The Cast Of 'Thirtysomething' Reflects It was the show that redefined what it means to be 30, and gave us the shorthand we use to refer to that generation. The cast of thirtysomething reunites and talks about the show's significance 20 years after it first aired.
NPR logo

The Cast Of 'Thirtysomething' Reflects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112209862/112209851" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Cast Of 'Thirtysomething' Reflects

The Cast Of 'Thirtysomething' Reflects

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112209862/112209851" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Take your mind back to the late '80s. In the White House, Ronald Reagan; in the closet, suspenders; and on the tube, "thirtysomething." As the term yuppie was being banded about with both envy and contempt, the seven men and women on the ABC prime-time drama tried to navigate the boundaries between youth and adulthood, work and play, ideals and reality, love and marriage.

(Soundbite of clip, "thirtysomething")

Unidentified Man #1: I used to feel sorry for other people because they weren't like us. And I used to look in the mirror with her and think, how did this beautiful girl ever get fool enough to be with me?

Unidentified Man #2: What happened?

Unidentified man #1: What happened? My wings were down, ice ages came and went. She lost interest. I didn't matter anymore. Now I think she just likes to see me squirm.

CONAN: "thirtysomething" is now twenty-something. The first season has just been released on DVD, and we've got five of the seven original members with us. Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Melanie Mayron and Peter Horton are all with us. That's Michael, Elliot, Nancy, Melissa and Gary to all you fans. And though Mel Harris and Polly Draper are not here, we're going to talk about them shamelessly. Later in the hour, "thirtysomething" made us miss the silent generation, the dads of the late '50s and early '60s, dads who appear in "Mad Men." But Jonathan Zimmer says, that's not my dad.

But first, "thirtysomething." We want to hear from you. Boomers, did "thirtysomething" reflect your life? If so, how? Gen-Xers, how could you stand these people? Give us a call. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And in our bureau in New York is the cast of "thirtysomething" Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wetting, Melanie Mayron and Peter Horton. Guys welcome, nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. KEN OLIN (Actor): Hello.

Ms. TIMOTHY BUSFIELD (Actress): Hello.

Ms. PATRICIA WETTIG (Actress): Thank you.

Mr. PETER HORTON: Thank you, Neal.

Ms. MELANIE MAYRON: Thank you.

CONAN: What did you - did you guys think you were creating a time capsule, when you were back making that program? Ken Olin, why don't we start with you?

Mr. OLIN: No, I don't think we thought. Actually listening to the clip of Tim, though, I realize that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: …we were actually…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: …making a cartoon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, it was animated. But - no I don't think we - I just, I think we were so wrapped up in the present, actually, and it was so much a reflection of, you know, a stylized reflection of our own lives that I don't think we thought much about - you know, today we feel a little bit like we've been embalmed. But…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: …no, I don't think so.

CONAN: Patricia Wettig, stylized representation of your life, you did fine with the cancer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Our…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: …style, wait a minute. Ask that question again.

CONAN: Well, I was just making a joke, anyway. This stylized representation…

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah.

CONAN: …of your own lives. How much of your own lives was in the show?

Ms. WETTIG: Well, actually, I would say a lot of our lives. I don't think that we were playing ourselves as our characters. I don't believe that I was Nancy or that Ken actually was Michael. But, so - every married person on this show was married in real life and had kids. Every single person on the show at the time was single. And so often we would come in and talk to the producers and other writers, share stories about, okay, this is what happened last night or what did you do about this?

A week later, we'd get a script and that very story that we had shared would be in the script. So, there was a lot - we were all living the same lives. All the producers, the writers and actors were all in our 30-something at that time. And so - yeah, it was a lot about the way we were living at that time.

CONAN: Hmm. Peter Horton, you played the - well, I think a lot of women and I have to say they were my age at the time - and I think they still are, had a terrible crush on you.

Mr. HORTON: You know, terrible crush is an oxymoron.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: There's nothing wrong with crushes. It was actually a great sort of moment for all of us because, you know, we - this show just exploded on the scene and exploded right with our peers. So, it wasn't like we had this sort of huge, you know, frantic group of fans sort of following us around. There was just this reaction to the show and to us that was wonderfully measured and wonderfully thoughtful - and moved by what we are doing. And I think that sort of transcended the whole notion of crushes and fans and craziness and it was -felt downright like appreciation.

