The final 5 before the top 10…
15. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1997 Syndication)
By 1987 STAR TREK was a huge hit. NBC looked foolish for cancelling the original series, and CBS was beginning to look possibly foolish for making the sequel to the TV series into a movie series instead. There were people thinking they should have done both. So someone at CBS said, “that ain’t a bad idea.” Roddenberry was then allowed to create a new show and he set this one 70 years into the future. So a new crew, and a new Enterprise. Roddenberry didn’t want to be tied to CBS so he was able to convince them to distribute it in syndication. He didn’t want a Network President making stupid decisions like they had 20 years before.
At the time nothing was syndicated in a first run basis besides game shows. The show started slowly and many great writers from the original series left due to fights with Roddenberry. However despite the slow start the first episode ever was the first TV show nominated for a Hugo award in 15 years. It was nominated for 6 Emmy Awards, and won 4. The first season would introduce Q, The Borg (through foreshadowing), and the Feringi amongst other things that would continue on through the series and the two spin offs.
Early criticism of the Wesley Crusher character came quickly with Season 1 as well. The writing at the time wasn’t the best it could be, and they used Crusher (who was I believe like 14 at the time) as someone who would just come up and solve what was an insolvable problem. This Deux Ex Machina plot device was a major criticism. It would also end up as the start for a lot of Wesley Crusher hate.
*NOTE* Wil Wheaton was a kid at the time. It’s not his fault the writing sucked at times, or that they made his character into a nerd. It’s a shame that he got familiarized for that role. Because as child actors go, he was actually pretty damn good. I hear he still gets some heat over this. Leave the man alone. How would you like to be reminded of the crap you were doing at 15? Yeah, that’s what I thought. *End of Note*
Roddenberry’s health would begin deteriorating and his involvement in further seasons was limited. This was also around the time where the quality picked up. For 7 seasons this show was on the air and provided generally top notch sci-fi programming. While not a “trekie,” or even a huge fan of the series, when I found myself in situations where it was on and my tv was on and found it while flipping… I usually found myself watching it.
The impact of this series was immense. At its peak it was watched by over 11.5 million people (which would have made it a top 40 show) despite being on syndication and running in different time slots everywhere. It was so huge that certain network affiliates were dropping their normal programming to air ST:TNG. Most of these stations were FOX stations, however some CBS, NBC, and ABC stations would end up doing this. This would lead to new contracts with affiliates. Basically, thanks to ST:TNG there won’t be NBC stations not playing LENO this fall.
The success of the program would launch the UPN network. A new spinoff called ST: VOYAGER was going to be the show to help kickstart an entire new network. TV shows like BABYLON 5 and HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS would also enter the world of syndication with amazing success. Without ST:TNG David Hasselhoff would be poor.
The show sparked the syndicated first run programming that would lead to cable network picking up the shows for themselves rather than syndication and then lead to original programming for cable networks.
14. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (1979-1985 CBS)
By the 78-79 season CBS had slipped to 2nd, and was getting trashed by ABC. ABC had the top 5 shows on TV, and 7 of the top 10. CBS had tried and failed to get the rights to adapt SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT for TV, but the idea of a show based more on a car speeding around avoiding cops wasn’t lost. They ended up making a deal with Gy Waldron who had successfully stolen the story of stock car racer and ex-moonshine runner Jerry Rushing to make the movie MOONRUNNERS. Rushing and Waldron were good friends at the time and Waldron continued to get stories from Rushing about his days driving Traveler (named after General Lee’s horse Traveller). Waldron would pitch CBS and thus THE DUKES OF HAZZARD were born.
Waldron based the character of Bo Duke on Rushing, and Uncle Jesse on Rushing’s Uncle. The car is obviously based on Traveler. The basic idea of the show is that Bo & Luke Duke are cousins who run shine for their Uncle Jesse. The show was narrated by Waylon Jennings and gave a very interesting take on red-necks. These “good ole boys,” weren’t racist or dumb. Instead they were wily, crafty, and could drive like nobodies business.
The pilot is vastly different than the TV Series. The TV series would make jokes out of the sheriff and Boss Hogg, however in the pilot they’re far from the inept idiots that they would later be portrayed as. CBS not sure what exactly to do with it (thus it being a mid-season show) decided to air it on Fridays with THE INCREDIBLE HULK which had been a surprise success for them. The show was an instant success.
The Cast of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD leaning/sitting on the star of the show.
It immediately debuted in the top 20 at number 20, and in its second full season would break the top 10 at number 9. The show was then used to save the program DALLAS. That combination would make CBS again number 1, and own Friday nights, making Friday nights a huge night for watching television. That combination may end up being the most successful Friday nights ever on TV especially since people are scared of Friday today.
