Thirtysomething (stylized as thirtysomething) is an American drama television series created by Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz for ABC that aired from 1987 to 1991.[1] It tells of baby boomers living in their thirties who reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and examines how this group of friends learn to negotiate their prior involvement with the early 1970s counterculture as young adults, in contrast to the yuppie lifestyle which dominated American culture during the 1980s.[2]

The title of the show was designed as thirtysomething (with a lowercase "t") by Kathie Broyles, who combined the words of the original title, Thirty Something. It premiered in the United States on September 29, 1987, and lasted four seasons until it was cancelled in May 1991 because the ratings had dropped and the executive producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz moved on to other projects.[3][4][5] The series earned 13 out of its total 41 nominated Primetime Emmy Awards, and received 2 Golden Globe Awards.

General plot and characters

Although seen as an ensemble drama, the series revolves around husband and wife Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) and Hope Murdoch (Mel Harris) and their baby Janie. Michael's cousin is photographer Melissa Steadman (Melanie Mayron) who used to date his college friend Gary Shepherd (Peter Horton). Gary eventually marries Susannah (Patricia Kalember). Michael's business partner is Elliot Weston (Timothy Busfield), who has a troubled marriage with his wife Nancy (Patricia Wettig), a painter. Hope's childhood friend is local politician Ellyn Warren (Polly Draper).

