I was challenged on social media to name 10 TV shows that came out *before* THE SOPRANOS premiered (which, for the record, was January 10, 1999), and left an indelible mark on me. I was challenged by my friend, Simone Guglielmini on social media. I pass this challenge on to whoever wants to do it.
Not sure why The Sopranos was the mark, but here are the shows I came up with and why they are so important to me.
Magnum p.i. is the epitome of what a detective show should be. It contains a nice mix of action, adventure, and mystery, but at it's core, this TV series is about the characters. Thomas, T.C., Rick, and Higgins (not to mention the regular and recurring guests) were well-fleshed out characters and I felt that their interactions, their dialogue, and their situations felt completely real and believable. This show taught me about creating believable characters. The characters in my Snow series owe a lot to the template this show created. There's a lot of Thomas Magnum in the character of Abraham Snow.
Jim Rockford is the quintessential every man p.i. Unlike other detectives who brought unique skills to the job (ala Magnum's Naval Intelligence/soldier experience), Jim Rockford is a just a guy. He's a smart guy, certainly, but more often than not he used his wits to outsmart the bad guys. He also knew how to take a punch. This was the first time I believed that a guy like me could do a job like this. There's a lot of Jim Rockford in my character, Abraham Snow.
This is my favorite Star Trek series. Each iteration of Star Trek shows us a different side of life in the Federation and Starfleet. The original series showed us exploration, the movies were more often than not about saving the world, The Next Generation was about life post conflict (it's amazing how many times they mention a previous war/battle/struggle) and living in space. Deep Space Nine shows us just what happens when Starfleet and The Federation go to war. From taking over a remote battle-weary region (similar to M*A*S*H's set up), Starfleet works to rebuild post-invasion Bajor only to find themselves facing conflicts with neighbors and a bigger threat that the quadrant has ever had to face.
With all that said, DS9 is about hope. How can our characters hold true to the ideals of the Federation in the face of an uncertain future and conflicts on all sides. Unlike the characters on the previous shows, and Voyager, which started around DS9's 3rd season, the characters on DS9 are not always perfect. They make mistakes and there are consequences. Secondary characters become important players and the stakes continue to rage even as the war heats up. From start to finish, this is Star Trek at it's finest. I learned a lot about how to tell a story from this series. Absolutely amazing show.
The ultimate sitcom for me. I loved the irreverent nature of the storytelling and the slapstick humor mixed together with a lot of heart and big laughs. This show not only hopped across the line from bust out loud cartoony comedy to serious themes, but it often erased that line and told stories that were uniquely Night Court. I learned a lot about working in strong themes to lighter material without being preachy while remaining fun.
Much has been said about Star Trek over the decades and those accolades are well deserved. This show told stories featuring hard-hitting topics wrapped in the colorful trappings of a "kids" science fiction television series. This was the first show I remember being a "fan" of as a kid. It aired after I got home from school. I would watch and then pretend to be part of the Enterprise's crew when my mom ushered me outside to play. I credit this show with kickstarting my imagination, something that stuck with me and helps me as a writer today. These characters also taught me a good deal about teamwork, friendship, and offering a helping hand where needed. IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) is something we could all learn even today. Especially today.
Fans of binge watching and serialized seasons owes a lot to Babylon 5. In an era where TV was very episodic, this was one of the first night time dramas to be serialized. It was a big risk, but one that paid off as the creators told one story over five seasons, most written by the show's creator to boot. To this day, I will put seasons 3 and 4 up against any other television season. It's that good. This show taught me storytelling and perseverance. Faith manages.
MacGyver taught me that science could be cool. Not only was Mac an action hero, but he was an every man and a science nerd. That was a combination I had not seen on TV before. This show made being smart sexy. Not always an easy feat. Like Rockford before it, MacGyver also showed that a character can have solo adventures. This seems to be a lost art in today's TV landscape. All shows are team based, even the remake on MacGyver. There's a lot of Mac in my character, Abraham Snow.
There have been many versions of Batman over the years, but this still remains MY version of Batman. Kevin Conroy IS Batman. When I read a Batman story, it is his voice I hear as the character. The same is true of his arch enemy, The Joker. Mark Hamill IS The Joker to me. In addition, this series showed me that you can tell super-hero stories that don't have to devolve into silly plots or talk down to their audience. This story works for all ages, which makes it imminently rewatchable.
Where Night Court was cartoonish, Married... With Children went full-bore cartoon. On the face of it, there's nothing redeeming about the Bundy clan, but they are always together. Despite their protests of how much they dislike one another, the Bundy family is just that, a family that looks out for one another whether they like it or not. Disfunctional? You bet. Criminal? Definitely. Hilarious? Absolutely.
The king of the dramedy. How do you make a show about war funny? They managed. M*A*S*H was a show that broke all the molds. At times hilarious only to be deadly serious moments later. This series was life, love, death, and hope all rolled into one. M*A*S*H is timeless. I can still watch it today and it feels as fresh and new as it must have when it originally aired. Snappy writing, great characters, and a storytelling style that was, at the time, uniquely its own. As a storyteller, this show taught me to put my characters through hell and have them come out the other side changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It's a lesson the writer in me learned well.