CONAN: Like appreciation. Melanie Mayron, as you looked at the show - and I don't, know have you had the chance to see it before this new DVD came out?

Ms. MAYRON: No, I saw an episode when I did an audio commentary for the DVD…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MAYRON: …I cried.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Now, Melanie.

Ms. MAYRON: What was the name of the Christmas, was it "I'll Be Home for Christmas"?

Mr. OLIN: "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah.

Mr. HORTON: Indeed.

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah. That episode just - Ken and I had a lot to do in that one…

Mr. OLIN: Yes.

Ms. MAYRON: …and it was - it was just as - I watched it going, my God, it's astonishing.

CONAN: What was astonishing? Some of us were astonished at the ties but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Not to mention the suspenders…

Mr. HORTON: Yeah.

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah.

Mr. OLIN: Yeah.

Ms. MAYRON: And the shoulder pads.

Mr. HORTON: And the shoulder pads.

Mr. OLIN: The hairdo, wow.

CONAN: And the fact that nobody had a cell phone and there was not one computer to be seen.

Mr. HORTON: Oh, that's so funny. We were talking - this is Peter Horton. We were talking about, sitting there over breakfast this morning with all of our little Blackberries and iPhones and going, like, do you remember when we were on "thirtysomething," we had our first cell phone. And it was about, you know, a foot and half long and it weighed…

Ms. MAYRON: Big car battery…

Mr. HORTON: …about 20 pounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: Things have changed.

CONAN: Let's see…

Mr. OLIN: This is Ken - I think what - because Melanie is crying now, so she can't talk…

Mr. HORTON: Oh, oh.

Mr. OLIN: …but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: …I'll speak for her…

Ms. MAYRON: No, I'm not.

Mr. OLIN: I think because you were speaking this morning about - I think it was the - how emotional some of the scenes could be or how the rhythm was slower, and we could actually do longer scenes and scenes that were probably more in-depth than what you're seeing now on network television.

Ms. MAYRON: The - what blew my mind about just that one episode was the writing. It was really wonderful and completely full circle. It's like everything that was brought up was serviced in the story.

Mr. HORTON: Right.

Mr. OLIN: But we killed it, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Our scene, we killed it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: That's the thing.

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah, we did.

Mr. OLIN: And it was like, we just killed it.

Mr. BUSFIELD: You know, I think you have to - it's Tim Busfield. I think you also - hi, Neal. You also have to, I think, consider - look at the track record of Zwick primarily in feature films from that…

Ms. MAYRON: Ed Zwick.

CONAN: Ed Zwick.

Mr. BUSFIELD: Yeah, from that point on and Marshall and…

CONAN: "Glory," "Last Samurai," things like that…

Mr. BUSFIELD: I mean, these are guys that understand long-form storytelling. And so we were allowed to be a part of a show that took its time and stayed back and was shot like a feature. And it was very important to these guys; they shot the show like movies and they were very smart, as they've gone on to prove. There's not a lot of executive producers in television that do a hit show that might draw the attention of "thirtysomething" and then go on to win Academy Awards, and get nominated for Academy Awards.

And we were really lucky that we had those guys at the helm because they allowed the show to have a unique feel because they weren't, you know, they've come from TV but they were feature guys. And we were really fortunate to have that level - and even Paul Haggis, who got fired, I think, at the end of the first year…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUSFIELD: …goes on to, you know, get a couple of Best Picture nods and win an Academy Award for his writing, so…

Mr. HORTON: It was also the time we were doing it in, too. At that time, there were three networks and that's what people watched so…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HORTON: …it sort of allowed for the pace and subtlety of a show like "thirtysomething" which I think would be much harder to sell this…

Ms. MAYRON: Ken's right, the scenes were long…

Mr. OLIN: Yeah.

Mr. BUSFIELD: Yeah.

CONAN: And you also lucked out by being on after "Moonlighting," which was a big hit at the time.

Mr. HORTON: Yeah, that helped.

