Monday, September 15

TV Week! (Part 1: A Lifetime Of Shows)

In July, I was asked to make a list of my favorite albums for every year I had been alive. This was a daunting task, but I feel as if I did a fair job. Not one to let a good idea go dormant, I decided to take the format and apply it to the small screen, listing my favorite television shows for each year I've been on the planet.

Now, a few rules for the following list. I tried to stick mainly to national, prime-time programming; no cable shows, special events or mini-seriesezzes allowed (research would have been impossible). I also tried to limit each show to the year that they premiered (unless otherwise noted), to eliminate any duplicates.

Ready? Let's go.

WINNER - M.A.S.H. (premiered in 1972)
RUNNER UP - Three's Company (premiered in 1977)
HONORABLE MENTION - The Incredible Hulk (premiered in 1978)

M.A.S.H. was already deep into syndication by the time I was old enough to understand it, but it was that same exposure that made me realize the significance of the program (as we all know, the series finale attracted over 105 million viewers). I was initially drawn to Three's Company because of the slapstick antics of the late John Ritter, but as I get older, I enjoy it because it's one of the filthiest sitcoms of all-time. The Incredible Hulk hasn't aged very well, or spawned anything even resembling an interesting film, but it's still good for nostalgia's sake.

WINNER - Cheers
RUNNER UP - Knight Rider

The Missus, in her lifelong quest to hold grudges for the most superficial reasons ever, hates Cheers because she hates Ted Danson (for a reason which still escapes me). The rest of us know that it was one of the greatest and best-written television shows (comedy or drama) of all-time. The fact that they rarely left the bar and still managed 11 seasons of brilliance is proof enough. Knight Rider has greatly diminished in retro appeal since the remake and subsequent fall from grace of David Hasselhoff, and Family Ties still reminds me of just how cute Justine Bateman was and still is.

WINNER - The A-Team
RUNNER UP - Webster
HONORABLE MENTION - Newhart (premiered in 1982)

The A-Team was a hilarious cavalcade of unnecessary violence, pro wrestler cameos and tricked-out GMC vans. The recent rumor of a film remake sounds pointless, but almost expected in this current state of zero Hollywood ideas. Webster will be remembered by me for having a series finale that consisted of the family inexplicably traveling into space with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Newhart was another classic that I started watching too late, but can look back on fondly as a man-child.

WINNER - Miami Vice
RUNNER UP - Hunter

Miami Vice was far more influential than given credit for. The use of music, imagery and location has since been mimicked into oblivion by essentially every flashy crime show on television. Hunter ruled because Sgt. Hunter's weapon of choice was a 9mm that he used to pretty much kill at least one person every week. Charles In Charge was a springboard for the limitless talent and world-renowned celebrity of Willie Aames.

- Amazing Stories
RUNNER UP - MacGyver

Can someone please tell me why the Second Season of Amazing Stories hasn't been released on DVD yet? After winning 5 Emmys (and being nominated for 12), NBC pulled the plug on this incredible anthology series created by Steven Spielberg in 1987. MacGyver needs no explanation, and The Equalizer seems to be a somewhat-forgotten all-time TV badass. "You wanna know what I do for a living? I kill people!"

WINNER - Sledge Hammer!
HONORABLE MENTION - Perfect Strangers

Sledge Hammer! was one of the first 'spoof' shows I had ever seen as a kid, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Even then, I loved the idea of tearing apart cliche' in absurd and over-the-top ways, and I consider it a large influence on my sense of humor. ALF is absolute trash if you happen to watch it in present day, but at the time, it was a major hit, and Perfect Strangers was always absolute trash, although nobody in America happened to know at the time; presumably hypnotized by the rugged good looks of Bronson Pinchot.

WINNER - Full House
RUNNER UP - Max Headroom
HONORABLE MENTION - Thirtysomething

I'm something of a Full House junkie; I've seen every episode at least three times, I can tell you what the episode is about within the first 30 seconds and I can relay every character arc at the drop of a hat. Max Headroom was ahead of its time, and it probably still is, honestly. Thirtysomething was the first in a long line of shows where friends sit around and cry about things, and I'll be damned if it wasn't awesome.

