It is amazing how things cycle and evolve. This is true in all things including television. I wanted to take a quick look back before we move into the future.
Thirty years ago, so I was seven the hot ticket Prime Time shows were such staples as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Duke of Hazard, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Gimmie a Break, The Facts of Life, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Greatest American Hero, and the Fall Guy just to name a few. We were in the Prime of the 80’s Prime Time line up with an interesting mix of comedy, drama, adventure, and a pretty honest reflection of the 80’s view as a whole. Regan was in office, the cold war was still on, and we loved the everyday hero. Violence was minimal, no one ever died, just got knocked around a little.
Sitcoms had highlighted episodes dealing with teenage sex, racial dilemma’s and the war on drugs. Drama’s were all about the over blown and the excess of high society, aka the glamour life. We watched cat fights, mystery murders and entire season that turned out to be one long dream. It was the eighties and anything was possible, within politically correct reason, of course.
Twenty Years ago, television shifted again. This was the generation of the sitcom really making it’s mark, and we were obsessed with the American family. The sitcom – a twenty-three minute dialog of various flavors, from sports to trailer park, to the beginnings of a generational staple in Prime Time was working double duty. These were the years of Roseanne, Family Matters, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Full House, and Home Improvement. In the 90’s it was the norm for the sitcom to delve into social commentary of the day, including the dynamics of the American family.
These were the Bush / Clinton years and we clung to ‘morality’ with an iron grip. The drama moved from high-society images to plastic realism like NYPD Blue, Life goes on, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Quantum Leap, and In the Heat of the Night. Prime Time dramatic writing was coming into its own, if slowly. Ten years ago, we shifted again, moving away from the sitcom, this TV generation looking for more intelligence in their viewing experience. Shows like Seinfeld and Friends had some serious staying power but the powerhouse of the drama began to rock the late night screen. Amazing writing, directing as well as shows that always challenges the boundaries of what was considered acceptable.
There were also several different flavors. Shows like E.R., Law and Order, 7th Heaven, JAG, Gilmore Girls, and the West Wing became the front runners in the line up, their story telling and characters pulling at our attention like never before. There was now life and death on the colored box and plastic wrapped templatic dramas fell away. While we also had a following for CSI, Crossing Jordon, and Third watch as the drama mixed with gritty realism.
This then led to the spawn of the reality show. It started slowly, and we fed it, and it grew to its own planet! It started with Cops, Survivor, and the Amazing race. The sitcom evolved into the dramaity (comedy-drama) bringing forth shows like Ally McBeal, but also staying semi-classic with Everybody loves Raymond, Frasier and Scrubs. This was also the time when we started to stray from network television, fully embracing fringe networks like the WB and Fox with their hit shows, Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, That 70’s show, Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls and Dark Angel.
Within the past ten years, television has gone through what I would call a mid-life crisis. This is both good and bad. The emergence of brilliant, insightful, writing has brought a fresh perspective to all genres and this opinion I think is expressed in the hit shows including House, How I met your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Glee, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, the Sopranos, Grey’s Anatomy. There is literally something for everyone and anyone. There is more television on today than ever before. Not because we have more channels but because the content has become amazing. The networks breaking off into so may sub categories it is like a television buffet.
Now as we are coming into the eleventh year this shift seems to be happening again. The prime time line up for the past few years, as well as the reflection of what people are watching in the ratings, shows the versatility of mixing genres, producing everything from reality, to drama, the dramaity, the sitcom, and adventure as a well as faithful viewership to the favorites that have held up over the years.
This year’s pilot schedule is filled with oddities and twists on the traditional. Some examples include, Unforgettable, the Playboy club, Terra Nova, Personal of Interest, Prime Suspect and the return of Charlie’s Angels.
As always, I will choose my favorites and put them to the three episode rule. If you haven’t hooked me in three episodes, it is not worth my time. I will happily keep you in the loop on my findings hopefully aiding in the setting of your weekly DVR. Keep your eyes and ears open for the fabulous. I think it is going to be a stellar year for prime time!