Mr. BUSFIELD: We had "Moonlighting" and "Roseanne." I think we came in after the, you know, I don't know if "Roseanne" was at 9:30 but, you know, we did have…

Mr. HORTON: Good lead-in.

Mr. BUSFIELD: …we did have good lead-ins, yeah…

Mr. HORTON: Yeah.

Mr. BUSFIELD: It helps, it helps.

CONAN: Let's see if we get a caller in on the line. We are talking with the cast of "thirtysomething," and this is Peter(ph) from Somerville in Massachusetts.

PETER (Caller): Yeah, I've got to admit I couldn't stop watching the show even though I hated most of your characters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAYRON: Oh, now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Oh, thanks, Peter, what do you do? Where do you live?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of laughter)

PETER: I don't know. I just thought, you know, the narcissism of the characters, of the writing, all about their problems and their concerns. Get on with it.

Mr. BUSFIELD: Yet, you watched every episode.

PETER: Well, at least half of them.

Mr. BUSFIELD: Well, there you go.

Ms. WETTIG: Well, I think that - this is Patty, hi.

CONAN: Hi, Patty.

Ms. WETTIG: I think that's an interesting thing that - I believe that often, when you're in your 30s and you're involved in marriages and the intimacy of that and the problems of that and raising children, there is an aspect of that time in your life that - reflect like that does seem narcissistic. But I think it also reflects something that is very truthful about actually being in that stage of life. And I find that a lot of our generation at that time were pretty self-involved, very involved in therapy, and I don't know - I just think it was reflective of a time.

Mr. BUSFIELD: It's Tim Busfield here. Also, too, I mean, we had an hour in which we all had, you know, it couldn't be with the relaxing, have an orange juice and go talk to my friend in the corner and take my time and pour my problems out over the next three hours. Each storyline had - within the hour. So we did complain quickly and whine hurriedly and probably too much, but that was part of the dramatic form.

CONAN: Peter, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Here's an email from Jack(ph) in Sacramento, California. Between the Cathy comics and "thirtysomething," my wife and I felt we couldn't do anything original. Both seemed to either anticipate what we were going to do or just preceded something to do, something we did: get married, have babies, job anxieties. We were both in our early 30s at the time.

So I guess that reflects, Melanie, the kind of situation that you were talking about, where everybody was in that same situation, including the writers and the producers.

Ms. MAYRON: Well, that's true. We were.

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think that's what - I mean, I think probably if you look at it now, it's a little more stylized. You know, there was a tone and a quality to it that they were, you know, Marshall and Ed were very successful at capturing whatever the patina of that, or the angst and anxiety of that period was. I don't know that it was really as - probably as realistic as people feel like…

Ms. WETTIG: This is Patty again. It was a show - I think so many shows now are things that are more plot-driven, more franchise, you know, cops or lawyers, and they…

CONAN: I keep waiting for you to run out and shout, clear.

Ms. WETTIG: Exactly, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Believe me, that would have been great. I'd certainly liked to at least have a gun and a car out of it.

Mr. BUSFIELD: We got to - Patty was the only one. She got to shoot you. Patty was the only one to fire a gun.

Ms. WETTIG: Oh, in a scene.

Mr. BUSFIELD: And Michael writes a story.

Ms. WETTIG: Fantasy.

CONAN: Our guests are Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Peter Horton, Melanie Mayron, and they are the cast members of "thirtysomething." The first season is just out on DVD. One of the things the program did was use contemporary music to try to illustrate scenes. One example was in the episode we referenced just a moment ago, "I'll Be Home For Christmas." It established this song, by Joni Mitchell, as a Christmas song.

(Soundbite of song, "River")

Ms. JONI MITCHELL (Singer): (Singing) It's coming on Christmas. They're cutting down trees. They're putting up reindeer and singing…

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Twenty-two years ago this fall, ABC premiered the Boomer drama, "thirtysomething." Though the show was only on for four seasons, it had lasting impact. Among other things, it helped that -something suffix get into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Now, after all these years, the music rights have finally been cleared and the DVD is out. We have reunited the cast, now 50-something. Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Peter Horton, Patricia Wettig and Melanie Mayron are with us, and we want to hear from you.

