urlMy first TV heartbreak was brought about by the cancellation of a show called Swans Crossing that aired the summer before I turned twelve. Contrary to other bittersweet series finales through which I silently cried (Charles in Charge, Growing Pains), the Swans finale came after only one brief season and ended with a dissatisfying TO BE CONTINUED…frame that proved to be a false promise. Armed with advice from a variety of glossy teen magazines, I solicited petition signatures from reluctant classmates and wrote the producers demanding that Swans Crossing be offered a second chance. I waited for a reply and was ready to champion the cause, but eventually got distracted by boys, grunge rock, and the general turbulence of adolescence.

Swans Crossing is a somewhat forgotten show that aired from June to September of 1992. According to the original press release, the show’s producers called it “the first nationally-syndicated daily live-action serial developed for pre-teens/teens.” In other words, a soap opera — and in more of a Days of Our Lives than a Dawson’s Creek way. Like other daytime soaps, Swans dragged its story lines like a fifty-pound sandbag across multiple episodes and excelled at trademark techniques such as holding the last shot of a scene on a character’s pensive face for six seconds too long, all in the spirit of melodrama.

The show was set in a fictional New England town called Swans Crossing where a group of bored, rich middle-schoolers spent their afternoons plotting to destroy each other’s social lives — mostly via sabotaging party plans. While the ensemble cast lacked a core protagonist, sympathies generally lay with Sydney Rutledge, played by a dusky, pre-Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar. Sydney’s behavior was fairly reprehensible, but her star-crossed relationship with Garrett Booth (almost-heartthrob, Shane McDermott) demanded audience allegiance. Lesser romantic dramas loitered in Sydney and Garrett’s peripherals like flies around a cow’s head: wonted, but inferior.

To keep us guessing, the writers introduced some suspenseful subplots, namely the presence of two mysterious men — referred to as the “Baldies” — sent to the states from the fictional country Rodavia to spy on a couple of teenage chemistry nerds (alias: “Dr. Vann”) who were covertly producing “self-perpetuated rocket fuel.” The Baldies added a menacing angle to the show’s generic sagas; they made life in Swans Crossing seem perilous. For a few episodes, they even kidnapped one of the nerd’s girlfriends and interrogated her in a snake pit (whether the snake pit was a pre-existing town fixture is undetermined). But the efforts to transform the show into a thriller weren’t enough to boost ratings; Swans was cancelled after its initial sixty-five-episode run.

In a world where most cultural biproducts from the nineties are revered for being so bad they’re good, I’m shocked at Swans’ relatively absent cult following. There seem to be only three websites dedicated to the show, all from the kitschy Geocities era, complete with teal fonts and backgrounds tiled with the show’s logo. Where are the VHS trading posts? Where is the fan fiction? Why aren’t more people reminiscing the crap out of this awful show?

And it was awful, in that over-acted, unrealistic plotline kind of way. One might be inclined to compare it to the more successful Canadian teen soap Fifteen, which aired for five seasons (and was eventually picked up by Nickelodeon), but Swans was in a category of its own. While Fifteen was like a junior high, Canadian version of 90210, Swans aspired to full-on soap opera status. It aired Monday through Friday, in a kid-friendly 5 p.m. timeslot. My friend Jen and I watched it religiously, on the same kitchen TV set that her chain-smoking mother used to watch The Young and the Restless earlier in the afternoon. And I loved every fantastically melodramatic minute, from commie spies to vindictive hair dying to rocket launches gone awry. The only reality I could remotely compare it to was lazy summer afternoons when we’d steal our mothers’ make-up and pretend we were slightly older, sexually-active versions of ourselves.

The same absurd, soap-y storylines that temporarily attracted us proved to be Swans’ demise. “We’ve written the show in a different voice and with a very different twist than other pre-teen/teen programs,” said executive producer Mardee Kravit. “Instead of focusing on the trials and tribulations of adolescence, we’ve focused on the best aspects of this time of life that each and everyone of us clearly remembers.” But I do clearly remember the trials and tribulations, none of which involved throwing dinner parties or hanging out in my dad’s submarine.

This may explain why Swans ultimately failed: it was completely unrelatable. Watching callow, over-privileged teenagers pretend to be callow, over-privileged adults only satisfied our needs for a hot summer minute. We craved reality. We craved adolescence. We would soon pledge our loyalties to shows like My So-Called Life that offered a more authentic portrayal of our experiences. Swans was more like a misguided teenage fantasy, an elaborate dream from which Sydney Rutledge might wake up and realize her small town life was actually absent of international espionage, just like the rest of ours.


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  • Swell

    I worked with the toy co. Playmates advertising agency. Playmates created the show to sell Swans Crossing line of toys. When the NY station dropped the show (it was not a hit or flop but in the middle ratings wise) and the toys failed ( badly executed, audience wasn’t interested in buying dolls ) the show was canceled. I had to throw away 100’s of letters pleading to keep the show going. Sorry.

  • juliste

    I am still a fan of the show. I wanted to add that I remembered reading that the storyline had begun to hint about sex and more than a few outraged parents ultimately also had something to do with why the show was pulled. I was so devastated. Thank goodness for fan fiction!

  • Christina

    This was one of those shows, that though you barely remeber because it was short lived, you none the less remeber it as part of your adolesent years. The show comes up in reminisent conversation with my sister. Several shows from those years come up often!!! Memory lane isgreat!!!

  • bgirl17

    You missed the cult following by about ten years. There used to be multiple websites dedicated to the show including a geocities site with a TON of fan fiction. Some of it really bad! But I guess we are all in our 30s now and no longer have much interest in dedicating that much time to our once upon a time “favorite show”. There were also VHS copies of the show being sold on ebay for outrageous prices…the quality left a lot to be desired as you can imagine.

  • Kane

    I was really depressed when they cancelled this show and actually went on youtube to find the final episode..to think I didn’t want to go on vacation at 12 because i’d miss an episode lol

  • Emellia

    I loved this show! When Buffy came out, I said omg it’s Sydney! I was so upset (and still am) about all the unresolved plot lines. Remember the commercial promos? Not everything that’s sweet is bad for you, meet Glory…the peacock for Garrett, the black widow for Sydney…..oh I loved this show so much. I remember some other strange details, like saving snails and mysterious cotton balls left by the baldies, and how the mechanic guy and girl were always having ice cream. And Sandy Swan singing that song…..she liked that guy but he was into Mila….I wish they would hurry up and stream this.

    • G

      Its streaming on hulu.

  • Bobby Torres

    I remember watching this show and really liking it. SaJa was my favorite character, cuz he was different, he was unique and eccentric. Plus his name is Bobby, like me. I did enjoy that this show emulated elements of mainstream daytime soaps, while trying to do its own thing. This year and this summer will.mark the show’s 25th anniversary, and I find myself very reluctant to go back and watch this series knowing it won’t be resolved, even though there are some pretty cool fanatics out there. It’s probably the pain of nostalgia. Anyway, even though the show didn’t last very long, I am glad that Sarah Michelle went on to find great success, first as the original Kendall Hart on All My Children, then as Buffy. I wonder what happened to the others?

  • Jason Houle

    Loved the show and was upset myself when cancelled. Sarah Michelle Gellar fan before Buffy. It is on Shout factory tv right now if anybody interested