Navigate to News section

Dear ABC, Please Don’t Bungle the ‘Dirty Dancing’ TV Special

Johnny Castle and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman return to the Catskills

Rachel Shukert
December 11, 2015

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

It’s the seminal line in Dirty Dancing, itself possibly the most seminal coming-of-age romantic dance movie-cum-social exploration of the mores of the post-War Jewish American upper middle class, ever committed to film. It’s spoken, of course, by the late, great Patrick Swayze, who plays a working-class dance instructor and dreamboat Johnny Castle (who, as you can probably tell, does not count himself among the various Sons of Israel working the dining rooms of the Catskills that summer to save up a little extra money for law school). And while Castle is putatively referring to the placement of Frances “Baby” Houseman’s seat at the end-of-summer talent show—this is before the gorgeous Jennifer Grey got that rhinoplasty—every single little Jewish girl in the audience knew exactly what he was talking about: the metaphorical corner of marriage to a nice; unsexy podiatrist; the nice neatly-combed children and the house in the suburbs; the synagogue sisterhood casino nights. Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name” is rendered in glorious ethnic—and therefore, all the more guilt-ridden—Technicolor.

Well, now a new generation of little girls of all ages and creeds is going to hear that line again now that ABC has announced their plans for a three-hour made-for-TV remake of Dirty Dancing starring Abigail Breslin.With the announcement, ABC becomes the latest network to jump on the television musical event trend, albeit not live and oddly without audience; this dynamic makes the actors seem like they are performing in some sadistic purgatorial community theater company, where performers are condemned for eternity to dance the same numbers over and over again, never to hear applause (and yes, I did try to figure out how to write about The Wiz last week and came up with nothing, I’m sorry). That’s right. Dirty Dancing is coming to the small screen.

I’m tired of feeling like an old curmudgeon who hates everything, so I’ll refrain from worrying that Patrick Swayze is pirouetting in his grave, and just say what I hope they don’t do.

I hope—God, how I hope—that they won’t give the movie an update, taking the film away from its very specific, extremely proscribe, and utterly vanished world of Jewish Catskills summer resorts and instead setting it in some modern, deracinated, and colorless Club Med full of sunburned gentiles pretending to have been profoundly moved by their brief, chlorinated swim with the enslaved dolphin population.

Dirty Dancing worked because of the dancing and the sex, but also because of the delicate sense of social stratification and norms, as exacting and labyrinthine as anything out of Downton Abbey. I really, really hope they don’t get rid of Penny’s botched back-alley abortion, since it would be the first such procedure shown on network television for probably like 20 years—and it’s something that genuinely happened then (and is dangerously close to becoming commonplace again)—not to mention the inciting incident for Baby and Johnny’s entire romance.

But most of all, I hope they keep Dirty Dancing Jewish. I go to these meetings and sit in on these calls with network executives. I know blah blah blah relatable blah blah blah four quadrants blah blah blah largest possible audience. But I also know what it meant to me, as a little Jewish girl, to watch a movie that wasn’t about the Holocaust but where everybody was Jewish. Where the bad guys were Jewish. Where the good guys (except Patrick Swayze, obviously) were Jewish. Where—and this is extremely important—where the obviously Jewish girl was the desirable object of longing for the gorgeous guy that everyone wanted. It was everything.

Good luck to ABC. I just hope they know what Jennifer Grey learned the hard way. Not everything needs a nose job.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.