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Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Live-Action TV

Trope Namer

  • Seinfeld, the Trope Namer. Everything revolutionary about it from its observational humor to its Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist cast is now the standard for every Sitcom made since. In fact, even if Seinfeld was revolutionary it still makes use of a Laugh Track (via Executive Meddling). Ouch.
    • One of the show's biggest indicators of this effect is the episode "The Chinese Restaurant". Now, it looks like a rather standard, funnier-than-average sitcom episode. In fact, in 1990, the idea of three characters standing around in a restaurant, complaining and bantering as they waited for a table in real time for 23 minutes, was considered almost completely unworkable by the network executives. They actually thought that there were pages missing from the script they were given. They fought the episode tooth and nail all the way to air date, fearing that it would be a disaster. Anyone who watches an episode from season 3 onwards of Seinfeld, then an episode from season 2, then "The Chinese Restaurant", would be unlikely to catch the brilliance of that episode, but they will undoubtedly notice a massive shift in quality and humor between the two seasons.
    • "The Betrayal" was another episode that was unique and innovative at the time, as it started at the end of the story, and progressively jumped backwards to the beginning. At the time this was a unique and fresh approach to TV story telling. Now that same gimmick has been done to death in countless other Sitcoms. The episode "The Betrayal" is an homage to Harold Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal. Both the play and its 1983 film adaptation use a reverse-chronological plot structure.
    • Ironically for the trope... both the real and character Jerry Seinfelds have proudly boasted at having never watched an episode of I Love Lucy, basically claiming that I Love Lucy Is Unfunny, and yet Jerry makes a reference of pounding on the ceiling like he's "Fred Mertz" in one episode.
    • The show's frank discussions of sexuality were edgy, and beyond what was the norm of Sitcoms at the time. Now it's not as obvious what a big deal it was for a primetime comedy to discuss, and make jokes about homosexuality, pornography, and masturbation.
    • It's the show that's being referred to in this trope; what you may think of Jerry Seinfeld as a comedian is largely irrelevant (Jerry's stand-up segments were, even at the time, generally the least funny part of the episode; this may have been intentional, or it may just be that Jerry's brand of humor, while fresh and new for a sitcom, was pretty old hat for a stand-up comedian even then).
    • The famous bass-heavy musical cues are another example. Today, it's pretty standard for sitcoms to use minimalist musical cues and relegate them almost entirely to scene transitions. But, in 1990, this was something completely new, as sitcoms at the time generally used more elaborate scene-transition music and had special mood appropriate music reserved for dramatic moments (something Seinfeld was almost completely void of).

Series

  • The show referrred to as "Canadian Seinfeld", Corner Gas, got this reputation. At the time, it was groundbreaking to have a rural setting with normal, suburban characters, and the fact that they had no relationships or hookups between a single, adult main cast. It's also the first major Canadian sitcom to make an impact in the US, and the first sitcom to feature the country's head of state appear while in office (Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper as well as Govenor General Adrienne Clarkson) and used Cutaway Gags well before Family Guy did. Nonetheless, younger viewers see it as boring and unfunny.
  • Almost as much as the Trope Namer, The Mary Tyler Moore Show has fallen victim to this trope. When it aired during the early-70's, it made an enormous cultural splash in its depiction of a single 30-something year old woman who was more interested in having a fulfilling career than landing a husband, garnering the outrage of Moral Guardians and significantly contributing to the infamous Rural Purge. The show's critical acclaim and insanely high ratings were even cited as key factors in the rise of Feminism during the 1970's. While the series still holds up reasonably well (as opposed to a later show with a very similar premise), it may be difficult for modern audiences accustomed to much riskier shows like Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls to understand just how revolutionary and controversial Mary Tyler Moore was when it first aired. To see how far network television has come in terms of risky content, one needs to look no further than the Executive Meddling that surrounded the reasoning for Mary being single. The original intent was for her to be newly divorced. However, the network felt such a plot would significantly diminish the show's family appeal (remember, this is when divorce still had a very negative stigma attached to it), so it was retooled to Mary being single by virtue of a broken engagement. Seems pretty quaint, given what women on network television (let alone Cable) are capable of doing today, huh? Worth mentioning that another reason that the divorcee angle was dropped, was because Mary Tyler Moore was coming off a long run of The Dick Van Dyke Show and there were fears that viewers would misinterpret the show's premise as "Rob and Laura got a divorce" (This was one of the reasons Van Dyke himself wasn't picked up as newly divorced Neat Freak Felix in the film version of The Odd Couple) .
