Revisiting the Collective: Fox Network Shows That Shaped the Past 25 Years

(CS: This is an interesting repost since it was published the year of the 25th anniversary of the FOX network, and the whole company has changed drastically since this original posting in April 2012 as I assume many of these shows are now Disney owned.)

The Fox Network had a 25 year anniversary special this past Sunday and will have its actual anniversary on October 9th. Back in the late ‘80s, the Fox Network was seen as the plaything for media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, and was barely even considered a television network compared to the “Big Three” American networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS). It slowly built up its reputation to move away from being a punch line, and now regularly wins the top spot in the ratings. (CS: That isn't the case anymore.)  Most TV experts believed Fox was destined to the network graveyard alongside Dumont (CS: Now like Dumont, it has wrestling on prime time), but a smart financial strategy and gradually landing hit shows created a network that now soundly beats the veteran networks. (CS: Or did for a short bit, as a quick glance puts it firmly in the number 4 spot again.) 

The Fox Network has created some memorable television shows that have left a lasting impact on the television landscape. Here are a few classic Fox shows that have played a major role in shaping and influencing television.

COPS: Over a decade before the reality TV craze hit, viewers got to follow around real life cops dealing with real crimes. COPS wasn’t the first ever reality show (An American Family from 1973 may be the closest show to being the grandfather of that genre), but it clearly was the inspiration for “take a camera and follow the guy with a dangerous job around all day” that has led to shows about guys driving around on icy roads and people living out in swamps.(CS: Also by a wide margin the genre of TV that I avoid the most.)  Fox’s longest running series (kicking around since 1989) is one of the most recognizable shows ever, because even if you’ve never seen it (and really, is there anyone who hasn’t watched at least 5 minutes?) you’ve watched one of the thousands of parodies and spoofs of this show or can identify the catchiest theme song in all of television history, “Bad Boys”. (CS: Definitely top ten all-time best TV theme songs.)

Married. . . With Children: The Bundy clan wasn’t the first dysfunctional working class family on TV (it has some strong similarities with ‘70s classic All in the Family), but it was likely the first to present a “rough around the edges” family without any attempt to deliver a deep message or learn a lesson. The family didn’t come in for group hugs at the end of the episode, and there wasn’t any deep political message; you were just entertained by a family you knew was way more messed up than your own. This show has spawned several international remakes and has inspired countless American sitcoms (Unhappily Ever After being the most blatant) to parade out bickering families with no attempt to do anything other than entertain. (CS: Also, one of the few shows that was banned in my house when I was growing up)

The Simpsons: The longest running scripted American prime time TV show ever, and the home of the most popular bumbling dad in pop culture history. The Simpsons wasn’t the original prime time animated show (Hi Flintstones!), but it was such an instant hit that most of the other “Big Three” networks tried to recreate the magic with their own blue collar animated families. Fox has proven to be the king of prime time animation on network television and thanks to The Simpsons, has turned Sunday into their night for crude animated comedies. Even outside of the realms of animation, The Simpsons have left a permanent mark on pop culture by making it common practice for almost every sitcom since to have a dimwitted but lovable goof, and by creating some of the most iconic catchphrases ever (“D’oh!”). (CS: The Simpsons rivals Seinfeld for the best recurring supporting characters.)

Beverly Hills 90210: An example of the cultural impact of this show, I remember the morning announcements at my high school actually mentioned when the characters graduated from high school (and actually changed the date of the school dance, since they knew students would skip out to watch the season finale). This was one of the shows that cemented Fox as being hip and cool for the younger demographic, and it opened the door for the creation of numerous prime time high school soap operas like Dawson’s Creek and The O.C. For a few seasons, this was either the show you were talking about the next day or vehemently denying that you cared if Dylan picked Brenda or Kelly. It also birthed another major ‘90s prime time soap in Melrose Place.

