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Years roll back to ‘thirtysomething’

Michael ‘n’ Hope. Elliot ‘n’ Nancy. Melissa. Ellyn. And poor Gary.

You knew them once and you can know them again. After 18 long years, the hand-wringing, self-reflecting, yuppie Philadelphian boomers of “thirtysomething” will enter the (legal) home video market: Season 1 of the seminal drama is scheduled for DVD release on Aug. 25, with its three subsequent seasons coming out at an approximate rate of every six months.

Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, “thirtysomething’s” creators -- who were also behind, among other projects, “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again” on television and the movies “Legends of the Fall” and “Traffic” -- described the coming revival of the ABC drama as a “lovely gift” and “fun.”

Zwick, during a recent phone interview, said: “The fact that they were inaccessible was oddly discomfiting.”

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The long delay was mostly caused -- as is often the case when it comes to DVDs -- by complicated, expensive music rights clearances. Garson Foos, president of Shout! Factory, which will release “thirtysomething,” said the Emmy-winning drama also had a second hurdle to a digital afterlife: a lack of master copies that would allow the easy transfer to DVD.

Foos approached Herskovitz about how to get “thirtysomething” out of limbo more than a year ago, after Shout! Factory’s successful re-release of “My So-Called Life.” Now both obstacles have been overcome. “It doesn’t look like we’ll be cutting any music from the show,” Foos said. And high-definition master copies of the episodes have been created -- meaning, according to Foos, “the visual quality is going to be incredible.”

“The answer was that somebody had to take the time to finally do it,” Herskovitz said.

“thirtysomething” ran from September 1987 through May 1991. It was a “Big Chill"-like serial examination of how Reagan-era class-consciousness, career striving and family values collided with post-hippie ethics, and was enacted through a group of educated, upper-middle class characters. The action, so to speak, revolved around two couples -- Michael/Hope (played by Ken Olin/Mel Harris) and Elliot/Nancy (Timothy Busfield/Patricia Wettig) -- and their friends, families and co-workers.

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“What we thought of as esoteric, which meant specific and honest -- specific to a group of people and honest about their lives -- ended up having a universal appeal that we absolutely did not foresee,” Herskovitz said. “It became a life-changing experience.” (And a language-changing one: the Oxford English Dictionary added “thirtysomething” to its pages in 1993, crediting the show with spreading the word.)

The Season 1 DVD set will feature interviews with and commentaries from cast members Harris, Busfield, Melanie Mayron (Michael’s Single Lady cousin, Melissa), Peter Horton (serial bachelor Gary, who met with a shocking end in the final season) and real-life couple Olin and Wettig (who are now a fictional couple on ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”). Polly Draper, the final member of the core cast (Ellyn, Single Lady No. 2), also will participate, according to a Shout! Factory spokesman.

And the Zwick/Herskovitz team did a voice-over commentary for the pilot episode and new interviews about the show.

Herskovitz said he felt both “proud” and “squirmy” when watching the pilot again. He also recalled that “what we set out to do on ‘thirtysomething’ was make something that we would be happy making, but would be sure to be canceled very quickly so that we could go back to trying to make movies.

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“We were arrogant young filmmakers,” he continued. “I say this with utter irony, because, in fact, having ‘thirtysomething’ become a series and become successful changed our lives and changed our filmmaking lives. We were completely, you know -- wrong!”

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kate.aurthur@latimes.com


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