  • As explained by TV critic Jaime Weinman, a number of jokes common in television comedy were originally subversions of other jokes, but have since become just as stale and formulaic, to the point of being parodied themselves. For instance, a character complaining about another character, then asking, "He's Right Behind Me, isn't he?" was originally a clever Lampshade Hanging on the older recurring device where a character would walk within earshot just as another character was complaining about him or her. Now it's considered hacky, leading to parody on Futurama and CollegeHumor.
  • When Norman Lear made the pilot for All in the Family, he decided to use videotape instead of film to give the viewing audience the sense of being in the studio. Then every sitcom used videotape for the next 20 years and it became associated with hackneyed, lowbrow productions. All in the Family is neither hackneyed nor lowbrow, but the production value tells a different story.
  • Babylon 5 has slowly seemed less and less innovative as the traits it pioneered or popularized spread among sci-fi shows:
    • It was the first major sci-fi show, not counting anime, to have major long-term story arcs planned in advance. Babylon 5 was written from a full outline for all five seasons, nearly unheard of at the time.
    • It was the first sci-fi series (and one of the first, if not the first, series of any genre) to be filmed in widescreen.
    • It gave the Darker and Edgier future and Used Future, in contradiction to Star Trek's utopia, a heavy boost of popularity (though it was nowhere near first with these).
    • It gave Character Development and character-driven drama unheard-of levels of focus for a science-fiction TV series. While there obviously was some of this in past series (e.g. in the two previous Star Trek iterations), none quite put as much focus as B5 until DS9—which ran concurrently and was its friendly rival for the same audience.
    • It intentionally avoided (former trope) "Cute Kids And Robots." In fact, the term was coined in reference to B5 in order to describe what J. Michael Straczynski was declaring war on within TV sci-fi.
    • It pioneered the use of CGI effects, especially for anything involving spaceships. To put it in perspective: the producers of Deep Space Nine scoffed at B5's CGI and proudly announced that they would continue to use models; when Voyager launched, it not only used CGI, but used the same production house as B5 to make it. Deep Space Nine itself also switched from necessity once they started doing mass battle scenes.
  • Becker was about a cantankerous doctor... no, not that one... not that one, either. The character—and show—were eclipsed first by John C. McGinley as Perry Cox in Scrubs, then by Hugh Laurie as Gregory House. It's easy to forget that Becker had a respectable life span of six seasons and was one of the better sitcoms in a lean period after Seinfeld but before Arrested Development, either version of The Office, 30Rock or Community.
  • Blake's 7. Before there was Babylon 5, The X-Files, Firefly, and the Darker and Edgier Battlestar Galactica reimagining, there was this. In 1978, your sci-fi show protagonists were heroic, and landed firmly on the good morality scale. The villains looked like idiots at the end. Everything was supposed to be shiny, and the future was supposed to be better. Even if you had rebels fighting an evil empire, they were supposed to strike and win! Instead, we had a bunch of criminals, mercenaries, and a failed revolutionary stealing a ship and using it for a personal vendetta. The "rebellion" never got above seven people, the villainess was one of the most Dangerously Genre Savvy characters to strut across a screen in stiletto heels, and the whole thing ended on one protagonist murdering the other and getting a summary execution from the Federation troops. However, it doesn't seem like anything shocking after gorging on anything made past 1992, where every sci-fi setting is a Crapsack World, the "heroes" are dubious at best, and the best ending you'll manage is a Bittersweet Ending.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World (specifically the School of Adventure aspect), as well as the Half-Arc Season with its own personal Big Bad, and not just a general Myth Arc with a singular Big Bad behind the entire series. Supernatural hews closest to this structure, with the revamped Doctor Who following close behind. The 1992 movie had already trodden that ground in establishing the origins of Buffy herself, but not so many people saw that flick at the time. The Reveal that shallow, popular Cordelia was actually an ace student was a surprise joke at the time. Now it is a cliché to have the seemingly Book Dumb ditzy, shallow girl in the cast be much brighter than she seems. Also the Buffy/Angel romance. Back then it was an unusual take on the whole Beast and Beauty theme. Then we got Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries...
