Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fox at 25, or TV Networks Don't Celebrate Themselves Like They Used To

I taped Fox's 25th anniversary special for a friend last weekend. After looking at it again, I have to wonder if Fox had trouble trying to fit 25 years of highlights into two hours...because it was worried it wouldn't have enough?

First off, anyone notice that Ryan Seacrest did not mention Fox's first star....Joan Rivers?
That's right. Before Fox even had primetime shows, it had the original Late Show, with Joan Rivers being the latest victim to the Hopeless War against Johnny Carson. Of course, this was before Arsenio Hall used a unique battle strategy....get the younger crowd instead of Johnny's usual audience.
Anyway, here's a clip of Joan in action, from the first show (thanks to YouTube, the online version of the Paley Center)

Then, we had Tracey Ullman. Plenty of clips from The Simpsons, who used to be shown in between her sketches. She even earned the network's first Emmys.
Any segment on her? Nope.
So, here's a clip. Notice Francesca's parents. They're just like Rachel Berry's parents....way before she was born.

Fox was way ahead of their time back then. Why not mention that, Seacrest?
To be fair, here's an early Simpsons sketch...

Lately, TV hasn't taken any time to look back at what it used to be. It wasn't like the 1970's, when the big three actually had big specials to celebrate their anniversaries. It started with NBC's 50th anniversary, where they unveiled a new logo....that they had to replace a few years later. Still, it was a chance to see classic TV from the 1950's, and their two hour event was more interesting that what Fox did. They did it again ten years later, including another new logo. CBS used a whole week to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It meant lots of room for song and dance like this....

Think Jon Hamm could do something like that if and when AMC celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014? Well, I don't think it remembered its 25th anniversary in 2009. Still, he'd pull it off.
ABC used Laverne and Shirley to start its four-hour 25th anniversary special. It also had musical numbers, and cast reunions, too.
Anyway, those three networks had a big advantage: the 1950's. ABC could bring back clips from Disneyland and American Bandstand. CBS could bring back Lucy and Ed Murrow. NBC had Steve Allen and Sid Caesar..and that's for starters.
Fox probably wishes it had stuff that was just as good as the 1950s. It did, only it was the 1980s, and they skipped right through them. OK, we got 90210 and Cops, but they should have given Ullman her due.

Anyone see Comedy Central's big special celebrating its 20th anniversary?
Of course not. They didn't make one.
MTV did nothing for its 30th anniversary. It left the job to VH1 with a two-hour special. VH1 Classic, a digital channel few people get, had the good sense to at least air 12 hours of the best moments of the channel, including the first hour of the network, complete with original commercials. It would have made more sense to present more of that stuff, and send it some of it over to VH1.
It's as if we don't want to think about the past. How can we face our future grandchildren, and explain why Jersey Shore was ever produced, or Toddlers and Tiaras? How can we explain why networks would rather make spin-offs rather than original shows, while cable gave us Game of Thrones and Mad Men?

I'm just saying that if a network reaches an anniversary, it should make a major effort to look back at what it was, then try to convince us the best is yet to come. Sometimes that turns out to be true. While Comedy Central used to have Bill Maher and MST3K, it has Jon Stewart, Futurama (a TV show FOX conveniently forgot it had) and South Park. It should have had a special to mention that.

Did you know E! is about to reach its 25th anniversary? How about some tributes to Talk Soup? Maybe Greg Kinnear would come back? SyFy is about to reach 20 years old. OK, so it has those movies, but how about a special honoring that milestone, and tie that in with the final episode of Eureka, and new episodes of Warehouse 13? AT least have a shindig at Comic-Con.

Nostalgia sells, guys, especially when it's done well. The Original Three proved that in the 1970s, and Fox should have taken the same approach this year with an anniversary week of some kind.
Maybe the CW can do that when it reaches its 10th anniversary in 2016...as long as it also remembers its past as the WB and UPN.
And yes, that includes the Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. Good with the bad, guys. It's only fair. At least Fox did that with its special. We have to suffer through When Animals Attack to get to American Idol.

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