Catching up with Ken Olin and Mel Harris
Last time we looked in on thirtysomething couple Hope and Michael Steadman, they were desperately trying to piece together a drifting marriage and ABC was about to put the show on the chopping block. But nine months later, the actors who played the pair, Mel Harris and Ken Olin, are faring fine, thank you, and are capturing credits all over television — one in front of the camera, one behind it.
Harris, 35, plays a pregnant U.S. attorney trying to sort out her married life while leading a federal investigation in ABC’s miniseries The Burden of Proof. And as a working mother of two (Byron, 7, and Madeline, almost 2), Harris says she can relate to the character: ”I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I think we’re both intelligent women balancing career and family.” In the thriller Grass Roots, airing next month on NBC, she plays a CIA agent whose investigation of the Senate is compromised by her steamy romance with a top Senate aide (L.A. Law‘s Corbin Bernsen). How steamy? Well, let’s just say you’ll see much more of the stunning Harris than her schlumpfy thirtysomething bathrobe ever allowed.
Harris has also just signed a deal with ABC to do another movie and possibly a series. And she and her husband, actor Cotter Smith (Equal Justice), are moving the family from L.A. to New York this May to star opposite each other in the Off-Broadway murder mystery Empty Hearts.
Though Harris says she doesn’t miss the ”grind” of her thirtysomething schedule, she is nostalgic about her former colleagues. ”It’s like going to college and moving on. You keep in touch, but it’s not the same.” She does occasionally see Olin in Santa Monica, where their kids attend the same school, but don’t expect the pair to team on screen anytime soon.
Since thirtysomething‘s demise, Olin, 37, has shifted his focus from acting to directing. ”It’s a slow process to change people’s perception of me, from being an actor to being a director,” he says. Olin, who directed three thirtysomething episodes starring his wife, Patricia Wettig, has gone on to direct two TV movies. The Broken Cord, an adaptation of Michael Dorris’ 1989 best-seller that appeared earlier this month on ABC, traced Dorris’ life with his adopted son, who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. Olin, a father of two (Clifford, 8, and Roxanne, 6), says he was drawn by ”the challenge of not sentimentalizing the compelling father-son relationship.”
His other film, Doing Time on Maple Drive, appears next month on Fox. It’s an intense look at an American family whose seemingly happy existence is shattered by the events of one weekend. The head of the family is played by James B. Sikking, who played Lieut. Howard Hunter to Olin’s Det. Harry Garibaldi on Hill Street Blues. ”I knew him eight years ago when I was ‘the kid’ on Hill Street,” Olin chuckles. ”He doesn’t seem so much older than me anymore.”
Olin’s next project will be a family affair: He plans to direct Wettig this summer in an ABC thriller, The Fortune Teller, by Marsha Norman (‘Night, Mother).
Does the director ever miss thirtysomething? ”Not really,” he says. ”I get to sleep with my favorite person on the show every night.”