Character descriptions

  • Michael Steadman and Hope Murdoch Steadman: Hope is from Philadelphia and Michael is from Chicago but remained in the area after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Hope is a graduate of Princeton and a consumer affairs writer. After having their daughter Janie, Hope becomes a stay-at-home mother, initially giving up her writing. Later in the series, she returns to work but struggles with her role as a mother in the process. During a difficult period in her marriage when she is pregnant with her second child Leo, Hope contemplates having an affair with environmentalist John Dunaway (J. D. Souther). Michael's confrontation with her over this leads them to resolve their problems and rekindle their marriage. Michael (who is Jewish) and Hope (who is Christian) are also an interfaith couple, a fact that was referenced throughout the series.[6] Michael, whose original ambition was to be a writer, works in advertising with graphic designer Elliot. They first meet at the Bernstein Fox ad agency and then leave to form The Michael and Elliot Company. When their company goes bankrupt, Michael and Elliot join the advertising corporation, DAA, run by Miles Drentell. Michael's relationship with Miles erodes his marriage with Hope who finally decides to accept a job in Washington D.C.. At the time the show was cancelled, Michael decided to quit work altogether so that Hope could pursue her own interests.
  • Elliot Weston and Nancy Krieger Weston: Elliot studied graphic design at RISD. His father Charlie (played by Eddie Albert) is divorced from Elliot's mother and now lives in California. Elliot's sister Ruthie (played by Meagen Fay), who lives in Philadelphia and is married with two children, hasn't forgiven their father for leaving them. He works in the advertising business with Michael (initially in their own business, but later for DAA). Nancy was also an Art major and is a stay-at-home mother to Ethan and Brittany. Like Hope, she initially feels bored and unhappy in her role as a homemaker. After Elliot has an affair which leads to divorce proceedings, Nancy develops a career as a children's book illustrator and author and begins to teach at a local art center. Elliot becomes jealous after she also begins to date and finds himself once again attracted to her. Eventually, they rekindle their relationship and stop divorce proceedings. During the final two seasons, Nancy struggles with, but ultimately overcomes, ovarian cancer, which deepens their marriage. Always a rebel, Elliot can never reconcile himself to Miles preference for Michael and his own loss of creative work at DAA and eventually quits DAA in a fit of rage against both Miles and Michael. He and Nancy move to California where he finds his passion in directing and eventually makes up with Michael when they accidentally bump into each other during Michael's job interview at TBWA\Chiat\Day. Michael does not accept the job, but briefly entertains the possibility of working again with Elliot to make commercials (and turns again to Miles for help in this endeavor). At the time the show was cancelled, it is implied that this venture will not happen after Michael tells Hope that he will stop working so that she can pursue her own interests.
  • Melissa Steadman: Michael's cousin and Gary's former girlfriend who studied photography at NYU. Her career as a photographer includes the cover of an album by Carly Simon and photos in Vanity Fair. Melissa has a complicated relationship with her cousin Michael who is frequently jealous of her career path. She has an equally complicated relationship with her mother Elaine (Phyllis Newman) and grandmother Rose (Sylvia Sidney). Her free-spirited sister, budding actress Jill, lives in New York (and is portrayed by Mayron's real sister Gale Mayron). In the first season, Melissa dates a divorced gynecologist with a daughter (played by Kellie Martin) who doesn't want more children. She later briefly dated Michael's boss Miles. The relationship ends when his intense attraction to her nearly evolved into date rape, an event which she prevented and for which he apologized. While she works to avoid him, Miles never really recovers from his infatuation with Melissa. In contrast, art school-dropout house painter and twenty-something Lee Owens (Corey Parker), becomes the primary focus of her romantic yearnings. Although their relationship is fraught with problems, mostly due to the age difference, they find themselves drawn to each other. After Melissa convinces Michael and Elliot to find a job for him at DAA, they begin to drift apart and eventually break up. At the time of the show's cancellation, they are on friendly terms again, and Gary's "ghost" (as he recently died in a car accident) tells Michael that Lee and Melissa will marry and have a child.
  • Ellyn Warren: Hope's childhood friend. Ellyn is an important local politician who works at City Hall. She is initially involved with Steve Woodman (Terry Kinney), who also works at City Hall. Later, she becomes involved with a married man, Jeffrey Milgrom (Richard Gilliland) who leaves his second wife for her. However, he eventually abandons Ellyn and goes back to his first wife. After the breakup, Ellyn develops a new friendship with Gary (whom she used to dislike) whom she comes to confide in. Annoyed by Michael and Hope's perpetual interference in their lives, Gary and Ellyn play a practical joke on them, implying that they are having an affair. The joke ends when Ellyn reveals she is once again involved with Billy Sidel (Erich Anderson). Billy is a comics artist and friend of Michael and Hope who set them up on a blind date. Ellyn initially dumps him as she is still seeing Jeffrey. However, after her break up with Jeffrey, Ellyn bumps into Billy and they begin to spend time together. Ellyn is initially unsettled by Billy's genuine and straightforward manner, but eventually grows to love him. Scared of his growing feelings for Ellyn, he has a one-night stand with a former girlfriend which temporarily damages his relationship with Ellyn. They eventually work through issues related to fear and trust and marry in a ceremony at Michael and Hope's house, held after Gary's death in a car accident.
  • Gary Shepherd and Susannah Hart: Gary, who first met Michael when they were in the same freshman dorm at University of Pennsylvania, is also Melissa's former boyfriend. He is a free-spirited, womanizing, professor of medieval literature at a college in the Philadelphia area. When denied tenure, he thinks about becoming a social worker and meets Susannah who works for a social welfare non-profit. Susannah, who later admits to being shy and introverted, is initially an outcast among Gary's friends. Over time, however, she develops a working relationship with the entire group to make Gary happy. Susannah and Gary move in together after she becomes pregnant with Emma and then marry prior to Susannah's move to New York in order to begin a new job (as Gary has found a new teaching positing at a local state college that he doesn't want to give up, despite the fact that it requires him to teach American poetry). Gary falls into the role of a Stay-at-home dad after the move and becomes more deeply involved in his new teaching position. He turns to Nancy for help when he is assigned a course in children's literature and does not know what to teach. Among the books that Nancy recommends, she mentions Through the Looking-Glass though she no longer owns a copy of the book. Gary was on his way to visit Nancy in the hospital (after her successful fight against cancer) with a copy of the book as a gift when he was killed when a tractor-trailer hit his car. Since Gary usually biked everywhere, Michael initially thought Gary had been killed while on his bike. Michael, who initially can't let go of Gary, is "haunted" by his ghost, who comes back to Michael through a mirror (looking glass). He also learns to respect Susannah (who stands up to his controlling nature) as they turn to each other to cope with Gary's passing.
  • Miles Drentell (David Clennon): Michael and Elliot's corrupt boss at DAA who styles himself as a type of "Zen master." Miles is a Vietnam veteran who was once a photographer passionate about art but eventually sold out. By the time Eliot and Michael meet him, Miles is a ruthless and extremely powerful businessman whose complete lack of ethics propels Michael into periods of self-reflection and depression. Michael's internal conflict deepens after Miles promotes him, forcing Michael to also sell out. Clennon reprised this role in the series Once and Again (1999–2002) and eventually dies on that series.
  • Russell Weller (David Marshall Grant) is a gay friend of Melissa's who met her while she was photographing a wedding. They became fast friends due to their mutual interest in art. His relationship with Peter Montefiore (Peter Frechette) in the 1989 episode Strangers was the subject of controversy as five of the show's regular sponsors pulled out of the episode, costing the network approximately $1.5 million in advertising revenue.[7] It eventually led producers to refrain from presenting sexualization of their gay and lesbian characters.[8]



Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 21 September 29, 1987 (1987-09-29) May 10, 1988 (1988-05-10)
2 17 December 6, 1988 (1988-12-06) May 16, 1989 (1989-05-16)
3 24 September 19, 1989 (1989-09-19) May 22, 1990 (1990-05-22)
4 23 September 25, 1990 (1990-09-25) May 28, 1991 (1991-05-28)

DVD releases

Shout! Factory (under license from MGM) has released all four seasons of Thirtysomething on DVD in Region 1.

Mill Creek Entertainment has re-released the first season on DVD in two volume collections. On January 18, 2011, they released Season One, Volume One, which features the first 10 episodes of the season.[9] Season One, Volume Two, which features the remaining 11 episodes of the season was released on January 10, 2012.[10]

In Region 2, Revelation Films has released the first two seasons on DVD in the UK.[11][12] Seasons 3 was briefly released in 2014, but was almost immediately withdrawn from sale for unspecified "contractual reasons" and has, to date, not been re-released, as has Season 4.

In Region 4, Shock Entertainment has released all 4 seasons on DVD in Australia.[13][14][15][16]

DVD Name Ep# Release Dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Complete First Season 21 August 25, 2009 November 26, 2012 September 18, 2013
The Complete Second Season 17 January 19, 2010 March 18, 2013 September 18, 2013
The Complete Third Season 24 May 11, 2010 - September 18, 2013
The Complete Fourth Season 23 November 9, 2010 - September 18, 2013

Influences and cultural impact

Thirtysomething was influenced by the 1980 film Return of the Secaucus 7 and the 1983 film The Big Chill.[17] The show reflected the angst felt by baby boomers and yuppies in the United States during the 1980s,[18] such as the changing expectations related to masculinity and femininity introduced during the era of second-wave feminism.[19] It also introduced "a new kind of hour-long drama, a series that focused on the domestic and professional lives of a group of young urban professionals, a socio-economic category of increasing interest to the television industry [...] its stylistic and story-line innovations led critics to respect it for being 'as close to the level of an art form as weekly television ever gets,' as the New York Times put it."[17] During its four-year run, Thirtysomething "attracted a cult audience of viewers who strongly identified with one or more of its eight central characters, a circle of friends living in Philadelphia."[17] Even after its cancellation in 1991, it continued to influence television programming, "in everything from the look and sound of certain TV advertisements, to other series with feminine sensibilities and preoccupations with the transition from childhood to maturity (Sisters), to situation comedies about groups of friends who talk all the time (Seinfeld)."[17] The show also influenced the British television series Cold Feet, which featured similar storylines and character types. The creator of Cold Feet wanted his show to be in the mould of successful American TV series like Thirtysomething and Frasier.[20]

Susan Faludi, in her 1991 bestseller Backlash, argues that Thirtysomething often reinforced, rather than dismantled, gender stereotypes. She suggests that it exhibited a disdainful attitude toward single, working, and feminist women (Melissa, Ellyn, and Susannah) while at the same time "exalting homemakers" (Hope and Nancy).[21][22] In this manner, the series was seen as "seemingly progressive but substantially conservative in its construction of reality."[23]