WINNER - The Wonder Years
RUNNER UP - Unsolved Mysteries

Now we're getting somewhere. I know I'm not alone in saying that The Wonder Years was one of the greatest TV shows of all -time, in that it laid the blueprint for hundreds of shows thereafter. The fact that there hasn't been a complete DVD release is almost criminal (securing music rights is what's keeping dozens of brilliant television shows off of DVD). Unsolved Mysteries doesn't necessarily fall into the Comedy or Drama category, but as a kid, this was the scariest show on national television; I still remember the Tip Line 1-800-number by heart. China Beach was a critically-acclaimed and multiple Emmy award-winning war series that was taken off the air after poor ratings sealed its fate.

WINNER - The Simpsons

Wow; what a year. The FOX Network becomes a ratings powerhouse nationwide, bringing with them two shows that are still in production to this day. The Simpsons is, without question, the greatest television show of the 20th Century (just ask Time Magazine), COPS is a show that I pray runs forever (and why couldn't it?), and Seinfeld was the funniest live-action sitcom ever made. Jeepers.

WINNER - Twin Peaks
RUNNER UP - Get A Life
HONORABLE MENTION - The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

Even as a 9 year old, I loved the hell out of Twin Peaks. The amount of intrigue and attention the first season of this David Lynch show received was unparalleled until the debut of Lost. As an adult, the DVDs remind me that it stands the test of time...well, Season One, at least. Get A Life was too weird, even for FOX standards, and the fact that The Fresh Prince is now on Nick At Nite makes me feel like I'm about a billion years old.

WINNER - Eerie, Indiana
RUNNER UP - Herman's Head

Attempting to cash in on the Twin Peaks method of 'weird is in,' NBC scored huge (with me, at least) with Eerie, Indiana. America needs the wisdom of Herman's Head now more than ever, and I'd probably still chop off one of my fingers for just one night alone with Six from Blossom.

WINNER - Picket Fences
RUNNER UP - Dateline NBC
HONORABLE MENTION - Roseanne (premiered in 1988)

More Twin Peaks-style weirdness (it was fairly influential, you see), this time on CBS and set in Wisconsin! Picket Fences was more well-received than Eerie, Indiana, and boasted a great cast to boot. Dateline NBC redefined the 'News Magazine' format and is still one of my favorite television shows in the True Crime format, and Roseanne began a stretch of incredible seasons that, unfortunately, hit the toilet faster than you can say 'Tom Arnold.'

WINNER - The X-Files
RUNNER UP - Phenom

Without Twin Peaks, there would be no The X-Files, and creator Chris Carter knows it, too. Fortunately, The X-Files carved out its own legacy, becoming one of the most terrifying, interesting and influential shows in history. When you watch some of the best X-Files episodes, rest assured that you're watching some of the best televised sci-fi ever filmed. Phenom was a hilarious and almost instantly-forgotten show about an up-and-coming, young tennis star and her family, and Frasier would soon be remembered as an intelligent, brilliantly-written and worthy successor to Cheers.

WINNER - The Critic
RUNNER UP - My So-Called Life

In 1994, The Simpsons couldn't have been any bigger than if it were 1989, and the idea of a spin-off was music to the ears of fans. The Critic wasn't the hit it could have been, but much like Futurama, there are flashes of brilliance in every episode. My So-Called Life wasn't nearly as good as people remember it being, but it launched the career of Claire Danes, one of the worst actresses of my generation. Party Of Five did the same thing for Neve Campbell, Scott Wolf and Jennifer Love-Hewitt, while Matthew Fox managed to snag Lost almost a decade later.

WINNER - NewsRadio
RUNNER UP - American Gothic

For those that keep wondering, "Why won't people shut up about NewsRadio?", it was honestly that good. Anything with Phil Hartman is amazing (even that Atari commercial he did in the 80's), but the rest of the cast (yes, even Andy Dick) really drove home the underrated power of this show. American Gothic was a short-lived, Twin Peaks-esque series that I don't recall surviving for very long, and I probably only watched two episodes of Ned & Stacey, but thought it was pretty funny at the time. And Deborah Messing is freaking beautiful.