If you were 30-something during "thirtysomething," did you see yourself? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

As much as "thirtysomething" was known for its intimate look at marriage, it also pioneered a certain view of a single woman. Melanie Mayron played free-spirited photographer Melissa, Michael's cousin, who he looked out for but didn't always rub the right way. Here, he warns her about a new love interest.

(Soundbite of television program, "thirtysomething")

Mr. OLIN: (As Michael) I'm just saying, consider the guy's motives, that's all.

Ms. MAYRON: (As Melissa) Well, I don't think I have to. I mean, you've done that for me already. I mean, you've let me see that in your eyes, there's only one way a man like that could ever be interested in me. So should I thank you now or should I just leave?

CONAN: Melanie Mayron, Melissa had a lot of fans. She was, in many ways, the…

Mr. OLIN: That was creepy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How could you stand him? He was your cousin! Do you see her as a predecessor to Carrie Bradshaw? We've read a lot about that in - as some of the newspaper articles - as this show comes out on DVD.

Ms. MAYRON: Well, you know, I certainly saw myself when I saw Ally McBeal, and you know, I think so. I think when we were cast in it, we all sort of had specific roles. You could recognize people, and Polly Draper as Ellen was working for the city. So she had a job in an office, but Melissa was just the cousin, and I had suggested, what if she's become a photographer?

I had been doing photography and I thought, boy, if there could be a character that all us actors, artists, photographers, all us free spirits could identify with, then that would be a great contribution to add to it, so…

CONAN: Let's get Nancy(ph) on the line, Nancy with us from Naples, Florida.

NANCY (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

NANCY: Oh, well, I was - it's funny. I'm in my 50s and I'm dating, and there was one line from the show. I guess one woman was going out on a date, and I can't remember which character, and she said, oh my God, I feel like I'm in junior high school. When will I ever grow out of this? And one other character said: You never grow out of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: And - you know, and I still feel like junior high when I'm going out on a date, and I think of that line every time I go out.

Mr. OLIN: Oh, that's great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Nancy, thanks very much. Melanie, I think guilty? Was that your line?

Ms. MAYRON: Gee, I don't know. I don't remember.

Ms. WETTIG: I don't remember, either.

CONAN: Did…?

Mr. HORTON: It was probably Ken's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Probably. I wonder: Do you guys ever get together again? I mean, you worked so intensely, closely together for those four years.

Mr. HORTON: You know - this is Peter talking. It's really funny. We've gotten together in little pods of two or three from time to time. Patty and Ken and I live near each other, and Melanie actually directed me in an episode of "In Treatment" last year. And so we've had incidents like that, but we hadn't really gotten together as a group for about 10 years. And you know, getting together here for this time in New York was really extraordinary because there was no sense, really, that time had passed.

There was no kind of getting to know each other again or awkwardness of any kind. There was, like, a sense that we were picking right up where we left off. And I think that's really a great - sort of not only gift for us, but I think it also speaks to why the - one of the reasons the show worked as well as it did.

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah, this is Patty. I think that what Peter's talking about is a certain chemistry that helped the show work, and you feel it still when we're all together. It's a really nice blessing, actually.

CONAN: Let's get Eric(ph) on the line, Eric calling from Berkeley.

ERIC (Caller): Hi. I was in college, and I watched "thirtysomething," and they were my (unintelligible) role models. And I thought there were so many different roles to choose from, and especially when Michael celebrated Hanukkah. As a Jewish person, I went, wow, I can be Jewish on TV. And when Melissa had a gay friend, I went oh, wow, there's even gay people on TV.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, this is Ken. I mean, I think it's so strange now to think back on how groundbreaking some of that was. I mean, groundbreaking's probably a little hyperbolic, but still, you know, that there had never been two same-sex people in the same bed. That was a huge deal. We lost advertisers when we aired that episode.

Mr. BUSFIELD: They actually kissed, too.

Mr. OLIN: No, they didn't.

Mr. HORTON: There was a big controversy about it.

Mr. BUSFIELD: They did, and we cut it, right?

Mr. OLIN: But they smoked. That's what really weird when you watch the scene now. It's so weird because they're smoking. So that kind of freaked me out.

