||PARTY OF FIVE
Five siblings become orphans after their parents are killed by a drunk driver in an automobile accident.
142 episodes of 60 minute duration. Fox 1994-2000
On the surface, “Party Of Five” was similar to another Fox dramatic series–“Beverly Hills, 90210"–in that it dealt with teenagers. But PO5 (as fans called it) was deeper and more intelligent than “90210,” with acting and situations a cut or two above the norm.
It took a lot of faith from Fox executives to keep the show on the air despite extremely low ratings in its first season; by the second year, “Party” became a moderate hit and a fan favorite that ran for a total of six seasons. “PO5" also helped launch the careers of Neve Campbell (“Scream”), Matthew Fox (“Lost”), Scott Wolf (“Everwood” and “The Nine”) , and Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Ghost Whisperer”)
The premise was unusual for American television: Parents Nick and Diana Salinger died after a drunk driver slammed into their car. The Salingers left five children–oldest son Charlie (Fox), younger teen brother Bailey (Wolf), teen sister Julia (Campbell), younger sister Claudia (Lacey Chabert) and baby Owen (played by three different actors during the show’s run). All five became orphans upon their parents’ death; it was up to the somewhat irresponsible 24-year-old Charlie to take charge and care for his younger siblings. To support the family, Charlie took over the family’s San Francisco restaurant.
But while Charlie was dealing with his own problems, the other Salinger kids had their own woes. Bailey, the level-headed sibling, tried to keep an even keel and acted as a sounding board, sometimes getting into major fights with Charlie over the family’s direction. Julia found herself going from one bad relationship to another; and adolescent Claudia used her violin talents to deal with the loss of her parents.
It was all deep and dark material, contrary to the television image of teenagers as carefree and young individuals. But “Party Of Five” shined with literate scripts, a rich musical soundtrack, and solid acting from the core cast. And there was romance among the older characters. Womanizing Charlie would eventually settle down with Owen’s babysitter, Kirsten Thomas (Paula Devicq). Bailey would have a relationship with Sarah Reeves (Hewitt) while Julia fell in love with Griffin Holbrook (Jeremy London); she became pregnant in the second season but later had a miscarriage. Young Claudia found a mentor in her gay violin teacher Ross Werkman (Mitchell Anderson) in the early years, but began dating as she grew into adolescence.
PO5 was the brainchild of Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, former writers on the NBC drama “Sisters”. Bob Greenblatt, who was executive vice president of content programming at Fox, says the idea of the show stemmed from the idea of doing what he called a “Fox version of a family show”–without the parents. Keyser and Lippman fleshed out the concept; the show was approved and went on the air September 12th, 1994.
Critics hailed the effort (“TV Guide” called it “strong, heart-tugging family drama...absorbing and well-cast; we like these kids and we like the show”). But the only suitable spot Fox had on the schedule for “Party of Five” was Monday nights, after the over-the-top prime time soap “Melrose Place.” Up against such tough competition as ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and CBS’ “Murphy Brown,” PO5 looked to be another critically acclaimed but short-lived series. Fortunately, the show had a supporter in John Matoian, a former CBS programmer who became president of the Fox Entertainment Group. Matoian liked PO5 and what it represented for the network; in January 1995, the show was moved to Wednesdays, behind the more compatible “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Slowly, very slowly, the audience began to build; by its second season, “Party of Five” was a solid Wednesday anchor for Fox. (Ironically, Matoian could not come up with many more hits during his tenure and left the network after two years.)
Perhaps the best-known episode of the series first aired during the third season (February 19th, 1997). Called “The Intervention,” it brings the Salinger family and Sarah together to confront Bailey about his growing dependence on alcohol. What begins as a plea for Bailey to get help turns emotional when he turns the tables on his accusers and cuts each one down. The episode ended without a resolution; it would later take a near-tragic incident to force Bailey to seek treatment.
In October 1999, Hewitt’s Sarah Reeves was given her own dramatic series, “Time Of Your Life.” Featuring a pre-“Alias” Jennifer Garner, it showed Sarah making her own way as a young single woman in New York City. But critics were not kind and the ratings were low; “Time” was pulled from the airwaves after ten episodes; only two more episodes aired in June 2000. Seven already produced episodes of “Time” were never broadcast.
A month earlier, the final “Party Of Five” was broadcast, wrapping up the final plotlines: Charlie and Kirsten (by now married) awaited the birth of their first child and decided to raise Owen; Charlie sold the family restaurant and home, splitting the money with his siblings. Bailey went back to college in Philadelphia; Julia took a magazine internship job in Washington D.C.; and Claudia accepted a music scholarship at Julliard. Despite its quality, “Party of Five” never won an Emmy (it was nominated for a minor category); the show did pick up other awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Drama in 1996. The show was unique in using contemporary music by alternative artists; its theme “Closer To Free” was performed by the BoDeans.
The first two seasons of “PO5" have been released on DVD as of this writing; the show began airing in the UK on the ABC1 channel in July 2006. In part because of the tremendous success of “Lost” (which stars Matthew Fox), there has been renewed interest for “Party Of Five.” Fortunately, that interest is well-deserved. PO5 was a fresh, innovative take on the teen drama–“TV Guide’s” statement that “we like these kids and we liked the show” summed it up quite well.
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