58'l‘hc list 5 — lHApril l‘)‘)l
thirtysomething, Channel 4’s Banned season, and Keith Floyd ventures Down Under.
Easy as A301
As a new series ofthirtysomething
heads for your small screens, tom lappin looks at its relationship to The WUTIOIIS. and how it fits into a TV schedule increasingly targeted towards a sophisticated and afﬂuent market.
lfJohn Major’s Utopian vision of a classless society has been greeted with little more than ; scorn. part of the blame could perhaps be placed at the door of'l'V producers. who seem keener than 3 ever to perpetuate good old class divisions.
A briefglimpse at the viewing figures table shows that the (‘2. I) and E social groups still push their faves liastlfnders. Neighbours and ('ormiutimt Street into the top three. but the
distinctly ABCl-targeted InspectorMorseis giving
them a run for their money at number four. l’rogrammes‘ audience profiles. once blurred. are coming into clearer focus with tighter audience research. and the result is shows that are made as direct reflections oftheir audience‘s tastes and lifestyles.
This is all terrific news for the advertisers. of course. who in a recession can ill afford to squander their limited budgets by slack targeting. l’ut simplistically. if you want to flog oven chips . and lager. book your space in the middle of The E Street. and if hyping BMWs or more expensive I lager is your game. opera-loving. classics-quoting Morse is your boy. Already mooted is the dream l set-up whereby advertisers can directly sponsor : shows like Rtmzpole ()f The Bailey (or Rtmzpole ()f l The Bailey's Irish ('reum as one wag suggested). When such arrangements become commonplace. specific audience marketing will become a way of life.
Not so long ago. divisions were more basic.
Soaps and game shows were for the plebs. costume dramas and political thrillers for the toffs. Of late things have becotne more multi-faceted. Advertisers. and subsequently producers. have recognised a new audience. lazily labelled yuppies. more accurately termed 'l‘AWl)RlES t'l‘hirtysomething Affluent Whiteys Demanding Recognition of their lntellectualism). longing for sly cultural iii-jokes. lush filming and complex characterisation. and to hell with the plot.
.llnrse kept them happy for a while. with its stylish snobbery and cosmopolitan artiness. Twin Peaks had them in an exquisite frenzy with its exuberant pointlessness. multitude of delicious lilewnhancing trivial touches. and its open invitations to write daft and pretentious letters about the show to magazines(including The List).
How the agencies must have squirmed that it was on the dear old uncommercial BBC and that moneyed. fashion-conscious captive audience wasn‘t being reached. Mind you. as a consolation. Kyle McLachlan will be cropping up on your screens very soon. attempting to sell you Walker‘s Crisps (‘darn fine‘ apparently).
TP (you do call it 'l‘l’ don't you?) might well have overshadowed the original pioneer in this genre. thiriysomething (lower case initials equal not poor grammar. but perky tastefulness. as kd lang and sex. lies and videotape can testify) which starts a new series on 6 April. For those of you who only watch the darts on the telly. thirtysomething is the story ofseven relatively affluent pals in their thirties (geddit‘.’). variously attached. coming to terms with problems personal and professional. talking things over and hey. sharing those feelings. On its first showing. both in the US and this country. it attracted a cult following. riveted by its quirky lack ofa forced narrative structure and its accurate depiction of a middle-class baby-boomer lifestyle. It was very good at the little accessories. like conversation about records or food preferences. Remember these are the sort of people who call their children Brittany. Details were added for their own sake rather than mere plot devices. Often the thing was so darned ordinary it was boring. although it never made the mistake of being banal. Sophistication and subtlety are the keywords. As sometime producer Richard Kramer says. ‘We try to stay as sophisticated as we can without saying fuck.‘
Events in the last series might well have tempted more than a few of the characters to utter the dreaded f-word. Patricia Wettig won an Emmy for
her moving portrayal of the unfortunate Nancy. fighting against ovarian cancer while trying to hold together her marriage to Elliott. who in turn has severe problems with his business. Ellyn meanwhile has a non-existent love life. Hope is torn between career and family. Melanie is searching for a man. Gary is trying to conceal his desire to conform. and Michael is desperate to run the advertising agency. Doesn‘t exactly sound a huge laugh does it. although originators Edward Zwick and Marshall llershovitz describe it as ‘comedy ofobservation and behaviour'.
What rings untrue about thirtysomething. and what nevertheless constitutes a considerable part of its appeal. is the way the characters all rally round to help their friends. and open their hearts and minds to each other at the slightest invitation. Like the American sitcoms. where. five minutes before the end credits. we get the strained string section sawing away. and the ‘serious. moral bit'. the characters are always ‘learning‘ about themselves. and ‘growing'. 'l‘hey‘ve all got their hang-ups. but each one of them is fundamentally caring and decent. a charge you can‘t level at Lynch and Frost's (Irmnatispersonae. In the final analysis. thirtysomething is essentially urban post-feminist Wit/tons. At times you long for a complete bastard to come along. swindle Michael. laugh at Hope‘s literary efforts. get Ellyn and Melanie up the stick. shave off Elliott‘s silly beard and kidnap little Ethan. It seems unlikely to happen. but the upmarket advertisers will be queueing up to book airtime all the same. ('I‘om Lappin) thirtysomethirzg starts a new series on Channel 4 (m (SA/mi.