Family

TV classics: Family

USA 1976-80, five seasons, 86 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Selling, Mike Nichols. Cast: Sada Thompson, James Broderick, Gary Frank, Kristy McNichol, Elayne HeilVeil, Meredith Baxter Birney, Quinn Cummings.

Plot summary: Family life is not a walk in the park and no one knows that better than Kate and Doug Lawrence, two middle-aged parents who love and curse their kids at the same time.

family 1976Review: When Family premiered in the spring of 1976, the family shows had long been established on TV. Programs like Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show had coined the genre in the early days. Unlike its predecessors, however, Family dealt with issues and disputes in a serious way. Although joy and laughter belonged to the Lawrence’s household, the overall tone of the show was serious. In contrast to the early family sitcoms, Kate and Doug were loving but stern parents who had to deal with three children and their struggles.

Set in Southern California, the Lawrence family belonged to the upper middle class and led a comfortable life in Pasadena. Kate, played by a warmhearted but slightly melancholy Sada Thompson, was the female head of the household. A woman who had put her family before her own professional aspirations and thus fought with her own demons. Doug (James Broderick) was Kate’s husband and father of Nancy, Willie and Buddy. As an independent lawyer, he was the negotiator of the family, a strict man who had his convictions but wasn’t set in his ways. Nancy, the oldest daughter, was married in the beginning of the show but later divorced her husband. Selfish by nature and equally demanding, she had a difficult relationship with her mother whose own values differed largely from hers. Willie, the second-in-line, was a high school drop out who dreamed of becoming a famous writer. Buddy, the pet of the family, was his favorite sister. A tomboy on the outside, she was a teenage girl within. Insecure about her height and femininity, she slowly grew into a confident young woman who was a reliable and honest friend. As the youngest Lawrence offspring, she had suffered greatly after the loss of her older brother, Timothy, five years prior to the show’s beginning. His death a gash still tangible in the entire family.

It were topics like these that set the show apart from many others. Family didn’t shy away from touching uncomfortable or somber topics. Breast cancer, divorce and the doubts of an expectant mother are just some of the examples that made this program what it was: a story about a fictional family with realistic challenges and problems. Although not yet available on DVD as a complete collection, the first two seasons provide an insight into the difficulties and changes of the 1970s. Influenced by subjects and questions discussed at the time, the show now functions like a time capsule. No matter if you are fond of the era or critical of it like me, Family offers a wonderful cast and moving storylines. A real treat for anyone who wants to understand the sensitivities of a different time, as well as the roots of female characters who speak their mind. Kate Lawrence has always been one of my favorites, strong, hands-on and maternal. Here’s my favorite scene with her from the pilot, a great example of the style and tone of a show that started as a mini series and ended its run at the dawn of a new decade after five seasons.

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Respect for Acting

As y’all may know by now, Friday is miscellaneous day. So today I am writing about one of my favorite topics: acting.

Acting can be a fun hobby but it is a tough job if you do it for a living, if you are a working actor fishing for parts or a newcomer who is barely scraping by. Personally, I love to act and I have great respect for everyone who does try to live by it. It is one of those creative professions that is often underestimated all the while it is the most popularly celebrated job in all of Hollywood.

Actors are predominantly associated with the projects they are working on although in essence they do not shape the film, play or program as much as is often insinuated in interviews and features. Without actors a script will not come to life however, no matter how good an idea the director has or how much money the producer provides. It is a very interesting job actually, exhausting at times, following orders yet breathing life into a character so it will be distinctively your own creation.

In my experience, every actor has a different approach, background and method to work with. And no matter how much training you get, every actor has to find what works for her (or him for that matter) best. So apart from never-ending practice, singing, dance or voice lessons, joy and the necessity of an undying craving to perform, careful observation and second hand experience may do wonders for your style.

“Eight Women of the American Stage – Talking about Acting” by Roy Harris (with a foreword by Emily Mann) and “Actors at Work” by Rosemarie Tischler and Barry Jay Kaplan (with a foreword by Mike Nichols) are two books I can recommend in this context, from the bottom of my heart. They give beautiful insight into the process of acquiring a part by a variety of great American talents such as Meryl Streep, Donna Murphy or Mary McDonnell.

Furthermore, I can highly recommend Uta Hagen’s “Respect for Acting” and “Challenge for the Actor”, two books that made a big difference for me and opened my inquisitive mind. Multidisciplinary shaped as I am, it was a great addition to the different methods I looked into in classes and on stage. Uta Hagen’s approach really pushed me forward and made me feel at home emotionally. It was the one method I finally connected with.

For everybody who prefers to see and hear more about her method, “Uta Hagen’s Acting Class” is also available on DVD. In my opinion, the DVD is a worthy investment and a helpful addition to her second book, “Challenge for the Actor”. “Theater of War” may be another adjuvant purchase. The documentary features Meryl Streep’s 2008 Central Park performance of Mother Courage and her journey of mastering that challenging character.

I really wish there was a book featuring my favorite classic actresses with interviews on their acquired wisdom in and expert approach to acting . Most of them got their training on the job and successfully so, and maybe that’s their legacy for anyone who wishes to follow in their footsteps – there’s no such thing as a studio system anymore, but individual classes are available everywhere and if you’re lucky the one or other extra or stage job in your area.