Sunday, 22 November 2015

Top 30 American TV Shows of the 20th Century

I'm a bit of a couch potato. Actually that's an understatement. I've watched TV shows ever since I understood what the electrical glowing box in the centre of the living room was trying to tell me. I don't discriminate. I will watch any kind of show. I have very fond memories of the US TV shows imported into the UK that I used to watch before the turn of the last century. I've not included animated shows or shows from outside the US. They'll be in a future post of their own.

Saturday evenings were the highlight of my week when I was a kid. In fact as an adult every evening became the highlight. Below are my Top 30 shows of the 20th century. I'm writing this with as little research as possible. Instead I've tried to rely on my memories of each show.

Many of your favourite shows will be missing as there were so many, too many, to choose from, even without all the quality shows that have been on TV in the last 15 years. I've listed the ones that didn't make it into my Top 30 either because my memory of them is not so good, or they didn't make the grade, or I just never got around to watching them, or I was too young at the time to appreciate them or they just didn't pop into my head until I'd already picked my Top 30. Anyway, enjoy the nostalgia.

No. 30 - The Invaders 1967-1968

My mum insisted I watched the repeats of this on BBC 2. She told me it was about aliens who couldn't bend their little fingers and glowed red and disappeared when they died. After that introduction I was hooked. I liked the style of it. The opening scene and explanation at the start of every episode and parts of the show labelled Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 and Epilogue. At least I think it was this show.

No. 29 - Mork and Mindy 1978-1982

I think this might have been part of the regular Saturday afternoon fare at the time. I had no idea who Robin Williams was. I just remember him sitting upside down and something to do with an egg. I also remember the part at the end. 'Mork calling Orson, come in Orson' where the alien leader, which I think was Mork's dad, was informed of what Mork had learnt during the episode.

No. 28 - The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams 1977-1978

I hadn't really seen the wilderness in a TV show before this came along. Grizzly Adams was a calm, quiet, giant of a man who made friends with a bear when he ran off to the wilderness after he was wrongly accused of a crime. It was a nice family show, from what I remember, perfect for Saturday afternoon viewing. Basically a nature show with a bit of drama. Oh, and the theme music fitted it perfectly.

No. 27 - Diff'rent Strokes 1978-1986

I can't remember a great deal about this one other than the catch phrase 'What you talkin' bout Willis'. The theme tune was great and I remember it being funny but it's hazy to say the least. I do remember that the three child actors in the show had major problems in real life. I remember it in the news. But hopefully most people will remember them being funny in this show.

No. 26 - Charlies Angels 1976-1981

I remember this because I used to fancy Jacklyn Smith. Lucky really as she seemed to be the only angel that stayed in the show. The opening theme with that logo was awesome. I always wondered what that Charlie fella looked like but if I had seen him I doubt it would have meant anything to me. My guess is Blake Carrington from Dynasty he had a very similar voice.

No. 25 - 3rd Rock from the Sun 1996-2001

I wasn't a kid anymore when I watched this show. Simple concept and very funny. I didn't know John Lithgow could be so funny. The tom boy wife was hilarious and the squinty eyed guy. Funny to think Lithgow went from movies to this and the young lad, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, went in the opposite direction, starring in the likes of Inception, Batman and that Bruce Willis time travel movie.

No. 24 - The Equalizer 1985-1989

I saw this from the very first episode. I remember thinking the music at the start was cool and then I found out the drummer from The Police had done it and he was an awesome drummer. Robert McCall showed pensioners can kick ass. I remember him building a small team of kick ass people around him to help. Reminds me of Liam Neeson in those Taken movies. They turned this into a movie with Denzel Washington. Actually it will be interesting to see how many of these shows got turned into movies. So far it's this and Charlies Angels.

No. 23 The Fall Guy 1981-1986

Another one with a great theme tune sung by the star of the show himself if I'm not mistaken. Usually this show was just an excuse to tag on a basic story and show off a load of stunts, especially with cars. It had comedy with Colt Severs and his partner Howie and a blonde bombshell named Jodie to go along with all the action. Maybe they should make this one into a movie.

No. 22 - The Scarecrow and Mrs King 1983-1987

I'm starting to think I've subconsciously based this Top 30 on the shows theme tunes. This one has another cracker of a tune. The premise is simple. Spy bumps into housewife and housewife gets dragged into the world of the spy. A bit like the Long Kiss Goodnight only Mrs King was never ever a spy. I saw this show from it's very first episode too. Probably because it had the guy from Tron in it. I've heard this could get the movie treatment.

