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September 29, 2002 (2002-09-29) - March 30, 2005 (2005-03-30)
American Dreams is an American televisiondrama series that ran on NBC for three seasons & 61 episodes, from September 29, 2002 to March 30, 2005. The show tells the story of the Pryor family of Philadelphia during the mid-1960s, with many plotlines centered around teenager Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow), who dances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The show often featured contemporary musicians performing as popular musicians of the 1960s. Season one takes place in 1963-64, season two in 1964-65, and season three in 1965-66.
The series was created by Jonathan Prince and developed by Josh Goldstein and Prince; the latter was also one of the executive producers with Dick Clark. It debuted on September 29, 2002 and initially aired on Sundays at 8:00 pm Eastern Time, but moved to the same time on Wednesdays from March 9, 2005, to the third-season finale (March 30, 2005). The show was known as Our Generation when it debuted in Australia; however, it was changed back to American Dreams when it returned for the second season.
The theme song "Generation" was written and performed by Emerson Hart, lead singer of the band Tonic. The song earned Hart an ASCAP award for Best Theme Song of Television in 2003. The show was the 2003 TV Land Awards "Future Classic" winner.
In 1963 Philadelphia, the Pryors are a close Irish-Catholic family. World War II veteran John "Jack" Pryor owns a television and radio store. He and his homemaker wife Helen have five children: High school senior and football player "JJ", younger sisters Meg and Patty, and younger brother Will, who is lame from polio. Jack employs Henry Walker, whose son Sam is among the few black students at East Catholic High School. Meg and best friend Roxanne pass the audition to dance on camera for Dick Clark's American Bandstand, filmed in the city, while JJ hopes to win a football scholarship to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The show depicts historical events, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 1964 Philadelphia race riot, and American involvement in--and opposition to--the Vietnam War.
Sarah Ramos as Patricia "Patty" Pryor: Meg's younger sister. Very book smart and acts like a know it all.
Ethan Dampf as William "Will" Pryor: The youngest Pryor child whose leg was crippled with polio, which is a source of guilt for his parents as they refused to allow him to have the Salk vaccine. In the show's second season, his leg was surgically repaired.
Arlen Escarpeta as Samuel "Sam" Walker: Henry's son and Meg's good friend who becomes a romantic interest in Season 3.
Vanessa Lengies as Roxanne Bojarski: Meg's best friend who has a knack for getting herself into trouble. She dances on American Bandstand with Meg.
Rachel Boston as Elizabeth "Beth" Mason-Pryor: JJ's girlfriend, whom he marries in the third season after returning from Vietnam. They have an infant son "Trip".
Matthew John Armstrong as Pete Pryor: Jack's younger brother, an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. He is assigned to the Columbia Avenue Precinct in North Philadelphia, a precinct which includes the Walkers' home and the Pryors' second store. He is addicted to alcohol and gambling. Almost married in Season 2 to Nancy (Helen's coworker and friend), but calls off the wedding at the last minute.
Christopher Cousins as Theodore "Ted" Pryor: Jack and Pete's older brother, a successful businessman who has a strained and distant relationship from the rest of the family. He is only seen in a couple of episodes, and dies in a car accident late in Season 3.
Natalie Marston as Melissa Pryor: Ted's 18-year-old daughter, niece of Jack and Pete. She entered Vassar College in the fall of 1966.
John J. "Trip" Pryor III: JJ and Beth's son, born in November 1965 during the third season.
Aysia Polk as Angela Walker: Henry and Gwen's daughter, roughly Patty's age.
Keith Robinson as Nathan Walker: Henry's outspoken nephew. Spent some time in jail; eventually rehabilitated himself and now operates a delivery service.
Jamie Elman as Luke Foley: A record store clerk. Meg's boyfriend in the first season; after they broke up, Luke and Roxanne developed a relationship and began living together in the third season.
Jesse Hutch as James "Jimmy" Riley: An American Bandstand dance partner of Meg's who eventually leaves to fight in Vietnam; he would later return to American Dreams in the second season, in a wheelchair.
Samuel Page as Drew Mandel: A college student at the University of Pennsylvania; he and Meg date during the show, despite both her brother J.J. and her father's dislike for Drew. It ends when she catches him cheating on her.
