Pilot Script Review of Thirtysomething(else)

Cast members from the original return as parents to a new generation of thirtysomethings.
  • Ken Olin, Mel Harris, Patricia Wettig and Timothy Busfield reprise their roles as parents to a new generation of thirtysomethings. (Photo: ABC)
    Editor's Note: Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they're pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what's called "Script Coverage," an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now, thanks to Primetimer's own resident script reader, you too can preview some of the season's most buzzed about pilots. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

    Shortly after Karey Burke was named president of ABC Entertainment, she told reporters that Thirtysomething was among her all-time favorite series, and that she hoped to develop shows similar in tone and content for today's TV audience. We couldn't have imagined at the time that the seminal late '80s relationship drama would come back, but here we are... (almost). The original series creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (who also created My So-Called Life and Once & Again for ABC) are back, along with several members of the original cast. The new proposed series falls somewhere in between a revival and a spinoff, revolving around the children of the characters from the original, who are now thirtysomething themselves (and whose parents are still very much in the picture).

    The original Thirtysomething ran for four seasons from 1987 to 1991 on ABC, winning 13 Primetime Emmy Awards and 2 Golden Globes. While completely of its time, it was also ahead of its time in many respects, reflecting the angst of the baby boomer generation while offering a more grounded, realistic alternative to the popular soaps of the time, such as Dynasty, Dallas and Knots Landing. It was a new kind of hour-long drama that focused on the domestic and professional lives of a large and interconnected group of characters, and it had a real cultural impact, paving the way for later shows like Brothers & Sisters, Parenthood, This Is Us and A Million Little Things.

    The pilot for Thirtysomething(else) was put on the market last September, and although multiple networks were interested, ABC quickly emerged as the frontrunner and a deal was quietly made by mid-November. The network and producers spent the next two months signing the returning actors and attempting to sync up schedules (no small feat, since several had essentially retired from acting). While the show has not yet received a series order as of this writing, a fall launch appears to be in the cards, with ABC already commiting to open a writers room.

    WRITTEN BY: Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz
    DRAFT DATE: 12/20/2019
    PAGE COUNT: 55 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on the second floor of an old Philadephia row house that's been converted into a three-bedroom apartment. JANEY STEADMAN (32) is tearing apart the living-room, looking for her Xanax. She's a mess. Her boyfriend BRAD HARRIS (34) finds the pills and hands them to her. BRITANNY WESTON (33) comes out of her bedroom, counseling a patient by phone. That's when Janey's phone rings: it's her mother HOPE STEADMAN, who works to calm her down, as only she can. ANGELICA (30) comes out of Britanny's bedroom. She kisses her ex-girlfriend on the lips, cracks a few jokes and asks Janey and Brad if they live here now. Their answer is "No!" but it sounds like a "Yes." Later, Janey and Brad are at work, meeting with a developer named TREY WATSON (40s). He explains to them that the home units they're building — 20% of which are set aside as low-income housing — will have have two entrances, separating the rich from the poor. This doesn't sit well with Janey, and although Brad tries to calm her, she doesn't budge. The ensuing argument makes it clear there are some serious unresolved issues in their marriage.

    Meanwhile, a baby shower is in progress at a downtown loft. Britanny arrives with her gift, and is welcomed by her mother NANCY WESTON and her father ELLIOT WESTON. In a corner of the room, Angelica is talking to a very attractive woman. Britanny spots them and she's not happy... but they're not together anymore (sort of). Back at the apartment a few hours later, Janey and Brad are still in a quiet spat when Angelica and Britanny arrive, also fighting, but much more passionately. After a while, Angelica goes to her room (because apparently she has one), and Janey leaves Brad to see how Britanny is doing. They cuddle. These two are closer than we thought...

    COMMENTS: Thirtysomething(else) is bit of a hat trick for its writer/creators. Like the original did for Baby Boomers, its proposed followup manages to paint a multidimensional portrait of another generation that's often painted with a single brush — the millenials. For a show based on a series that first aired in the 80s, Thirtysomething(else) has a distinctly modern vibe, mostly owing to the fact that its characters live under very different circumstances than their parents. Still, like the original show's characters (and most everyone else with a beating heart), it's their flaws that make them relatable.

    Janey is the center of it all, and she's a brilliant mess. Both idealistic and depressed, she'll likely elicit strong feelings from audiences, not unlike Meredith Grey in Grey's Anatomy. Janey ultimately wants marriage and kids, but like many in her generation, she's in no huge rush. She has attachment issues, and her parents are at least partially to blame.

    Her brother Leo has his own share of issues. He's so intent on following in his father's footsteps to success that he takes shortcuts along the way. As a result, his talent and grand ideas are tripped up by a lack of focus and follow-through. Ethan is a brilliant musician who refuses to compromise his artistic principles in order to succeed. He has a baby with his current girlfriend, Kat, but neither of them seem to be parent material, often leaving the baby with his parents when they go off to play gigs. He's also a recovering drug addict, and takes offense when his mother accuses him of using again. While he claims to be sober, it’s not clear whether he’s telling the truth.

    The original Thirtysomething was a trailblazer in its portrayal of gay relationships, so it's no great surprise that its followup would prominently feature a complicated lesbian couple. Britanny is a therapist with a self image problem, although others find her very attractive. She's described as bisexual, while her on-again off-again girlfriend Angelica is a 30 year-old Latinx lesbian who doesn't believe in monogamy.

    Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the pilot script is the multigenerational conversation it opens, with the kids looking at their elders for examples they should follow (or avoid, depending on their perspective), and the baby boomers looking at the damage they've done to their kids.

    At a time when so much of what seems to work on TV involves twisty mysteries, cliffhangers and complicated timelines, Thirtysomething(else) is a bit of a thowback in that it employs a simpler, more straight-forward form of storytelling. The show's rythm and flow comes from the dialogue, which is consistently smart, and lighthearted when it needs to be. Whether that will be enough to capture an audience in 2020 remains to be seen, but Zwick and Herskovitz have certainly succeeded in capturing the tone and storytelling style of their original series.

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: ABC wanted a Thirtysomething follow-up, and they got one. Similar in tone and structure to the original, yet distinctly modern in content, Thirtysomething(else) has a lot going for it. The open question is whether audiences will go for its more straight-forward plotting and emphasis on dialogue. It may not be a smash hit, but it has the potential to be a solid performer and a critical darling for ABC.

    [   ] PASS
    [   ] CONSIDER

    BEST FIT: Wednesday at 10:00 PM ET, following the family comedies. A Million Little Things started in this slot two years ago, and did well enough.

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