  • The Cosby Show suffers greatly from this trope. With all the shows that patterned themselves after it (if not ripping it off outright), younger viewers might openly scoff that this is the show that saved the Sitcom format when it debuted. (Especially if they've seen only the latter seasons, where Seasonal Rot set in.)
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. With the ongoing slew of crime procedural TV shows, it's difficult to realize that when it came out, a plot involving crime forensics and laboratory work was considered as fresh and clever.
  • The Prime Time Soap genre arguably rose to prominence in the 1980's thanks to the success of Dallas and Dynasty, two long-running shows that focused on the power and glamour of being rich, backstabbing, shocking plot twists and lots of sex. While some of their main cliffhangers are still well-remembered (Dallas 's dream season, Dynasty's Moldavian Massacre), it's difficult for modern audiences to understand what the big deal is when the subject matter looks downright tame and restrained compared to the tidal wave of imitators in the years afterwards that went much further with their shocking storylines and sexual content. Even the teaser trailer for the rebooted Dallas emphasizes sex scenes with more skin than anything the original series ever showed. Other primetime soaps would get this treatment as well:
    • Central Park West was hyped as the most risque and shocking series of the 90's, with more violence and sexual content than any other program on television at the time. Nowadays, it's difficult to look at the series and see what the big deal is, when shows like The O.C. and Desperate Housewives have done everything CNW did and more.
  • David Letterman. His whole comedic sensibility (Middle American pop-culture-obsessed smartass, with a dash of intellectualism) was incredibly fresh and innovative in the early 80s, and exactly the kick in the pants that the stale TV talk show format needed. These days it's hard to find a talk show not heavily influenced by Letterman (even his short-lived 1980 morning show has Spiritual Licensees like Ellen), so people really take him for granted now.
  • Degrassi Junior High (and its sequel series, Degrassi High) were critical and commercial darlings when they premiered in the 1980s. Degrassi was the first Teen Drama that dealt with teen pregnancy, underage drinking, and other such issues without censorship, Deus ex Machina happy endings, or the over-the-top melodrama of an After School Special. It also amazed critics that the adults aren't always right, or that when they are, a teen might not listen to the Golden Moment speech. Plus, it put in just enough Soap Opera and continuity to make you care about the characters. More recent Teen Dramas (largely influenced by Degrassi itself) go much further with all of this, until the older show looks like a bunch of strung-together moral fables. Fans of Degrassi The Next Generation often find the older show quaint.
    • The sequel series ended with a Darker and Edgier Grand Finale, "School's Out", that attracted controversy for showing nudity (a single shot) and a famous use of a swear word ("You were fucking Tessa Campanelli?") during pre-watershed hours. In the intervening years, cable television has gone much farther with swearing on television, to the point that anyone watching "School's Out" would fail to see what the big deal is. Better yet, the mature subject matter (exemplified by two of the characters getting into a car crash and a man cheating on his girlfriend with another classmate) has been continually topped by Degrassi The Next Generation.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show is a well-written, well-acted classic American sitcom, but modern audiences would probably find major cliches in every episode because every plot involves many major sitcom tropes and conventions. However, those tropes still would have been pretty new in the early '60s, and the plots develop the sitcoms tropes a little more than later sitcoms would.
  • Doctor Who. Some of the older stories were thought-provoking, mesmerizing, and quite frightening to their audience. But now, they might be looked at as having poor pacing and production values. And anyone who thinks Doctor Who is a very lame sci-fi cliché and dumbing down of the genre should be asked to remember that it premiered in 1963.
