You'd think, given the plethora of cable and satellite outlets dying to fill space between Miss Cleo infomercials, that every celebrated and adored (or even mildly liked) old TV show would find its own niche in the DirecTV wasteland. Why there isn't a single network dedicated to the golden-age comedy is unfathomable; better a network devoted to Milton Berle, Sid Cesear, Groucho Marx and Ernie Kovacs than one filled with prime-time detritus. (USA's daytime schedule reads like a threat: Something So Right, Working, Jesse and Veronica's Closet are but the tip of the garbage heap.) Why isn't there a channel filled with nothing but classic hour-long dramas, from the live-TV gems broadcast by the Kraft Television Theater in the 1950s to the likes of A Year in the Life and Shannon's Deal in the late '80s and early '90s? The list of old shows worth a second look is as long as the list of stale castaways currently clogging up cable. Where's Fridays? East Side, West Side? The Defenders? Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman? Buffalo Bill? The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd? Someone, please Get Christie Love! Immediately.
Nice to see, then, that A&E's digging up Crime Story while Bravo's resurrecting from the dustbin thirtysomething, the most loved-loathed show of the late '80s, even if the network feels it necessary to trick it up with some help from Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell. The writer, doing her best worst Sarah Jessica Parker, shows up every so often to "interact" with characters in 20-second intros: She's "showering" with Michael (Ken Olin), Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and Gary (Peter Horton); "camping" with Ellyn (Polly Draper) and tending to baby Janie with Michael and Hope (Mel Harris). The handful of segments sent by Bravo doesn't offer enough to really review, but what little's there is indeed tiny, hardly the stuff of insightful commentary--Sex and the Suburbs it ain't. More likely, Bushnell's there simply to draw in the loyalist twentysomethings and, maybe, poke fun at the show's tendency to take itself far too seriously; there is a chuckle to be had when, in the shower, she "peers" down at Elliot's equipment and gleefully proclaims, "No wonder Nancy's taking you back."
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Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick's show, which lasted four seasons on ABC, might well have been the last of the great hour-long dramas; at its best, it was the rare TV show that felt real, that played life not just for stale canned laughs but for all the pain it could muster. These people played hurt, suffering and surviving cancer, troubled marriages, bad career moves, empty relationships, dashed dreams. Critics groused that Michael, Hope, Nancy (Patricia Wettig), Elliot and the lot did little more than bitch and moan, but they did so with eloquence and humanity; they were adolescents (emotionally and spiritually, at least) just on the verge of becoming adults, and their growing pains felt real enough because they were as familiar as our own fresh wounds. None of that would have been possible had thirtysomething not been among the best-written shows in the medium's history; a decade later, its collected scripts, published as thirtysomething stories in 1991, hold up as well as any finely crafted short-story compendium. Even at its most overwrought and melodramatic, the series never rang hollow, forced, phony--the opposite of most so-called quality TV shows. So now that it's back, it's time someone resurrect Cop Rock, if only because I still insist it was a figment of my rather limited imagination ("Stephen Bochco, meet Randy Newman") and not a real TV show at all. Couldn't have been. Nah.