No. 21 - Hill St Blues 1981-1987

At the risk of sounding like a stuck LP I have to mention the theme tune of this show. It's got to be a classic. Maybe it won some awards. I don't know but it deserved to. I remember this show had a very large cast which made it seem like a soap opera in a police station. I'm pretty sure it dealt with some very serious issues but it's a bit foggy in my mind. I just remember the undercover guy was mental and the boss guy always ended up in bed with his fancy woman at the end.

No. 20 - The X Files 1993-2002

This was a great sci-fi show. It should be higher on the list but for me it's not because I missed the boat. I have no idea why I didn't get into it in the beginning. It was the perfect show for me. Even some of my friends could not believe I of all people was not watching it. After a few seasons I gave it a try and enjoyed it but really it was too late. The mythology that the show had been built around was lost on me. I take a look at all new sci-fi shows now. I never want this to happen again.

No. 19 - ER 1994-2009

I'm not usually big on medical drama's but I gave this one a chance because the bloke that wrote Jurassic Park, Michael Creighton, had something to do with it. That and the fact that it was on Channel 4 on a Thursday night just before, or after, Friends. My memory's full of holes but I think I'm close. George Clooney was extremely cool in this show. No wonder he went on to bigger things. Goose from Top Gun was also in it and some of the other actors now headline their own shows. So quite a lot of acting talent on show here.

No. - 18 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 1979-1981

Yet another Saturday afternoon favourite. Can't believe this only lasted two seasons. It had spaceships, action, robots, comedy and of course it had Wilma, every teenage boys dream. Whilst the first season was set inside a futuristic city, in season two it went all Star Trek with Buck Rogers and his team aboard a spaceship searching the galaxy and solving problems. I guess, unfortunately, the change in direction didn't quite work for the show as it got cancelled.

No. 17 - Magnum, P.I. 1980-1988

This show also had a fabulous theme tune. I don't remember too much about it. Tom Selleck was the most charming private investigator ever. In fact he looked nothing like one. The posh guy who owned the big house had some dobermans, the black guy flew a helicopter and I can't remember what Rick did. I guess he was a comedy side kick. I didn't even realise the show was set in Hawaii. I heard Tom Selleck was offered the role of Indiana Jones but turned it down as he was busy. Worst decision anyone ever made I think.

No. 16 - Knight Rider 1982-1986

This concept was very simple. A guy has cool car with loads of gadgets and the voice of one of the surgeons from St Elsewhere. Although there were other characters this show was all about the car and the Hoff. A lone crusader who solved good peoples problems and beat the bad guys all by himself, and with the help of the car doing a few stunts, every episode. A winning formula that made the Hoff a star. Well at least a TV star.

No. 15 - The A-Team 1983-1987

I remember seeing the very first episode of this and thinking it was awesome. A great story, a great bunch of actors and a great many action set pieces. Thrills and spills all the way. Little did I know that the first episode was the basis for almost every other episode. Hannibal meets someone in disguise, Murdock is broken out of the hospital, BA is drugged before getting on a plane, Face cons someone, the bad guys look to be getting the upper hand, a montage of the teams hands building something that usually requires welding, beating the bad guys, escaping from the colonel and his army in a nick of time. Every single week. Still it was fun and, like a big mac, you knew what you were going to get.

No. 14 - The Six Million Dollar Man 1974-1978

Classic opening credits and theme tune. It's difficult to recall the story for any one episode but this show was more about watching Steve Austin, the worlds first bionic man, moving super fast, in slow motion, and hearing that metallic ticking sound every time he used his super strength, eyesight or speed. The coolest sound effect ever. Six million dollars must have been a lot back then paying for two bionic legs, a bionic arm and a bionic eye. I remember there was also a bionic woman and a bionic german shepherd although the dog didn't get a show of it's own.

