A singular character

Long before there was an Ally McBeal waxing neurotic about love or a Carrie Bradshaw leading the glamorous life, there was Melissa Steadman, the artsy cousin of Michael (Ken Olin) that female fans of “thirtysomething” longed to be like. She was independent, creative, quirky and funny -- a single woman in her 30s who had a love affair with a younger man. (Yes, even before cougars became something other than a four-legged mammal.)

As a TV series, “thirtysomething” was known for its intimate look at marriage and relationships at a time when gender roles were dramatically changing. But the series also spotlighted a new type of character, one that evolved into an archetype on series such as “Ally McBeal,” “Sex and the City” and “Lipstick Jungle” -- the career woman who was more preoccupied with becoming an interesting person than in landing an interesting man.

Melanie Mayron, who played the redheaded photographer, said in a recent interview: “When ‘Ally McBeal’ started, I went ‘Oh, my God,’ it’s like what I was doing. Bridget Jones was in the same vein. I identify with all of them. We all can.”

Melissa wasn’t the only single woman on the show. Polly Draper played Ellyn Warren, who had a high-powered government job and a lot of angst about her lack of a love life as she watched her best friend, Hope (Mel Harris), marry the perfect guy and have the perfect baby. By the time viewers met both characters they were ready to settle down, but Melissa had a more laid-back approach.


“Melissa was someone like myself,” Mayron said. “She was representative of the artists who had their dream and didn’t want to do the corporate life or that wasn’t their dream. She was more of an artistic soul who wanted to create a name for herself and pay the bills without compromising. Of course, she also struggled with love, but that’s what made her a universal character.”

Since “thirtysomething” went off the air in 1991, Mayron has appeared in several films and TV shows but has spent more time directing episodes of series such as “Greek,” “90210,” “In Treatment” and “Drop Dead Diva.” Three months ago, preparing for the audio commentary for the “thirtysomething” DVD set, she immersed herself in a few episodes and found herself in tears.

“First of all, I looked so young! And I was so skinny! So there was that,” she said.

“But the show, oh, my God, I was crying. The writing is so astonishing, and it was so amazing to see the chemistry the ensemble of actors had. I always thought the show was groundbreaking in how cinematic it was. Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick really changed the way one-hour television looked and the depth of how deep it could cut emotionally. To have been a part of that, I’ve never experienced anything else like that in my career.”