|Richard, Sly, Tony, Gail, Matt, Dennis, Jenny and Tiffani.|
California Dreams was created by writers Brett Dewey and Ronald B. Solomon. The sitcom had a dual focus on the Garrison family and their children’s band, which shared its name with the series. The Garrisons had moved from Iowa to Southern California. Guitarist Matt Garrison (Brent Gore) had, at some point, formed the band with the friends he made in his new home and his younger sister, Jenny (Heidi Noelle Lenhart), who played keyboard. The other band members included Tiffani Smith (Kelly Packard) on bass and vocals, Antoine “Tony” Wicks (William James, who got his role by sending in an audition tape) on drums, and the “ba-boom!”-exclaiming Sylvester “Sly” Winkle (Michael Cade, whose agents initially passed on the series to hold out for something better), who served as the band’s obnoxious and constantly scheming manager. Also featured were Matt and Jenny’s parents Richard (Michael Cutt) and Melody (Gail Ramsey), and their younger brother Dennis (Ryan O’Neill). The show would blend real-life issues with zany adventures, juggling between the typical family situations of the Garrisons and the Dreams’ attempts at making something of their potential musical careers in between classes and homework.
Executive produced by Peter Engel through his production company, the series debuted on NBC on September 12, 1992. The opening theme was composed by Guy Moon, Steve Tyrell and Regina Crimp, with Tyrell composing the rest of the series. Each episode would feature the band playing a song somewhat tied into the overall theme of the episode. While many of their performances were on the stage at their favorite hangout, Sharkey’s, or their practice space, some were done like music videos. Although the band members sung their own vocals, they didn’t actually play the instruments even though they could. The series was written by Tony Soltis, Noah Taft, Paul Lander, David Garber, Lynnie Greene, Richard Levine, Robert Jayson, Dawn Urbont, Todd J. Greenwald, Robb Hammersley, Jeffery J. Sachs, Debra Fasciano, Mark C. Miller, Bonnie L. DeSouza, Keith Hossman and Renee Palyo.
|Breakfast at the Garrisons'.|
Although the series didn’t sit well with critics, who considered it an unoriginal blending of Saved by the Bell, The Partridge Family and Beverly Hills 90210, it did gain a loyal following as evidenced by the packed houses the cast experienced when they would go on mall tours in between filming. Despite its respectable ratings, the show had come around in a time when NBC was shifting focus to more teen-oriented programming after the massive success of Bell, which was in its final season when the show debuted. As a result, NBC dumped all its animated programming and reworked its Saturday schedule to include more teen sitcoms similar to Bell. To that end, NBC asked for some changes to be made to the show in order for it to be more at home in its new Teen NBC (TNBC) programming block.
|New members, same sound.|
The Garrisons were phased out in order to focus solely on the band and the antics of its members, with Richard reduced to a recurring character and Gail only being a guest-star. Matt remained for the rest of the second season, but Jenny was sent off to an Italian music conservatory after the third episode. The first episode introduced the band’s second guitarist, bad boy Jake Sommers (Jay Anthony Franke, singing voice by Barry Coffing), whose image initially led to the band to consider him an ill fit for the group. The fourth episode introduced Samantha Woo (Jennie Kwan, who actually auditioned for the role of Tiffani the previous year), a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong that stayed with the Garrisons. While staying in Jenny’s room, she eventually took Jenny’s place as the band’s new vocalist and keyboardist.
|The Dreams with Jake, Lorena, Mark and Sam.|
For season 3, the last vestige of the original premise was removed entirely when Matt was written off of the show, the in-story explanation being that the Garrisons had moved once again. In reality, Gore had conflicting notions about how his character should be portrayed with the producers and left the show as a result. In his place came Mark Winkle (Aaron Jackson, singing voice by Zachary Throne), Sly’s cousin from New York who was his complete opposite in personality. Samantha was taken in by the Costa family, which was headed by a wealthy land developer. Their daughter, Lorena (Diana Uribe) became a groupie and occasional benefactor of the group when her lack of talent prevented her from joining them outright.
The band members would undergo the standard trials and tribulations of high school as they struggled with grades, money, getting gigs and romance (usually between each other), in between hanging out at the beach or Sharkey’s. After five seasons, the series ran its course. The final episode, “The Last Gig”, was set months after the band graduated from Pacific Coast High School. Jake wanted to keep the band going and tried to get his band mates recording contracts, but each of them wanted to embark on a new journey: Tiffani went to study marine biology at the University of Hawaii; Sam went to study physics at Oxford University; Mark returned to New York to attend Juilliard; Tony went off to study acting; and Sly and Lorena stayed in town to study at Pacific University. Jake takes the recording deal on his own with his friends’ blessings. Upon the conclusion of the series, the entire cast and crew received a special 2-disc collection of all the songs from the series.
|The 10-episode DVD.|
The series was nominated for four Young Artist Awards between 1993 and 1994, as well as an NCLR Bravo Award in 1996. In 1992, MCA Records released an album collecting the songs from the first season. Between 2009-2011, Shout! Factory released the first four seasons on DVD, with 1 and 2 together in the same set. Season 3 and 4 were initially offered exclusively through Shout!’s online store. In 2011, Mill Creek Entertainment released a best-of collection, featuring 10 episodes from the first three seasons. On March 4, 2010, Jimmy Fallon hosted a reunion of the teenaged cast on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with the exception of Aaron Jackson and Diana Uribe, with a special appearance by Dennis Haskins (who helped Fallon eventually get a Bell reunion). Together, the cast played the show’s theme for Fallon’s audience.