Johnny Lewis as Leonard "Lenny" Beeber: Roxanne's second-season boyfriend with whom she goes on tour. Head of the band Lenny and the Pilgrims.
Milo Ventimiglia as Christopher "Chris" Pierce: Shelly Pierce's son, who becomes Meg's new love interest in the third season.
Rodney Scott as Daniel "Danny" O'Connor: Quarterback of the East Catholic football team in the first season, and who has a short-lived relationship with Meg in season two. His older brother was declared missing in action in Vietnam. In season three, Danny's brother's body is found in Vietnam.
Paul Wasilewski as Thomas "Tommy" DeFelice: JJ's macho friend and former football teammate. JJ later ends the friendship when he notices a strong racist side to him when Sam enrolls at East Catholic. They resume their friendship when Tommy takes the blame for something JJ did.
Kevin Sheridan as Kenny Keegan: JJ's East Catholic friend and teammate; a mediocre athlete.
Jessica Collins as Collee: JJ's coworker and sometime girlfriend in season one; she is older than JJ and a divorcée.
Nigel Thatch as Willie Johnson: A charismatic neighborhood agitator in North Philadelphia who played a major role in instigating the Philadelphia 1964 race riot.
Virginia Madsen as Rebecca Sandstrom: Helen's friend from a book club. Her character was dropped after the first season.
Alicia Coppola as Nancy: After meeting Helen while working at the same travel agency, she became one of Helen's confidantes. Nancy dated and then became engaged to Pete Pryor, only to be left standing at the altar.
Hank Stratton as Donald Norville: Helen's colleague at the travel agency. He is later fired for being homosexual.
Steve Ryan as Father Conti: The Pryor family's strict Catholic priest, who also serves as the headmaster of East Catholic high school.
James Read and Barbara Alyn Woods as Mr. and Mrs. George Mason: Beth's well-to-do parents. Estranged from Beth after she became pregnant with JJ Pryor's child, although some reconciliation was attempted in the show's third season.
Art Garfunkel as Mr. Greenwood: The bohemian owner of the Vinyl Crocodile record store. Appeared sporadically during the first season; in the third season he is said to have gone "on a worldwide tour with his friend", an allusion to Art Garfunkel's singing partnership with Paul Simon.
Daphne Zuniga as Shelly Pierce: A single mom who works at a nearby Playboy Club and the Pryors' next-door neighbor (starting at the beginning of Season 3).
Murray Rubenstein as Murray: A barbershop owner whose business is next to Pryor's TV and Radio. A frequent visitor to the store, though he rarely buys anything.
Caitlin Greer as Audrey: A University of Pennsylvania student who befriends Meg and Sam.
In the pilot episode, set in November 1963, Meg and Roxanne win the opportunity to join the dancers on the TV show American Bandstand, filmed in Philadelphia. Passing note is made of the JFK assassination and funeral. Bandstand immediately becomes the principal creative pillar of American Dreams, with each episode featuring recreated versions of several musical acts that originally appeared on the real Bandstand, often rendered by modern singers.
JJ Pryor, a running back for the East Catholic Fighting Crusaders football team, tries and fails to earn a full athletic scholarship to play at the University of Notre Dame, so he later applies for and is accepted to Lehigh University. A nagging ankle injury curtails his football career, so he enlists in the United States Marine Corps to pay for school. Meanwhile, JJ's on-again, off-again girlfriend Beth chooses to attend the University of Pennsylvania in order to be near JJ.
In the early part of the season, Meg develops a crush on a Bandstand dancer, and they go on a couple of public appearance dates. While never becoming romantic, they remained good friends. Meg later developed a romance with Luke Foley, a record store clerk and fellow East Catholic student.
Sam Walker wins a trackathletic scholarship to East Catholic. Sam's father Henry states that there are only three other black male students at East Catholic; some in the majority-white student body resent Sam's presence, especially Tommy DeFelice, who is later expelled after falsely confessing to JJ's crime of breaking Beth's current boyfriend's windshield. Sam and Meg develop a friendship, even creating a record-swapping club while meeting at the Vinyl Crocodile record store.