    • Tomb of the Cybermen is a textbook example made all the more interesting because it was, for almost 25 years, a Lost Episode. It was one of the many victims of the great BBC purges in the 1960s. During the time it was lost, it achieved a legendary status among the Doctor Who fandom, being hyped up as the holy grail of 60s Doctor Who, a masterpiece that was tragically destroyed. In one of the most surprising finds in the history of the series, in 1991, a complete copy of the serial containing all four episodes was found in Hong Kong. Immediately, the BBC rushed a VHS release of the serial... which was promptly thrashed by critics. They found it too slow, methodical, and contemplative, with cheesy acting and not nearly enough action... which was the norm for 60s science fiction. It also didn't help that a lot of the racial politics within the series, while perhaps unremarkable for the mid-1960s, hadn't aged well either.
    • The Season 2 finale, "The Time Meddler", was a Wham Episode at the time because it was the first story pitting the Doctor against another alien force in a historical period - up until then, historical stories and science fiction stories had been entirely discrete, so The Reveal that the Monk is another time traveller was a huge twist that broke the established rules of the show. Of course, the 'historical' (a story taking place in a historical period with no sci-fi beyond that of the time travel itself) is a format all but abandoned after the William Hartnell era, so modern viewers checking out his stories often find it more surprising when the Doctor goes into the past and aliens don't show up.
    • It's quite difficult for viewers whose only knowledge of Doctor Who comes from the revival series to understand why it was such a massive source of fandom rage when the Doctor had The Big Damn Kiss with his companion in the TV Movie. Ever since the revival series, the show has been very romance focused, and fans who grew up without the old series' No Hugging, No Kissing have real trouble imagining the show without sexuality. In fact, those fans may look at the romance between the Eighth Doctor and Grace as very subtle and low-key in comparison to what the show gets away with now, since it's transitory and based around heat-of-the-moment feelings - compare to the character-arc-dominating romance between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, or how the Eleventh Doctor not only has a lot of offscreen sex with various female characters and leers over other ones but even gets married...
    • Sometimes people criticise the theme music for having a cheesy B-Movie alien Theremin-like sound in the intro (such as this comic. While the theme music used in the new show is a significant change from the theme used in the 1960s and 1970s, the original Doctor Who theme is held in great esteem by musical historians as a pioneering and classic piece of Electronic Music that invented a whole bunch of new techniques. It should also be observed that the melody was played partially on modded tone generator equipment intended for electrical testing as the synthesisers on which it could be easily achieved now had not yet been invented - not to mention that it dates back to before the cliche was a cliche. The use of it in the modern orchestrated theme is as homage to this, even though it may come off as jarring in the context of the music to new fans with no history with Doctor Who.
  • As noted in The Nostalgia Chick's review, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was initially considered ambitious because it was "edgy" for its time (at least, compared to other Black Sitcoms). Nowadays, it's seen as somewhat goofy (though still critically respected).
  • While Friends is still regarded as funny, and a benchmark that other comedy sitcoms try to reach, the impact it had is largely forgotten after the slew of other shows that followed.
    • At the time, it was unique for a show to have a cast of young people who could be romantically paired up in many different ways. Pretty much every heterosexual combination between the main cast was explored during the series (except for Ross and Monica, of course). This type of series premise has since become the norm.
    • Friends was, at the time, also unique for delving into the trials and tribulations of 20-something life. A demographic that had, until then, been mostly ignored by television and was just gaining cinematic recognition through movies like Reality Bites. Whereas, today, at least half of all prime time sitcoms are about 20 and early-30 something life.
    • Things like the coffee house, now a cliché, were actually considered 'too hip' by the executives, and they had to be talked into accepting it.
    • When the Pilot was filmed, NBC actually screened audiences to see if they thought Monica having sex with Paul on a first date would make her seem slutty. Given what women on network television get away with these days, it's hard to believe such a thing was cause for concern among network executives in 1994.
