Monday, February 28, 2011

Swingtown: One Season Wonder

And in the end, the love we take is equal to...?
The backstory saga of 'Swingtown' might be the rarest of tales imaginable: passionate TV network executive takes a chance and champions a (presumably risquĂ©) series to appear on her network; in doing so, she inadvertently eliminates any potential that series had to succeed. 'Swingtown' appeared on CBS in the summer of 2008 and lasted for just one season, 13 episodes. In that time, it garnered a fairly decent cult-like following among those who actually watched the show while it aired. 
Suburban hausfrau trying quaaludes for the first time 
The unfortunate thing about this show is that it was actually very, very good. Much better, I suspect, than anyone who tuned in had expected. Its very fate, in fact, depended on those who didn't watch it and instead made judgements about what they perceived to be its content. Even based solely on its name. (Hand-wringers then appealing to advertisers.)
Previous neighbors offering 4th of July leftovers
More unfortunate, still, is that the creators of the show were shopping it around before CBS came into play. And it might have ended up on Showtime, where it would have been a great fit. But the CBS executive who read it loved it so much, she insisted 'Swingtown' appear on her network, subsequently rendering it D.O.A. with her devotion. Sometimes, it's best to leave what you care about alone. Her dedication to the show would have been been better served had she said: "Please go find a home on cable television because I'd like to watch this show." But there you have it. 
Smart, liberated girl ready to dump summer fling for her teacher
I was intrigued by this 70's era show (set in 1976) and watched 'Swingtown' when it aired in the summer of '08. I felt invested enough in the characters, its attention to detail and story after that first viewing that I bought the DVD set from Amazon and watched it all over again. My favorite example of this great attention to detail –– apart from the very specifically styled homes and decor –– is how often you hear the comforting, muffled sound of a transistor radio playing hit songs from the era, whether indoors in someone's kitchen, or outdoors at a picnic. 

The soundtrack for the series is impressive. They managed to get rights to some of the best songs of the time, like Jackson Browne's 'Running On Empty'. What is especially great about the show is that it was conceived and created so independently of any recent 'period show' trends. It began its ill-fated run on CBS shortly after 'Mad Men' had gained popularity, but 'Swingtown' had been in production before that –– and the series creator was as passionate about the era he was depicting (based on the lives of his parents) as Matthew Weiner was in basing 'Mad Men' on his father's life and times. 'Swingtown' is as artfully crafted as 'Mad Men'. It should have had a place to truly develop –– away from the confines of network television and concerned and panicky advertisers. Somehow, even within those confines, it was made beautifully.
New neighbors, new perspective
'Swingtown' is a unique series because a TV executive's love ultimately brought it down. I highly recommend you purchase this gem and embrace the sincerity and passion that went into its creation.

3 comments:

  1. Meant to watch this when it was on, as I love Molly Parker and '70s stuff. Not surprised at all it didn't last. Definitely something that should've ended up on cable, like 'Mad Men.' Glad there's DVD!

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  2. Yes, it's definitely worth watching on DVD :)

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  3. In fact, I've rarely seen a show rated so well on its Amazon page before... people who've seen it just rave about it and its average rating is 5 stars. It's a pretty impressive response for just 13 episodes - but the character development in this was really rich, not to mention the attention to detail and cultural significance in terms of the 70's. Simply an awesome show.

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