WINNER - ER (premiered in 1994)
RUNNER UP - Early Edition
HONORABLE MENTION - Men Behaving Badly

As ER mercifully enters its final season this year, I'm forced to remember a time when it really was the best new show on television. George Clooney, for Christ's sake! Early Edition was not a show I admitted to watching at the time, but man, Kyle Chandler is seriously one of the best male, dramatic actors on television (he sucks at straight-ahead comedy, as 'What About Joan?' can attest to). While I wouldn't watch a show like Men Behaving Badly now, I thought this Americanized version was fairly funny while it lasted.

WINNER - King Of The Hill
RUNNER UP - Ally McBeal

It took a long time for a worthy comparative animated series to The Simpsons to arrive, but it did in a big way with King Of The Hill. Mike Judge, to me, is the king of underrated satire, and he hits both sides of the spectrum with the Beavis & Butthead/King Of The Hill universe. Ally McBeal launched my two-year long obsession with Calista Flockhart, and the Fred Savage NBC series Working could have been remembered with as much appreciation as The Office had it had the time to percolate.

- Sports Night
RUNNER UP - Dawson's Creek

Looking back through TV history, it's a shame to see all of the great shows that were canceled far too soon, only to pave the way for a major hit years later (presumably when the audience has finally caught up to the previous show). Sports Night is one of those shows, and their huge current following only solidifies their significance. Dawson's Creek was a show that I simultaneously loved and hated as a High School Sophomore, knowing full well that teenagers don't talk that that, Katie Holmes didn't exist in my reality and Joshua Jackson carried a season-long affair with one of his teachers. That 70's Show started off extremely shaky, but went on to become a huge hit thanks to the skyrocketing celebrity of some of the worst actors in the cast.

- Futurama
RUNNER UP - Action

If you didn't like Futurama when it debuted, do yourself a favor and check out a rerun on Comedy Central. It's actually funnier now than it was then. Action was another Sports Night-esque series that pushed the boundaries on network television (bleeped profanities were part of the show, much like we later saw with the Documentary-style shooting of Arrested Development). Freaks and Geeks owes a lot to shows like The Wonder Years, although it more than carved out its own new millennium niche.

- Malcolm In The Middle
RUNNER UP - Survivor
HONORABLE MENTION - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Even though the ratings, Emmy nominations and awards say otherwise, I still think that Malcolm In The Middle is one of the most underrated sitcoms in modern television history. They just brought everything to the battle, every single week. Survivor is still a ratings juggernaut, but nothing will compare to that first season, where seemingly everyone in the nation was watching. Then American Idol came along and (rightfully) took away their thunder. CSI was unlike anything I'd ever seen when it premiered, and now it looks like pretty much everything that you see on CBS six nights a week.

WINNER - The Bernie Mac Show
RUNNER UP - Fear Factor

While the show fizzled after the departure of the head writer and creator, the first two seasons of The Bernie Mac show were absolutely hilarious and perfectly well-written. Fear Factor needed to be watched for the curiosity appeal alone, and Undeclared took the American Pie 00's humor template and almost instantly got canceled.

- Andy Richter Controls The Universe
RUNNER UP - Oliver Beene

I don't know what the mainstream has against Andy Richter, but he just can't carry a show to save his life, no matter how hilarious it was. Andy Richter Controls The Universe could have been on par with 30 Rock had it the time to get over with the audience. Oliver Beene was exceedingly similar to Everybody Hates Chris, and as you should probably tell by now, the Wonder Years style of sitcom storytelling makes me a very happy guy. Maybe a decade from now, I'll have my own show like that.....erm...or not. Then American Idol showed up and destroyed everything in its path for the next six years.

- Arrested Development
RUNNER UP - Grounded For Life (premiered in 2001)

There is nothing I can tell you about Arrested Development that would be an exaggeration of its comedic and satirical brilliance. Buy the DVDs and watch them. Then watch them again. As far as I'm concerned, it's the post-Seinfeld measuring stick by which every sitcom will be judged. Grounded For Life, to me, may have been the last great pre-Arrested sitcom. Cracking Up was only on for a month or so, but worked very well with shows like Malcolm and Arrested in the FOX Sunday night lineup.

