Exit Interview: Marshall Herskovitz

Bala Cynwyd’s thirtysomething creator returns to the big screen

If you paid any attention to television in the late ’80s or mid-’90s, producer/director Marshall Herskovitz either gazed deep into your soul (thirtysomething; My So-Called Life) or made you sick (thirtysomething; My So-Called Life). The 58-year-old Bala Cynwyd native also has more than a few Hollywood credits to his name, including writing and producing Love and Other Drugs, which opens November 24th and stars Anne Hathaway (whom Exit Interview may or may not have stalked for a brief period of time in 2008). Herskovitz discussed his radicalization at Lower Merion High, his Eagles memories, and why Tom Cruise is misunderstood.

EI: What kind of student were you at Lower Merion?

MH: [laughs] I graduated in ’69, so I was sort of a young radical. We tried to pass a student bill of rights, which didn’t get very far. When I applied to Brandeis, I was put on the waiting list, and I found out they were afraid I was too radical. Which to me was a joke. I was really not a committed revolutionary. They eventually let me in.

EI: Not to suck up too much, but how do you feel about creating shows that became cultural touchstones for two generations?

MH: Well, thank you very much. I am not reminded on a daily basis of whatever past glories I might have achieved. thirtysomething, although it was a minor hit, was not a huge hit. My So-Called Life was an out-and-out failure. Yet both of them touched a lot of people.

EI: Why was it important to set thirtysomething in Philadelphia?

MH: Television in those days was still considered the vast wasteland. We were part of a movement of writer-producers who were trying to make personal television. Steven Bochco led the way with Hill Street Blues. We said, “These have to be real people in a real city who have real problems.” It was either going to be Chicago, where Ed [Zwick, the show’s co-creator] was from, or Philadelphia, where I was from. I think I won the toss.

EI: That show was about introspection and exploring feelings—traits Philadelphians aren’t known for, unless the feelings are boos and we’re at an Eagles game. Ever think about that irony?

MH: [laughs] Of course. I remember when I was a kid, my uncle had season tickets to the Eagles. One year, there was a guy behind us who would get drunk, and the entire game he would just scream, “Jurgensen, you bum!” I’m sure he did not end up being a thirtysomething fan. But the truth is that we did not want thirtysomething to get picked up. We thought of ourselves as moviemakers and were terrified we would get stuck in a television series. We had to satisfy our deal at MGM, so we thought, “What can we make that will fail?”

EI: Honestly—did any of those characters get on your nerves?

MH:Only in the very beginning. We knew some people watched the show because they hated it. Some people in my family hated it.