Despite the passing of decades, classic television can still entertain even today’s generation of viewers – only they have to log on to YouTube or buy special edition DVD’s. If they’re lucky, they can catch more classic shows on cable, satellite TV or streaming somewhere in the digital airwaves.
For most of the baby boomers (and count the Gen-X-ers too), classic television are now relics of the good ol’ times, and it’s only natural that they cannot help feeling nostalgic about them. And even if times were indeed hard, there were TV dramas, sitcoms, game shows and variety shows that provided them momentary relief and distraction from life’s realities.
While most classic television shows had a good run and signed off for good, a few have survived the decades and are still broadcast up to this day (such as The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live). And then there’s the current “reboot” trend in television where networks have been rolling out revivals of the classic TV shows such as Dallas, Dynasty and The X-Files, to varying degrees of success. These reboots often star actors and actresses who were once part of the cast of the original TV shows.
If there’s any good thing about reboots, they’re inciting the interest and curiosity of the current generation of viewers to check out the original shows. At the same time, these reboots are also rekindling nostalgia from those who have watched these shows in their original run many decades ago.
The formula of a “classic TV
What makes a television show “classic”? When a TV show becomes a huge hit, it will inevitably become classic in time. It owes its current status largely to its longevity, but there’s more than that.
An unforgettable and mind-blowing finale will count as a factor. Ask anyone who have seen these classic TV shows particularly during their original run, and they will vividly recall these finales. For instance, there’s M*A*S*H*’s tear-jerking farewell, ending with “GOODBYE” spelled out in stones as Hawkeye Pierce flies away in a chopper. Or Cheers’ Sam ditching his plans to move to L.A. and returning to his bar and his old friends. Or Mary Tyler Moore doing the unprecedented moment in American TV: breaking from her character and introducing each of her cast mates.
Other vital ingredients to make a classic TV show are catchy and memorable theme songs, especially in the opening sequences of the show. Examples include “Love Is All Around” (Mary Tyler Moore Show), “Happy Days” (from Happy Days), “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (from Cheers), “Making Our Dreams Come True” (from Laverne and Shirley), and “I’ll Be There for You” (from Friends).
While many of the hit classic TV themes are actual songs with lyrics, other classic TV themes feature little or no lyrics at all, and we think it’s better that way. The snappy soundtracks are enough to warrant audiences the “last song syndrome” (or LSS) and prompt them to hum a few bars, even to people who haven’t seen those TV shows. Prime examples include the theme music from Batman, Hawaii Five-O, The Simpsons and Bonanza. Many of these popular TV themes – either with lyrics or no lyrics – have also become million-selling hits and heated up the Billboard Top 40 charts.
One of the crucial factors of a “classic” TV is the casting – it doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-star, powerhouse cast, but a cast that is engaging to make the audiences empathize with.
Many TV series center on a protagonist (hero), who is the defining part of the show and around whom the main plot revolves. If there’s a protagonist, there should also be an antagonist (villain) who is usually hostile or mean to the former. The clash between the protagonist and the antagonist is something that gives life to the show. The battle between “the good and the evil” is a tried-and-true TV formula that hits the pulses of the general viewing public. Usually, audiences would side with the protagonist and hate the antagonist.
But sometimes, producers steer away from the protagonist-antagonist kind of narrative. Instead, they prefer to have an ensemble cast on the show, where each of the principal characters share (more or less) an equal screen time and importance to the storyline. These TV producers think that a motley crew of characters will be more appealing since they exhibit different personalities and quirks, allowing viewers to find a certain character that they can mostly identify themselves with. Also, a show with an ensemble cast offers the writers flexibility. They will be able to concentrate on each of the characters on different episodes, while emphasizing their relations to one another.
Actors should be also capable of delivering and fitting into the role which is specifically written for them. Otherwise, they would be miscast, and that would spell the failure of the whole production.
A great chemistry among the cast members is also an essential ingredient of a hit TV show. If the actors lack chemistry with each other, that may leave the viewers bored or dissatisfied.
However, a good casting is just part of the equation. Even if the show has a stellar cast, it would be nothing if it lacks a good writing – a great TV show is built upon an excellent script. This is what takes the audiences to stick to the show in the long haul. Producers are aware that viewers would often like to binge-watch. That’s why TV shows need to develop a well-written script that will encourage viewers to sit in front of the screens for hours. In the case of series, there should be a good and exciting story arc to keep the audience watching out what will happen next as every episode unfolds.
If you think that all classic TV shows immediately took off right from the pilot episode, it’s often the opposite. Many classic TV shows were off to a slow start, in fact – some of the first few episodes were even roundly criticized and spent at the bottom of the ratings. The thing is, patience is really the key here. Producers won’t give up just because their shows failed to fly off immediately. Thankfully, they give themselves, as well as the directors, writers and the cast, another chance to prove that they deserve to stay longer on the air. Most successful classic TV shows were slow to catch up on the ratings until the end of season one or the beginning of season two.
Fresh and innovative ideas are some of the reasons why many classic TV shows remain their appeal and “cool” factor, even after many decades. They never get old (well, at least most of the time), so to speak. Why do many of these TV shows succeed because of these great, clever and wonderful ideas? It’s because they didn’t stop to push the envelope. Shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Seinfeld, Twin Peaks and The Simpsons are considered innovative in a way that they changed the way how people think.
It is true that many of these classic TV shows have aged well as time passes, while some have gotten really old and dated. Despite that, they can still entertain and leave valuable lessons to a lot of today’s viewers. There’s this thing about these TV shows that makes them a “classic” – their watchability and appeal even to today’s generation of viewers. Thanks to YouTube and other modern-day media formats like DVD’s, people today have access to these classic TV shows. They are still held in high esteem up to this day that they’re considered historically or culturally significant. They’re more than mere TV shows – they are an institution.