'Brooklyn Bridge' is a nostalgic journey


August 06, 1991|By Michael Hill

LOS ANGELES -- Walk onto a stage at Paramount Studios, past all the scaffolding and lights and the spread of food for the extras' breakfast, and suddenly the year is 1956, the place is Brooklyn and the kitchen floor is ugly linoleum.

It's the wonderfully wrought set of "Brooklyn Bridge," one of the most promising entries in the new fall television sweepstakes. Though production has just begun on the CBS half hour, from the looks of the script of the initial episode, this should be a funny, poignant trip to bountiful nostalgia every Friday night at 8:30.

The weekly installments of "Brooklyn Bridge," which tell of the adventures of 9-year-old Nathaniel Silver, his 14-year-old brother Alan, and their extended family, particularly their grandmother Sophie Berger, which sprawls over two flats in this Brooklyn tenement, will constitute a virtual autobiography of its creator, Gary David Goldberg, who is best known as the creator of "Family Ties."

That means the story will be specific in time -- it starts in 1956 and will advance in real time, one year per season -- in place -- Bensonhurst in Brooklyn -- and in ethnicity -- Jewish.

"I believe that if we stay true to whatever that culture was, people will respond to that," Goldberg said of the fact that the culture he's writing about will be foreign to most of the television audience.

"You can't work from the outside in. All I can do is eavesdrop on this family and present it, deal with the specifics of their background, of the culture, of the time, and hope that there's some resonance to it.

"I believe that the more truth that's there, the better. Even though people won't particularly understand it, they'll react to it. Audiences are smart. They recognize honesty and honesty resonates. I believe that. Otherwise, it would be very hard for me to keep working."

The society depicted in "Brooklyn Bridge" is a close and closed one that nourishes and protects its young with a fierce love and loyalty.

"There was a certain sense in that neighborhood," Goldberg said. "At 3 o'clock you could come home from school and go into any apartment and they'd know just what to do. Milk and cookies, change your clothes and send you back out into the schoolyard again.

"In a sense, we were all their children and they were all our parents. And that sense of safety and security is gone, not just in Brooklyn, it's gone everywhere."

On the "Brooklyn Bridge" set, the brothers' room, so small it can barely hold twin beds, is a virtual shrine to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"I think the beginning of the end of Brooklyn, as it's depicted here, certainly started when the Dodgers left. That was a bad day. That will be an hour episode, God willing," Goldberg said.

"In our show, you're catching Brooklyn at a very hopeful time. There was a clear belief and understanding, a bedrock feeling, that the world was getting better, that kids would have what their parents didn't have."

As Goldberg celebrates this society, this time and place, he said that "Brooklyn Bridge" would also show its downside.

"It was a society in which everyone knew their place. At all times you knew exactly what your relationship to every other person was. That felt very secure. If you could thrive in that environment, you did great. But if you couldn't, it could be stifling. You had to get out," he said.

"My grandmother was the center of my universe," he said of the character of Sophie, who will be played by Marion Ross, the most recognizable name in the cast who is best known as the mother on "Happy Days."

"When I would wake up in the morning, the first words I heard were, 'What do you want for dinner I have to defrost?'

"My grandmother was a woman who opened my mail routinely, and thought nothing of it. When you would question her, it was always, 'What do you have secrets? Who are you, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?'

"The love in that house was very severe," Goldberg said, his eyes beginning to tear up. "I grew up believing that there was nothing I couldn't do. One day I would rule the world. Nothing I couldn't do except go to New York by myself on the subway. This contradiction of life is something I'm still grappling with."

And speaking of contradictions, consider that Goldberg is, as a result of "Family Ties," worth tens of millions of dollars, seemingly the perfect fulfillment of that '50s dream of life getting better, of kids having what parents did not.

Then hear what he says about his own kids, one now in college, the other in third grade.

"Like any father, you try to give your kids things. I look at my kids and I say, 'You know, I've really tried hard, but I don't think I've given you what I was given.' I don't think I've been able to do that for them."

So, perhaps to show them what they are missing, he's giving us "Brooklyn Bridge."

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