'Glee,' 'American Idol,' 'The Simpsons': How Fox changed culture
Though it actually launched on Oct. 9, 1986, Fox is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend with a primetime extravaganza featuring such stars of yesteryear as Calista Flockhart, Gabrielle Carteris, Ian Ziering, and David Faustino. Before tomorrow night’s broadcast, we thought it appropriate to take a look back at how the network has changed the pop culture landscape in the last quarter century.
Married… With Children (1987-97)
From its opening theme — a sardonic use of Frank Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” — Married turned tradition on its head. The Bundys paved the way for later Fox shows like 2000’s Malcolm in the Middle (thank you for Bryan Cranston, Fox!) and 2003′ Arrested Development, which developed such a loyal following that it’s now being revived more than half a decade later.And that’s without mentioning the nontraditional iterations of the nuclear family featured on other networks that can be directly be traced back to the Bundys. Plus, the cast is still doing worthy work: the Ed O’Neill-led Modern Family, Up All Night starring Christina Applegate, and Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy (why hasn’t Sagal won an Emmy yet?!).
The Simpsons (1989-present)
First things first: credit must be paid to The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-90), where Marge, Homer, and the kids debuted (video below). The Simpsons picked up where Al and Peg had begun to make inroads, creating a quirky and unique family unit that remains relevant more than 500 episodes later. It is not only the longest running animated series of all time, it’s the longest running sitcom and the longest running primetime scripted show ever. The Simpsons turned Fox from the little network that could into the little network that could not be ignored.
Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-present)
Fox and the topic of family can’t rightly be discussed without mentioning the animation empire spawned by Seth MacFarlane, who is as we speak on a path toward universal domination. Who ever thought a homicidal British-accented baby, a drip whose only line is “Giggity giggity,” and a wildly bipolar love-hate relationship with pop culture would be able to carry no less than three TV shows? Seth MacFarlane, that’s who. And Fox.
NEXT: 90210 and a reality check
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)
The Bev Niner may not have been the first place where weighty issues like teen alcoholism, date rape, and camel toe were faced head-on, but they did it with such style, grace, and… sideburns. Before The WB gained its chokehold on teen TV, 90210 captivated the hearts and minds of youngsters who felt their issues were just as important as their adult counterparts. Brenda’s first time and “Donna Martin graduates!” — these seemed like life-or-death dilemmas, not just passing moments of teen angst. It was a mindset that has spun itself out in various forms on the network: From the glossy in 2003’s The O.C. to the verging-on-slapstick in 1998’s That ’70s Show, which wasn’t so ridiculous that it didn’t launch the careers of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis — not to mention Wilmer Valderrama (a trail of sad starlets can tell you how he changed the pop culture landscape). Today, Fox is still giving voice and weight to teens via Glee. Say what you will about Glee‘s currently lame plotlines, it made Ryan Murphy a household name and has been frank and unapologetic about teen issues from special needs to sexual orientation and gender identity.
We won’t talk about the show’s earworm theme song. Instead, we’ll talk about how COPS (COPS!) is Fox’s longest running show. It may not get much credit for spurring the reality TV revolution, but it should. There’s something to be said for a good formula that keeps viewers coming back for 23 years (as of March 11), and it’s the kind of low-cost, high-profit equation that network execs and show creators have been trying to replicate ever since.
Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire (2000)
Speaking of which! Man, was this show a disgrace. Raise your hand if you wish you never heard the name “Darva Conger.” And yet, no matter how despicable reality shows became — Fox had at least a few doozies with 2001’s Temptation Island, 2003’s Paradise Hotel and Joe Millionaire, and 2004’s The Swan — the hubbub couldn’t overwhelm the sick fascination. For better or worse, Fox managed to capitalize on the base notes of the reality zeitgeist to deliver shows that took clever and ironic — if not entirely ethical — spins on middle-of-the-road franchises. In that way, Fox was the hipster of reality TV programming.
American Idol (2002-present)
Did you really think you were getting away without an Idol mention? The simple format changed the game and has yet to be overtaken in its clout or watercooler status. It even managed to outlive its progenitor, the U.K.’s Pop Idol. Sure, every attempt by the network to capture that Idol lightning in a bottle hasn’t necessarily taken (see 2003’s American Juniors and World Idol), but clones like So You Think You Can Dance (2005-present) and X Factor (2011-present) have showed real staying power and versatility. Idol isn’t the gold standard, it’s the platinum standard. Witness: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, David Cook, and host Ryan Seacrest’s luscious locks.
NEXT: Quick takes on the best of the rest
Living Single (1993-98)
The Queen Latifah starrer was part of a landmark spate of diverse programming that included 1990 sketch show In Living Color (which is poised for a reboot), 1991 working-class sitcom Roc, and the short-lived 1994 drama South Central. In an era when rap was invading the suburbs, Fox offered an alternative to the Home Improvements and Blossoms of the world.
The X-Files (1993-2002)
Fox has, in its own way, welcomed in the misfit toys of series TV. That goes for Chris Carter’s science fiction landmark, as well as the time warping exploits of Fringe and the entire televised Whedonverse beyond Buffy (namely, Firefly and Dollhouse).
Party of Five (1994-2000)
Can you imagine someone else playing Jack Shephard on Lost… or an existence without Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs? I know I don’t want to.
21 Jump Street (1987-90)
Speaking of introductions… Johnny Depp. Need I say more?
Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
The hyper-sensitive debates about feminism may seem silly and outdated now, but they were really cutting edge at the time. Plus, there was a dancing baby!
Fact #3408: In 96 hours, Jack Bauer killed 93 people, saved the world four times, and made inroads to a movie deal. What have you done with your life?
Terra Nova (2011-present)
Call it an ambitious overreach, but the dino drama’s attempt to bring big budget effects to the small screen was a landmark move. Whether it other networks will continue to play it safe and cheap or edge toward progress remains to be seen.
New Girl (2011-present)
Because Schmidt happens, and I no longer want to live in a world without that lovable douchebag in it.