Nerd Lunch recently had a podcast episode discussing about the top 10 most influential TV shows of all time (Nerd Lunch Episode 192). Their list was a counter to a Screen Rant post. The Screen Rant list was more of a what has been influential lately. The Nerd Lunch boys were much more even handed and well thought out, even though I didn’t agree with all of their choices. So, I thought I’d give it a try. These are in no particular order.
- The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Yeah, I know, the Carson iteration wasn’t the original. However, I think it is indisputable that Johnny made late night TV what it is today. While new hosts and shows have added their own style, their format pretty much follows in The Tonight Shows footsteps. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Johnny and Ed helped a number of performers get exposure from comedians to musicians. And, hey, who can forget the Potato Chip Lady?
- The Sopranos. First criminal drama? First prime time drama? First drama to swear? Nope. What Tony and his crew did do is set the stage for us to get the modern edgy drama. It probable would have happened sooner or later, but The Sopranos brought a realistic drama to TV that appealed to the masses. Tony would never say, “Oh, Fudge!” Silvio’s girls weren’t on stage wearing bikini’s. And Christoper was a drug addict and not just an alcoholic. In short, The Sopranos brought realistic drama to the small screen in a way that we previously would’ve only seen in an R-rated film. This paved the way for Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and even Daredevil.
- The Flintstones. I really wanted to go with The Simpsons here. But, thinking about it, Fred did it first. At it’s heart The Flintstones is the story of an average guy and his family representative of the era that it aired. Homer is only the update of that. Fred and Barney had some crazy adventures, but they still worked a regular job, had kids and married women who ruled the household. I would contend this influenced not only prime time animated shows, but a number of other sitcoms as well.
- All In the Family. Okay. I’m not a huge fan of this one. I do think it was fairly influential, though. For a sitcom, this show unflinchingly looked at topical issues of the times. For a moment, the country could laugh at itself and not worry about the political correctness of it all. Where most shows normally have that one “special episode” to discuss a topical subject, All in the Family pretty much had something topical going on all the time. War, Divorce, Rape, bigotry, gender, etc… It was all here.
- Star Trek (The Original Series). The crew of the Enterprise sped across space and time and probably put nerd culture on the path to where it is today. Yes, there were other sci fi shows before it, but this one had the audacity to be entertaining without being made for kids. Kirk and company tackled topical issues with race and gender spun into outer space adventures. Launching a franchise, the show really did take us where no man had gone before.
- Dragnet. Police shows have long been a staple of TV entertainment. Dragnet brought us just the facts and set us up for the numerous procedural that followed. The little end follow up took us not only through the capture of the criminals, but also what their sentence was. Sounds like a precursor to Law & Order to me.
- Survivor. Love them or hate them reality shows have made a big change on the viewing landscape. The first one to capture the country en masse was Survivor, though. Viewing parties commenced as we all waited breathless to see how the voting would turn out week after week. There is no doubt this show has made an impact as most reality shows that came after copy some aspect of this hit. (For the record, I think Amazing Race is the better show.)
- Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Nobody can dispute that Power Rangers is a generational touchstone for a number of kids and changed afternoon TV viewing. Bringing live action….Wait. This isn’t the original show. This show started in Japan as Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. But, that is a Japanese show…
Ah, here’s the rub, at least for me. How many shows do we watch that we think are the first of their kind are really influenced by a foreign show? Have we in America been blinded that the whole world is making TV shows and not just watching ours? Could there actually, gulp, be some good ones out there?
I know for Mrs. Nerd and I, we seem to give BBC shows a bit more of a chance to catch on. We love their shows from Sherlock to Coupling. How many times have BBC shows been adapted, mostly poorly, for American audiences? (Coupling, The Office, The IT Crowd, etc…) It doesn’t stop there. Continuum and Lost Girl on SyFy are Canadian.
Now, those are just English speaking shows. The problem is most American viewers will skip subtitled shows. How many influential shows have we missed out on just because we won’t read while watching? For example, I dare to say the French show Witnesses (available on Netflix) is a better show than the second season of True Detective. The Killing is a great example of a show audiences wouldn’t watch with subtitles and would watch an English version of.
I posted the following on my Facebook page:
A young man finds a device that allows him to become a hero with the ability to tailor his powers to the situation. He and his friends must learn to use this power to face the corporate entity that runs the town. As they learn to harness their powers, the group soon realizes the corporation may only be a small part of a larger threat to their city and even the world.
What most people didn’t realize was that I was describing the series Kamen Rider Gaim from Japan. My buddy Ben from the Action Figure Blues Podcast thought it might be Ben 10. I don’t anybody would argue that Kamen Rider didn’t influence for that animated show. Overall, people said they would give it a chance based on the description.
I guess that is my point here. What comes down to making a show isfluential isn’t where it’s aired or what language it’s in. It’s about taking small screen entertainment to a new places. Do yourself a favor. Next time you are looking for something to watch, try something out of your comfort zone. Whether it is foreign, subtitled or a genre you don’t normally watch, check something new out. There’s a whole big world of TV shows out there.