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If You Like These Popular TV Shows, Check Out These TV Classics
Before you watch another show by Shonda Rhymes or Ryan Murphy, tune into some of these classic TV forerunners. They were all groundbreaking in their own ways, and episodic TV shows of today have them to thank. Much like your favorite shows, these have phenomenal ensemble casts and great writing—and are all just as addictive.
If you like “Law & Order: SVU,” watch “Hill Street Blues” (1981–87)
“Hill Street Blues” focuses on the lives of the officers and detectives of the Hill Street precinct of an unspecified metropolitan city (blues refers to the officers’ uniforms). It digs into the day-to-day events and emotional tolls of the police force, while introducing intertwining story lines involving their family and love lives. It revolutionized how episodic TV was filmed, utilizing docu-style realism, and paved the way for the police procedural genre. (In fact, the show’s producer, Steven Bochco, was responsible for another hit cop show, “NYPD Blue”.)
If you like “Grey’s Anatomy,” watch “St. Elsewhere” (1982–88)
“St. Elsewhere”—the moniker given to the declining St. Elegius Hospital—became a TV landmark for its subject matter. With an outstanding ensemble cast (the show catapulted the careers of Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel and Mark Harmon), it focuses on the lives of the interns of the teaching hospital and the senior residents who guide them through the daily rigors of their profession. Often referred to as “Hill Street Blues in a hospital,” storylines include topics not often seen on TV series during that era: AIDS, breast cancer and addiction. It also has one of the most famous endings of any TV drama (so don’t click this link before you’ve watched it!).
If you like “This is Us,” watch “Party of Five” (1994–2000)
Love to follow a great family drama, complete with personal struggles and gripping storylines? Welcome the Salinger family into your home. The series follows the five Salinger siblings (ranging in ages 1 to 24) as they pull each other up and stress each other out while finding their way in a world without their parents, who were killed in a car accident.
Interestingly, “Party of Five” was originally requested by Fox as a light comedy companion piece to “Beverly Hills, 90210.” But the writing team expressed interest in making the story a drama, the producers begrudgingly gave in, and the Salingers were born.
Bonus: The Party of Five TV soundtrack is great pre-game music to have on before you binge watch.
If you like “Scandal,” watch “The West Wing” (1999–2006)
Considered one of TV’s most well-regarded political dramas, “The West Wing” follows POTUS Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and the senior staff of his administration. The show delivers real-world political plot lines and features Emmy-winning actors in spades (Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford and Stockard Channing, to name a few). Created by Aaron Sorkin, much of the series’ pilot episode was derived from sections that didn’t make it into the final draft of Sorkin’s film “The American President.” Given Sorkin’s track record for thought-provoking and tightly scripted dialogue, “The West Wing” certainly delivers.
And if you want to delve further into each episode, the “West Wing Thing” podcast is a worthy accompaniment.
Science fiction and thriller
If you like “American Horror Story,” watch “Dark Shadows” (1966–1971)
“Dark Shadows” was such a hit when it originally aired, it spun off two films, a series of trading cards and a board game. Developed out of a dream (literally) by producer Dan Curtis, the Gothic soap opera starts out focusing on the lives of the affluent, if deranged, Collins Family and their new governess with a mysterious past, Victoria Winters. However, when a collection of ghostly characters start appearing, most noticeably Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), the direction of the series changes.
Barnabas was a vampire with a conscience, who didn’t enter the show until the 221st episode, and he was originally going to be killed off after three weeks. His immense popularity with fans warranted his longevity on the show and (ironically for a vampire) breathed new life into the series.
If you like “The Nevers,” watch “The Bionic Woman” (1976–78)
If you’re into women with supernatural abilities, meet the OG superhuman female: Jamie Sommers, aka “The Bionic Woman,” played by Lindsay Wagner.
The character first appeared on “The Six Million Dollar Man” and was so popular, ABC asked the writers to create a spin-off just for her. Sommers is injured in a major skydiving accident, and her life is saved when she’s fitted with bionic implants that give her supersonic hearing and unbelievable strength. In exchange, she agrees to be a secret agent for the Office of Scientific Intelligence while leading a normal life as a middle school teacher.
If you like “The Connors,” watch “All in the Family” (1971–79)
In “All in the Family,” Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) spends most of his days defending his bigoted, blue-collar viewpoints to his wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), and arguing with their live-in daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), and her liberal fiancé, Mike (Rob Reiner). The show, which put the generational divide of the ’70s on display, reached number one in Nielsen ratings for five years in a row. One of the many trailblazing comedies created by TV titan Norman Lear, it generated the most spin-offs of any sitcom.
Where to stream: Philo
If you like “Modern Family,” watch “Taxi” (1978–1983)
If quirky characters are your thing, the ragtag group of the Sunshine Cab company in “Taxi”—inspired by a New York Magazine article—will live up to your expectations.
While some of them are hopeful that their driving stints are temporary as they dream of greater success—like Tony (the wide-eyed boxer), Elaine (single mom and aspiring artist) and Bobby (the up-and-coming actor)—others are in it for the long haul—like Latka (the garage mechanic with associative identity disorder), Louie (the always disgruntled dispatcher) and Jim (the eternally dazed and confused cabbie). They’re all held together by Alex, the most grounded and well-adjusted of the bunch, who’s always dispensing advice and support to his colleagues. This crew will surely drive their way into your heart!
If you like “The Big Bang Theory,” watch “The Odd Couple” (1974–79)
Before Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, there were Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), the divorcé roommates in “The Odd Couple.” Based on Neil Simon’s classic play (1965) and subsequent movie (1968) of the same name, things are always frenzied in the Unger-Madison apartment: Oscar’s patience is forever tested by Felix’s fastidiousness and hypochondria, and Felix can’t seem to get Oscar to pick up his dirty socks or use a coaster under his beer.
When the series went off the air, Felix and Oscar morphed into Spiffy and Fleabag—a cat and a dog, respectively—in a short-lived animated takeoff of the series, titled “The Oddball Couple,” which ran for two seasons on Saturday mornings.
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