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October 6, 2015

Not all TV is classic TV

by Paul Goebel, posted Apr 10th 2007 11:58AM

Mike, Davy, Peter & MickyI have often said that all television falls into two categories, good and bad. However, I have recently discovered that television can also be categorized as classic and non-classic. But there's a catch.

When I was growing up, there wasn't a lot of good TV due to the fact that there were only three networks (four if you count PBS, which I certainly didn't). Consequently, local affiliates had no choice but to fill their daytime schedules with reruns of popular sitcoms like The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island and The Monkees. These shows and shows like them have become classics almost by default. Bottom line: when an entire generation can sing the theme song of a show, it's a classic.

When cable came along, everything changed. The pressure was off the local affiliates, because there was more competition. I mean, how can Bill Kennedy at the Movies on WXYZ in Detroit compete with 24 hours of music videos on MTV? The phenomenon of cable raised the bar for classic TV.

Then came Nick at Nite. In the beginning, it was a godsend. Not only could I watch the shows I grew up with (Welcome Back, Kotter, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy) but I also got to see a lot of shows that were before my time (Dragnet, Route 66, Get Smart). I was in heaven. It was like a whole new world of television had opened up to me, a world I had only heard about from my mom and dad. In those good old days, anything shown on Nick at Nite was automatically deemed classic TV.

In the late '90's, Nickelodeon made an announcement that had TV nerds like myself weeping tears of joy. They announced TV Land, a 24-hour network showing nothing but classic television. I couldn't believe it. A friend of mine got me into the launch party for the network and I will never forget it. I met Donna Douglas, Ruth Buzzi, Steven Bochco, and Gary Coleman and danced to KC and the Sunshine Band till they threw me out for trying to take more than my share of gift bags. The day of the true TV fan had arrived ... life was good

Then something strange happened. TV Land ran out of programs to show. I know it sounds strange. How could they run out? Classic TV is around forever, right? Well, for some reason, TV Land decided that their current line of classics weren't appealing enough, so they had to branch out and grab some younger viewers with a whole new line-up of "classics." Shows like Head of The Class, Wings and Full House started showing up on TV Land's schedule. Also, right around this time collections of TV shows became much more accessible because of the invention of the DVD. The DVD along with the "new" TV Land proceeded to lower the bar of classic TV to a new low, roughly about ankle level.

Just because you grew up loving a TV show doesn't make it a classic. I don't care how often you roared with laughter when Tim Allen "oinked" at the camera, Home Improvement does not make the cut. Classic television does more than bring back memories of sleepovers and crank calls. It is television that appeals to multiple generations (Green Acres, The Munsters), television that parents can enjoy with their children (Leave it to Beaver, Lassie), and most importantly, television that refuses to be remade into a popular feature film (Bewitched, The Honeymooners).

So before I wrap this up, I'd like to give you readers a little primer on what is classic TV and what isn't classic television

CLASSIC: Mary Tyler Moore, Soap, Taxi, The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, The Odd Couple, The White Shadow, All in the Family

NON-CLASSIC: Too Close for Comfort, Benson, Who's the Boss, Bob, Bay City Blues, Doogie Howser MD, The New Odd Couple, Coach, Gloria

Keep in mind, this is just a partial list and I'm sure many of you will have your own to add, so, in closing, let the comments begin.

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One persons definition of classic isn't somebody else's. There are too many great shows from the 60s and beyond... Categorizing them is difficult - not too mention all the spinoffs.

I'm building a classic TV page on Squidoo.com at http://squidoo.com/classictv and also have a page at http://myspace.com/classicTVshows featuring some short content and features.... please stop by and rate
me or make comments. I really would appreciate it.

Have a great day!

May 25 2007 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I see what you are getting at Paul, but your argument seems to simultaneously prove and disprove the classification of "classic".

There are so many ways to look at it. Let's look at American half-hour comedies by decade:

1) Shows that were truly the pinnacle of broadcast TV at the time.

- 50's: The Honeymooners/I Love Lucy
- 60's: Get Smart/The Dick Van Dyke Show
- 70's: The Odd Couple/Sanford & Son
- 80's: Night Court/Cheers
- 90's: Seinfeld/Frasier
- 00's: 30 Rock/The Office

Of course, this would fall more into the category of "critical acclaim". At the same time, these shows were able to surprise us with their writing and acting chops.

2) Shows that seem timeless aka perpetually relevant:

- 50's: The Honeymooners/I Love Lucy
- 60's: Bewitched/The Dick Van Dyke Show
- 70's: All in the Family/The Mary Tyler Moore Show
- 80's: Cheers/The Golden Girls
- 90's: Seinfeld/Frasier
- 00's: The King of Queens/Arrested Development

Twenty years from now, you could watch these shows and knowingly laugh. You could probably reenact them twenty years from now in current garb and people would think they were new.