NFL on Fox: Yes, I know Fox did not invent football on television. Actually, Fox acquiring the rights to NFL games in 1993 (and snagging some of the biggest announcers from CBS in the process) is what made Fox finally be seen as a legitimate network and begin to beat their competition in the ratings. Fox’s presentation of football is significant to television history, because it put a new emphasis on entertainment rather than just sports. You knew you were watching something different when the program opened with battling CGI robots, favoured witty banter and explosive highlights over in-depth analysis, filled the show with eye popping graphics, presented segments (sometimes even comedy sketches) to show the players’ “other side”, and essentially, try to present a product that would appeal to more than just your diehard sports fan. (CS: Kind of fitting that the WWE is also now on Fox, because this style of presentation was influenced by the WWF of the time, though Fox would have denied it.)  There were football fans who complained about the presentation back in
1994, but it obviously worked for most people, because it is now a style being used by every other network or channel presenting sports.

In Living Color: Saturday Night Live is by far the most successful sketch show, but in the early ‘90s, In Living Color was the show that appealed to a younger demographic. The show felt more cutting edge and wasn’t afraid to be extremely controversial. It had a completely different feel than any other sketch show because it had a predominately African American cast that realized the importance of tapping into the growing hip hop culture. You instantly knew you were watching something different when the show kicked off with the beautiful “Fly Girls” dancing and shaking on the stage. The show reached a younger audience by performing skits that were edgy and parodied hot trends in entertainment, and also created some characters that became huge pop culture figures of the time like Homey the Clown and Fire Marshall Bill. The biggest impact on pop culture comes from launching the careers of current superstars like Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez.

American Idol: It kills me to put this show on this list, but I can’t deny it has been a ratings juggernaut throughout the past ten years. Every network has since tried to launch their own talent competition in an attempt to grab some of the magic American Idol has created. The success of this show is the reason the airwaves are littered with programs like Dances with the Stars, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and a bazillion more similar programs. If you like these kinds of shows than you’re in TV heaven, and you can thank this program for paving the way. It has also been responsible for launching careers of major pop stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson. (CS: Since this article, the show has been cancelled and relaunched.)

The X-Files: Science fiction shows have been bouncing around TV land since the beginning of the medium, but for the most part, they rarely caught on during prime time on network television. X-Files not only won over a large cult following, but quickly became a major part of pop culture with often recited lines like “The truth is out there.” Unlike many previous science fiction shows, it was more than just a “monster of the week” kind of storytelling but rather contained mysteries and storylines that lasted over several seasons that would hook the viewers. It also concentrated on solid character development and created a relationship with sexual tension that would rival almost any other TV couple, Fox and Mulder. The show brought a sophisticated and intellectual type of science fiction that not only attracted an army of fan boys (CS: Ugh. I don't like that term anymore because it discredits female fans) but also earned mainstream attention. The larger mystery that helped connect each episode and caused viewers to discuss and guess the direction is the exact approach that inspired the creation of mega hits like Lost and a cult hit like Fringe.

24: It was a 24-hour movie broken into episodes, and to get that big movie feel, it brought in recognizable film star Kiefer Sutherland to lead the series. (This has essentially become the format for almost every original streaming series.)  The show had explosions and action and violence that you expected to see at the cinemas, but was presented in a jam packed hour that was the closest thing to a shot of adrenaline you could get from your TV. It was one of the first shows that had a major storyline that built up over the entire season and then delivered the big pay-off in the finale. Unlike many of dramas at the time, you didn’t want to miss a single episode, because so much was packed in each one and missing it would leave you way behind in the action. As ratings are becoming more and more competitive with the expansion of cable, networks are always trying to find a show that has the “can’t miss” vibe that 24 consistently delivered (current versions would be shows like Scandal, Missing (CS: No idea what this is), and Revenge). (CS: The competition got much more heated in the following years with streaming services aggressively expanding their original slate of shows)

You may notice we are now coming to the end of this article. I am sure many of you are screaming out your favourite shows that I just ignored. “But what about Arrested Development! 21 Jump Street! Ally McBeal! House! (CS: The cranky, eccentric genius procedural has been a network regular ever since) Glee! The Chevy Chase Show!” Yes, I realize I left out ground-breaking shows from this list (well, except for poor Chase, whose talk show should never be mention ever again), (CS: Yet I would go on to mention this show many times as joke) but I’m also not attempting to compose a book here. (CS: Hmmm. . .)  I’ve given some key shows that I think had a lasting impact on television, but I’m more than happy to hear which Fox shows you feel have drastically changed the world of television.