When Bonnie and Terry Turner, creators of the hit sitcom “3rd Rock From the Sun,” and Mark Brazill, a consulting writer on the show, were asked to create a comedy set in the ’70s, the trio looked no further than their own backyard.
Drawing on their shared roots growing up in small-town America, before kids hung out at shopping malls and group dated at the movies, they created a smart, hip comedy that appealed to a wide audience, making it one of Fox’s long-running hit shows.
“We wanted to do a coming-of-age story that was infused with our own personal history of friends and family,” says Brazill, a former standup comedian who was brought onboard by the Turners, a husband-and-wife team who wrote for “Saturday Night Live,” and scripted such films as “Wayne’s World,” and “The Brady Bunch Movie,” before moving into television for the prolific independent production company of Carsey-Werner-Mandabach.
Point Place, Wis., the fictional setting for the show, was based on the real harbor town in Toledo, Ohio, Bonnie Turner’s hometown. Both Terry Turner and Brazill say they grew up with hard-ass fathers such as Red (Kurtwood Smith), and so they understood the struggle between Red and Eric (Topher Grace).
The sexy tomboy, the stoner, the stuck-up girl and stuck-on-himself guy (Ashton Kutcher) were archetypes that populated every high school, and the foreign exchange student, FES, a classmate of Bonnie Turner’s became Fez (Wilmer Valderrama).
In the first few episodes, the political and social issues of the day served as a backdrop, such as when Gerald Ford visits Point Place and the cast gets political and Eric streaks during his speech. The writers quickly realized, however, that it was the universal storylines of young love and lust that struck a chord with their audience.
“I always felt the show shared something with ‘Happy Days,’ ” explains Brazill. “That was a coming-of-age story set in the ’50s that aired in the ’70s, and ours was a coming-of-age story in the ’70s that aired in the ’90s and beyond.”
The Turners left after the second season to create other shows for Carsey-Werner, while Brazill exec produced 150 episodes before leaving. All three returned for the taping of the finale.
“This show is really timeless,” says Bonnie Turner. “I don’t think kids change that much. Eight-tracks may become iPods, but there’s always the rite of passage to sneak a beer and bond with your friends.”