Time for another installment of Ask Alan, where I take your questions about the past, present, and future of TV.
A lot of the same shows wind up appearing over and over in this week’s installment, where the questions ask for a broader overview of classic TV.
First up, I’m asked to pick one show each (give or take) from the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s, that could be successful if it first aired, as is, today. This was tricky, because older TV often makes various stylistic choices that audiences today wouldn’t have patience for, and because in certain cases, if you remove the show from history, what does TV today look like? If there’s no Cheers in the ’80s, for instance, do all the other will-they-or-won’t-they? couples of the past few decades exist? I think the ’70s is the only decade where I conclusively picked one show, but there are possibilities in each decade.
From there, an aside in my tribute to the late Harry Anderson inspired a question about other sitcom leads like him: straight men (or straight women) who could be just as funny as the weirdos surrounding them.
And we close things out with me picking my favorite series finales of shows that debuted before 1990 — which in several cases involves finales that aired after that date. What’s amazing about TV is that, with a few exceptions like The Fugitive and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, series finales that felt like definitive ends to the story weren’t really a thing until the M*A*S*H finale became the most-watched TV episode ever (which it still is, and will surely always be). Shows just stopped, because network executives didn’t think audiences cared about closure, and/or because studio executives didn’t want to screw up the syndication package so that people on Tuesday were watching a rerun of the conclusion to the story that saw off a bunch of characters, then on Wednesday were watching a rerun of the pilot. So for this question, I was basically choosing from about a decade’s worth of shows.