No. 13 - Home Improvement 1991-1999

A very funny sitcom, that introduced Tim Allen to the world, about an average family, the Taylors, with a modern day caveman, Tim Taylor, as the dad. For the first few seasons I watched this without fail. The stories were usually light and humourous. There was a segment in the house which introduced a problem, then a segment in the garden where Tim would talk to his neighbour over the fence and get advice, then a segment on the fictional local TV show within the TV show that Tim ran called 'Tool Time', which introduced his partner Al and also a pre-Bay Watch Pamela Anderson to the world. This show was one of the top rated for almost a decade. 12 years later Tim Allen had a new show, Last Man Standing, which is very similar. The only real differences being Tim is now called Mike, he works in a hardware store, does a Vlog for it and has three daughters instead of three sons 

No. 12 - Frasier 1993-2004

A spin off of Cheers about the psychiatrist Frasier Crane who left Boston to return to his home town of Seattle where he hosts a psychiatry call-in radio show. This TV show is hilarious and has a fine cast of characters including Frasier's dad, a retired cop injured in the line of duty, his brother, who is also a psychiatrist, his dads care giver, who hails from Manchester and has an accent that I presume has never been heard in an American sitcom ever and his boss who is the complete opposite of Frasier. There's also his dads dog Eddie who Frasier really doesn't like. Many characters from Cheers made guest appearances on the show too. It has to be the best spin off show ever.

No. 11 - Dream On 1990-1996

I found this show to be not only funny but very clever. It's about a divorced book editor called Martin Tupper. The show is about his life with his son, his ex-wife, his job and his girlfriends. What's unique about this show, that I really love, is the way it shows how Martin is feeling or what he is thinking by using old movie clips. It works really well and I've yet to see another TV show or movie come up with a better way. I thought it was impossible to transfer what a person was feeling or thinking from a book to a movie but Dream On nailed it.

No. 10 - Married With Children 1987-1997

I remember this show being on quite late at night. It could have done with a better time slot as it was hilarious. It was about a dysfunctional family and the failed schemes of the dad, Al Bundy, who was a high school football star who became a ladies shoe salesman. His wife, Peggy, just wants to spend all his money, his daughter is a clueless bimbo, his son is a wannabe but fails with the girls and then there's the feminist nextdoor neighbour who Al hates. This show ran for more than a decade and helped put the Fox Network on the map.

No. 9 - V 1983-1984

This was more a mini series than a proper TV series with just two episodes, even though they were feature length shows. It had a lot of hype prior to being aired so I was quite excited to watch it. I was 14 at the time and allowed to stay up later than usual to see it. Giant flying saucers, which were later ripped off by Independence Day, and seemingly friendly aliens which turned out to be mammal chomping lizards. I'll never forget the horrifying scene when Diana swallows a huge rat whole. The show had a decent three episode sequel the following year and a series remake in 2009 which lasted a couple of seasons.

 No. 8 - The Wonder Years 1988-1993

Follows the exploits of Kevin Arnold and his family and friends during the sixties. The narrator is supposed to be Kevin himself in the present talking about his past. His bullying brother, his radical hippy sister, his best friend and his first love. I remember hearing about the show during that years super bowl on channel 4. The show itself also appeared on channel 4. It appealed to me as I knew next to nothing about this time period and the stories were usually good.

No. 7 - The Muppet Show 1976-1981

Prime time Sunday evening family entertainment. The puppets in The Muppet Show were given so much personality and character by their movements, voices and facial expressions that after a while you forgot they were just puppets. The premise of a chaotic music-hall style variety show, where you also got to see behind the scenes, was pure genius and the special guests were usually very famous. Everyone wanted to be a guest on The Muppet Show once it became famous itself. Although this show is American it was produced by my local TV Station in England as the pilot shows were turned down by the American networks. I would have signed it up based solely on the theme tune.

No. 6 - Moonlighting 1985-1989

Not sure why but I think this show ended up on BBC 2 on a week night. It was about the Blue Moon Detective Agency and it's two main P.I's Maddie Hayes and David Addison. The show was the perfect mix of mystery, drama and comedy with the added ingredient of the 'will they' or 'won't they' factor between the two leads. Each investigation involved a lot of slapstick comedy and some truly surreal moments. Who knew after this Bruce Willis would go on to be the star of the Die Hard franchise, The Sixth Sense and Armageddon. This show was definitely his big break.