Mr. HORTON: But there was a big controversy about them kissing. I remember that.

Mr. OLIN: We had to drop the kiss.

CONAN: I thought it was in the Hal Holbrook show that was the first gay kiss on TV.

Mr. OLIN: I don't think - it wasn't a kiss.

Mr. BUSFIELD: They were in bed and, yeah, naked.

Mr. OLIN: Things like that, or it was a huge deal that my character put on a yarmulke. I do in the pilot and, you know, that Melanie and I were Jewish. And things like that that, you know, at the time were really unusual. Patty and Tim did this scene where Tim, you know, asks Patty if she ever shaves her legs anymore. And that was a huge and wildly - and good for your career, from what I understand.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah, but even therapy, I mean, the idea that characters in a marriage had difficulties and went into therapy. We see that so - I mean, in the last 10, 15 years, we've seen it thousands - everybody goes into therapy now. But that was a really unusual thing.

Ms. BUSFIELD: They were still shrinks then. This is Tim, and that, you know, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick just so brilliantly challenged everything at that level. They did not want a television show. They had movies they could do. If they couldn't make the show they wanted and make it personal, they weren't going to do it. And I don't even think they set out to be groundbreaking. I just think they were so truthful to trying to make it sound real and like their life that they, you know, they hit the oil well there on that.

Mr. HORTON: It was - this is Peter. It was really confessional in that way. It was the first confessional drama, I think, on television in that sense that people really wrote from very intimate, personal places.

Mr. BUSFIELD: And their wives wrote with them, you know, or would write. They would break stories. They broke every story. You're not going to see story credit for those guys, but every single story came from Marshall and Ed. And then they would, you know, write them with their wives, and they'd fight, and then they'd record the fight, maybe, and they'd put it in the script.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUSFIELD: You know, they were going to do TV like it had never been done before and hopefully, in their mind, get canceled and go back to making movies. I don't think they - you know, and Kenny will tell you because he's been running shows, and Peter and I have been producing shows, the good news is I got a series that I can produce. The bad news is, I got a series I have to produce.

It's a tremendous amount of work, and for those guys to stay with it for four years and shoot "Glory" in the middle of it and still deliver was pretty - you know, it goes to them. It goes to Marshall's directing the pilot and being a fantastic director, and great writers.

CONAN: Eric, thanks very much for the call. I wanted to ask you. You've all gone on into the television business. "thirtysomething" came out just as the Nielsen people were able to break out demographics, and people realized the show was never even in the Top 20 in terms of ratings, but it did very well among a very select population, 18- to 34-year-olds. And all of a sudden, that became the treasured demographic.

Now, as you've mentioned, several of you, I think all of you, are still involved in television one way or the other. If you made "fiftysomething," would anybody pay for it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Not the right people, not the people they're looking for.

Ms. BUSFIELD: You never know. You never know. It's Tim again. We were the number two moneymaker at the network after "Roseanne," even when we got canceled because ad time goes quickly into those demographics, and I don't know. If something was written truthful and well-played, even if in their 50s, I think people might watch it if the writing is great. I think that demographic might watch.

Ms. MAYRON: Oh, yeah.

Mr. HORTON: Ken would have to lose some weight but other than that, I think it would probably work great.

Ms. WETTIG: Oh, nice.

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, that's probably true, Peter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I think that, you know, now - it's I think, you know, there's that notion that the show was moderately successful or it was never in the Top 20. I mean, it wasn't in the Top 20 probably by the, you know, at the end of every year or whatever, given all the shows. But I mean, it was an extraordinarily profitable show for ABC at the time because once they identified that number, that demographic, that was the most desirable demographic, you know, that advertisers could reach.

So the show was actually - probably much more successful than, certainly, as cast members we were led to believe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAYRON: Gee, I thought we were a hit.

Mr. BUSFIELD: "Brothers and Sisters" is in the Top 20 a lot, and I don't think that's a show about just 30-somethings. It's Sally and Patty, and you know, you've got - that's a very strong show that does very well. And I think if it's written well and played well, I think people watch.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get Will on the line, calling from Ann Arbor.

WILL (Caller): Yeah. Good afternoon, folks.

