In a time when TV was a whole lot simpler, there were the classic shows that mostly ran for only 30 minutes per episode. Some less, even, if you discount the commercial breaks in between. The challenges at that time were greater too e.g. score a good impressionable cast, narrow down the script to fit, and at the end of the day tell a great story with every short episode. But the days of great, short and sweet TV shows have long gone, and the format has since changed.
That’s not to say that they’ve been forgotten with the times! Here are some of the greatest and most memorable TV series of yesteryear that we miss, some that have still got their respective cult followings:
Every bomb disposal unit in the world needs to hire this one guy who can improvise as and when necessary and easily diffuse a bomb with a fork. Yes, a fork.
MacGyver is an American action-adventure series created by Lee David Zlotoff. Henry Winkler and John Rich were the executive producers. The story centres on secret agent Angus MacGyver (played by Richard Dean Anderson) who works as a troubleshooter for the fictional Phoenix Foundation in LA and as an agent for a fictional US government agency, the Department of External Services (DXS). Educated as a scientist, MacGyver served as a Bomb Team Technician/EOD during the Vietnam War (“Countdown”). Resourceful and possessed of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the physical sciences, he solves complex problems with everyday materials he finds at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife. A do-gooder champ, he prefers non-violent resolutions and prefers not to handle a gun.
Also, this theme song:
MacGyver ran at 46 – 48 minutes per episode, from 1985 – 1992.
The missions, the helicopter, the renegade pilot role – it was every young boy’s dream TV series. Heck, it’s still the dream TV series for grown adults.
Airwolf is an American television series that centres on a high-tech military Bell 222 helicopter, code named Airwolf. The advanced supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal was designed by Dr. Charles Henry Moffet (David Hemmings) – a genius with a psychopathic taste for torturing and killing women – and built by an intelligence agency called the Firm, a division of the CIA (a play on the term “the Company”, a nickname for the CIA). Airwolf and its crew undertake various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme. During filming of the series, the helicopter was owned by Jetcopters, Inc. of Van Nuys, California. The concept behind Airwolf was a supersonic armed helicopter that could be disguised as a civilian vehicle — “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. In fact, the Airwolf uniform insignia patch worn by the flight crew members featured a snarling bat-winged wolf’s head wearing a sheepskin.
The helicopter was eventually sold after the show ended and became an ambulance helicopter in Germany, where it crashed in a thunderstorm and was destroyed in 1992, killing all 3 crew members.
Airwolf ran at 40 – 45 minutes per episode, from 1984 – 1987.
Doogie Howser, M.D.
Ah, this was before we knew him as “legen..wait for it..dary” Barney in How I Met Your Mother. And interestingly, if you looked closely enough, you’d realise that he was also the first to really introduce us the world to “blogging“. Yup, that’s some teenaged genius next level stuff going on.
See, Doogie is no ordinary teenager – he is a doctor. As smart as they come, he has been a doctor since the age of 14. Despite being extraordinarily intelligent, at the end of the day, he’s still a teenager and thus, he has to deal with the usual problems of growing up e.g. having a girlfriend, going to parties, hanging out with his best friend, all this on top of being a licensed physician in a difficult residency program. Needless to say, Doogie is constantly torn between a life of teenage fun with his buddy Vinny, and a more serious and quiet life practicing medicine.
It’s opening sequence was exceptionally memorable. Watch:
Doogie Howser, M.D. ran at 30 minutes per episode, 1989 – 1993.
Back in the day, Scott Bakula was the coolest guy on the planet when he starred in this NBC cult hit about a physicist “leaping” through time into the bodies of other people in an attempt to “put right what once went wrong” while every time hoping that “this leap may be the leap home”.
Scott Bakula plays Dr. Sam Beckett a scientist who becomes lost in time following a botched experiment. In the series’ first episode, Sam appears in the past with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Referred to frequently throughout the series as a “swiss-cheesed brain”, Sam’s partial amnesia prevents him from remembering most of the details of his own life; all he knows is that he’s not who everyone in the past seems to think he is. Fortunately Admiral Al Calavicci (played by Dean Stockwell), a former astronaut and Sam’s best friend, appears to him as a hologram and explains that Sam is the victim of a time travel experiment that went “a little caca”. In each episode, Sam leaps into a new host body, often finding himself in dangerous, embarrassing, or otherwise compromising positions, and with Al’s help he tries to right some wrong or misfortune in the life of that person or someone close to them.
Quantum Leap ran at 45 minutes per episode, from 1989 – 1993.
You remember this one, don’t you? The not-so-family-friendly animated TV series that was bursting at the seams with wild sci-fi antics and macabre humour that required some level of maturity to understand.
Futurama is an American adult animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late-20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J. Fry, who, after being unwittingly cryogenically frozen for 1,000 years, finds employment at Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company in the retro-futuristic 31st century. The series was envisioned by Groening in the late 90s while working on The Simpsons, later bringing Cohen aboard to develop story lines and characters to pitch the show to Fox. In 2013, TV Guide ranked Futurama as one of the “Top 60 Greatest TV Cartoons of All Time”.
