Tele-Tuesday: Remembering the Family Programs of Years Past

Television in the 1980s offered a bit more substance than today’s reality fixation.  Honest- to-goodness family programming dominated network TV’s primetime hours instead of the incessant need to watch individuals hurt themselves while rushing through an obstacle course or young talent’s hopes shatter in recorded auditions.

Growing up, Sunday nights at grandma’s house included a hot family meal with all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins, followed by bonding time in front of the TV with shows like Life Goes On and Our House.  Remember those?

Life Goes On

Our House

After homework and dinner Monday through Friday, we curled up on the sofa with mom and dad learning valuable, although funny, lessons with hit sitcoms including:

The Cosby Show

Who’s the Boss?

Family Ties

Growing Pains

The Wonder Years

These series all share wonderful messages.  Audiences watch as fictional families learn to adjust to difficult situations like understanding Corky’s disability in Life Goes On, or recovering from the death of a parent in Our House.  We discover how serious dyslexia is when Theo Huxtable is diagnosed in The Cosby Show, and just how harsh words can be as Carol Seaver suffers constantly from jokes about her weight and her intelligence throughout Growing Pains’ run.

Not all of the storylines in these popular sitcoms focus on family units prevailing through hard times.  Sometimes the stories lighten the mood and take us back to a happy place.  For example, viewers reminisce about first loves and conquering true love as Kevin Arnold crushes on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, or as Tony Micelli and Angela Bower prove that money really doesn’t matter when searching for the one true connection in Who’s the Boss?.  We also learn to value the importance of friendships such as Mike Seaver and his buddies Boner and Eddie in Growing Pains, as well as Kevin and Paul in The Wonder Years.

But perhaps one of the best messages portrayed by all of these family sitcoms is the importance of education.  Each and every one of these series follows a character as they attend college.  Alex P. Keaton obsesses over one day leading the Republican party in Family Ties and attends college where he studies economics.  Even Kevin Arnold’s hippie sister, Karen, enrolls in college on her way to a M.R.S. degree (she gets married after her freshman year), and Mike Seaver overcomes his high school classroom struggles and takes a few college courses before quitting to pursue an acting career.

Sadly, families today with young children don’t have numerous options on the television similar to these ’80s sitcoms, leaving many with the decision to simply not watch TV.  While there’s nothing wrong with reality programs, what lessons do they teach our children?  That they can wear protective clothing and run through an obstacle course for money?  Or, that they can lay their hopes and dreams on the line to be the next big talent only to run the risk of being publicly humiliated, or that laughing at others’ failures is okay?

Reality TV is fun.  Most times, reality television is even clean enough for the family to watch together; but wouldn’t the return of family programming similar to these ’80s sitcoms make us smile?  We have a few popular sitcoms about families airing today (Modern Family and Parenthood come to mind), but aren’t these shows directed more toward adult humor versus good old-fashioned family values?

Just something to think about…

So many wonderful family programs aired in the 1980s, what did you watch?  What do you think of today’s family programming compared to the ‘80s?  What do you or would you watch with your family today?  I’d love to hear from you!

Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – Last Law & Order Standing

This week, Amber West and I are flipping channels over to NBC and sharing our Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday reviews of Harry’s Law and Law & Order: SVU.

For the past twenty plus years, Dick Wolf’s productions have dominated the NBC primetime slots.  He first created the original Law & Order, and then added spinoffs SVU and Criminal Intent, as well as the short-lived Trial by Jury and LA.    

The last of the franchise still standing today is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, currently in its thirteenth season.  Like the original, SVU has a great ensemble cast, and it showcases gut-wrenching storylines. 

The Special Victims Unit is a specialized department that focuses on assault and rape cases in New York City, often times inspired by today’s headlines.   

For the first twelve seasons, the SVU team depends on lead detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni).  Benson, the product of her mother’s rape, and Stabler, the father of five children, take the cases personally and sometimes take actions we as viewers wish we could see more of on television – in other words, they’re not always by the book, and therefore one of the partners is always in trouble. 

SVU’s cast, for the most part, has remained the same for all thirteen seasons, including: Captain Cragen (Dan Florek), and also detectives Tutuola (Ice-T) and Munch (Richard Belzer). 

The original Law & Order split the hour-long program into two parts – “the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.” [t1]  SVU doesn’t follow the exact same formula, but does of course involve the district attorney’s office in each episode (returning favorites in season 13 – Casey Novak played by Diane Neal, Alexandra Cabot played by Stephanie March, and Michael Cutter played by Linus Roache from L&O).   

This season, viewers will see a new cast of characters following Meloni’s departure from the show and Hargitay’s rumored request for a lighter workload.  Danny Pino (Cold Case) joins as Det. Nick Amaro from warrants and narcotics, and Kellie Giddish (Chase) transfers to NYC from Atlanta as Det. Amanda Rollins

In addition to SVU’s fictionalized accounts of current events, viewers can count on a large revolving door of guest stars.  So far in season thirteen, we’ve seen a familiar story line where a hotel maid accuses a foreign diplomat of rape.  In episode two, SVU landed guest stars Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years), Mehcad Brooks (Necessary Roughness), and real-life basketball greats Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.    

This week (tonight actually), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Sex and the City) and Paige Turco (Damages) guest star as husband and wife in a fictionalized account of a particular politician’s scandal. 

Before rating, I must issue this warning – the writers don’t sugar-coat things.  If you don’t like watching bad things happen to children, don’t watch! 

The past few weeks, the GTV rating has been awarded left and right; but, not today.  While I do watch Law & Order: SVU religiously, I can only award the JFTV ratingSVU is like junk food, particularly like that bag of greasy potato chips – it’s not great for us, but we keep coming back for more. 

SVU is the last of the franchise airing new episodes.  I simply can’t imagine television today without hearing this:

Of course, I am worried that I will soon have to get my Law & Order fix watching reruns only (thank you, TNT!). 

What do you think? Do you prefer the original Law & Order, SVU, or Criminal Intent? Will SVU survive Meloni’s departure, or will this be the last of the L&O franchise?  I’d love to hear from you!

Now click over to Amber’s blog and check out her review of Harry’s Law.  The GTV ratings came to an end over here; will Amber award another top review over on her site?   

Come back next week when Amber and I switch over to FOX and review two supernatural programs – the new hit, Terra Nova, and the returning favorite, Fringe.

Remember to stop by the #watchwed hashtag in Twitter to discuss any of today’s reviews, or to mention any television programs that you’d like to see on future Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday posts. 

A Recap of The WatchWed Review System:

GTV (Gourmet TV): Everything we want and more
MacTV (MacNCheese TV): Guilty pleasure. Not perfect, but is satisfies
JFTV (Junk food TV): It’s not great for us, but we’ll go back for seconds
SSTV (Still Simmering TV): It has potential, but the jury is still out
NIV (Nyquil Induced Viewing): Perfect for that late night television sleep timer
LOTV (Liver&Onions TV): Do we really have to explain? Blech
 


 [t1]Opening narration spoken by Steven Zirnkilton