Meg and Sam survive the riots unharmed, but the branch of Jack's store under Henry's management is destroyed. Gwen dies from cancer. JJ excels at boot camp and arrives in Vietnam. While on leave, he and Beth are reunited in Hawaii; they break up, but Beth soon learns she is pregnant with JJ's child, and she moves in with the Pryors.
Helen discovers that there might be a possible surgical treatment for Will's paralysis, and the early part of the season deals with Will's medical treatment. By the end of the season, Will's leg braces have been removed and he is able to walk normally.
Roxanne exchanges promise rings with boyfriend Lenny, and goes on tour with him before returning home. Later on, she dates Meg's ex-boyfriend, Luke. Meg dates a college boy, Drew, despite JJ and her father's strong dislike for him, but breaks it off when he ends up cheating on her.
Sam wins a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Jack decides to run for the City Council. In the season finale on April 4, 2004, Sam's cousin Nathan is drafted and opts to go to jail rather than serve in Vietnam. Also in that episode, JJ is caught in a fierce firefight, while Meg and Sam are arrested at a campus rally protesting the Vietnam war.
Season 3 (2004-05)
The arrests widen the communications gap between parents and children, and inspire Meg to lead additional protests. A strict new headmaster also fires Meg up. An injured JJ wakes up in an American military hospital, and learns of his forthcoming child; Beth refuses to accept JJ's offer of marriage. Roxanne, estranged from her mother, moves in with the Pryors. JJ gets recruited for special, somewhat mysterious duty for the US government. Jack wins an upset victory for the City Council.
As Thanksgiving nears closer, JJ is captured by the Viet Cong. He and his sergeant escape, but are presumed missing in action (the sergeant is later found buried in a shallow grave). The Pryors learn of JJ's "Missing In Action" status just before Thanksgiving.
Luke Foley returns to Philadelphia, and Roxanne, who moves out on her remarrying mother, moves in with him in a loft above the Vinyl Crocodile record store.
On a commercial-free special episode that aired November 21, 2004, JJ returns home. At episode's end he glares harshly at his mother. In the next original episode, JJ becomes a Marine recruiter and suffers from post-traumatic flashbacks. He proposes to Beth. Beth and JJ are married on the January 23, 2005 episode. Helen becomes involved with a Catholic peace group.
As the show enters 1966, JJ marries Beth in a ceremony held at the Pryors' catholic church. Jack Pryor, newly elected to the Philadelphia City Council, is forced to take a bribe, with the money going to help JJ repay some gambling debts. Eventually Jack votes to elect a local activist in his district, Reverend Davis, to the Police Review Board essentially voting against the Council. For this act of disloyalty, several members of the police force beat up JJ after a traffic stop. Pete soon finds the culprits who attacked JJ and roughs them up, but Jack decides to resign from the Council.
Chris and Meg's relationship becomes more intimate, but Meg is troubled by reports that Chris helped set fire to a recruitment center. Despite this, Meg and Chris eventually have sex--with Chris revealing afterward that he did indeed lie to Meg about the recruitment center. Meg and Chris eventually break up, and Chris leaves Philadelphia.
Meg and Sam consider the possibility of a romantic relationship, but JJ and Nathan discourage the idea. Meanwhile, Jack and Pete's older brother Ted gets into a serious car accident, putting him on a respirator. After much soul searching, the Pryors decide to disconnect the machine. After returning home from a Rolling Stones concert, Meg finds her ex-boyfriend Chris standing in front of her home. He's just been drafted.
In the season/series finale, Meg and Chris both leave Philadelphia on Chris' motorcycle, with plans for them to live in Berkeley, California and campaign against the war. JJ Pryor applies for and receives a job in aeronautics, assisting in space suit design for future NASA missions to the moon.
Timeline of events in the series
c. 1920 - Jack Pryor is born.
c. 1927 - Helen Dolan is born.
c. September 1945 - Jack Pryor, presumably returning from fighting in World War II, conceives a child with Helen Dolan.
c. November 1945 - Jack Pryor and Helen Dolan are married.
c. June 1946 - J.J. Pryor is born.
c. 1946 - Beth Mason is born.
c. 1947 - Sam Walker and Luke Foley are born.
c. March 1948 - Roxanne Bojarski is born.
c. August 1948 - Meg Pryor is born.
c. 1951 - Angela Walker is born.
c. 1951 - Patty Pryor is born.
c. 1956 - Will Pryor is born.
