At the top of ABC’s TCA executive session, the network’s entertainment president Karey Burke — and a huge thirtysomething fan — confirmed that ABC has closed a deal for a new installment of the iconic series from Herskovitz and Zwick with four members of the original cast set to return. The list includes Ken Olin (Michael Steadman), Mel Harris (Hope Murdoch), Timothy Busfield (Elliot Weston) and Patty Wettig (Nancy Weston), reprising their roles. They will be joined by an ensemble of new faces playing the grown-up, 30-something children of the original main characters.
While the project has a pilot order, ABC has committed to Herskovitz and Zwick opening a writers room and is gearing up for a series.
The series hails from MGM Television, the studio behind the original series, which ran on ABC for four seasons, and Herskovitz and Zwick’s Bedford Falls. ABC Studios, part of Disney TV Studios, is the studio.
“The show became so deeply embedded in pop culture,” Burke said at TCA. “Ed [Zwick] and Marshall [Herskowitz] have been approached many times over the years and have always declined (to do a sequel). Three decades later, the young cast have now become thirtysomethings themselves. Today’s thirtysomethings are yesterday’s millennials, they are the first generation raised with the Internet, all of which provides a stark contrast [to the original].”
Burke has previously listed thirtysomething among her favorite series and, when talking about her development goals, she has said that she would like to put on the air a show in the vein of thirtysomething.
Herskovitz, Zwick and MGM TV pitched the thirtysomething sequel in September, garnering interest from multiple networks. Because of its history with the show, ABC quickly emerged as a frontrunner.
By mid-November, I hear ABC made a deal for the show but it was cast-contingent, hinging on securing the four members of the original cast. The network and the producers spent the last two months signing the actors and synching up schedules, which proved a challenge. Olin, Busfield — as well as Peter Horton whose character died on the original series — all have built a second career as sought-after TV directors. Olin is an executive producer/director on This Is Us, which is a Disney TV Studio series, a fact that helped get him on board.
While the focus will be on the four original cast members whose characters are key to the storyline created by Herskovitz and Zwick, more original actors could pop in should the project go to series as expected, Burke said.
Written by thirtysomething creators Herskovitz and Zwick and to be directed by Zwick, the followup series revolves around the children of the characters in the original show, who are now 30-something themselves. Raising children (even grown children) never ends, but who could have known how hard it would be for them to raise their parents?
“It truly is multi-generational,” Burke said.
Thirtysomething was a seminal series that captured the angst of the baby boomer generation and its struggles with real-life issues such as career, relationships, marriage, having kids and parenting. It centered around Michael Steadman (Ken Olin), his stay-at-home wife Hope Murdoch (Mel Harris) and their baby Janie. Melanie Mayron, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Peter Horton and Polly Draper also starred in the series, which won 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, out of 41 nominations, and two Golden Globe Awards over the course of its four-season run.
In addition to Janie, the kids on the original show also included Janie’s younger brother Leo, and Nancy (Wettig) and Elliot’s (Busfield) children Ethan and Brittany. There was also the mystery surrounding the prediction that Melissa (Mayron) would have a child that was never resolved on the 1980s series.
During a thirtysomething reunion at the 2018 ATX TV festival, Herskovitz and Zwick recalled how, in a TV era dominated by medical, cop and legal franchises, they created a simple show about the relationships between baby boomers in Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t written like a TV show,” Draper said at the event. “It was different from what I had seen before. This bridged the gap [between film and TV] and changed the whole course of TV history.”
The series pushed boundaries with episodes that were a “meditation upon a theme” and tackled struggles of everyday people — financial woes, losing businesses, terminal illness, deaths of friends — and how it affected their relationships. The show was also groundbreaking in that it was one of the first primetime series to show two gay men in bed together, further paving the way for representation on the small screen.