RUNNER UP - The Office

Shocking as it may seem, I did not see the first season of Lost until I bought the DVD that Winter. Within hours, I was obsessed and certain that this was the best TV drama since Twin Peaks over a decade earlier. The Office took an American remake and actually pulled it off, becoming a hit and winning Emmys left and right. House also became one of the most-watched shows on television, now entering their 5th season and making Hugh Laurie over $500,000 an episode. This was clearly a good year for new programming; perhaps the last good one.

- Sons & Daughters
RUNNER UP - My Name Is Earl

This season was extremely frustrating for me, as two of my most favorite up-and-coming shows, Sons & Daughters and the remake of Night Stalker were canceled too quickly. Sons & Daughters was a slightly-improvisational show that I recommend tracking down on your Bittorrent site of choice, and Night Stalker was unbelievably violent and engaging for a national prime time series. They both could have been stand-alone diamonds, but instead were sent to the curb after a combined two months of lackluster ratings (Sons & Daughters was up against American Idol in the ratings, and Night Stalker was matched with CSI, almost guaranteeing disaster from the start). My Name Is Earl solidified the NBC 'Must-See Thursday' lineup, which is currently the best night of comedy on TV.

- Friday Night Lights
RUNNER UP - 30 Rock
HONORABLE MENTION - Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

You wait your entire life to find a show like Friday Night Lights. A blend of nearly everything you'd want in an intelligent drama; I give you my word that Season One of FNL is the greatest season of television that I have ever seen, just barely edging out Lost. 30 Rock is the funniest show on television, and the closest thing we have to Arrested Development in 2008, and Studio 60 was the most satisfying and interesting hour of television I would see each week, until its inevitable cancellation.

Right on. Sound off in the comments section with your own selections and enjoy your day.

TOMORROW: TV Week Continues With The CDP's Top 20 TV Shows Of All-Time!

Goddamn, I LOVED Andy Richter Rules the Universe. It's frustrating that he can't carry a show.

Name Dropping Moment:
I once got stoned with Jenna von Oy at Seth MacFarlane's house. She then asked me if I wanted to "party." I bust out laughing, not because Jenna von Oy didn't turn out to be hot, but I couldn't imagine having a hot lesbian moment with SIX.
"I couldn't imagine having a hot lesbian moment with Six."

Ironic, considering that I can't stop imagining it now.

Thread over.
I freakin' love Freaks and Geeks.

And I actually used to watch Phenom every week. I am surprised anyone else remembers that show, but I am not surprised that that anyone would be the CDP. Does that make sense? Eh. Who cares. It's Monday morning.
My So-Called Life wasn't nearly as good as people remember it being

Says you. My deluded nostalgia about shows that held a mirror up to my angst-ridden teen self says that show was great. I also loved Freaks and Geeks for the same reasons.

Then American Idol showed up and destroyed everything in its path for the next six years.

I have never seen one single episode of that show. Not one. And I am hell bent on continuing that trend, along with my avoidance of all of the other shows that have a panel of "celebrity judges".
"What's that Sledge? Some kind of silencer?"

"No. I call it the loudener"


I loved that show. What ten year old wouldn't?
WINNER - Full House
RUNNER UP - Max Headroom
HONORABLE MENTION - Thirtysomething

Thirtysomething fricken ruled.

I remember Phenom. I listed it in third grade as my favorite television show on an "About Me" survey. Also said that Kim Basinger was my favorite actress. HUH?

Your continued insistence that Freaks and Geeks is just like the Wonder Years proves to me you never watched it. We shall watch the DVD's together soon.
I never watched Blossom so I haven't a clue who Six was, but I just did a GIS for Jenna von Oy...and I must say, she looks pretty cute to me.
I'm sorry sir, but I never agreed with you more than I do at this moment.

From MASH to Eerie, Indiana to Andy Richter Controls The Universe.
There are a few where we differ, but still...standing ovation!
All this talk about Six from Blossom, what about Six from Battlestar Galactica? I watched Blossom, but I don't remember Six. Tricia Helfer, on the other hand, is unforgettable. And she's a great actress to boot!