Events depicted on screen
November 1963 - Meg and Roxanne become regular dancers on American Bandstand.
June 1964 - JJ and Beth graduate from high school.
On May 16, 2005, NBC announced their fall schedule for the 2005-06 season. Confirming months of speculation (and an unofficial confirmation article on May 1 by Reuters), American Dreams was formally canceled, due to low ratings.
Never a strong performer in its Sunday 8pm timeslot, the show's third-season ratings dropped 33% from its first season and 13% from its second season. In the third season, the show was regularly beaten in the Sunday night ratings by ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and CBS's Cold Case. On February 2, 2005, NBC reduced the number of third-season episodes of American Dreams from 19 to 17. The network also moved the program away from its original Sunday night timeslot to Wednesday nights, airing before The West Wing. This put the show up against CBS's Survivor: Palau and ABC's Lost, and American Dreams could not compete against these popular programs.
As the third season wound down, actors on the show filmed pilots for new shows to possibly air in the 2005-06 television season. Fans of American Dreams organized a campaign to save the show, sending over 5000 supportive e-mails to NBC after the season finale and several thousand postcards to the network as well. On May 4, 2005, fans flew an aerial banner over NBC's Burbank studios in support of the show, even as the show's sets were being dismantled at Sunset-Gower Studios, where it was filmed.
It had been reported that American Dreams may have been canceled as early as December 2004. Jonathan Prince mentioned in a Miami Herald article that he was able to get four additional episodes made by having companies such as Kraft and Nabisco pay for additional episodes in exchange for product placement (Campbell's Soups and Ford also participated in product placement episodes).
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on April 12, 2005 that in late February, NBC ordered two endings filmed for the season finale. The un-aired ending was reported to be a 12-minute segment set on July 20, 1969 (the day Apollo 11 landed on the Moon), with Meg returning home to face her family after a three-year absence.
NBC opted not to air the 12-minute epilogue when the third-season finale aired on March 30, 2005, a month and a half before the official cancellation of the series. TV Guide reported on July 26, 2005 that this epilogue was likely to air in a rerun of the third-season finale in August or September, but the airing never materialized. NBC was unable to attract sponsorship for the segment, which reportedly contained many rock-and-roll oldies, resulting in expensive music licensing fees for the network.
During the second annual ATX Television Festival on June 9, 2013, the cast and crew of the show were reunited, and creator Jonathan Prince unveiled for the first time to both the cast and audience, a rough cut of the never-before-seen epilogue.
In the epilogue, a long-haired Meg is seen on a bus (with a caption reading "Three Years Later"). After a couple of fellow hippie travelers inquire about the purpose of her trip, Meg reveals that she's planning to attend Woodstock with Sam (who had just graduated from college), and has traveled upstate early in order to meet up with him. Meg also reveals that she still lives in Berkeley, and hasn't been back home since she left with Chris three years prior. Meg is also planning on staying in New York with Roxanne, who is now married to Luke and has a baby boy named Dustin. Meg later reveals that Patty has graduated from high school and is now attending college at Harvard's sister school, Radcliffe. Throughout her time on the bus (and her conversation with the hippies), Meg reflects on her experiences with her family and friends.
After the hippies leave, Meg is seen pensively staring out of the bus window. The next moment, Meg is standing outside of her former home in Philadelphia, having taken a detour from heading to New York. She runs into her nephew Trip (who is now much older), who tells her that he knows who she is (based on family photos). When asked, she tells him that she came because she wanted to see her family. Trip tells her that everyone is inside, watching the first ever moon landing (placing the epilogue on July 20, 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the Moon). Tripp reveals that JJ now has a job building space suits for astronauts. Suddenly, Jack (Meg's father) comes out and calls for Trip to come in, when he sees Meg. Trip goes inside, and Helen (Meg's mother) comes outside calling for Jack, but stops when she sees Meg.
An awkward silence passes among the three, until Jack invites Meg inside for leftovers. Jack enters the house as Meg walks up and grabs Helen in a hug, while Jack looks on from inside. Once everyone goes inside, the scene pans out, with Neil Armstrong's famous moon landing address providing a voiceover until the screen goes black.