Ms. MAYRON: Hi.

Ms. WETTIG: Hi.

WILL: It's nice to hear your voices again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Oh, that's nice. Thank you.

WILL: I really enjoyed your show while it was on. But I had a couple - a question and a comment. I have a suggestion, actually, at first, hearing somebody say, would you do another show. Ken and Patty, you've already got recurring roles on "Brothers and Sisters." Couldn't you sneak the rest of the guys in there somehow?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: You know, it's funny that you should bring that up because I was thinking about that until Peter's weight comment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: But, you know, there's probably some - yeah, there's some…

Mr. BUSFIELD: I'll do his role.

Ms. MAYRON: Don't you need another cousin?

Mr. OLIN: Yeah. Yeah.

Ms. WETTIG: Cousins.

Mr. OLIN: So…

WILL: Aunts, cousins. It doesn't matter. That show has revolving relatives and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: That's true.

Mr. OLIN: That's true.

WILL: …couple of people are leaving. And I'd love to see Justin go away. He's such a whiner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Some traditions never end, I guess.

Mr. OLIN: Yeah. Yeah. Bring it on.

WILL: And I wanted to ask, why did Gary leave the show?

Ms. MAYRON: Oh.

Mr. HORTON: That was…

CONAN: Lead poisoning, as I recall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: I stuck my hand with a pencil. That was actually set up at the beginning, believe it or not. I had quit acting before "thirtysomething." And the way I decided to do it was - Ed said to me at one point, you know, this will never go, and if for some reason it goes, you can direct one of the first six. And if for some strange reason it really hits, we'll kill you off after four years. And then…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: …so we kept…

Ms. MAYRON: Bah-dum-bum.

Mr. HORTON: Cut to year four and they come up to me, well, Peter, it's time to kill you off. And it was like…

Ms. WETTIG: What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORTON: Really? But I don't want to go.

WILL: Well, you know, it didn't make any sense to me. So, I figured it was either a contract dispute or a difference of, you know…

Ms. WETTIG: But, you know, I think there was one other factor at that time actually, because Ed Marshall talked to me about that - which was when they originally gave my character, Nancy - this is Patty, sorry - cancer, they really weren't about researching and exploring cancer. What they were really interested in is, what would that be like - to lose a peer.

Mr. HORTON: Right.

Ms. WETTIG: And so, when they began the cancer storyline, they had intended - because they talked to me about, that would mean that you won't be around that long and are you okay with that - and I was, because the storyline was so interesting to me.

WILL: Right.

Ms. WETTIG: But they actually ended up getting a lot of mail from people that had cancer, ovarian cancer, at the time. And as a symbol, to have my character die was really a difficult thing. And they had talked, like Peter said, about that way earlier. So, I think that's - had some of the decision-making.

Mr. HORTON: Yeah, someone had to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Because of what they wanted…

Mr. OLIN: Someone had to go.

Ms. WETTIG: …for what they wanted to explore.

Ms. MAYRON: It's like 10 little Indians.

Ms. WETTIG: But that's the whole thing. Whatever they wanted to explore, that's what we explored.

CONAN: You mean, the fifth season didn't - the hypothetical fifth season didn't start with Gary in the shower saying it was all a dream?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah. Right.

Mr. HORTON: I lobbied for that, Neal. But for some reason, they didn't go for it.

Ms. WETTIG: He's going to narrate it, like "Desperate Housewives."

CONAN: Will, thanks very much for the call.

WILL: Yes. (Unintelligible). Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Peter Horton and Melanie Mayron - all graduates of "thirtysomething."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Four of you in that room directed episodes of the show.

Mr. HORTON: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: What was that like?

Mr. HORTON: Well, that was - I directed the first one. This is Peter Horton. Like I said earlier, one - part of my deal was to direct one of the first six. And, you know, I tell you, the idea of coming to work to direct an episode is in and of itself a bit terrifying. But when you're going to - you always have in the back of your head the knowledge that if it really goes badly, you'll leave and never have to come back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: They shoot you early.

Mr. HORTON: The idea of coming in there and directing my fellow actors on a new series like this…

Ms. WETTIG: I never felt that you were nervous at all. How interesting.

