So, I’ve been thinking…
30 years from now another writer is going to do a list like this. If, like me, they are heavily influenced by the types of programming they grew up with, what will that list look like?? Will someone actually heap praise on crap like Family Guy, America’s Next Top Model, Wife Swap, or Glee?? I am well aware that there have been what most people would consider pretty decent shows produced in the past 10 or 15 years…stuff like Lost, 30 Rock, and The Sopranos…that for one reason or another simply never frosted my cupcake. But I maintain that the majority of what we see on television (and in movies for that matter) now isn’t nearly as good as what I grew up watching. Your mileage may vary. Anyway…on with the countdown!!
In the 90’s it seemed like NBC could do no wrong. They’d invented the idea of “Must See TV” in the 80’s and successfully made viewers buy into the concept for well over a decade. It didn’t hurt that the suits at 30 Rockefeller Plaza churned out a string of sitcoms ranging from exceptionally sublime to pretty darn good to better than average. I suppose there were a few clunkers in the mix (The Single Guy, Veronica’s Closet, Suddenly Susan, Just Shoot Me), but they were few & far between. One show that fell somewhere in the pretty good/above average area on the scale was this little tale of two brothers running a small independent airline on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket (you know…where that girl comes from). Wings was created by the same folks who brought us Cheers and Frasier (both of which will appear much higher in this countdown), so the elite pedigree is undeniable and the vibe was familiar. NBC kept moving its night & time slot throughout its 7 year run, so much like NewsRadio I think this is a show that never quite reached its full potential.
Although I am fortunate to have made some good friendships in college that I maintain to this day, I don’t have any lifelong buddies that I’ve known since childhood, which are the types of relationships intertwined thru Entourage. The kicker is that one of the guys is a big time movie star who has transplanted his posse from Queens, NY to Hollywood. The language is a bit salty and these guys are clearly in a state of arrested development, but I guess young, rich, famous, good looking people can roll like that. There were some really well done cameos in Entourage’s 7 year run (Bob Saget, Mandy Moore, Gary Busey, and Mark Cuban immediately spring to mind), but the absolute best part of the show was manic, self-centered, foul-mouthed, politically incorrect uber agent Ari Gold. HBO is able to do its television seasons a bit different from the normal September-May/30 episodes thing that the broadcast networks have done for decades. Entourage usually aired in the summer for a dozen or so episodes, which atleast gave viewers something to look forward to apart from the reruns so prevalent on other channels. I just wish it was going to be on for a few more years…I wasn’t tired of it yet.
28 The Wonder Years
I’m a sucker for the whole wistful, nostalgic zeitgeist, and few TV shows have ever captured that as well as The Wonder Years. Narrated by the vastly underrated Daniel Stern (Home Alone, City Slickers), the show follows the teenage angst of young Kevin Arnold as he deals with his family, friends, and puppy love for the fetching Winnie Cooper in the late 60’s & early 70’s. The show not only represents an era well, but nails small town life, family dynamics, and the growing pains of a boy evolving into a young man…sometimes fun, sometimes sad, complex yet quaint.
27 Star Trek
Full disclosure: not only was I not yet born during the original Trek’s run, but I didn’t really become a Trekkie until college and that was mainly influenced by the film series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, it is my belief that love of the entire Trek universe must encompass a respectful appreciation of the series that birthed all that followed. The idea was spawned from the creative genius of Gene Roddenberry, a former pilot & LAPD cop turned writer who envisioned Star Trek as a spaghetti western set in space. Nearly 50 years later millions of people still fondly recall the adventures of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy”, the half human/half Vulcan Spock, and the rest of the crew of the starship Enterprise, as well as the various alien races they battled like the Klingons & Romulans. It blows my mind that the show only lasted three seasons.
My Grandma Pigott was a big fan of game shows. The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Password, Press Your Luck, Family Feud, Tic-Tac-Dough, Card Sharks, The $10,000 Pyramid, Hollywood Squares, Match Game…I could go on. Has there ever been a cooler name on television than Wink Martindale?? In my opinion the best game show in history is Jeopardy. I’m a huge trivia buff, and I think it’s awesome when one can chill out watching TV for a half hour and still learn a few things. Too many things have contributed to the dumbing down of America, but I’m happy to say this show isn’t among them.