Fourth season plotlines
In interviews, Jonathan Prince revealed that if American Dreams had been renewed for a fourth season, the following plotlines would have been included.
The fourth season would have picked up in January 1967.
Meg would have returned to Philadelphia six episodes into the season after JJ goes to California with intentions to take her home.
Roxanne would have taken a job as the hairdresser for American Bandstand.
Jack would become angry after discovering that Helen had been using her job as a travel agent to help young men dodge the draft and flee to Canada.
There would be tension in JJ and Beth's marriage, after Beth reluctantly agreed to JJ's wishes to postpone going back to college.
Henry would remarry and accept a new, deaf stepson into his home.
JJ would continue working for the company designing spacesuits for the manned mission to the moon.
The Apollo 1 fire would somehow figure into the fourth season plotline.
Patty would serve as the Team Manager for the East Catholic football team.
During the show's run, several contact artists recreated performances of artists from the 1960s. These recreations were often performed on the American Bandstand stage, although several performances took place at a performing area adjacent to the Vinyl Crocodile record store. In the second and third seasons, several of the recreations took place at The Lair, a coffee house/student union facility on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
The contemporary artists, along with the songs they performed and the artist they "interpreted", are listed below.
Despite its popularity as a family drama, American Dreams was heavily criticized for its various levels of historical inaccuracy. Several historic events were restaged earlier or later in the show's timeline to fit a plotline, and some of the music and pop culture references do not match up with either historic fact or the show's current timeline. Several arguments between the show's loyal fanbase can be traced to whether the show should be viewed as a chronologically accurate representation of life in 1960s Philadelphia, or is instead an idealized combination of mnemonic images and pop culture references from points throughout the 1960s, much as the film The Wedding Singer was for the 1980s.
Some examples of these disputes include:
A running plotline is the appearance of Meg and Roxanne as dancers on American Bandstand, which still tapes a daily after-school show in Philadelphia; where in real life the show moved to Los Angeles in February 1964 and was only broadcast once a week, on Saturday afternoons (in real life, the studio used for Bandstand was later appropriated by the stations of public broadcasting operation WHYY after WFIL's donation of them shortly after moving to their new City Avenue studios).
In the pilot episode, Jack makes a reference to Ara Parseghian and Notre Dame. The pilot was set in November 1963 while Parseghian was hired by Notre Dame in December.
In the first year, JJ Pryor Jr supposedly attended Lehigh University on a football scholarship in 1963 but joined the Marines when injured to pay for college. Lehigh doesn't have athletic scholarships but gives financial grants in aid instead. Thus he would have still had financial aid even if injured.
The Philadelphia 1964 race riot depicted in the first-season finale started at night, not in the daytime, as depicted in the show. Television footage of the riots shown on the episode actually came from the Watts riots of 1965 Los Angeles.
When the Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, the scene is set up so that the first song the Beatles play is "I Want to Hold Your Hand", which was the Beatles' first American hit, but was not the first song played on Ed Sullivan (that honor goes to "All My Loving").
In one episode in the show's third season, set in late November 1965, the East Coast Blackout and the Leonid meteor shower were both "rescheduled" so that they would fall on the same day that Beth Mason gave birth to JJ Pryor's son.
In a first-season episode, Meg and Roxanne gush over meeting the group Jay and the Americans, and Roxanne is especially enamored with "Carl, the drummer" (the group neither had a member named Carl, nor a drummer, in real life). Also in real life, there were two lead singers known as "Jay" - Jay Traynor, who sang on their hit "She Cried", and Jay Black, who replaced Traynor for the group's other hits -- yet on the episode, it is assumed that there was only one "Jay" who sang all the hits without interruption.
In the show's first season, set in November 1963, Meg Pryor and Luke Foley argue over the merits of Bob Dylan, and Luke hands Meg a 45 of Dylan singing "Mr. Tambourine Man." In fact, Dylan did not write or perform the song until 1964, and he never released it on a commercial 45 (it appeared on his "Bringing It All Back Home" album released in early 1965), although the Byrds' rendition of it was a hit single. Note that before Luke hands meg the Dylan record, he specifically says that it is "an advanced copy of the record that won't be released until next year."