The show is also infamous for the replacement Dukes. After the 4th season, the stars walked off the set in dispute of script quality, their salary, and merchandising percentages. CBS responded with Coy and Vance Duke, basically look-a-likes. This would cause the show to crash, and the stars were brought back. This time with some say over scripts. The final two seasons were just weird. There was even an alien spaceship episode with little aliens. Yes, the stars approved these scripts or were possibly behind them. Lesson: Don’t let Tom Wopat or John Schneider near creative control of a series.
Still the impact of the show was huge. A bad, bad, bad movie adaption was even able to make $115M or so at the box office. It also has lived on in snydication practically non-stop since it went off the air, first through normal means, then by different cable networks. The impact on pop culture and the impact on TV were huge by the show. Yes, the quality of episodes aren’t BUFFY worthy, I know. It had a much larger impact on culture & TV than BUFFY however.
13. DALLAS (1978-1991 CBS)
The primetime soap that captured American TV sets and held them hostage. I myself am totally stunned by the success of the show. However, there is no denying the impact this show had on TV. DESPERATE HOUSWIVES and other primetime soaps all owe their existance to the massive success of DALLAS. How successful was it?
Well by 1977 CBS had fallen to 2nd place, something they weren’t exactly happy with. ABC had literally crushed them. So in the Spring of 78 they came out with DALLAS as a mini-series. It proved successful so in 78 they threw it on Saturday nights. It failed to get viewers, so they moved it to Sunday night. It too failed to get viewers. In a last effort to save the show, it was moved to Fridays behind THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and their new hit THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. All of a sudden they had a hit. When you remove the Saturday, and Sunday numbers, DALLAS in its first season was the 12th most watched show that season.
By season 2, CBS again owned TV and they owned Friday Nights. They also perfected the Cliff Hanger. This plot device is used to end a season on a startling moment. Something that won’t be resolved until the next season. This is used to create hype for the next season. Season 2 ended with JR Ewing being shot. This would probably be the most successful Cliff Hanger ever. Season 3 was not only the most watched show on TV, it averaged 30.5 million viewers an episode! CBS owned Friday nights at this point with the number 1 and number 2 programs all season being DALLAS and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.
DALLAS would finish seasons 3 times in 1st place, twice in 2nd place, 7 times in the top 10, and 9 times in the top 12. The remaining 4 seasons just proved the show was on the air way past its prime. However past its prime meant 2 top 30 seasons, with the final two seasons dropping like a rock. Still, it will be remembered for the WHO SHOT JR? episode that was watched by some 90 million viewers.
12. SUPERNATURAL (2005-2006, 2006-2010 The WB, CW)
SUPERNATURAL better than BUFFY? SUPERNATURAL better than all the other shows listed? Hell, yeah. This show had a plan. It also had Kim Manners. The same Kim Manners that helped make THE X-FILES the classic show that it is. Unlike THE X-FILES, SUPERNATURAL has a plan in place and has from the begining. This makes the seasonal arcs and the series arcs work. Science fiction and supernatural programming needs a firm and solid backbone. It needs a foundation that it can stand on. THE X-FILES and BUFFY both lacked that foundation in the end. They relied entirely on character dynamics to survive. The characters were loved so the shows continued to be loved. SUPERNATURAL on the otherhand has never lost its footing. It was heading to a showdown with Satan himself since the beginning.
Like the other shows mentioned SUPERNATURAL also has some extremely deep characters. The character interaction between the brothers Sam and Dean are some of the best not just on TV but ever on TV. The writing of the show is also top notch with writers like Ben Edlund on board. The show just has it all going for it. Great characters, great writing, great atmosphere, and great pacing.
The 3 stars of SUPERNATURAL
This is a show that will become a cult phenom after it stops airing, hands down. It will just catch fire. It’s a shame that The CW treats it so poorly. The show has never matched the success it had on The WB, but The WB treated it like a hit, and the CW treats SUPERNATURAL like a show they wish would really just go away.
11. THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR (1990-1996 NBC)
Will Smith’s career as a super star on screen started here. Of course he was most notable at the time of being part of the Rap Duo of DJ JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCE. Will Smith was an idiot. You have to understand where he was in his life at this time. He’d created an extremely popular image as a clean rapper in the days of Ice T, NWA, etc. Yet he allowed friends and others to spend his money, and he forgot to pay his taxes. He was something like $3M in debt and was desperate. So when he was offered a gig for a sitcom to be based on him he took it. He also cleaned up, hired new people to watch him and his money and created a Super Star.
The idea of the show was simple: kid from Philly who has troubles is sent to live with his Aunt who happens to live in a mansion in Bel Air. His cousins are uber pampered brats, and his Uncle Phil is a Judge. The show was based entirely on the fish out of water concept that the street wise kid will be out of his league with the rich pampered brats. It worked, and it worked well.
The show was the last truly successful show on major network TV with an all black cast that wasn’t seen as being aimed at just the African American population. This is sad, but that is an article for another time. The show has imho the greatest finale of all times. The show ends with the mansion being sold….
to George Jefferson.