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Hooked On Classics

A Crop of Television Trendsetters Proves That Everything Old Is New Again

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Who says the idiot box isn’t educational? Some of the best shows on right now display a sense of history by building on previous programs and adding new twists and timely ideas. As Rod Serling used to say, submitted for your approval: a few of television’s most pedigreed series and the oldies that could have been their ideological inspirations.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent And Columbo (1971-78) SETUP Similarities Cop (Vincent D’Onofrio; Peter Falk) is an eccentric working stiff in clothes that look like bargains from Wal-Mart. We watch the crime, then see the detective hem and haw before delivering a perfect solution. 21st-Century Update Falk comes from the John Cassavetes school of improv film acting, while D’Onofrio has a post-Method air, applying great intensity to his oddball character. Why It Works It’s a pleasure to see both actors as against-the-grain leading men shrewdly solving mysteries.

CSI and Quincy, M.E. (1976-83) Setup Similarities Gruff forensics expert (William Petersen; Jack Klugman) solves grisly murders with the help of younger, maverick assistants. 21st-Century Update CSI has high-tech investigative tools Quincy couldn’t have dreamed up even if he’d been 19th-century opium-eater Thomas De Quincey. Why It Works In contrast to Six Feet Under, both CSI and Quincy prove that hanging around corpses doesn’t make you depressed or kooky: Nay, you’re a noble crime fighter!

Scrubs and M*A*S*H (1972-83) Setup Similarities Rebellious doctors (Zach Braff; Alan Alda) extract laughs as well as blood samples in no-laugh-track sitcoms. 21st-Century Update Scrubs features much more frequent use of the word intubate. The banter among its cute cast is more breezily Friendsly than M*A*S*H’s ironic, martini-dry wit. Why It Works M*A*S*H had mordant shrewdness and TV’s best cross-dresser in Jamie Farr’s Klinger. Scrubs’ irreverence is an antidote to ER‘s stuffiness, plus it has TV’s best cross doctor in grumpy John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox.

Alias and THE Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (1966-67) Setup Similarities Beautiful espionage agent (Jennifer Garner; Stefanie Powers) saves the world from foreign threats. 21st-Century Update Alias has superior spandex-miniskirt technology and brightly colored wigs. And where Powers deployed an occasional karate chop, Garner is a post-Terminator fighting machine. Why It Works Girl — a spin-off of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — had a ’60s camp thing going on; Alias has an ’02 counterterrorism thing going on while avoiding the camp of Austin Powers.