No. 5 - The Incredible Hulk 1978-1982

This show has one of the most moving end credit theme tunes ever. When people think about this show they must hear that haunting music in their heads. I know I do. Considering this show was about a super hero the makers decided to almost ignore that and focus on the complex high drama of David Banner's situation (They even changed his name from the original Bruce Banner probably because it sounded too much like a superhero). David travels around America helping people whilst also trying to find a way of curing the illness the creates the not so little green man. To be honest nobody wanted him to find the cure as some of the coolest parts of each episode involved the hulk-outs where a green painted Lou Ferrigno would throw people around and smash things up. Bill Bixby was the heart of the show and such a great actor. One of the first movie quality actors in a TV show in my opinion. It was sad to learn that his life was quite tragic outside of the show. I heard Hugh Jackman is planning to make a movie of his life. That's something I would definitely go and see.

No. 4 - Star Trek 1966-1969

The show that started the Trekkie ball rolling. Star Trek always seems to be compared with Star Wars but besides being set in space and having space ships that's where the similarity ends. This show is about a bunch of colourful characters, colleagues and friends, who try to solve a problem surrounded by wonderful sci-fi ideas. It feels like the only reason it's set in space is so be can go exploring on that journey with them. It's way ahead of it's time and that's why the series has lasted so long in one form or another. I must have watched repeats as the show had already been cancelled by the time I was born. The best part was always when the main characters were beamed down to a planet along with one extra character who you'd never seen before and who you knew was expendable and Yep, they ended up dead.

No. 3 - Friends 1994-2004

Essential 90's TV. The funniest sitcom ever if it wasn't for a certain Boston bar in my opinion. Still it is one of the best shows ever. The six main characters were so well fleshed out they could easily have been real people. They all had complex back stories which, when intertwined with each other, made compelling viewing. The writing was in a class of it's own. To be so dramatic and comedic at the same time takes some skill. Yet the situations were never really bizarre, they were always realistic and believable. It remained a happy show. If a situation become too serious a joke was not far away to lighten the load. Even Tom Selleck was in it. The one thing I didn't really like was the theme tune. It's instantly recognisable but get's on my nerves. Still I'm glad that's the one thing I didn't like about the show rather than anything else.

No. 2 - Cheers 1982-1993

I personally regard this as the funniest sitcom of all time. The writing was out of this world and seemed to be more concerned with the development of the characters rather than the stories. that's not to say the stories were secondary. They were also first class. The show was never afraid to portray controversial social issues and give them a comedic spin. It also mixed upper class with middle and lower class characters and it was fun to see these interactions. Characters came and went from the show and gradually more and more characters were developed into main characters. The writers even had to deal with the death of one of the main actors, Nicholas Colosanto who played Coach, who died of a heart attack. They rightly decided that he should pass away in the show too as he would not have left his friends. He was replaced at the bar by Woody Boyd played by Woody Harrelson who has since moved on to bigger things such as the movies White Men Can't Jump, Kingpin, The People vs. Larry Flint, Zombieland, The Hunger Games and the TV show True Detective.

No. 1 - Quantum Leap 1989-1993

People who have read my previous blog posts will already know that I regard this as the best TV show of all time. Sure it's not as popular and didn't receive as many awards or nominations as some of the other shows but it had a concept like no other. Much like David Banner traveling around America and resolving problems, and come to think of it much like any other TV show, the characters in this show always had a dramatic problem to resolve. But the key difference in Quantum Leap was the problem was in the past and already part of history. Not only that when Sam Beckett leaped to a different time and had to resolve a problem to leap again, he had to do it as someone else. His memory was full of holes and this gave way to a side kick, Al, who could help Sam and give him advice even though he wasn't really there and other people couldn't see him. Sound familiar? The early seasons were the best I've ever seen on TV. Well before the year 2000 anyway. Everybody involved managed to convey the original cosmic concept perfectly. It only fell a little short around season three when you realised that Sam never ever failed to resolve a problem. However, sadly he never did make the leap home. 

 Other Shows That Didn't Make The List

Battlestar Galactica, Alias Smith and Jones, Big John, Little John, The Golden Girls, T J Hooker, The Dukes of Hazard, McGyver, The Sopranos, Chips, Roseanne, Happy Days, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, South Park, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Prisoner, Star Trek - The Next Generation, Taxi, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks, Cagney & Lacey, Starsky & Hutch, The Cosby Show, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Family Ties, Laverne & Shirley, Soap, Benson, WKRP in Cincinatti, Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, LA Law, NYPD Blue, Hart To Hart, Manimal, BJ and The Bear, Due South, Northern Exposure, Fame, Hawaii Five'O, Miami Vice, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Airwolf, Street Hawk, Automan.

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