I have to say that BSG should be on this list somewhere. I don't even like Sci-Fi but I am totally hooked on this show. If you haven't seen it, get the mini-series. It's very well written, has an amazing cast, great humor, I guess the special effects are good (I don't really pay attention to stuff like that), and does a great job of commenting on the modern world without beating you over the head with it, the way sci-fi is supposed to.

Cheers and Family Ties premiered the same year? Gah! What a difficult decision! I guess I'd agree with you that Cheers edges out Family Ties, but it's a very tough call!
My husband and I use "Tonight, on a very special 'Blossom'..." as a code phrase of sorts - usually when we end up being part of a TMI filled conversation about family members.

Also, my husband pointed out to me yesterday that the actor from 'Sledge Hammer!' (David Rasche) is in the new Coen brothers movie.
No Northern Exposure?

And Alf but not Small Wonder?
Lott - The fact that you even dared to bring up the abomination that was "Small Wonder" in a thread about great TV shows...well, it's just wrong, is what it is.

CDP - I'm so glad other people actually watched "Eerie, Indiana." I was beginning to think I was the only one.

Slackmistress - Y'know, it almost would have been worth going through with it for the story you could have then told, but even just being solicited for hot lesbian action by none other than Six is still pretty hilarious. Well done!
First, Sledgehammer was great. I used to have several seasons on VHS, but a college roommate spilled a bottle of beer into the box containging them and they are no more.

Second, Lott is right. Small Wonder is at least on par with ALF and better than Dawson's Creek.
I agree with almost every selection. You are tastefully awesome.

I can only assume the lack of Northern Exposure to be a silly oversight given the scope of your project. and also Wings

I never watched the Dawson's Creek

The only other ones that would be on the TOP of my list would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly Joss Weden rules
Oh no, another BSG conversation is a-brewin'...
Quick! I'll change the subject! How 'bout them Packers?
Well, I'm sorry if I brought up something that has been covered already. I just really can't fathom how people continue to live without BSG. But since I am clearly on the outside here, I shall remain silent on this topic forevermore.
BERRYJO - Actually, I think Hathery and I are the only two on here that don't follow it.

I'm sure everyone else is interested.
No worries berryjo, I was just joking :)

I'm very glad to see Roseanne made the cut at least somewhere on the list; I could watch that show all day. Seriously.
I only watched Roseanne during it's original run off-and-on, but then a few years ago, my lunch break at work coincided with reruns of the show and I ended up seeing the entire fricken series over the course of, like, a month. It was intense. And really hammered home just how steep the slide from awesome to terrible was late in the series.
Yeah, JT, that was my point. Alf was an awful show. Why not name Too Close For Comfort as a favorite? Or Manimal?
Thanks for all the great comments and discussion today, everyone. Unfortunately, I've been away from the computer and have a ton of stuff to do for the remainder of TV Week, so my usual abundance of comments might be a little slim this week.

Thanks, everyone. Back at it.
Definitely a great post. CDP is pretty great. You guys should check out if you're looking for pop culture, fashion, music, gossip, etc
Thanks Josh; plug away.
I know you were, Hathery; so was I. :) It's okay; I'm used to naysayers, as I dealt with them all the time in my last job. Until I lent the miniseries to a co-worker, got him and his wife hooked, and then the rest of the office had to listen to us blather on about cylons and how frakin' hot Jamie Bamber is. My plan worked flawlessly ...

All that being said, am I the only person who will admit to having liked Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was 10!
berryjo - fellow BSG nerd, right here. I also watched Are You Afraid of the Dark from time to time. I remember enjoying it, and also realizing how delightfully corny it usually was.
BERRYJO - If you liked Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, I encourage you to hang around for the rest of TV Week. You're not the only one, I can assure you.

(SNICK tribute, anyone?)
I was in love with SNICK. You remember the big orange couch?

You crazy kids are in for a real treat.
Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks should have been given more time....

Those shows rule. My wife constantly breaks into "Final Countdown" at random intervals and imitates GOB's magic shows...
And really hammered home just how steep the slide from awesome to terrible was late in the series.

Yeah...once they "won the lottery" things got really, really bad. The ending to that show may as well have been in a snowglobe being held by an autistic child.

That is all.

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