Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television. Asked & Answered has been on hiatus for a while, but we thought we’d bring it back for the warm summer Fridays.
While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to us, ask on Facebook, or email them to us.
The question this week is: Lots of people use the summer to catch up on shows that they’ve fallen behind on, or missed out on. Netflix, Movie Box, Hulu, Amazon Instant, etc. make it even easier to catch up on much older shows. So, what show that is at least 20 years old do you wish you had the time to catch up on this summer?
Myc: I wish I had infinite time to catch up on all of the old TV shows that I’ve missed out on. But if I had to choose just one, it would probably be M*A*S*H. I’ve seen a good bit of the show as I used to watch it on late night TV a bunch as a kid, but I’ve never seen it all. And I really feel like I’m missing out. If I had 100 hours I could just kill with no consequences, I’d spend it watching every episode and catching up on all the shenanigans of Hawkeye and the gang.
Whitney: I was never a Netflix-er but when my family subscribed to Amazon Prime a year ago I jumped on the bandwagon with ease. My list of TV shows to catch up on that are either airing now or have ended in the past five years alone has almost doubled, and I’ve barely made a dent thanks to school and other commitments. So it’s a shock that even with all the opportunities to watch shows from decades ago on various streaming platforms, my pick is one that isn’t available on streaming at all; M*A*S*H. Like Cheers, I was first introduced to M*A*S*H from near-constant reruns on the Hallmark Channel. My dad passed down both his love of the show and all of the cultural notes that it nailed during its run and at this point I can confidently say I’ve seen at least 40% of the episodes and most of the milestone ones. Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten to watch the whole series from start to finish (a near insurmountable catch-up task if there ever was one) but it remains on my list. There’s something cool in the fact that I’d be able to say I had seen every episode of one of the longest running and most beloved shows in history. Maybe Myc and I can figure out what that cool thing would be if either of us ever manage to work our way through the whole thing.
Noel: After I catch up on Pretty Little Liars (I hate how much I enjoy this show, folks), I’m going to shift to alternating episodes of Fringe (which doesn’t count for the purposes of this Asked & Answered, I’m well aware) and The Rockford Files. Part of my interest is that it’s just something I’ve been intending to catch up on for a while now, but following a Twitter exchange among a few media academics regarding how their students don’t really respond to it, I was curious to see if I felt the same way. I doubt I will as I’m a bit more receptive towards shows than most undergrads are (and James Garner’s a fox), but you never know. It’s a fair bet that, thanks to my DVR, I’m also going to start recording old episodes of Bob Newhart’s shows as they air on some random TV classics channel on my cable package. The man’s just a master, and I’ve only seen him in random movie roles and the occasional sitcom cameo.
Finally: Let me say how much I love that Myc and Whitney want to catch up on M*A*S*H. It’s a personal favorite of mine.
Anthony: I actually am using this summer to continue my long-running catchup of Cheers. I’m about six episodes into the 5th season, and so far it’s a blast. I mostly saw Rebecca-era reruns as a kid, so the Diane seasons have been like discovering a new show – a more grounded, realistic one than the farce I grew up watching. While I have grown somewhat tired of the Sam/Diane relationship (honestly, how many times can they have that exact same episode-ending scene in Sam’s office?), the highs vastly outnumber the lows. I’m now seeing hints of the evolution into the wackier, ensemble-based show it would become, so that’s been fun too. And best of all, I’ve finally been properly introduced to Nicolas Colasanto as Coach. I always thought of him as simply “that old guy who’s kind of like Woody,” but now I think I prefer him. Anyway, they’re both great. Cheers is wonderful. I’m so glad Netflix is allowing me to do it properly.
And Noel, I can’t wait to hear what you think about Bob Newhart’s shows. The Bob Newhart Show is one of my 10 favorite sitcoms of all time, and Newhart is a lot of fun as well.
Emma: When we did the Lead Actress in a Comedy Hall of Fame I realized there is a massive gap in my viewing history and since then I’ve wanted to catch up on several of these older sitcoms, with The Mary Tyler Moore Show being top of this list. Knowing how important and influential this show is and not having seen a single episode makes me hang my head in TV shame and if I had the time this summer then I would watch all seven seasons. Ordinary People shouldn’t be the only Mary Tyler Moore DVD that I own and I really want to read Jennifer Armstrong’s new book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds that Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic, and I should probably watch some of it before I pick it up. Aside from the historical importance I also quite want to watch a ’70s show as Noel and Kerensa’s Wonder Woman discussions has me craving ’70s costuming.