    • Ross and Rachel. Thanks to a combination of Values Dissonance and Seinfeld Is Unfunny, a lot of younger fans who got on board after the show was cancelled are watching their relationship pan out and questioning what made it so popular. While it's easy now to pinpoint everything that was wrong with them as a couple (pettiness, having very little in common, jealousy issues, etc.), during the mid-90's, such a relationship was seen as fresh and unique. As, until then, the Give Geeks a Chance trope was rarely (if ever) represented in television. While, in film, it was still seen as a refreshing break from the predictable "pretty boy gets the hot girl" trope so prevalent until the mid-80's. Today, with the Give Geeks a Chance trope being more-or-less played out and the culture as a whole taking a much more cynical view of the Dogged Nice Guy, it might be hard for younger fans to really appreciate how significant the Ross and Rachel romance was nearly 20 years ago.
    • We find out in the pilot that Ross' ex-wife Carol is a lesbian. Their son Ben is raised mostly by Carol and her partner Susan. In the second season, Carol and Susan get married. At the time, 1996, same-sex marriage was illegal in every state, yet there were no references to this in the show. No characters - aside from Carol's unseen parents - object to the wedding, save Ross who is upset because he still loves Carol. (In a sweet moment, he ends up walking her down the aisle.) A few network affiliates refused to air the episode, but it was the highest-rated program that week. Today, same-sex weddings and couples raising children are becoming increasingly commonplace on TV, for example in Modern Family.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street. When it started, it was acclaimed for its gritty, realistic depiction of police politics, rule-bending and personal lives, as well as for making good use of arc stories. Nowadays, all of these things are pretty much standard in TV dramas in general, not just Police Procedurals. And compared to its spiritual descendant, The Wire, it practically looks like Keystone Kops.
  • There is that other acclaimed '90s police drama, NYPD Blue. When it debuted, it was ground-breaking not just for being character driven and gritty in much the same way as Homicide, but for being willing to push the envelope with things such as violence, sex and nudity, and profanity. Whilst network series have been reluctant to try the same things since the show went off the air (all this envelope pushing incurred ABC some heavy FCC fines), all the things that NYPD Blue is notable for can be seen almost ubiquitously on Cable television.
  • The show that really inspired all of these dark cop shows, Hill Street Blues, which was revolutionary in 1981 but can seem downright quaint to the modern viewer.
  • The Honeymooners was groundbreaking when it was created. But it has produced so many imitations, including ones aimed at demographics far younger than what the original was aimed atnote , that most new viewers of the show are likely to be familiar with the ideas behind it before they ever see it. This naturally dilutes the humor. Particularly the pairing of Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows. Gleason himself said people would never believe a pretty woman like Alice would marry a guy like Ralph. It's so common nowadays, it's a trope.
  • I Love Lucy is perhaps the oldest surviving television sitcom. It was the first one recorded on film for posterity, which means that its three-camera setup, which was revolutionary at the time and was developed by producer and star Desi Arnaz, looks completely unremarkable to us today as it is the format used for virtually every sitcom ever since.
  • Kamen Rider. There's a similar argument for this franchise as well, or maybe a subversion. The Showa era formula (cyborg destroys the terrorist organization that rebuilt him) has been done to death and is now avoided the Heisei era shows, to the point that either part of the phrase "Masked Rider" sometimes doesn't apply to a specific series. Which makes the Showa Riders revival manga Kamen Rider Spirits so appealing: it takes the phrase "Kicking it old school" and runs with it.
  • When Law & Order first appeared in 1990, it was unthinkable to have a show so willing to discuss controversial topics such as abortion, racism, corruption and child abuse. Since then, shows like The Wire have gone further with the "Crime Drama as a social platform" concept than anyone could have imagined.
