This is huge, because the NYT has a very big readership. I get "Google Alerts" on "AD", and there were several articles sent to me today. This is the best one. Kevin Reilly had positive things to say. Maybe it's not dead! Maybe I'm a sucker, but I think it could be saved!
In a Slice of the 60's, Hold the Nostalgia
By KATE AURTHUR
onathan Prince, the creator of "American Dreams," the family drama that takes place during the 1960's, recently recounted how he pitched the show to NBC: "I said, 'This is about 10 years in our country's history, from Camelot to Watergate.' "
The pitch continued, "What did we lose and what did we learn in those 10 years?"
That was in the summer of 2001. Now, after a five-week hiatus, the show resumes its third season but in a new time period: tonight at 8 , Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time. Mr. Prince, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, said he had always imagined that "American Dreams" would be a topical show. Its plots would dramatize the whiplash-inducing changes of the 1960's before a nostalgic backdrop of the music of "American Bandstand," on which two teenage characters are dancers. He planned to end the pilot episode with the main characters - a Philadelphia family - hearing the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Prince said, he realized that the show would no longer be rooted in nostalgia: that in the series's fall 2002 debut, the mourning in the aftermath of Kennedy's death would remind viewers of the days following the terrorist attacks the previous year. "After 9/11, suddenly there were people saying, 'I know what it's like to have that sense of loss in our country,' " he said. With this new idea of making "American Dreams" reflect today's political landscape, Mr. Prince went forward. " 'A nation grieves' became the first parallel," he said.
But not the last. In its two and a half years on television, "American Dreams" has illustrated the struggles of the 1960's - over roiling issues like civil rights, women in the workplace and abortion - through their effect on the show's characters. Throughout, the central character, Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow), has continued to dance on "American Bandstand," which, on the series, stands apart from the political turbulence she's witnessing.
Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment, said that narrative touchstone had allowed "American Dreams" to achieve a tonal balance between comfort and cultural disarray. "It started in a relatively benign place and has had to evolve with the chronology of history," he said in a recent telephone interview. "It's true to the tumult of the era, but it still leaves you with a warm feeling."
The show was moved from the Sunday slot it had occupied since its debut because after two years of decent ratings, it lost a chunk of its audience last fall to ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Mr. Reilly said he was committed to giving "American Dreams" a chance, having paired it with another topical drama, "The West Wing." "Anytime you have a show of quality that is also advertising-friendly - and there are several significant advertisers that have really backed the show - that's a business we can live with even if it's not a major hit by the numbers," he said.
In the last year, the show has focused on the Vietnam War, both overseas and on the home front, as the conflict expanded in 1965 and 1966. Meg's brother, J. J. (Will Estes), became a marine and viewers watched his experience in Vietnam. In turn, worried about his enlistment, the high school student Meg was swept up in the burgeoning antiwar movement.
In telling this 40-year-old story, Mr. Prince said, the series "became the most contemporary show on the network." He listed the analogous threads between then and now, as he has written them into the show: "This nasty little war we're fighting in '63 and '64, like the war in Iraq, starts to feel like this isn't going to be a quickie. You have a country that's divided. And if you don't agree with the Texas president, you're un-American."
To chronicle a realistic story about a soldier's experience in Vietnam, as well as how that reflected on Iraq, Mr. Prince said, he had to send J. J. away for a length of time that made him uncomfortable as a producer. But when it became clear that the United States military was not leaving Iraq anytime soon, he decided it was safe to put J. J. in combat for a year to show "the grunt's-eye view," he said.
In episodes that began last January, J. J. was in Saigon and the Cambodian jungle, held captive, wounded and eventually sent home.
Sgt. Maj. James Dever, the show's military consultant and a retired marine who served in Vietnam, said in a telephone interview from California that he brought in as extras marines who had served in Iraq, to make the action scenes realistic. "Nobody has really shown the earlier version of Vietnam," Sergeant Major Dever said of "American Dreams." A lot of the Vietnam veterans I've talked to love that it shows how things were changing at home."
Through the series's family prism, what was changing at home was Meg's political awareness. In the finale of the second season, she was arrested at a protest. Last fall, she directed a school play, "Henry V," and turned it into an antiwar parable. Mr. Prince chose Meg as the activist character because "when Meg is screaming about the war, it comes from her body and her heart because of her brother," he said.
"It's not an intellectual treatise about Abbie Hoffman and the boys at Brandeis," he added. "We've seen that a million times."
Mr. Prince described his political bent without hedging: "I'm a staunch left-leaning liberal Democrat." But he said the show wasn't meant to reflect those views. "The red states think that this is their show, because it's about family values," he said. "And the blue states think it's their show because it's about a sister protesting an unjust war that her brother's fighting in. I'm content to live on both sides of the aisle."
He will need viewers of all party affiliations to watch "American Dreams" for the rest of the season if it is to be renewed. He said he was hopeful. "I've produced a lot of shows, and I've had a lot of failures," he said. "And I know how and when to give up. With this one, I can't give up."