Marriage is a necessary cornerstone of a civilized society. Crumble that building block and the waves of instability can be felt like tremors foreshadowing an earthquake. Sift through the wreckage of the collapsed marriage and all too often, you'll find the broken bodies of children. It never fails to be heartbreaking.
So hey, let's go
Now CBS, still mocked by avant garde-adoring TV critics as the home of Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury solving murders for the Geritol set, is trying to build its own marriage-mangling brand with a new summer series called Swingtown, scheduled to debut on June 5. Set in a suburban neighborhood in 1976, the show will explore the polyester joys of infidelity and drug abuse, choreographed to a disco beat.
Smack dab in the Thursday-night time slot of Without a Trace, the series which dug deep for the ratings gold with a teen orgy scene a few years ago, CBS looks to set new records in broadcast debauchery. Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times reported the first episode is stacked with a sexual threesome; a high school junior smoking marijuana and then flirting with her English teacher; the glorified enjoyment of Quaaludes and cocaine; and the sight of the “neighborhood scold” stumbling upon a basement orgy, only to hear some mutton-chopped participant say with a smirk “Why don't you kick off your shoes, Mom, and join the party?”
CBS is so proud of itself. “We wanted to give people something fun and fresh in the summer,” declared Nina Tassler, the president of CBS who approved the series. “The summer gives you a kind of different license.” Underline that word “license.” When Tassler, whose second cousin had written the swinging Seventies best-seller Open Marriage, heard of the Swingtown premise, she recalled “I said, 'Oh my God, that's right in my sweet spot, in terms of my nostalgia.”
But in that oppressive, nagging place called “reality,” the practice of “open marriage” often becomes a prelude to divorce. Marriage is defined by exclusivity, the pledge to spend one's life devoted to one spouse, one love. If you consistently consider that some other partner might be groovier, it won't be surprising if soon, one half of a marriage – or both – decide to opt out. Where is the romance in “I love you – or maybe her? Or him?”
Series creator Mike Kelley says he has based the series in part on his own suburban neighborhood in
Kelley claims the “crazy second adolescence” of his parents “inspired me to be as brave and honest as I can be in my own adult relationships and not worry so much about what other people think or say about them.” He told the Times “the jury is still out for me on marriage and monogamy.” Asked if he's presently involved in a relationship, he declared he's had a handful of “primary” relationships over the years, “none of which society would probably deem conventional.”
Kelley began with a series obviously aimed at pay cable, but he's now delighted to be on a broadcast network, even if it means toning down the nudity and graphic depiction of sex acts. “I think we're able to be more groundbreaking and more culturally subversive by putting this on a network, where more people will be exposed to it and where we'll have to deal with these adult issues in an oblique way.”
L. Brent Bozell III is President of the