Futurama ran at 22 minutes per episode, from 1999 – 2013.
TV sitcom Full House introduced us to the first Joey (the other one is of the Tribbiani kind in F.R.I.E.N.D.S) we will ever come to know on TV. It also showcased a time before Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen eventually grew up to become 2 of Hollywood’s biggest fashion icons! Who would’ve imagined that the twins were actually sharing one role (Michelle) in the show?
Full House chronicles widowed father Danny Tanner (played by Bob Saget), who, after the death of his wife Pam, enlists his quirky best friend Joey Gladstone and his brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis (an exterminator turned rock musiian) to help raise his 3 daughters, D.J., Stephanie, and Michelle in his San Francisco home. Over time, the 3 men as well as the children bond and become closer to one another. The show also went on to document Jesse falling in love with Rebecca, getting married, and becoming father himself to twin sons Nicky and Alex.
In August 2014, it was announced that plans were underway to reboot the series which would reunite most of the original cast.
Full House ran at 21 – 25 minutes per episode, from 1987 – 1995.
Bill Nye the Science Guy
It’s safe to say that we know many nerds and geeks who were nurtured at a very young age because of this show. Not that the academic industry is complaining, of course!
Bill Nye the Science Guy 30-minute educational programme that was hosted by Bill Nye and each episode is designed to teach a specific topic in science to a preteen audience. Some examples include dinosaurs, gravity, digestion, the moon, cells, brain, reptiles, the water cycle, and many others. The show does a great job explaining each topic fully and has great learning visuals, charts, experiments, and descriptions. It became one of the most viewed educational videos in the US and thousands of teachers use the series to explain various scientific topics to their classes.
Bill Nye the Science Guy ran at 26 minutes per episode, from 1993 – 1998.
Oh, Daria, so cynical, at times sarcastic, yet so loveable. Plus, her level of intelligence is much to be envious about. We loved how she took on a teenager’s growing pains and made it so ironic and so relatable for some of us.
Daria is a spin-off of Mike Judge’s animated Beavis and Butt-head series, in which Daria appeared as a recurring character. Created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn for MTV, the animated series focuses on Daria Morgendorffer, a smart, acerbic, and somewhat misanthropic teenage girl who observes the world around her. The show is set in the fictional suburban American town of Lawndale and is a satire of high school life, and full of allusions to and criticisms of popular culture and social classes.
Daria ran at 21 – 22 minutes per episode, from 1997 – 2002.
We couldn’t go without adding this one in because, well, don’t you miss Jerry and the gang?
Seinfeld began as a 23-minute pilot named The Seinfeld Chronicles. Developed by NBC executive Rick Ludwin, and produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, it was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalised version of himself. Set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York City, the show features a handful of Jerry’s friends and acquaintances, particularly best friend George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbour across the hall Cosmo Kramer (played by Michael Richards).
Seinfeld was a mix of Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy routines and idiosyncratic, conversational scenes focusing on mundane aspects of everyday life such as laundry, the buttoning of the top button on one’s shirt and the attempt by men to properly interpret the intent of women spending the night in Seinfeld’s apartment.
Seinfeld ran at 22 minutes per episode, from 1989 – 1998.
This, because we spent half of our childhood trying to figure out what half-faced-Wilson actually looked like. Also, because Jonathan Taylor Thomas!
Home Improvement is an American television sitcom starring Tim Allen and was created by Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean. In the 90s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms in the American market, winning many awards. The series launched Tim Allen’s acting career and also was the start of the television career of Pamela Anderson, who was part of the recurring cast. The series centres on the Taylor family, which consists of Tim (played by Tim Allen), his wife Jill (played by Patricia Richardson) and their 3 children: the oldest, Brad (played by Zachery Ty Bryan), the middle child Randy (played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and youngest, Mark (played by Taran Noah Smith). The Taylors live in suburban Detroit, Michigan and have a neighbour named Wilson (played by Earl Hindman) who is often the go-to guy for solving Tim and Jill’s problems.
Home Improvement ran at 22 minutes per episode, from 1991 – 1998.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
If you haven’t watched any episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, you’re missing out! Nothing tells the story of a “rags-to-riches” Will Smith quite like this 90s show. That little punk.
The show stars Will Smith as a fictionalised version of himself, a street-smart teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia who is sent to move in with his wealthy aunt and uncle in their Bel-Air mansion after getting into a fight with street bullies on a local basketball court. In the series, his lifestyle often clashes with the lifestyle of his relatives in Bel-Air as he tries to fit in but we loved it for the subtle life lessons that it taught us i.e. it’s not about where you come from, it’s about where you’re going.
The theme song and opening sequence set the premise of the show. It went on to be one of TV’s most memorable opening sequences in history:
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran at 23 minutes per episode, from 1990 – 1996.
