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My Family’s ‘Bridge’ to Brooklyn

A writer reflects on his family’s long-standing relationship with the cast of ‘Brooklyn Bridge,’ a short-lived yet beloved TV show about a Jewish family in 1950s NYC

Stephen Silver
September 13, 2016
Michael Elliot / Flickr
Michael Elliot / Flickr

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of one of the great, Jewish-themed TV series in history, Brooklyn Bridge, a semi-autobiographical telling of showrunner Gary David Goldberg’s childhood in 1950s Brooklyn.

The stand-in for Goldberg (who also created Family Ties and Spin City) was Alan Silver (Danny Gerard), a teenager who lived with his parents (Amy Aquino and Peter Friedman) and Old World immigrant grandparents (Louis Zorich and Happy Days legend Marion Ross.) Art Garfunkel sang the theme song, “Over the Brooklyn Bridge.” Brooklyn Bridge was an unabashed nostalgia fest.

Brooklyn Bridge drew a passionate audience, but one that was small—too small, in fact, as the series was perpetually in danger of being cancelled. (Ultimately, it was axed after two seasons and 34 episodes, in 1993.) But all the while, the show’s fans agitated to save it—none more so than my father, who had the same name as the protagonist: Alan Silver. Within two months of the show’s start, he wrote a letter to Gary David Goldberg expressing his appreciation.

“From what I’ve read, Brooklyn Bridge is semi-autobiographical, but it could just as well be my story,” my father wrote. “I was a Jewish kid growing up in the ’50s, and have more than a passing resemblance to Alan Silver on the show. Like Alan, I too have an Uncle Buddy. I also have a cousin Miriam and an Uncle Will.”

In a telltale sign that the letter was written in 1991, he also requested a VHS tape of one particular episode: the one in which the Silver family meets the family of Alan’s Irish girlfriend Katie Monahan (played by future indie rock stalwart Jenny Lewis), at a Chinese restaurant.

And Goldberg replied to my father following month.

“As you know, this is a very personal story for me—being a show about my own family,” Goldberg wrote. He added that while it’s not common practice to distribute copies of the show to fans who ask, “we all agreed that anybody named Alan Silver deserves a copy.”

My father’s correspondence soon morphed into a letter-writing campaign to save the show, in which he wrote to both CBS and to the show’s various sponsors. It ultimately failed, but one day my dad got a phone call at his office from a heavily Yiddish-accented caller named Sophie Berger, the name of the mother on the show. It was, in fact, Marion Ross herself, calling him in character. She mentioned that she would soon be performing a dinner theater play in Minnesota, and that we were welcome to come, so in early 1993 our family met her in person.

The family’s run-ins with Brooklyn Bridge would continue in the ensuing years. In 2009 my dad ended up swapping emails with the actor who played Alan Silver, now a writer who goes by his given name Danny Lanzetta. In 2011 I met Amy Aquino, who played Phyllis Berger Silver, at a panel at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And earlier this month, I arranged to speak to Marion Ross again, about Brooklyn Bridge and our Silver families.

At age 87, Ross remains sharp as a tack, and as witty as ever. She remembered everything about our first meeting in Minnesota, and even the name of the play she was performing in that night “Love Letters.” When she referenced the phone conversation she had with my dad 23 years earlier, she joked, “I’ve completely lost my accent.” Ross volunteered off the bat that Sophie Berger was her favorite role of her long career, and she remains extremely proud of the show.

“I remember it so vividly,” she said of shooting Brooklyn Bridge. “We filmed it like a very expensive movie, with the sun coming in, through the lace curtain, the light shining on the fine china. I could have done any one of those scenes a hundred times.”

Ross, who is of Irish descent, also gained a new appreciation of Judaism from the role. “I loved being Jewish!” she said, adding that she often visited Canter’s Deli and even visited Israel a few years later.

More than 20 years after my dad had to ask the show’s creator for a VHS tape, a similar dilemma arose: Brooklyn Bridge has never been released in any home video format, nor has it ever been available on any streaming service. (Reruns ran for a spell on Bravo in the mid-‘90s.) Goldberg was reportedly negotiating some type of release, right up until his death from brain cancer in 2013.

Last year, someone wonderful posted crude, transferred-from-VHS copies of many of the episodes to YouTube, including the same Chinese restaurant episode my father had requested. And on a recent visit home I sat with my parents in our living room and watched the episode with them once again, 25 years later. But this time, there were three generations of Silvers there.

Stephen Silver is a journalist in the Philadelphia area whose work has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, CSNPhilly.com, Splice Today, Screenrant.com, New York Press, and the Good Men Project. Follow him on Twitter @StephenSilver.