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah.

Mr. HORTON: Well…

Ms. WETTIG: This is Patty. I - because you directed a big episode. I never, ever felt nervousness from you. Isn't that interesting?

Mr. HORTON: Well, I think you covered it well. But…

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah? No, true.

Mr. HORTON: …it also was - I got - my very first episode, I got to deal with the separation of Elliot and Nancy. And it was Timmy and Patty was - ended up being one of the strongest - if not, in my mind, the strongest through line of "thirtysomething." So, I really got to step into an engine room on that first episode. And it was (unintelligible).

Mr. BUSFIELD: It was delicate. Tim Busfield. It was delicate. You know, we had - it's a very difficult thing to do, to direct. And I had not had that experience. So, you know, these guys were patient with, you know, with the - there were a lot of first-timers directing on that show. And, you know, it's a delicate environment and it can be a delicate environment. And I'm sure I stepped on toes and made a lot of mistakes. And yet, these guys are, you know, we'd hash it out. And there was so much love amongst us as a team…

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah. There was such support.

Mr. BUSFIELD: …support that we were really able to work it out. And, you know, etiquette was very strong amongst us because we'd - most come from the theater. So, we knew how to address each other on notes and - but there were a couple times. There was a time when Kenny and Patty were…

Ms. WETTIG: Well, here we go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUSFIELD: …at one point, the husband-wife relationship stepped into the middle of a scene and I was…

Ms. WETTIG: I don't know what he's talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUSFIELD: …I was just sitting there going, ah, ah, you guys. You guys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: This is when…

Mr. BUSFIELD: …I'm here.

Mr. OLIN: Are you referencing when you were directing or when I was…

Mr. BUSFIELD: That's when you were directing. We were in the office.

Mr. OLIN: I know. And you cleared the set.

Mr. BUSFIELD: No. I did…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: Yeah, you did.

Ms. WETTIG: Okay. (Unintelligible) time.

MR. OLIN: (Unintelligible) that should not be happening. I think everybody should take 15 minutes. And Patty and I sorted out the…

Ms. WETTIG: Let Patty and Ken deal with their stuff.

Mr. OLIN: …different dynamics between a marriage and a director-actor relationship.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: I prevailed.

Ms. WETTIG: Oh, right.

CONAN: Oh.

Mr. OLIN: I did.

Ms. WETTIG: Is that what you think?

Mr. OLIN: She did whatever I said after that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIN: You know, I was just scared. I've been scared for like, 20 years since then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let me ask you - we have like, a minute left. What was your favorite moment in the show? Melanie?

Ms. MAYRON: You know, there were a lot of them, but I think the moment - and Ken, you directed the episode where Gary died. And that, you know, my character didn't have any lines as a reaction. Ken said, you just, you know…

Mr. OLIN: Oh, you're hurt -

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah, the piano.

Ms. MAYRON: He said, just sit here at the piano. And I don't know - for some reason, Melissa didn't have anything written into the script. And Ken just sat there with the camera and let it roll…

Ms. WETTIG: It was a beautiful moment.

Ms. MAYRON: I just, you know, got emotional with it. But that he took the time in this place that wasn't even written in the script. And so many people over the years have said - you know, when they see us and they meet us, they go, oh, my god. I love that moment.

Ms. WETTIG: Yeah.

CONAN: Well, we'll leave it there. Thank you all so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Mr. HORTON: Oh, thank you. You're great, by the way.

Mr. BUSFIELD: Yeah. Thank you, Neal.

Ms. WETTIG: Thank you.

Mr. HORTON: We're all fans.

Ms. MAYRON: Yeah, big fans.

CONAN: Thanks. Very nice. That's Ken Olin, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Peter Horton and Melanie Mayron. Also, our thanks to the engineer there in our New York bureau - had to wrestle all those five people into one little room, Minoli Weatherall. Thanks, Minoli.

And when we come back, we're going to be talking about, well, in a way, the parents of those "thirty-something" people - at least their dad, the '50s, early '60s dad who we see on "Mad Men" or on "Revolutionary Road." Is that stereotype accurate or fair? We'll challenge it when we come back, right after this.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.