  • Lizzie McGuire: Nowadays it seems like a boring show, especially since Disney has copied its format (female protagonist, female best friend, male best friend/possible love interest) for every one of their shows, but it was different from all the shows on Disney Channel back when it came out. The trio dynamic with the Just Friends love interest looks pretty old hat now that iCarly, Zoey 101, Victorious, Neds Declassified School Survival Guide, Phil of the Future, and even Western Animation such as Kim Possible and Danny Phantom all have identical or near-identical dynamics as Lizzie McGuire did for their friendship and eventual romance arcs and all of them started after Lizzie McGuire. What many don't realise is just how pervasive Slap-Slap-Kiss styled couples were in the late 90's (and how lacking Just Friends couples were), such as in Harry Potter which was already 4 years old by the time Lizzie McGuire started, Hey Arnold! which started in 96, or The Nanny.
  • Married... with Children: In a world with South Park, Family Guy, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it's pretty hard to imagine a time where this was on the cutting edge of irreverent, politically incorrect comedies (and FOX's first successful sitcom). And it didn't help that The Simpsons (also a victim of the Seinfeld Is Unfunny trope) immediately stole Married... with Children's title as "the politically incorrect FOX Dom Com about a dysfunctional family living in a Crapsack World Gone Mad filled with biting social satire and subversions on sitcom conventions and tropes." Part of the problem was that, even in its day, Married With Children was something of a Rule-Abiding Rebel, happily sprinkling in plenty of Middle American cornball humor (it was set in Chicago, after all) with the edgier stuff. No matter how rude or sexually explicit your show is, if you throw in talking dogs and slapstick gags that are literally out of cartoons, it's going to be hard to truly take you seriously.
  • Miami Vice: That the show now seems to be chock full of '80s clichés belies the fact that it invented those clichés: the use of designer fashion for the leads, the cinematic visuals and montages and, famously, the no-earth-tones color palette. In 1984, when the pilot episode aired, this scene was downright revolutionary. No TV show had ever used a whole contemporary pop song that way, or seemed so much more like a movie than a TV show.
  • The Monkees, believe it or not, was extremely influential, as the group’s television-music combo format was seen back then as a brand new way to market music for their teenage audience. It worked almost too well (they sold over 35 million records in 1967 alone, beating out The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that year… combined!), as nearly every other popular music franchise would copy this. Their televised “music videos” or “romps” are considered by many to be the first of their kind. In fact, The Monkees had influenced a lot more in this genre than most people realize. In the late 1970s, Monkee Michael Nesmith took this concept and created some of the first music videos, leading to the very first music video program PopClips, which aired in 1979–81 on a then (very) young Nickelodeon. Apparently, Nesmith’s ideas were so brilliant, that the powers that be stole and warped his series to create a "certain network" which was launched in 1981. The Monkees by their very presence was revolutionary on TV in another way, in the sense that at the height of The Vietnam War and the youth counter culture, the show "brought long hair into the living room". The expressions, fashions, slang and philosophies of the subversive, free-thinking, counter culture, anti-war, proto-"hippie" teenage youth as heroes of a sitcom on American TV show was a refreshing change of pace from the conservative pace of most TV shows of the time. Micky Dolenz later commented that long hair was back then synonymous with "crimes against nature", and as they took more control of the show they allowed the revolution of The Sixties to enter Middle America.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus was, in its day, a genuinely innovative, intelligent and surreal sketch comedy show which pioneered several comedy techniques, including subverting the form by running credits at the "wrong" point in the show and putting spoof entries in TV listings magazines. Those that it didn't create, it certainly popularized, to the extent that plenty of others lacking the panache and originality of the original ensemble have shamelessly aped their work. It says much that a highlight and selling point of a 20th anniversary compilation was that it didn't contain the (in)famous Parrot Sketch, which many people can quote by memory, even if they would at this stage rather forget it. Also, much of the verbal humor doesn't translate cross culturally. This ultimately led to a subversion of the Dead Parrot sketch in the troupe's famed Secret Policeman's Ball 1989 performance After John Cleese proclaims that the parrot he just purchased is dead, Michael Palin examines it, then agrees, gives him his money back, and the sketch ends. This trope is explained as well as anywhere by Terry Jones:
    "One of the things we tried to do with the show was to try and do something that was so unpredictable that it had no shape and you could never say what the kind of humor was. And I think that the fact that 'Pythonesque' is now a word in the Oxford English Dictionary shows the extent to which we failed."
