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'Homefront' returns as a 48-hour marathon

Saturday, April 22, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The best is back.

For the first time since its network run, "Homefront" returns on TV Land in a 48-hour marathon that kicks off Saturday at 6 a.m.

Don't remember the show? That's no surprise. Created by the husband and wife team of Bernard Lechowick and Lynn Marie Latham ("Knots Landing," "Second Chances"), "Homefront" aired on ABC from 1991 to 1993. In its second season the drama was sentenced to ABC's suicidal Thursday night lineup, which has claimed many quality series before and since.

 
    TV REVIEW

"Homefront"

When: Marathon begins at 6 a.m. Saturday on TV Land.

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Tammy Lauren, Wendy Phillips, Mimi Kennedy, Hattie Winston.

 
 

"Homefront" - set in fictitious River Run, Ohio, just after World War II - achieved ratings considered mediocre in the early 1990s. In today's ratings-depressed prime time, "Homefront" would be a Top 30 hit.

"Homefront" is my favorite TV show of all time. But with news of its return, I worried: Had I oversold myself on the show? Would it be as good as I remembered?

After rewatching the 90-minute pilot and an additional episode, my concerns proved unfounded. "Homefront" is as good now as it was then. Maybe even better.

"Homefront" expertly performs a delicate balance. It combines humor, drama, soap opera twists and issues-oriented plots in just the right mix. Because it was a period piece when it aired, "Homefront" doesn't look like it's aged a day.

Like the Broadway musical "Ragtime," "Homefront" is about three families. The wealthy Sloans run the town factory, members of the middle-class Metcalf clan work in the factory and Abe (Dick Anthony Williams) and Gloria Davis (Hattie Winston), who are black, work as servants for the Sloans.

The stories on "Homefront" were frequently divided along social class lines, showing reactions from a variety of viewpoints. Racial inequality was a running theme, and in one of the show's best scenes viewers saw the Sloans and Davises trade places. The role of women in the work force, the organization of unions, polio, religion, the evolution from radio to television, baseball and the rise of the middle class all played out during "Homefront's" two seasons on the air.

In some ways, "Homefront" was ahead of its time. The show embraced swing dancing about four years before swing re-emerged on the pop culture radar. It depicted the lives and loves of "The Greatest Generation" before Tom Brokaw chronicled the era in his 1998 best-selling book.

Only 42 1/2 hours of "Homefront" were produced, so TV Land's marathon includes a few repeats after midnight Sunday and one episode that never aired on ABC (4:30 p.m. Sunday). The 90-minute pilot - which throws off scheduling in neat one-hour blocks - will air in the middle of the marathon at 8 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 p.m. Sunday. "Homefront" will air daily at noon on TV Land beginning May 1.

"Homefront" was the victim of sloppy ABC scheduling, but it also grasped for attention in the shadow of NBC's "I'll Fly Away," which premiered the same season. Critics went to great lengths to deservedly praise that drama about race relations in the '50s South, but not as many crusaded on behalf of "Homefront."

Much as I liked and admired "I'll Fly Away," it left me angry every week. With "Homefront," I never knew what emotions would be stirred up, but the show's theme song ("Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive") offered hope instead of despair. "Homefront" mixed the tenets of quality television with nostalgia (fans of the series "Remember WENN" take note), serial story lines and an attractive cast.

Some of the stars of "Homefront" have gone on to long-lasting series or high profile film roles. Winston works for Ted Danson's doc on "Becker." Mimi Kennedy, ruthless Ruth Sloan, plays Dharma's hippie mom on "Dharma & Greg." Wendy Phillips, matriarch Anne Metcalf, starred as another mother on "Promised Land." Jessica Steen, women's liberation-minded Linda Metcalf, starred as an astronaut in "Armageddon."

Kyle Chandler, baseball player Jeff Metcalf, gets the newspaper a day early each week on "Early Edition." His "Homefront" sweetheart, Tammy Lauren, spent time in "Dave's World" and on the first season of "Martial Law." Kelly Rutherford, "Homefront" barmaid Judy Owen, spent several years living at "Melrose Place."

One of the hallmarks of "Homefront" was crosscutting between characters in parallel discussions. In one episode, dim-but-well-meaning Charlie (Harry O'Reilly) got lectured by union leader Al Kahn (John Slattery) about how management at the plant was pitting union workers against newly hired African-American workers. At the same time, Robert Davis (Sterling Macer Jr.) had a similar discussion with his parents, Abe and Gloria:

Al: Management is using you to get what they want. They're depending on you to act that way. They set a trap and you fell right in.

Cut to Robert with his parents.

Robert: It was a very good trap, Dad, because this cracker is as ignorant as they come.

Gloria: Don't you know enough to hate the ignorance and not the man? Have your father and I been talking to ourselves all these years?

Robert: I cannot separate this man from his ignorance

Abe: You have to. You're probably the first...

Cut back to Charlie and Al.

Charlie: ... colored person I've ever said more than two words to in my whole life, and no matter what I say he acts like I'm...

Cut back to Robert.

Robert: ...insulting and stupid.

Those are two things "Homefront" was not.

Seven years after its cancellation, there are fan sites on the Internet (the best is at w3.one.net/~abacab/hfpage.htm). Even the folks at the hilariously brutal Web site www.jumptheshark.com have nothing but praise for the show. And that's as it should be.

Welcome back, "Homefront."


Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.



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