As proud as they are of their Emmy-winning ABC series "thirtysomething," producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz would just as soon you don't think about it when you watch their new NBC series, Dream Street (8:30 p.m., Ch. 2). That's a little like playing "The William Tell Overture" and asking people not to think about the Lone Ranger.Although Zwick and Herskovitz insist that "Dream Street" was conceived before "thirtysomething," there's no question the two shows were spawned in the same creative gene pool. Both are ensemble dramas that focus on young adult characters. Both base storylines on character development and realistic situations rather than melodramatic events. And both are tuned into strong human values like family and friendship.
Even the differences between the two shows seem to emphasize their similarities. "thirtysomething" is the top 40 hit; "Dream Street" is the flip side. "thirtysomething" is Volvo; "Dream Street" is Chevrolet. "thirtysomething" is wine and cheese (or is that "whine and cheese"?); "Dream Street" is beer and pretzels. "thirtysomething" is Brooks Brothers and Donna Karan New York; "Dream Street" is Levis 501s.
"Dream Street" is "thirtysomething," only seen through grittier, urban, less upscale glasses. It focuses on the Debeaus, a working class New Jersey family that lives just across the river from Manhattan. It's about their friends and their families, their passions and their conflicts, their hopes and their dreams - and their limitations.
Call it "Jerseysomething."
"`Dream Street' is real-life, rock-and-roll television," said Mark Rosner ("Crime Story"), the show's supervising producer. "The characters are characters who could easily be characters in a rock-and-roll song. We don't do a show unless you could write a great, passionate song about it.
"I mean, our shows are about love and about lust, and where they overlap and where they don't," Rosner continued. "Our shows are about how do you make some kind of peace with your family, how do you fit into your community, what happens when your family and friendships conflict, when you're pulled apart: real primal, how-do-I-make-my-place-in-the-world stuff."
In other words, the "Dream Street" creative teams believes the show owes more to Bruce Springsteen than to "thirtysomething."
"We're fans," Rosner said. "And it was exciting in the first stages to think, `Would it be possible to construct a show where the characters that we've heard in Springsteen's songs had a place?' So that was one of our goals."
And that is exciting. The working class has largely been under-represented on network television - especially in the dramatic form. One can't help but believe that there is a lot of rich material to be mined here, and certainly Herskovitz, Zwick and Rosner have the talent to do it.
But the pilot that you'll see tonight only shows flashes of the brilliance one might expect from their collaborative effort. There are some interesting characters, some good dialogue ("I said men are swine. I never said I didn't like bacon") and a promising plot twist or two. But there is too much self-conscious stylishness and gratuitous excess (both in terms of language and sexuality) for the pilot to be considered more than just a demonstration of potential.
Still, there is potential here. And the fact that the pilot doesn't quite fulfill that potential means the show is at least living up to Rosner's expectations.
"Hey, we're rock-and-roll," he said. "We won't be perfect. But when we err, I would much rather be loud and obnoxious than tame and boring."