Tele-Tuesday: The Long Lost Family Drama

Last week, we reminisced about the popular family sitcoms of the 1980s including favorites Who’s the Boss?, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains, and The Wonder Years.  The Ooo Factor viewers remembered even more with shows like Alf and The Hogan Family – weren’t these sitcoms great?  These television shows allowed real-life families to join around the living room TV set and watch television families work through the dysfunction in their “make-believe” lives while making us laugh.

But the family oriented thirty minute situational comedy isn’t the only thing missing from television programming today – where’s the one hour family drama?  We touched on Life Goes On and Our House last week – two one hour dramas that focused on family units resolving difficult issues like dealing with a brother’s disability or a father’s death.

The 1980s provided many great honest-to-goodness family dramas that were safe for children of all ages to watch alongside their moms and dads such as:

Highway to Heaven

Quantum Leap

We also cherished the ABC after school special in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Remember those?  Kids learned valuable lessons like: handling the difficulties surrounding blended families after moms and dads remarry; understanding the dangers of drug use, drinking, and unprotected sex; as well as learning how to cope with molestation and rape.

Perhaps one of the most brilliant aspects of the after school special was the network’s casting of young TV heart-throbs like Scott Baio (Charles in Charge), Billy Warlock (Days of our Lives), and Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains) to play vital roles in the made-for-TV movies.

Speaking of the ‘90s, this decade didn’t take a complete detour from family programming and produced multi-year hits like:

 7th Heaven

Party of Five

Once and Again

One of our favorites was the short-lived Get Real starring Jon Tenney (The Closer), Deborah Farrentino, Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries), Eric Christian Olsen (NCIS: LA), and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as the Green family.

Looking back, what a fantastic cast!

Mom and dad Green had their issues (for example, mom suspected dad of cheating), and the teenagers definitely had their issues (the usual sibling rivalry, secrets, and coping situations).  The Greens resembled what we’d consider a normal family today – they struggled, they loved, and they learned.  The program walked its viewers through the family decisions, as they hoped to reach a positive outcome, but didn’t always succeed. Unfortunately, this series failed after twenty episodes.

But mostly, the ‘90s began what we now know as YA television with dramas appropriate for teenagers, but perhaps not children under the age of twelve with programs including:

Beverly Hills 90210

My So Called Life

Television airs many of these YA programs today such as The Vampire Diaries, The Lying Game, Pretty Little Liars, and The Secret Circle to name a few.  While great TV, watching these shows is a tad risky for the younger audience, mostly due to the high volumes of violence and sex.

In 2010, ABC tried their hand at a family friendly drama similar to those we watched in the ‘80s and ‘90s that was appropriate for all ages, but No Ordinary Family was pulled from the air waves after a short first season.  Why didn’t this show make it?  Apparently it lacked viewers.

Why weren’t families watching No Ordinary Family?  The series started when mom (Julie Benz) and dad (Michael Chiklis) take the kids on a much needed vacation to strengthen their family unit, and they return with superpowers: the mom has super speed, the dad has super strength, the teenage son has a super brain, and the teenage daughter has telepathic abilities.  No Ordinary Family had the ever-important family dynamic, was full of motion-picture-esque action sequences, and taught morals like the importance of not cheating in school no matter the reason, yet this program fell victim to the network’s axe after twenty episodes.


Instead, shows like the Secret Life of the American Teenager, a drama that focuses primarily on teenage sex and pregnancy, last for multiple seasons.

Just something to think about…

Obviously, family television has changed over the years – is it for better or worse?  What ’80s and ‘90s family dramas did you enjoy?   Which one-hour drama does your family watch today?  Is it considered a family drama?  I’d love to hear from you!

13 Replies to “Tele-Tuesday: The Long Lost Family Drama”

  1. Oh, man. What 80’s dramas? Was Mork & Mindy an 80’s drama? That’s all I can think of! I was in my 20’s in the 80’s and out partying too much to watch tv. Then in the 90’s I was a mom and too exhausted to watch! I don’t remember any of the shows you have up there. Oooooh, wait a minute ~ 21 Jump Street. Oh, yeah. That was one of the best shows of the 80’s. Only because it had Johnny Depp. ; )

  2. I was still pretty young in the 80s, but my whole family loved Quantum Leap. We never missed an episode. I can remember being excited to know whose body Sam would be in next and whether or not he’d accomplish his mission so he could leap (we hoped) home. And my parents felt safe letting my brother and I watch with them despite our ages. I’ve been trying to think about what I’d feel comfortable watching if I had kids the age we were, and I’m coming up blank.

  3. Now you’ve made me all teary-eyed. Loved Michael Landon! And I remember watching both Quantum Leap and Highway to Heaven. Little House, too, but those were mostly re-runs.

    YES on 21 Jump Street and Johnny.

    What an awesome point. I don’t know if shows like SLOTAT (lol) reflect societal change or what television thinks kids are about, but it’s a frustrating thing as a parent. Kids grow up way too fast, anyway. Just one more thing to add to the pressure.

  4. How did I miss last week’s post on 80’s sitcoms?? I must have been sleeping. As for 80’s (and 90’s) family dramas, I think it’s safe to say, I watched them all. They don’t make them like they used to…

  5. I loved Home Improvement, and I was just thinking about how family dramas nowadays aren’t as good. I tried Last Man Standing and found it slapstick, superficial, and stereotypical. The characters lacked depth. You can’t call it a heartwarming or even easy to relate drama if everyone’s fake.

  6. I miss family TV so much! No Ordinary Family had four regular viewers in my home. We watched it faithfully, and it got chopped after one season. My kids were disappointed. We haven’t found anything to replace it with. The last show we watched as a family was Sherlock. Not exactly family TV, though I applaud the BBC for it.

    Great coverage here, Tiffany. I haven’t thought about these shows in a long time, and some of them (Quantum Leap, 90210), I have never seen.

  7. I loved Party of Five. I thought the conflicts were well written and just edgy enough not to be corny. In the 80s, I loved In the Heat of the Night, Moonlighting, the Fall Guy, and Tales of the Gold Monkey. However, looking back at it, I see that the 80s shows were not family shows. So, anyway, I loved Party of Five…dude.

    (And I also know every single word to the Fall Guy theme song.) 😀

  8. Like Claudia, I don’t know how I missed 80s sitcoms. My kids have found those on Netflix and are eating them up. We don’t watch a whole lot of “family” tv. Kids’ shows run while the kids are awake because there isn’t much out there that is compatible with an 11 y.o., 9 y.o., and 6 y.o. At least Phineas and Ferb make them all laugh.

  9. I loved The Wonder Years, and Malcolm in the Middle was soooooo funny. I used to watch 7th Heaven, and Highway to Heaven was really good, too. I liked Home Improvement also. I saw No Ordinary Family a couple times and I liked it. I loved Prison Break and was bummed when they cancelled it. Same with Flash Forward and Heroes. So many good shows all in the past now. Good thing I hardly watch TV much anymore. I watch bits and pieces of Survivor when I remember to watch it. Same with other TV shows. None are so good that I remember what night they’re on and make sure I don’t miss them!

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