The Nanny is an American television sitcom starring Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, a Jewish Queens native who becomes the nanny of 3 children from the New York/British high society. Created and executive produced by Drescher and her then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson, The Nanny took much of its inspiration from Drescher’s personal life growing up in Queens, involving names and characteristics based on her relatives and friends. The show earned a Rose d’Or and one Emmy Award, out of a total of 12 nominations, and Drescher was twice nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. The sitcom has also spawned several foreign adaptations, loosely inspired by the original scripts.
Its animated opening sequence was so much win:
The Nanny ran at 30 minutes per episode, from 1993 – 1999.
The Wonder Years
What’s that? Upon looking back and reflecting, the growing up years were totally awkward for you, you say? Those years could’ve been turned into a TV show, you say? Well, someone already beat you to it!
The Wonder Years is an American television comedy-drama created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black. It ran on ABC from 1988 through 1993. The series was conceived by writers Neil Marlens and Carol Black. They set out to create a family show that would appeal to the baby-boomer generation by setting the series in the late 60s, a time of radical change in America’s history. They also wanted the series to tie this setting in to life of a normal boy growing up during the period. Hence, the story was told from 2 perspectives: As 12-year-old Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage) navigated school pressures, family politics, and a crush on the girl next door (while wearing his trademark New York Jets jacket), his older self reflected sagely on those experiences through the narration of actor Daniel Stern.
The Wonder Years ran at 22 – 24 minutes per episode, from 1988 – 1993.
Blossom became a fashion icon for young girls, having pioneered the “floppy hat” on TV, which held such a presence that the hat was personified in later episodes by up and coming actress Brittany Lacour.
Blossom is an American sitcom which starred Mayim Bialik as Blossom Russo, a teenager living with her father and 2 brothers. The series began with Blossom’s mother having left the family to pursue her own life and career; the show concentrated on the family’s attempts to adjust. Blossom’s father, Nick (played by Ted Wass), is a session musician who was frequently between gigs and tours. Her oldest brother Anthony (played by Michael Stoyanov) is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who eventually became a paramedic. Joey (played by Joey Lawrence), the middle brother, is a stereotypical “dumb jock”, known for the drawn-out delivery of his catchphrase, “Whoa!”. Blossom’s best friend Six Lemeure (played by Jenna von Oÿ) also plays a significant part in her life. Six, an especially fast talker, was best known for her tendency to ramble. Blossom also frequently received advice from celebrities in fantasy scenes, such as Mr. T, Hugh Hefner, Phylicia Rashad, David Spade, ALF, and Will Smith.
Blossom ran at 22 – 25 minutes per episode, from 1990 – 1995.
We’re not going to deny that we especially loved how Agent Mulder and Agent Scully had the best mobile network service ever known to mankind because they’ve certainly never faced problems throughout the entirety of the show whenever they needed to call each other! Much envy.
Created by Chris Carter, the X-Files revolves around FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) investigating X-Files: marginalised, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. When creating the main characters, Carter sought to reverse gender stereotypes by making Mulder a believer (in the existence of aliens and the paranomal) while Scully, a skeptic, is assigned to make scientific analyses of Mulder’s discoveries to debunk his work and thus return him to mainstream cases. Early in the series, both agents become pawns in a larger conflict and come to trust only each other. They develop a close relationship, which begins as a platonic friendship, but becomes a romance by series end. In addition to the series-spanning story arc, “Monster-of-the-Week” episodes form roughly two-thirds of the episodes.
Initially considered a cult show, it turned into a pop culture touchstone that tapped into public mistrust of governments and large institutions and embraced conspiracy theories and spirituality. Both the show itself and lead actors Duchovny and Anderson received multiple awards and nominations, and by the end it was the longest-running science fiction series in US television history.
The X-Files ran at 44 minutes per episode, from 1993 – 2002.
“So no one told you life was going to be this way”, clap clap clap clap! “Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA!”
Friends is an American TV sitcom that lasted 10 whole seasons, revolving around a circle of friends living in Manhattan. It starts with Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston) fleeing her wedding day and seeking out childhood friend Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), a New York City chef. They become roommates, and Rachel joins Monica’s social circle of single people in their mid-20s: struggling actor Joey Tribbiani (played by Matt LeBlanc), business professional Chandler Bing (played Matthew Perry), masseuse and musician Phoebe Buffay (played by Lisa Kudrow), and newly divorced paleontologist Ross Geller (played by David Schwimmer), Monica’s older brother. The 6 are usually at the Manhattan coffeehouse Central Park or Monica and Rachel’s nearby West Village apartment, or Joey and Chandler’s across the hall. Episodes typically depict the friends’ comedic romantic adventures (Rachel and Ross are on, Rachel and Ross are off, Rachel and Ross are on, Monica and Chandler are on?!) and career issues.
The series finale (aired on 6th May 2004), was watched by around 52.5 million American viewers, making it the fourth most watched series finale in television history and the most watched episode of the decade.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S ran at 20 – 22 minutes per episode, from 1994 – 2004.
Which one of the above was your favourite TV series or sitcom of yesteryear? Of course, there’s more from where the above list came from. But we’ll save those for a post for another day!
If you have any that you’d like us to write about, leave your suggestions in the comments box below! 😉