  • The Muppet Show. When it first started, defining the area of the action with the camera's frame of view instead of the physical set was innovative for a television show. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the show was both aimed at adults and children, while nowadays it has become exclusively a children's show. (Do you really think that WWE's Monday Night Raw would have become such a hit in the late '90s if it hadn't picked up The Muppet Show's "ironic, postmodern backstage drama" gimmick and run to the ends of the earth with it? Same with WCW Monday Nitro. The fact that the Muppets themselves recently repaid the favor by guest-starring on Raw only clenches the argument.)
  • Oz. Aside from being HBO's first one-hour drama, it was shocking in 1997 to have a show which so blatantly depicted drug use, male-on-male rape, extreme violence, and deeply reprehensible protagonists. Since then both The Sopranos and The Wire have outshined it in acclaim thus dooming the brilliantly acted, well written series to being known for its more superficial elements and retroactive recognition of famous cast members.
  • The Real World, among the very first Reality Shows, just a Reality Show, no other gimmick, just a bunch of kids sitting around in a house, acting pissy at each other. Revolutionary in 1993, every Reality Show you've ever seen only more boring today.
  • The 1992 Reality Show Sylvania Waters suffers the same fate.
  • Same thing has happened to Real People, which became a Wednesday night staple on NBC between 1979 and 1984.
  • Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Although these days it seems pretty predictable and safe, in the late 1960s it was very decidedly neither. Moreover, if there wasn't Laugh-In first, we probably wouldn't have had Monty Python or Saturday Night Live.
  • Saturday Night Live. In its early days, it was considered revolutionary, groundbreaking, and taboo due to its willingness to just say and/or do anything crazy, stupid, and/or controversial and hope the censors don't crack down on them. Through modern eyes, those old episodes can seem terribly dull thanks to SNL's many dueling shows that try to capture its humor (i.e., Fridays, In Living Color!, MADtv, Mr. Show, etc).
  • Saved by the Bell: The show that started the whole "tween" show craze (Heck, that word didn't even exist back then). Lizzie, Hannah Montana, iCarly, even Power Rangers - they all owe their existence to this show.
  • SCTV. Speaking of network TV sketch shows that suffer from Seinfeld Is Unfunny syndrome, when it premiered in Canada (and later, the United States), the sketch comedy show was a critical and commercial hit. By mixing deconstructive parodies of popular and lesser-known works with absurdly specific Canadian-centric humor, the show won over a lot of fans (it also helped that SNL had plunged into Seasonal Rot in the 1980s, so shows like SCTV and Fridays became favorite substitutes for SNL). The show was lauded for having a stellar cast (who would all go on to successful movie and television careers, making it a who's-who of comedy talent, much like SNL), and being a trailblazer for new concepts in sketch comedy (i.e. running gags that spanned the entire episode, long camera shots in sketches, and more absurdist humor than what one would find on SNL or even Monty Python). Today, many viewers would look at the series and think it's either too quaint or boring (because the nature of the sketches and jokes—which reference late 1970s and early 1980s subculture—fly right over their heads), even though the series essentially created the foundation of modern Canadian comedy shows.
  • Sesame Street. Every single children's television show today owes a tremendous debt to this program for blazing the trail. Now that everybody does it, it's hard to remember that Sesame Street INVENTED quality, research-based, curriculum-based, entertaining and educational children's TV that has a visibly ethnically diverse cast and doesn't talk down to its audience.
    • What makes it even harder to remember all this...is the fact that Sesame Street has pretty much evolved into The Elmo Show.
  • The Sopranos. In 1999 when it came out it was rather unusual for a television show to feature a morally questionable protagonist, especially a criminal. It was so unusual that David Chase had to fight HBO about whether or not Tony could commit a murder in the fifth episode of the series because HBO was scared of putting off fans. Over the years series with anti-heroes and villain protagonists have become dime a dozen with popular series like The Shield, Dexter, and Deadwood all featuring protagonists that commit criminal acts including murder on a nearly weekly basis.
