Love May Keep Us Together, but What Will Free Love Do?

Media Reviews for Media People: CBS's 'Swingtown'

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NEW YORK ( -- With more networks ready to launch their summer offerings, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on some of TV's new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may be the best showcases for their ads and products. This week, we look at "Swingtown," an offbeat CBS drama about families growing up in the hedonistic mid-1970s.


Where/When You'll See It: CBS, starting June 5; Thursdays at 10 p.m.

What You'll See: One of the more envelope-pushing offerings to hit the living-room screen in months, CBS's "Swingtown" focuses on three families navigating the cultural upheaval of the mid-1970s. You can snort coke, swing with the neighbors next door, even bring home a fetching young stewardess to have some fun with the wife. Or you can do the usual thing -- raise kids, grill burgers, clean stoves. It's really up to you.
Swingtown Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS

Such is the precarious situation in which Susan and Bruce Miller find themselves. After moving to a bigger house in an upscale lakeside Chicago suburb, the pair encounter hip neighbors Tom and Trina Decker -- an oversexed airline pilot and his Quaalude-popping wife who really seem to enjoy their open marriage. The Millers and their kids must decide whether they want to partake of the era's new freedoms, or hew closer to the life they have always known, which is personified by their old -- and conservative -- friends, Janet and Roger Thompson.

Audiences will have fun watching the Millers struggle. "Swingtown" is faithful to the era, trotting out cans of Tab at home as well as packages of Rinso detergent at the supermarket. There's a soundtrack, too: David Bowie's "Golden Years," Chicago's "Saturday In the Park," Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" and Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" all show up at interesting moments, stoking the flames of nostalgia older viewers are bound to have.

There's stuff for younger demographics as well. "Swingtown" loves to wink at the camera, including a scene at the start of the first episode that probably had CBS's Standards & Practices Department dealing with heart palpitations (best for us not to describe it here). The show also features the families' kids, all of whom are going through transformations and new experiences of their own.

Consider "Swingtown" a trippy descendant of NBC's "American Dreams," which examined American life in the heyday of "American Bandstand." You might even liken it to ABC's "Wonder Years" without the kid's-eye view. Decidedly adult and filled with drug use, one-hit musical wonders and attention to detail from times past, "Swingtown" ought to draw viewers interested in good stories as well as those who want to look through a window on days gone by.

What's at Stake? CBS has long been looking for something to air that isn't a "procedural" -- one of those formulaic cop shows that always get resolved within the hour, a la "CSI" or "Without a Trace." Several recent attempts -- ranging from the clever "Love Monkey" to the cult favorite "Jericho" to the misguided "Viva Laughlin -- have out-and-out failed. But the Tiffany Network keeps on trying.

Originally slated to run in the second half of the 2007-08 TV season, "Swingtown" was put off until after the end of the recently completed writers strike, so producers could have more than a few episodes in the can and preserve continuity. As one of the few original broadcast-network dramas set to air in summertime, "Swingtown" could also help CBS stand apart from lots of reality dreck scattered across its rivals, not to mention several new interesting dramas set to launch on cable in the warmer months.

Your Ad Here? Let's be blunt. Some advertisers will run in the other direction when they hear about a show that contains drug use and swinging. But they should watch before they run. "Swingtown" is at its heart a drama about families and growing up, with history as a backdrop. The depictions of edgy behavior aren't too in-your-face, and the show is clearly going to explore the ramifications of indulging in these antics. "Swingtown" offers an intriguing twist on product placement. All the goods featured -- from cars to sodas to food -- are from the 1970s. Does having an old, faded or discontinued product featured in a program have any effect on the marketer's image or sales in the modern era? It might be a question left to researchers, or someone interested in finding out for themselves.

Media Buyer's Verdict: Break out the Debbie Boone and Peaches & Herb! Buyers suspect that beneath all the kooky free-love antics lies a drama with a little heart. "It's very interesting social commentary," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat. "Marketers who have issues with content will be skittish, but marketers who really want to speak to modern women will have no problem."
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