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'Homefront' return reason to rejoice

I recently received a very nice e-mail that included the sort of question that's nearly impossible to answer: What are my favorite shows of all time?

Yikes! That's hard to narrow down, given that I like so many shows — hundreds — from so many eras in so many different genres. How do you choose among programs that range from serious drama to talk shows to comedies to cartoons to science fiction?

That said, the show that I couldn't wait to see every week, the show whose demise I mourned most, the show I miss the most, the show I'm excited to see returning in reruns on cable's TV Land network — is "Homefront."

The 1991-93 continuing drama wasn't by any means the most important series of its time, let alone of all time, but it fit my taste exactly. Fabulously written scripts that kept you on the edge of your seat; humor; great characters; and fantastic production values, particularly for TV. I wrote at the time that " 'Homefront' is an increasingly engrossing, well-produced soap opera that tackles substantial issues like racism and is populated with likable, realistic characters."

All this in a period piece that doesn't age as the years go by. (I just took a look at tapes of the show's first two episodes and they're as good now as they were almost nine years ago.)

"Homefront" opens in 1945 as the troops are returning home from World War II. There were young veterans rebuilding their lives; the parents and sweethearts who waited for them; the women who took their places in the factories while they were gone; the war brides they brought home with them. Great attention was given to the look of the show — sets and costumes and hairstyles and so on. The scripts were even written in the language and slang of the day.

And the characters were wonderfully conceived and nicely acted. There were good guys/gals and bad guys/gals, but these were no cardboard characters. Everyone was capable of surprises, and everyone acted believably.

Originally, the story centered on Lt. Hank Metcalf (David Newsom), who was coming home to River Run (a fictional town outside Cleveland) to marry his girlfriend, Sarah (Alexandra Brewer). But, unbeknownst to Hank, Sarah has gotten involved with his younger brother, Jeff (Kyle Chandler of "Early Edition").

Then there was the Metcalfs' mom, Anne (Wendy Phillips of "Promised Land") and their sister, Linda (Jessica Steen), neither of whom was happy about being turned out of the factory jobs. And Hank's buddy, Charlie Hailey (Harry O'Reilly), who returned with a rather wicked British war bride, Caroline (Sammi Davis-Voss), much to the chagrin of his River Run girlfriend, Ginger (Tammy Lauren) — who showed up at the train station to greet Charlie in her wedding gown.

(Eventually, the show's most interesting — not to mention adorable — couple turned out to be Jeff and Ginger. It was a plot line that was only scheduled to last three episodes, but the two had incredible chemistry and the writers were smart enough to recognize it.)

The Metcalfs were working class, but the Sloans were River Run's upper crust. Mike Sr. (Ken Jenkins) was the pompous owner of the big factory in town; his wife, Ruth (Mimi Kennedy of "Dharma & Greg"), was a snob who was appalled when Mike Jr. sent home an Italian war bride. As counterpoint, there were their servants, Abe (Dick Anthony Williams) and Gloria Davis (Hattie Winston of "Becker"), whose son, Robert (Sterling Macer, Jr.) had a rather difficult experience overseas as a black man in the Army.

The show was as entertaining as anything on TV, while at the same time tackling issues like racism and early feminism and unionism, all without preaching. And it handled religion in an upfront, sensitive and realistic way.

I love this show.

Among my most prized possessions are a couple of "Homefront" scripts autographed by the writer and the cast members. They were given to me long after the show went off the air by creators/executive producers/writers Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick, with whom I have become close friends. Not that that influenced my adoration for their show — I was passionate about it before we became friends.

How passionate? Looking back seven years later, almost embarrassingly so. I actually wrote "Boo! Hiss!" one of the times ABC yanked it off the air.

The fact is that ABC greatly mishandled the show, changing its time slot four times and pre-empting it to death. One of my diatribes read, "I'm not willing to place all of the blame in every case on the networks. In many cases . . . the vast majority of viewers didn't seem to want to watch the show no matter where it was scheduled. But in the case of 'Homefront,' I'm more than willing to blame the ABC schedulers, who should be ashamed of themselves."

And I wasn't above begging people to watch this show.

"If any of you out there are Nielsen (ratings) families, I'd just like to ask one little favor. Please, please, please watch "Homefront" when it returns to the ABC schedule tonight. . . . I'm really not asking much of you. It's not like this is something you won't enjoy.

"Homefront" is one of the best series network television has to offer these days."

And the begging didn't stop there. Another column read, "Your local television editor is going to take a bit of space here for another shameless plug for the ABC series 'Homefront.' Contrary to some reports, I don't own a piece of the show. My support is based solely on quality. And 'Homefront' has quality to spare."

Not to mention that I came close to bursting into tears in print when the final episodes aired.

"Watching these two hours of 'Homefront' is not without risk. Personally, I loved both episodes. They were entertaining, heartwarming and even thought-provoking. But a day later, I write this with a deep sense of sadness because the chances of 'Homefront' being renewed aren't great. And this is not a show that deserves to die.

"Two seasons . . . are not enough for 'Homefront.' These are great characters worth spending more time with. This is great writing that's full of surprises and willing to tackle tough topics. . . . I'll miss Jeff, Ginger, Mike, Ruth, Charlie, Gina, Abe, Gloria, Al, Anne, Linda, Judy — even Caroline."

The one nice thing is that the producers managed to bring closure to the show in that final episode. Look upon "Homefront" as a 42-episode miniseries and it's completely satisfying.

You can bet that I'll be taping all the episodes I don't already have off TV Land in the coming weeks. This is something I want to have access to forever.


Television editor Scott D. Pierce can be reached by e-mail at pierce@desnews.com