Oxford English Dictionary

Almost immediately after the introduction of the show, the term "Thirtysomething" became a catchphrase used to designate baby boomers in their thirties. This cultural shift was reinforced by the Oxford English Dictionary, which added Thirtysomething in 1993 (under the word thirty) and defined the term as follows:

Draft additions 1993 - n. [popularized as a catch-phrase by the U.S. television programme thirtysomething, first broadcast in 1987] colloq. (orig. U.S.) an undetermined age between thirty and forty; spec. applied to members of the ‘baby boom’ generation entering their thirties in the mid-1980s; also attrib. or as adj. phr. (hence, characteristic of the tastes and lifestyle of this group).[24]

Honors and awards

While it aired, Thirtysomething was nominated for 41 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning 13. It also won two Golden Globe awards. Later, by 1997, "The Go Between" and "Samurai Ad Man" were listed as number 22 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[25] Thirtysomething then placed the number 19 spot on TV Guide′s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time in 2002,[26] and in 2013, TV Guide placed it as No. 10 in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.[27]

1988 Winners:

  1. Drama Series
  2. Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Patricia Wettig
  3. Writing in a Drama Series — Paul Haggis and Marshall Herskovitz (episode: "Business as Usual")
  4. Guest Performer in a Drama Series — Shirley Knight (episode "The Parents Are Coming")

It also received the following nominations in 1988:

  1. Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Timothy Busfield
  2. Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Polly Draper
  3. Editing for a Series — Single Camera Production (Victor Du Bois and Richard Freeman for episode "Therapy")
  4. Main Title Theme Music
  5. Costuming for a Series (Marilyn Matthews and Patrick R. Norris for episode "Pilot") and Marjorie K. Chan, Patrick R. Norris, Anne Hartley and Julie Glick for episode "Whose Forest is This?")

1989 Winners:

  1. Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Melanie Mayron
  2. Writing in a Drama Series — Joseph Dougherty (episode: "First Day/Last Day")
  3. Editing for a Series — Single Camera Production (episode: "First Day/Last Day")
  4. Costuming for a Series (episode: "We'll Meet Again")

It also received the following nominations in 1989:

  1. Drama Series
  2. Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Timothy Busfield
  3. Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Jack Gilford for episode "The Mike Van Dyke Show")
  4. Directing in a Drama Series (Scott Winant for episode "We'll Meet Again")
  5. Writing in a Drama Series (Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick for episode "The Mike Van Dyke Show")
  6. Art Direction for a Series (Brandy Alexander and Mary Ann Biddle for episode "Michael Writes A Story")
  7. Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (Clark Conrad, Tim Philben, Scott Millan and Will Yarbroug for episode "Michael Writes A Story")
  8. Special Visual Effects (episode: "Michael Writes a Story")
  9. Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series (Carol Pershing for episode "We'll Meet Again")

1990 Winners:

  1. Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Patricia Wettig
  2. Directing in a Drama Series (episode: "The Go-Between") (tied with Equal Justice).

It also received the following nominations in 1990:

  1. Drama Series
  2. Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Timothy Busfield
  3. Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Melanie Mayron
  4. Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Peter Frechette for "Strangers")
  5. Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Shirley Knight for "Arizona")
  6. Writing in a Drama Series (episode: "The Go-Between")
  7. Art Direction for a Series (Brandy Alexander and Mary Ann Biddle for episode "Michael's Campaign")
  8. Hairstyling for a Series (Carol Pershing for episode "Strangers")
  9. Costuming for a Series (Patrick R. Norris and Julie Glick for episode "Strangers")

1991 Winners:

  1. Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Patricia Wettig
  2. Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Timothy Busfield
  3. Costuming for a Series (episode: "A Wedding")

It also received the following nominations in 1991:

  1. Drama Series
  2. Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Melanie Mayron
  3. Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — David Clennon
  4. Writing in a Drama Series (episode: "Second Look")
  5. Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Eileen Brennan for "Sifting the Ashes")


