Tuesday, July 20, 2010
"Homefront" (1991-93) was in the fictional town of River Run, near Cleveland, and based in part on Mentor, Ohio, hometown of series co-creator Bernard Lechowick. Set following World War II, it was a sprawling story of families dealing with post-war America. The impressive cast included Kyle Chandler, Wendy Phillips, Ken Jenkins, Dick Anthony Williams, Hattie Winston and John Slattery (who would later find more success in another period piece, "Mad Men"). After the jump, I have posted an interview I did with Lechowick and co-creator Lynn Marie Latham (also Lechowick's wife) in 2000, when TV Land began carrying repeats of the show.
Seven years after its demise, Homefront's creators still don't have a clear reason why the series was canceled.
Viewers can puzzle as well starting at 6 a.m. tomorrow with a 48-hour Homefront marathon on TV Land. Reruns of the drama will also air at noon weekdays beginning Monday.
Originally airing on ABC from 1991 to 1993 and little seen since, the weekly drama about families in the fictional Northeast Ohio town of River Run just after World War II gained respectful reviews, awards and a passionate fan following that extended far beyond this area.
It was ethnically diverse (one of the three central families was African-American). It was rich in local period detail courtesy of an on-staff researcher and the cast members' own digging. Even radio broadcasts were true to the era, and the actresses had to cope with '40s undergarments.
Personal recollections by former Mentor resident Bernard Lechowick and other midwesterners on the production staff also fueled the show.
Lynn Marie Latham, Lechowick's wife and the series' co-creator, had the original idea for the series based on the war brides she'd known in her native Texas. But it quickly became a show set near Cleveland.
The show looked like a hit at first. Audience testing of the series' pilot "went through the roof," recalled Lechowick.
While the series changed time slots five different times during its run, "the shows they put in (the same slot) after us never did as well as we did," added Latham.
"When they put us in a Thursday night slot against Cheers, they asked us to improve on the female demographic they'd had there before. We went in and doubled it," she said.
Homefront combined soapy romantic plots with stories about racism, religion, the labor movement and other issues. It managed to avoid controversy by being a period piece, Lechowick said.
"People are less threatened if it's not immediate," said Lechowick, now working on a series for MTV about the children of a '70s rock band's members traveling along on the band's reunion tour.
"With a religious discussion, if it was written with the characters in the present day, people would be up in arms," he said. "Many times we'd be at home watching the show, and I'd say, 'Lynn, can you believe we got away with this?' "
And the show's ensemble cast included actors who've gone on to more successful series, among them Dharma & Greg's Mimi Kennedy, Early Edition's Kyle Chandler and Becker's Hattie Winston. So the question still nags: Why didn't the show last longer?
Latham wondered if it was a function of bad timing, that Homefront would have had a better chance a few years later as movies like Saving Private Ryan sparked new interest in World War II America. But she also likes to think that maybe Homefront helped generate some interest, too.
Lechowick, meanwhile, offered all sorts of possible explanations.
ABC might have been more committed to the show if it had owned a piece of it. "Other shows that had lower ratings stayed on" because of network ownership, he said.
Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign wounded Homefront, Lechowick said, because Perot would buy air time in different cities and those buys would pre-empt Homefront. Other networks also targeted Homefront with heavy competition, Lechowick said.
"Executives at CBS and NBC rejoiced when we were canceled," he said. Former CBS executive Jeff Sagansky "told me 'We knew how good you were, and we couldn't let you get a foothold,' " Lechowick said.
It may also have been something as simple as the show never getting the ratings that audience research said were possible. "We were victims of high expectations," Lechowick said.
But for all that, both Lechowick and Latham prefer to think how fortunate they were to do the show in the first place.
"I'm just so grateful that ABC and (former executive) Ted Harbert let us do a project that I had wanted to since I was a teen-ager," said Latham, who's both writing for Lechowick's new series and working on a series pilot for actress Kelly McGillis. "There are so many things that you don't get to do."
And here is the rest of it.