References are made in the show's second season to I Dream of Jeannie, which was still a year away from premiering. On top of that, "the big band theme song" heard, is the one introduced at the beginning of the show's second season (which was a re-creation of the original theme). It was performed & produced by LA guitarist Rick Fleishman, and it also featured LA session drummer Paul Goldberg. (It's the one most viewers were familiar with in 1966).
The Monkees perform on the Bandstand stage in January 1966, despite their television series not even premiering until September 1966, or the four actors playing the Monkees even performing a live concert until a year later.
While working at the space suit company, JJ Pryor meets Gus Grissom, and they discuss the Apollo 1 mission. Grissom later says, "Get me back to Cape Canaveral." In reality, the Apollo 1 mission was not designated by that number or name until after the accident that claimed the lives of Grissom and two other astronauts (at the time the mission was known as Apollo/Saturn 204), and the reference to Cape Canaveral would have been wrong, as the area where the space center was located had been renamed "Cape Kennedy" during the 1960s. While the town was officially renamed back to Cape Canaveral in 1973, the space center was (and still is) known as the Kennedy Space Center, and at least three years had passed since the town was renamed from Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy; so although it is not impossible that in a casual conversation Grissom would have used the traditional name, it is still unlikely that this would happen.
Neither The Who nor Ricky Nelson ever performed on the Bandstand stage in real life (Nelson's father Ozzie refused to allow his performing son to appear on anybody else's TV series, even if such appearance might help increase record sales); but that didn't stop the producers from staging performances by those artists in this series.
The Who is shown performing on Bandstand in the show's third season, set in 1965-1966. However The Who's first performance in the United States wasn't until the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
In an episode that is supposedly taking place in the spring of 1965, two customers at the TV store, played by Days of Our Lives actors John Aniston and Frances Reid, were watching an episode of Days of our Lives on a TV (Frances was watching herself on an early episode). Days of our Lives did not premiere until November 8, 1965.
In a late third-season episode, Meg, Roxanne and Luke sit outside Connie Mack Stadium with lawn chairs, listening for free to the Rolling Stones, who are playing a live concert at the stadium. Luke makes a reference that he heard a Bob Dylan concert at Connie Mack Stadium for free this way. Bob Dylan did not play Connie Mack Stadium as an outdoor venue in 1966 or earlier.
The first season of American Dreams was released on DVD in September 2004. As of January no formal release dates have been announced for the remaining two seasons. Prince has promised that the series epilogue will appear in the third-season DVD release. However, it is widely believed that the huge number of licensed songs on the series make future DVD releases cost prohibitive, although Prince said that was not the case.
On January 26, 2009, it was reported that Prince and other producers from the show were negotiating to get the final two seasons released on DVD, along with including the unaired epilogue.
 No recent news was made until June 21, 2010, where it was reported that the producers "are closer than ever to debuting a boxed set of all three seasons of American Dreams on DVD". However, negotiations seem to have stalled, with negotiations continuing as of early 2013.
At the second annual ATX Television Festival on June 9, 2013, Prince spoke out on the hold-up on the home media release of seasons 2 and 3, admitting that because of costly music licensing issues, it was unlikely that NBC would find it cost-effective to make those licensing deals unless fans campaigned to prove that the DVDs would sell, suggesting a Kickstarter campaign to gauge interest.
American Dreams -- Season One (Extended Music Edition)
There are music alterations in the Season 1 DVD release in order to keep music licensing costs down. Prince has noted that the first season retains about "80% of the original music", keeping music he deemed critical to particular scenes, as well as performances of guest stars and music for the Bandstand dancers while replacing some background songs with "cheaper needle-drops" from the 1960s. Prince said he doubted even hard-core fans would notice the difference.
On May 6, 2003, Hip-O Records released American Dreams -- Original Soundtrack 1963-1964, with original and new recordings featured in the show's first season.
American Dreams was shown for three years on NBC from 2002 to 2005. The first two seasons were shown in the United Kingdom (on the Hallmark Channel and Trouble), in Denmark (TV2), in Brazil (Sony Entertainment Television) and in Poland (TV Puls).