3) Shows that were groundbreaking:

- 50's: Burns & Allen/The Jack Benny Show
- 60's: The Addams Family/Hogan's Heroes
- 70's: Soap/All in the Family
- 80's: The Cosby Show/The Golden Girls
- 90's: Seinfeld/Roseanne
- 00's: Arrested Development/My Name is Earl

These will always stand out as "something new and exciting" aka shows that had impact on the future makers of shows. These shows also took risks and succeeded.


Of course, these are my opinions; the point I am trying to make outside of subjectivity is that there is no definition of "classic TV". If you want to look by the numbers of the lists above, only one show appears on all of my three lists: Seinfeld.

Several appear on more than once.

With the birth of cable, DVD's, etc...you seemed to make the point that the vantage point for "classic" has perpetually shifted. At the same time, you used theme songs as a guide. Do you really think that "Friends", one of the most successful (and VASTLY overrated) shows of all time even wants to be remembered by its godawful theme song? The theme song era ended in the mid-70's.

Also, the TVLand of today is rather different from the TVLand of yesterday, which in turn is rather different from three VHF and maybe five UHF channels. The rules of syndication seem to have changed also. Moving target, guys and gals.

"Classic" is subjective. Perhaps we should be talking about "groundbreaking", "timeless", or "critically acclaimed". These aren't cars, they are scripts and performances.

April 11 2007 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To me, classic takes you back to a time that you enjoy and that's why TV is so subjective. I was born in 1980; therefore, sitcoms like "It's A Living," "Too Close For Comfort," "Married With Children," etc. are classic. The kitschy sitcoms you mention are just old.

April 10 2007 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Kosmicki

If you watch Green Acres for what it is, and not what you might think it was, it's a clear classic. This show was meta-textual long before anyone else thought to be. It was absurdism made real. and this isn't just "comfort tv" talking -- there was a lot of craft that went into Green Acres. The Beverly Hillbillies is comfort TV -- Petticoat Junction sucked -- Green Acres was a classic.

and sometimes you had to be there to understand what makes something a classic. yes, a true classic should still work after its time too, but sometimes it's what it created that makes it a classic. There's also the problem that shows like All in the Family stick around too long, and people who only know the later seasons have a different view than people who were there at the beginning. But Different Strokes was never good. ever.

April 10 2007 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I miss the OLD Nick@Night...in the 90s with I Love Lucy and The Jeffersons and Wonder Years. I may only be 19, but I have seen Fresh Prince too many times and the same for Roseanne. I am sure Nick@Night probably want younger viewers, but isn't that what Nickelodeon, the N, and Nicktoons channels are for?

April 10 2007 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike B.

Pedantic Detroit-related correction. Bill Kennedy never aired on WXYZ. That was Rita Bell's domain. Bill aired on CKLW and WKBD.

April 10 2007 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So, are you saying that classic TV is like pornography? Difficult to define but you know it when you see it.

April 10 2007 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Man. I have to agree to a certain extent. I loved Nick at night growing up. I got to see all the old shows from the 60's and 70's--and they where really great. Regardless of being comedies--they actually had quite a bit of substance to them (well except Get Smart--but it was action packed so I liked it for that). The idea that I'd see commercials from that era was novel too.
But now--they air Fresh Prince and Roseanne. I felt that these were ground breaking shows but were easily found in syndication elsewhere. Shows that appeared in the 90's will be classics--someday--but I don't care to see them now.
I always thought that they should air shows that where at least 20 years and older.
And TV land is something else entirely. I'd like to see them air classic shows in today's format--a novel concept that might work. Daytime soaps and talk shows from 30 years ago. Children's hour (like fat albert), Comedies, then dramas/action hours and finally late-night (carson, sullivan).

April 10 2007 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with most of what you wrote, Paul. But I would have to add that classic shows should be just as appealing now as they were in their prime (time). From that standpoint I think you might be giving Wings a tough break as it was a really well done show. Very subjective topic though, so I can see how we won't all agree on this one.

April 10 2007 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

CLASSIC: Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Small Wonder, Just the 10 Of Us, Mr. Wizard
NOT CLASSIC: Hill Street Blues, Dallas, Dynasty

It's all subjective, people. Anyone who claims that TV (or music or movies) has an absolute goodness or badness... well, probably writes for TV Squad.

But, feel free to keep pretending that your opinions were written in stone ages ago.

April 10 2007 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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