FILM / The tracks of his tears: Marshall Herskovitz is past thirtysomething but is still making grown men cry. By Sheila Johnston

If there are any old yuppies still out there, Marshall Herskovitz can be fairly secure of occupying a place in their hearts (and a spot, perhaps, in modern, slang-infested dictionaries). thirtysomething, which Herskovitz co- wrote, -produced and -directed, ran for four years, earning 44 Emmy nominations and 13 awards. It might not have been the most-watched American TV show of the late Eighties but it was certainly the most chattered about among the chattering classes.

thirtysomething had its detractors - those carping old cynics who thought it was narcissistic, vacuous, touchy- feely, soap-operettish. Among the production team it was known as 'Tears 'R' Us', according to Herskowitz, who has no illusions about its cultural status or weaknesses, although he is also fiercely defensive of it.

'We were trying to look at private life; that's what the show was about and inevitably when you do that you give the impression that these people are not concerned with what goes on in the world around them. It was a problem we were never able to overcome, but it certainly doesn't reflect out beliefs as artists.

'At the same time I felt that they were not particularly materialistic. They did not live in wealthy surroundings, they did not drive new cars or have fancy clothes. They were too physically attractive; that was a mistake in the casting and in retrospective I think it hurt the image of the show. And they did drink bottled water, which was based on our experience in Los Angeles - everybody does it there because they hate the taste of the water that comes out of the tap. But outside of LA it was considered to be frivolous.

'In fact, a lot of the characters were struggling with money and didn't have many options in their lives. I think the critics who said thirtysomething was an upscale show were upscale, baby-boomer people themselves who were in some sense embarrassed by it. People of lesser means were still perfectly able to enjoy it.'

Herskovitz takes another trip to Tears 'R' Us in his feature debut, Jack the Bear, where families are once again dysfunctional and grown men are known to cry. But the setting is down- at-heel early Seventies suburbia and the stars are the definitely un-Adonis- like, non-designer Danny De Vito (with sideburns) and 12-year-old Robert J Steinmiller, who gives a remarkable holding performance as his screen son struggling to hold the family together after his mother's death (he also turned out to have the useful ability to cry on cue).

'The original book is set in the Seventies and we kept it there because we wanted the sense that there was something enveloping and warm and safe about the neighbourhood, even though it was sort of funky and eccentric. It should look like a fun place to grow up; it's only in the course of the film that you realise it's a dangerous place. In the Nineties, as soon as you see weird people your assumption is that they probably have a gun and might shoot you.'

As if to dispel suspicions that he's still a box director, Herskovitz has shot Jack the Bear in wide screen. And, he says, 'In television you have longer scenes that are very much about dialogue because it's easiest to shoot quickly. Things are coagulated into a small number of scenes that you can cut in a simple way.

'In this movie we had little talk and the script was written in the form of very, very short scenes; there were almost 300, twice the number as a regular film. Most of them were an eighth or a quarter of a page long, yet had a lot of material in them. When you're shooting a film, you like to do one or two scenes a day; we'd be doing seven. And it was very difficult to edit, no question about that. It proved to be a real jigsaw puzzle.'

So much so that Herskovitz had to wait nearly a year to reshoot some scenes (the delay was caused by the fact that De Vito was busy with Hoffa and Batman Returns), and Jack's muted impact at the US box-office suggested that Middle American audiences were uncomfortable with it. 'European audiences are more willing to stay with a film that is impressionistic and not heavily plotted. Americans get impatient very quickly; to get millions of people to see a film, it has to have primary colours in it. And that's not exactly my interest as a film-maker.'

Herskovitz does declare an interest - a slightly unlikley one given the all-apple pie subjects of his own writing: 'the literature of medieval Northern Europe like the Icelandic sagas, Scandinavian folklore and Anglo-Saxon poetry' (his college thesis was a screenplay based on Beowulf). 'The guiding principle in those stories is very different from what I call Western classical drama, going back to the Greeks, in which character determines fate and you can predict what's going to happen to someone based on what he is like.

'In Icelandic sagas, the guy you love the most could be dead by the next page. A sense of fear and anxiety permeates them because you've got nothing to hold on to as a reader; the indifference of fate is so evident. My tendency as a story-teller has been influenced by that. In the first season of thirtysomething Michael and Elliot lost their business, which was almost unheard-of in the tradition of American television series. But perhaps it's harder to do that in a film, whereas on TV there's always the hope that something better will happen next week.'

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links