain

It also didn’t help that the series was an anthology, with minimal interaction with the regulars (besides the continual commentary, of course).  The practical effect was that the show really lived or died on the basis of how good the guest cast was each week.  In this respect, Grapevine actually lucked out to a degree, as the list of guest actors in the original six episodes looks like a TV casting agent’s dream, although most were still unknowns at the time.  Courtney Thorne-Smith (Melrose Place, According to Jim), Terry Farrell (Star Trek: DS9, Becker), Dean Cain (Lois and Clark-The New Adventures of Superman, Las Vegas), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order:  Special Victims Unit) and Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Rules of Engagement) all appeared early in their careers in individual episodes.

guest star Mariska Hargitay

CBS (which had always been relatively conservative, compared to the other networks) was probably not the best place for Grapevine anyway, and so, choosing which battles to fight, the veteran Murphy Brown would continue on, and Grapevine died on the vine, airing only six episodes.

And yet…. and yet….

“If it doesn’t work, okay… we did our best.  That’s the only thing you can ever do… work on something that entertains you, and hope there’s enough other people out there to keep it alive.”
–David Frankel

Never count out romance.  Frankel knew the show was ahead of its time in ’92, so he kept pitching a revival to network honchos every year, and finally, in 2000, CBS decided that they were ready to try the relationship again.  Like doing The Real World:  Miami once more, only with a new cast.

cast of the 2000 Grapevine -- Eads, Eckholdt, Swanson, and Sutcliffe

Lo and behold on CBS’s schedule for January that year was Grapevine, with pretty much the same premise and presentation, but it’s now 8 years later.  TV has become a lot more open about sexuality and the topics it can discuss and make fun of.  Still airing on Mondays, but an hour earlier, the set-up is mostly the same.  There’s one new character, Matt (David Sutcliffe), manager of an upscale South Beach hotel, and newly divorced, for a new perspective.  Just to confuse the issue a bit, though, we’ve got a new Lynn (Kristy Swanson), a new “Thumper” (George Eads), and the previous “Thumper” is now playing older brother David (Steven Eckholdt).  The show is still an anthology, although there is more involvement in the stories from our main characters, and the pace is still quick.

In ’92, there were local CBS stations that had refused to run Grapevine, citing the racy content, and some companies had deliberately avoided advertising on the show.  But, it’s now 2000, a new century, with the biggest hit on television being  HBO’s Sex and the City, and there’s much more openness on the topic of sex.

The anthology aspect was still there as well, although the continuing characters were a bit more involved in each story.  But it still really lived or died on the relationship-of-the-week.

“It was very important for me to do an anthology show where the guest characters are the stars, and each story had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That way, people can behave as they do in life.  They make mistakes.  They do bad things to other people.  Sometimes the people who do bad things are not punished, sometimes the people who make mistakes are not redeemed.  That’s the nice thing about an anthology:  Since the characters aren’t coming back, they don’t have to be saved each week.”
–David Frankel

Unfortunately, the show couldn’t be saved either.  While the TV world got sexier, Grapevine got a bit tamer in comparison to the world around it.  Almost like trying to go back to the beginning of a relationship, but the people have changed, and the things that worked before aren’t quite the same now.  And so, despite getting an extremely rare second chance, Grapevine again ended after only six episodes.

Theoretically, the spiritual descendant of Grapevine (and its granddaddy, Love, American Style), is a new show called Love Bites that will be airing on NBC in the fall of 2010.  It’s described as an hour-long romantic anthology, with two continuing characters and the relationships that surround them, and their efforts to help those romantically challenged souls find each other.

I’ve seen clips of Love Bites.  And… yuck.  Just, yuck.  Honestly… are you sure we can’t get Grapevine back again instead?

LYNN CLARK (1992 Susan) was best known as a soap opera actress, appearing on both Santa Barbara and Days of Our Lives in for multiple years.  After guesting on Seinfeld and Friends, she did come back for a guest shot on the 2000 revival of Grapevine for one episode, playing Matt’s sister.

JONATHAN PENNER (1992 David) was a regular in both Rude Awakening and The Naked Truth, and can still be seen in guest roles on shows like CSI and the upcoming The Colony.  He also appeared in the pilot for the 2000 Grapevine in another role (the producer of Grapevine, David Frankel, is loyal to a fault).

STEVEN ECKHOLDT (1992 Thumper, 2000 David) is the king of recurring roles, playing in multiple episodes of shows like Providence, Friends, The West Wing, and The L Word.  He was most recently seen guesting on the police drama Southland.

After starring in the series Nightingales, KRISTY SWANSON (2000 Susan) was the original Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in the 1992 movie version.  She was also a regular on Early Edition, and appeared in episodes of 3Way and The Closer.

GEORGE EADS (2000 Thumper) went from romantic relationships to forensic science, playing Nick Stokes for the past 11 seasons on the original CSI.

DAVID SUTCLIFFE (2000 Matt) became an actor after a back injury forced him to quit his college basketball team.  He appeared on multiple episodes of The Division as well as I’m With Her, Gilmore Girls, and Private Practice.

Grapevine resources almost don’t exist, as quickly as both versions of the show came and went. The show isn’t on DVD, and the only good information is from Stefan’s Grapevine site, with a few pics snapped from a TV but lots of episode info (and I wish to credit Stefan for the picture of “Thumper” above).

This is how desperate I am to show you SOMETHING of Grapevine, just to prove it actually existed:  Here is a commercial break from Spring 1992, and you have to wait until the 2:00 mark for the actual :30 CBS promo.  The final three people shown in the commercial are the original David, Susan, and “Thumper”.  At least it shows you something of the style of the show, and the scene/comment/breaking the fourth wall dynamic.

“Okay, [Grapevine] is also a show about young, attractive people who have a lot of relationships and… a lot of sex.  But there’s an anti-cynicism.  They are all deep-down romantics at heart… looking to find that right person.”
–David Frankel

Like lost loves, shows come and go.  Some return to us.  Because when it concerns love, what else is as eternal, as joyous, and as just plain wonderful as a love found once more?  And who knows… maybe, in another 10 years, there will be another Grapevine.  Don’t bet against it, because television loves second chances (and even thirds), and one of the best things to discover is the return of a lost love.

Vital Stats

Grapevine (1992)
All 6 episodes aired
CBS network — Monday 9:30/8:30 Central
First aired episode:  June 15, 1992
Last aired episode:  July 27, 1992
Did not air on Fridays at 8/7 Central

Grapevine (2000)
All 6 episodes aired
CBS network — Monday 8:30, 7:30 Central
First aired episode:  February 28, 2000
Last aired episode:  April 10, 2000
Did not air on Fridays at 8/7 Central

Comments and suggestions, as always, are appreciated.

–Tim R.

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