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|05-17-2003, 09:21 AM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 03, 2000
Location: Marietta, GA
"American Dreams" shoots a family show like a cop show
LOS ANGELES, May 14 (UPI) -- What do you get when you mix "American Bandstand," flip hairdos, "Beverly Hillbillies" lunchboxes, dancing on "Bandstand," the pill, platter parties, Catholic school taught by actual nuns, current pop idols (like Usher) guest starring as baby boomer "Bandstand" icons (like Marvin Gaye), polio (the tail end) and the dawn of the '60s civil rights movement together into a one-hour family drama?
You get "American Dreams" on NBC, that's what: a big, fun, mawkishly engrossing program with a season finale Sunday set against the backdrop of the 1964 Philadelphia race riots.
And yeah, racial strife (not to mention polio) is kind of a downer, but did I mention all that great "Bandstand" stuff?
It's hard to get bogged down in the depressing spectacle of a black teenager not being allowed to sit with his white classmates at a diner when, quick as a wink, the camera's on Vanessa Carlton as Dusty Springfield singing "Wishin' and Hopin'" and everyone's down on the dance floor doing "The Twist."
This almost manically upbeat tempo is just one obviously clever aspect of "American Dreams." The other is the show's synergy with the music industry -- the "American Dreams" soundtrack CD debuted last week, with 150,000 copies shipped -- but more about that in a minute.
"I thought, what if you shot a family show like a cop show?" said "American Dreams" creator and executive producer Jonathan Prince, walking briskly through the Hollywood backlot where the show is shot. It was a sunny, 80-degree day in Los Angeles, and extras milled about on break, dressed for winter in early '60s Philadelphia.
"That way you wouldn't be bogged down in that kind of "Waltons," "Little House on the Prairie" pace," Prince noted. He explained that while family dramas typically have about 40 scenes per hour, "American Dreams" (like most cop shows) has about 70.
This technique has its drawbacks, though. "The biggest complaint I get from viewers is, 'They talk all over each other!'" Prince said. "And I'm like, 'That's kind of how I grew up.'"
Well, sort of. Prince, 44, was closer to a tot than a teen during the "Bandstand" era. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to Harvard, and worked on sitcoms -- most notably the early '90s teen hit "Blossom," about a spunky, motherless girl with a big nose -- before abandoning that form for drama. He did grow up in a big family with four sisters, though.
"American Dreams" revolves around Meg (Brittany Snow), a teenage Catholic schoolgirl who gets hired as a "Bandstand" dancer in the fall of 1963. Meg lives with her gruff-but-kindly TV store owner dad (Tom Verica), housewife mom (Gail O'Grady), who seems to be suffering from Betty Friedan's problem-that-has-no-name, and three siblings in blue collar Philadelphia.
If the show lasts the full nine seasons Prince envisions, it will take Meg and her family from John F. Kennedy's assassination to Richard M. Nixon's resignation.
Meg also has a groovy record store clerk boyfriend (Jamie Elman), which conveniently adds '60s folk music to the pop universe of "Bandstand," and a spunky, big-nosed, "Blossom"-like best friend (Vanessa Lengies), who strings for a teen magazine and got insulted by Bobby Darrin -- or, actually, Duncan Sheik as Bobby Darrin -- when the singer visited "Bandstand" to perform "Beyond the Sea" a few episodes ago.
Anyway, griping about how the characters talk over each other is not really viewers' biggest complaint about "American Dreams." Internet discussion groups about the show are far more concerned with musical gaffes, like hits on the soundtrack that hadn't actually been released at the time.
Most are off by just a matter of months. But occasionally the show plays a song -- like Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" -- that wouldn't be released for two years.
Or a song is a few years too early, like Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops."
"'Lonely Teardrops' was a hit in 1958," complained one particularly prolific Internet poster. "You mean to tell me that, according to the show's timeline, it took Brunswick Records FIVE YEARS to get a gold record award for Jackie Wilson? What did they do, send the record over by carrier pigeon?"
And the preview pilot originally had a real whopper: As Meg's family reacts in shock to John F. Kennedy's assassination in November, 1963, the soundtrack swelled with the 1970 Beatles hit "Let It Be."
That, of course, was an entirely different era than the early '60s. Even I, who spent those years listening to Tom Leher and Rolf Harris rather than the Beatles, found it jarring.
"That whole 'Let It Be' thing ... I don't know how many mea culpas I can say," sighed Prince, who replaced the song with "Amazing Grace" by the time "American Dreams" actually aired. "Mostly I cheat by a few months, in a way that helps the show."
"My enemy is that really smart viewer with a Tivo," Prince continued. "A friend of mine is a doctor and a technical consultant on 'E.R.,' and I asked him, 'How many people call you up and say, "Oh, come on. Do they really crack open that many chests in an E.R.?"
But people who consider having the Beatles perform "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as their first number instead of their fifth on Ed Sullivan -- as "American Dreams" did -- a violation against history are an obsessive bunch. At times the show's antifans seem like Jack Black's rabid record store clerk character in "High Fidelity."
Still, they might remember that there is nothing so square as an aging baby boomer wallowing in the musical past. I remember when my teenage daughter's father excitedly dragged her out to see "A Hard Day's Night" at a revival house.
"I liked it," she said grudgingly. "I just didn't like it as much as all the dads standing in line liked it."
Despite baby boomer nostalgia, it's that all-important youth demographic that networks are really after. Younger viewers couldn't care less that, say, Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" was never released as a single and therefore Meg's groovy record store clerk boyfriend couldn't have played it for her as such.
In any case, if teens have to watch the adventures of "Bandstand"-dancing Meg while their parents yell at the screen that, dad-gummit, the Kinks didn't release "You Really Got Me" for another EIGHT MONTHS, NBC really doesn't care.
"We're prouder of this show than of any other show on the air," said NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker, who'd dropped by the set for a visit and this week renewed "American Dreams" -- whose future had been looking a little iffy -- for another season.
"For so many years people knocked NBC for not having a show the whole family could watch together," Zucker added.
Prince noted that although he doesn't always abide by the wishes of musical purist fans, he does answer to a higher authority. "American Bandstand" producer Dick Clark is an executive producer on "American Dreams."
"Most shows have to answer to the musical supervisor," Prince said. "I answer to Dick Clark. He's God."
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