We’ve combed through each decade to highlight some of the best television shows of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and now the 1990s! With this installment, we’ll focus on an era of television where producers began employing new and experimental concepts that would change what could be done with the format forever.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Based upon the movie of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer followed the adventures of Buffy, the newest in a long line of female slayers (monster hunters), as she tried to balance battling evil with the normal trials of teenage high school life. Not only did this popular series jumpstart the careers of such actors as Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy), David Boreanaz (Angel), Alyson Hannigan (Willow Rosenberg) and more; Buffy put creator/writer/producer Joss Whedon on the map, putting him in place to write screenplays for such successful films as The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Justice League and more.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Trivia Tidbit: In the series, when a vampire was vanquished it would turn into dust. This effect reportedly cost $5,000 per vanquishing.
A wildly popular show of the era that still plays on TV today, Friends followed the ups and downs of six companions trying to make it and find success in the setting of 1990’s New York City. Equally split with three male and three female characters, the series starred Jennifer Aniston (Rachel Green), Courtney Cox (Monica Geller), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe Buffay), Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani), Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing) and David Schwimmer (Dr. Ross Geller). Offering more drama and heart than its main competitor Seinfeld while still managing to be very humorous, Friends offered a view of contemporary culture during its 10-year run for the less cynical crowd.
Friends Trivia Tidbit: Actress Courtney Cox was originally asked to play the character of Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston) but requested a role switch to Monica Geller after reading the script in depth.
Mad About You
Focusing on the lives of newlyweds Paul (Paul Reiser) and Jamie Stemple Buchman (Helen Hunt), Mad About You mixed comedy and drama in a way similar to Friends but depicted the city lifestyle of characters in their 30s rather than 20s. Whereas the characters of Friends were often struggling to find adult careers, Paul and Jamie had relatively stable careers as a filmmaker and public relations specialist, respectively. Paul’s pushover nature was tempered by Jamie’s assertiveness; creating a push and pull filled with fights, apologies and relatable humor based upon the daily ups and downs of a domestic partnership.
Mad About You Trivia Tidbit: Friends actress Lisa Kudrow (who portrayed the character Phoebe Buffay) also played the role of waitress Ursula Buffay (Phoebe’s twin sister) on Mad About You. A crossover occurred in a 1994 episode of Friends when Mad About You characters Jamie and her friend Fran (Leila Kenzle) visit the “Central Perk” coffee house and mistake Phoebe for her sister.
Offering a different perspective than sitcoms had in the past, Seinfeld built its premise on the concept of presenting a “show about nothing.” That concept, of course, proved to be somewhat false, as it could be argued that by not focusing on one specific subject the show featured so many aspects of human interaction that it was actually a show about everything. Following the day-to-day escapades of four very opinionated friends, the show was only made possible by the strength of its ensemble cast; featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards (Kramer), Jason Alexander (George Costanza) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine Benes). Tackling awkward interactions with the many personalities that New York City has to offer, Seinfeld’s characters often said what many of us think but don’t have the audacity or courage to say. Co-creator Larry David would take this approach one step further with his successful HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm after Seinfeld ended in 1998.
Seinfeld Trivia Tidbit: Seinfeld was so popular by the time its last season aired that NBC offered Jerry Seinfeld $110 million to keep the series going. Seinfeld, however, refused this offer.
Latching onto the ominous and exploratory nature of shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, The X-Files took the approach further by employing intensely dark characters and situations with edge-of-your-seat suspense. FBI agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) work for the special unassigned department, known as the X-Files, which handles difficult cases of mysterious origin. In perfect foil character fashion, agent Scully played the logic and science-based role in direct opposition to agent Mulder’s undying drive to believe in the unknown and presence of alien life forms and supernatural beings on earth. As the show progressed an intense story arc began to take shape, bringing the agents closer and eventually more defiant to the oppressive control of their FBI confines. Originally running from 1993-2002, The X-Files was rebooted in 2016 for two more seasons, revisiting concepts from the original series with updated themes.
X-Files Trivia Tidbit: Differing from the character’s roles on the television show, in reality, actress Gillian Anderson is a believer of extraterrestrials whereas David Duchovny is a known skeptic.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of our list. Make sure to tune in to Part 2 to see the rest of our favorite shows from the 1990s! We’d love to hear about your favorite memories from this rad era on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn.