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An ode to 'The Divide': The little show that could've been huge for TV

In all of my excitement about The Player, I’ve started reminiscing about The Divide—last year’s sleeper of a series that starred Damon Gupton and Marin Ireland as two people on opposite sides of a reopened Philadelphia murder case.

Co-created by Tony Goldwyn (yes, Scandal‘s President of the United States) and Richard LaGravenese, The Divide was a show full of artistic and intellectual layers, with the potential to become as socially impactful as The Wire. It was cable network WEtv’s first scripted series, and it was a huge loss for television when they canceled it.

Here’s the original series trailer from last July:

The Divide is what happens when you put a bunch of smart people in a room together and tell them to go make a TV show. Originally developed for AMC, it was the brainchild of Goldwyn and LaGravenese. The latter has an Academy Award for writing 1991’s The Fisher King; the former is beloved for his work as Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant, but deserves just as much acclaim for his resume as a director and producer, something he’s been doing for 16 years. Together, they created the story of a law student named Christine Rosa, who revisits a family slaying that she believes is a wrongful conviction, setting her on a collision course with District Attorney Adam Page—the man who made his name on that conviction 11 years earlier.

That’s a loaded premise. But they didn’t stop there. They introduced issues of race, politics, and morality into the mix. Christine and the two men she was hoping to free were white; Adam and the slain Butler family were black. She was a thorny woman who had volatile relationships with her family and her cop boyfriend; he was a straight-laced man devoted to his family. Each of them had other problems to deal with outside of what was going on with this particular case. And both of them were as smart and passionate as the other. In every creative choice made in the development of the series, they could’ve made things simpler or more clear-cut, but instead they made them complex and conflicted.

But shows that want to be about something are only as good as the people who are supposed to communicate what they’re about. You can have huge ambitions for a series that can all go away if the actors can’t get them off the page. The Divide cast a brilliant group of people who made it feel much more like theater than a TV series. Tony Award nominee Marin Ireland was cast as Christine, and was able to embrace every part of her—from the woman determined to pursue justice to the one who could be abrasive and off-putting. She wasn’t afraid to show us a character who wasn’t always doing the right thing. We didn’t have to like Christine; we just had to understand her.

Her opposite number was Damon Gupton, who could not have been more suited to the role of Adam Page. This was a guy whom you wanted to be the District Attorney, whom you could believe was in courtrooms day in and day out for more than a decade fighting what he believed was the good fight. You pulled for him, even if the story started with Christine. At the same time, audiences got to watch Adam unravel—not because he might lose this case, but because of everything the situation made him question. He might have the powerful wife and the perfect family, but he never stopped being a guy who just wanted to do the right thing. When we talk about fearless performances, we’re talking about the ones given by Ireland and Gupton. They were flawless.

Then, enter a cast of remarkable supporting players who were rich in their own portrayals. Clarke Peters portrayed Adam’s father, police commissioner Isaiah Page, and you could get an entire show out of the two of them having a conversation. Nia Long scored as Adam’s equally capable wife, Billie Page. For all the talk of strong women of color on TV, Long didn’t get talked about enough.

Chris Bauer and Joe Anderson put very human faces on convicted killers Jared Bankowski and Terry Kucik, while Britne Oldford did the same for the victims as Jenny Butler. Paul Schneider grounded the show as Christine’s boss, Clark Rylance. Everybody came to play.

And then, here came LaGravenese, who wrote or co-wrote all but one of the eight episodes, giving The Divide a remarkable narrative consistency. As he wrote story, he pulled no punches and asked some great questions. This was not Law & Order; it was not about the outcome of the Butler case, although audiences got one. It was about the impact of the case and its reopening on these people and the city of Philadelphia. It didn’t make the law student good and the D.A. bad; both of them were just people. It wasn’t another diatribe against “the system”; it was an exploration about race, class, politics, ambition, ethics, and ultimately, what it means to be a part of this criminal justice process that manipulates people’s lives.

As it handled these big issues with respect, with tremendous heart, and in ways that didn’t have an easy answer (nor ever purported to), The Divide could have been huge for television and the TV community. It could have, should have, started a discussion about everything from the definition of justice to the continued perspective on race in America.

But it didn’t get that chance. Instead, it got a little lost on a network otherwise filled with reality shows and reruns. Maybe if it had aired someplace else, things would’ve turned out differently, because The Divide and everyone involved reached for something bold, something smart, something that needed to be said. Television, to say nothing of the world at large, gained from that courage.

The Divide is available on Amazon Instant Video.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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