I’m a big fan of late night TV, partly because I’m a night owl and partly because I can vaguely recall a time when television stations actually ended their broadcast day at some point (usually with The Star Spangled Banner) and am still enamored with the fact that they don’t do that anymore. I am easily entertained. At any rate, most late night shows follow your typical funny host with a sidekick, live audience, & house band/monologue/comedy bit/interview with a celebrity guest plugging their latest project/end the show with a musical act formula, and that’s okay. However, I am a minimalist who finds it fascinating when two people can sit down and have a lengthy & interesting conversation. We don’t do enough of that in our real lives anymore, and we rarely see it on television. Tom Snyder hosted a late night show called Tomorrow on NBC in the 70’s when I was far too young to stay up that late. That show was cancelled in 1982 to make way for a new guy named David Letterman. A little more than a decade later Letterman restored balance to the universe by bringing Snyder back to host the 12:30am show immediately following his own. Snyder was such a unique host, with his hearty laugh, easygoing manner, and an ability to connect with the audience and his guests. Plus, even though he wasn’t a comedian like Leno or Letterman, he was hilarious. Who could ever forget his nightly appeal to “sit back & relax, fire up a colortini, and watch the moving pictures as they fly through the air”?? I don’t know whose idea it was to replace Tom Snyder with the sardonic Craig Kilborn in 1999, but I hope there is an especially warm place in Hell reserved for those responsible.
24 Growing Pains
Speaking of growing pains…whereas The Wonder Years took a distinctive, sentimental approach, this 80’s staple utilized the old fashioned, paint-by-numbers typical sitcom method, which was perfectly fine. It served as a launching pad for the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and to a lesser degree Kirk Cameron. I say that because, even though Cameron was the centerpiece of the show throughout its run and DiCaprio was only on for 1 year, I think we can all agree that Leo’s superstar trajectory has reached a wee bit higher than Cameron’s (although to be fair Kirk Cameron has dedicated his life to serving our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, which in the long run is more significant than being a movie star, even if one of those movies is Titanic).
23 Little House on the Prairie
I think this may have been the very first television show I ever loved. Based on the series of childrens’ books by author Laura Ingalls Wilder published in the 1930’s, it is a family drama set in the small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the latter half of the 19th century. Surprisingly I’ve never read the books.
22 Who’s the Boss?
Hey-oh, oh-ay!! The story of a widowed single father from Brooklyn moving to Connecticut to provide a better life for his young daughter. The catch?? He has to take a job as a live-in housekeeper for a snobbish single mother and her young son. Hilarity ensued. Much like Growing Pains this show didn’t color outside the lines of sitcom convention, but it did what it did quite well. I’ve always enjoyed Tony Danza’s relatable charm, and Alyssa Milano was amongst my first celebrity crushes.
21 WKRP in Cincinnati
I really feel like this is one of the most heinously underappreciated sitcoms in television history. Heck, I even feel like I am underrating it!! I suppose the latter statement is due to the fact that it went off the air when I was 10 years old. Fortunately for me it became a much bigger ratings hit in syndication during the 80’s than it was in its original run. Workplace comedies with a bunch of quirky misfits aren’t exactly rare…they are a tried & true TV tradition (Barney Miller, Taxi, The Office, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, and so on…). However, when the workplace is a radio station and it is being produced at a time when some of the best rock n’ roll ever made is on the air then that is a winning combination. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with super cool DJ’s Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap?? Or have a lovably clueless boss like Mr. Carlson and an understanding supervisor like Andy Travis?? And who wouldn’t absolutely love to see a gorgeous receptionist like Jennifer (Loni Anderson) as soon as you walk thru the door every day?? Sadly I have felt varying degrees of malice toward every place I’ve ever worked and have not found a job environment nearly as awesome as those we see on TV. I would be remiss if I did not mention and highly recommend an episode called “Turkeys Away”, originally aired on 10/30/78, in which Mr. Carlson comes up with “the greatest Thanksgiving promotion in radio history”. It can be found online if you look hard enough and it is well worth the effort.
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