  1. ^ "The 'don't trust anyone over thirty' slogan of the Sixties gave way to a show called Thirtysomething in the Eighties, showing boomers grappling with having children or having left it too late." In Adams, Paul (2012). Power Trap: How fear and loathing between New Democrats and Liberals keep Stephen Harper in power--and what can be done about it. Lorimer. p. 234. ISBN 978-1459402706. 
  2. ^ Roberts, Soraya (March 8, 2015). "The Big Thaw: "Togetherness" and What Thirty-Something Means Now". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2016-05-22. 
  3. ^ Papajohn, George (May 29, 1991). "For `Thirtysomething` Fans, An End To The Angst". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  4. ^ Hill, Michael (May 22, 1991). "They're Moving On to Somethingelse". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  5. ^ Heller, Karen (May 28, 1991). "A Farewell To 'Thirtysomething' A Loyal Viewer Bemoans The Demise Of Abc's Phila.-centered Hour Of Angst". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  6. ^ "TV ACRES: Ethnic Groups > Jewish - "S-Z"". Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  7. ^ [Becker, Ron (2006). Gay TV and Straight America. Rutgers University Press: 138]
  8. ^ [Becker, Ron (2006). Gay TV and Straight America. Rutgers University Press: 179]
  9. ^ "Amazon.com: Thirtysomething -Season 1 Volume 1: Timothy Busfield, Polly Draper, Mel Harris, Peter Horton, Melanie Mayron, Ken Olin, Various: Movies & TV". Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Amazon.com: thirtysomething - Season 1, Volume 2 - 11 Episode Set: Patricia Wettig, Timothy Bustfield, Ken Olin, Polly Draper, Peter Horton, Melanie Mayron, Mel Harris, Various: Movies & TV". Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Thirtysomething - The Complete Season One [DVD]". Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Thirtysomething: Season 2 [DVD] [1988]". Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  13. ^ http://www.screenpop.com.au/dvd/thirty-something-season-one/4639.html
  14. ^ http://www.screenpop.com.au/dvd/thirty-something-season-two/4636.html
  15. ^ http://www.screenpop.com.au/dvd/thirty-something-season-three/4601.html
  16. ^ http://www.screenpop.com.au/dvd/thirty-something-season-four/4637.html
  17. ^ a b c d "Thirtysomething". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2008-05-07. 
  18. ^ Why we're still watching and arguing about thirtysomething
  19. ^ Hanke, Robert (September 1990). "Hegemonic Masculinity in thirtysomething". Critical Studies in Mass Communication. 7 (3): 231–248. doi:10.1080/15295039009360176. 
  20. ^ Smith, Rupert (2003). Cold Feet: The Complete Companion. London: Granada Media. p. 6. ISBN 0-233-00999-X.
  21. ^ Heide, Margaret J. (1 April 1992). "Mothering Ambivalence: The Treatment of Women's Gender Role Conflicts Over Work and Family on "thirtysomething"". Women's Studies. 21 (1): 103–117. doi:10.1080/00497878.1992.9978929. ISSN 0049-7878. 
  22. ^ Susan Faludi. "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women - EW.com". Entertainment Weekly's EW.com. Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  23. ^ Loeb, Jane Connelly (1 September 1990). "Rhetorical and Ideological Conservatism in thirtysomething". Critical Studies in Mass Communication. 7 (3): 249–260. doi:10.1080/15295039009360177. ISSN 0739-3180. 
  24. ^ OED:thirtysomething
  25. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28–July 4). 1997. 
  26. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". CBS News/Associated Press. February 11, 2009.
  27. ^ Roush, Matt (February 25, 2013). "Showstoppers: The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time". TV Guide. pp. 16-17.

Further reading




  • Auster, Albert. thirtysomething: Television, Women, Men, and Work (Critical Studies in Television). Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Hanke, R. (1990). "Hegemonic masculinity in Thirtysomething." Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 7, 231–248.
  • Heide, Margaret J. Television Culture and Women's Lives: thirtysomething and the Contradictions of Gender. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.


  • Writers of Thirtysomething. Thirtysomething Stories. Pocket, 1991.

External links