Les: The recent one-year anniversary of This Was Television motivated me to go through some of our old content, and it’s reminded me how I’ve only gotten a taste of some really great television. Going back to the beginning of the site, I’d love to do a full catchup on Taxi, as I’ve only seen a handful of episodes outside of the ones we discussed for our very first roundtables and the discussion has reminded me how much I miss the world of the Sunshine Cab Company, its unique blend of cartoon humor and unexpected pathos. I’ve been collecting the DVD sets off and on when I find them at my local stores (support your local small businesses kids!), and I’ve got enough to spend the warm summer months marathoning the adventures of Alex, Elaine, Louie, Latka, Reverend Jim and the rest.
On the drama side, there’s plenty of shows that we only discussed for an episode that I promised at the time I’d watch more of, and I may have that chance now. The first three seasons of Remington Steele, the fifth season of The Avengers (Emma Peel y’all!) and the complete run of Mission: Impossible are all available on Hulu, and that’s more than enough snazzy dressing, elaborate capers and witty banter to keep me entertained. On a darker side, the entire run of Kolchak: the Night Stalker is on Netflix, which could make for a spooky week.
Julie: I’ve been thinking about this question for a couple days. There are a lot of great old shows that I haven’t seen or have only seen sparingly, i.e. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which seems to be on people’s radar recently. But I don’t want to watch that show, or any of the other shows I haven’t seen. It’s summertime, and I want to be nostalgic and lazy (hence the reason I’ve been watching a lot of Friends lately). I want to go back in time and watch a show that I stuck with for its entire run. I want to watch the show that somehow made it into syndication after only three seasons and was on USA every afternoon for most of my pre-driving days. I want to watch the show that made me long to be a part of a big family and start a singing group with my imaginary sisters. I want Just the 10 of Us. Sure, it’s not a great show. It never won any awards (not even a nomination from This Was Television for “Best Spin-Off”). The biggest star to come out of it ended up on Melrose Place and All My Children and… that’s about it. I haven’t seen this show since 1996, when USA finally pulled the syndication plug. You can find bits of the show on YouTube, but it’s never been out on DVD and you can’t stream it on Netflix or Amazon. I miss it.
Jessica: I’m a big believer that TV has always had good shows and didn’t magically start being worthy of attention the moment The Sopranos’s pilot flicked into life. Particularly the oft drubbed 80s, especially the networks where for every Hart to Hart there was something worthy of attention. China Beach has been on my radar for ages as a show to catch up on and the complete series is finally out on DVD. It’s got a great cast, and in a rebuke to how much better things are supposedly now, most of the leads are women. I’m always a sucker for Vietnam War stories and I want to see an early example of a network trying the serialized format.
Greg: I’ve heard The Simpsons (at least the first eight or nine years of it) described by many as the best show ever made, and it’s probably my biggest remaining television blind spot. The lack of availability on streaming services is mainly what has stopped me (well, that and the sheer time commitment of the project), but I’ll probably elect to check out the DVDs from the library next summer and just spend a month watching nothing but this show. I’ve also been meaning to watch The Odd Couple and Taxi, as I’ve loved what I’ve seen of them. In other words, there’s lots of comedy in my classic TV catch-up future. (I can’t say the same about drama, as the general lack of serialization in older dramas means few of them interest me. Although I do need to see Twin Peaks at some point. And maybe Hill Street Blues too.)
Andrew: I really wish I could tell you what I was going to catch up on this summer, rather than what I wish I could catch up on, but alas the bar exam does not yield for classic television. Still there are a number of series on my list. My natural tendencies lean towards comedy, and while I’ve seen episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and Cheers, watching them in their entirety is a definite goal. Still, when doing hall of fame nominations, I’ve seen that my greatest gap is dramas before the late-90s. So I’ll say The Waltons, Hill Street Blues, Lou Grant, and Twin Peaks are all on my short list.
Cory: So many great answers to this question, answers that immediately make me realize that there’s even more TV to catch up on than I thought 90 seconds ago. There’s a group of older shows that I’ve seen big chunks of (Hill Street Blues, Cheers, The Golden Girls, The Simpsons) that I would like to follow up with or re-watch and then follow-up with, but the show I’ve been trying to find time (and cheap access to) for two years now is Moonlighting. Few shows have similarly grabbed ime n the three random episodes I’ve seen and each time I’ve watched, I’ve immediately gone to Amazon to see how cheap the DVDs are (hint: not very). At this point, I’m just going to have to break down and click buy on those sets that are in and out of my shopping cart because I really must see more of Young and Engaged Bruce Willis (because he’s certainly not the former and when is the last time he was the latter?) and Unbelievably Attractive Cybil Shepard.