  • Star Trek:
    • The original series has a camp reputation, and has been endlessly parodied and mocked. People forget that Star Trek was THE trailblazer that has influenced every science fiction series after it (and even influenced non-sci-fi shows as well) up to this day. In 1967, three of the five nominees (including the winner) for the Hugo Award (awards for science fiction and fantasy) for Best Dramatic Presentation (which at the time included both television episodes and movies) were episodes of Star Trek. In 1968, the show did even better: all five nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation were Star Trek episodes. In fact, society has changed so much that some of the most radical and innovative things it did are now almost entirely overlooked. A black woman, as a military officer? Said black woman, kissing a white man, at a time when that kind of thing would get you arrested (or worse) in large parts of the United States? The show's portrayal of race was so far ahead of its time that when Nichelle Nichols considered leaving the show to return to musical theater, Martin Luther King Jr. himself insisted to her that she needed to stay, telling her that the show's depiction of ethnic relations was not only unprecedented, but exactly the kind future he dreamed of, and that Star Trek was the only show he and Coretta let their children stay up to watch. The original pilot had a FEMALE first officer. It also avoided (see Babylon 5 above) "Cute Kids And Robots", at least among the regular cast, which was one reason science fiction fans at the time considered it a better, more serious show than much of the science fiction on television.
    • On the other hand, the German(-French) seven-part series Raumpatrouille - Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffs Orion (French title: Commando spatial), which was produced at the same time (its first episode was aired on German TV nine days after that of Star Trek in America), is regarded by many German fans as equal to the original Star Trek in many respect and superior in some, most notably the roles played by its female characters. Raumpatrouille also gradually acquired a bit of a camp appeal as due to its budget limitations some prominent spaceship parts are not hard to recognize as household implements.
    • Hell, even The Next Generation hasn't really aged that well. At its time, it was noted for taking everything about the old series and modernizing it (as well as adding some twists of its own). Nowadays, with spinoffs doing the same thing and other shows going further where it could never go, the only thing it has going for it is Patrick Stewart. However, it's hard to understand how hard-hitting and terrifying the Cliff Hanger ending of "The Best of Both Worlds: Part I" was since the subsequent Trek spinoffs started making regular use of such endings.
  • The State was actually a pretty controversial show for its time, and pushed the envelope for what could be shown on TV, even cable. It actually attracted quite a few negative reviews in the media for this alone, of which it marketed itself off. Today though it looks pretty tame, and not much worse than the more raunchy sketches on Saturday Night Live. In fact despite the horrendous Network Decay since it's been on, The State doesn't really go much further in controversy than most current programming on MTV, and it's safe to say anyone in the target demographic today probably won't see what the big deal is.
  • The Super Sentai franchise (and to a lesser extent, tokusatsu shows in general) suffers from this, but not because of imitators but rather, itself: it has lasted for so long that it takes genuine effort to create an original premise and sustain it. This is likely why so many of the newer series eschew tech-driven stories in favor of fantasy, along with the advent of CG over People in Rubber Suits.
  • Power Rangers falls into this as well.
  • Survivor. A decade after its first American broadcast, it's hard to imagine that it was ever considered shocking or innovative. Viewers found it horrifying that people were Voted Off The Island based on politics instead of merit, with the "evil alliance" being some of the most hated people in TV history. Every media critic in America, whether they loved Survivor or hated it, regarded it as a sign of deep troubles and neuroses within modern Western civilization. After all the Follow the Leader clones, people take it for granted that you can get people to do disgusting or amazing things just by waving one million dollars in front of them.
    • Even amongst Johnny-come-lately Survivor fans, it can be difficult to get into the earlier seasons. If you watch Borneo and The Australian Outback (the first and second seasons, respectively) you'll notice the game was majorly different back then than it is now... The Tribal switch was actually seen as the big twist of Africa (season 3). Nowadays it's in almost every season of Survivor, partly because it made things a bit less one-sided at the merge. (The game was dominated by the remnants of one team at the merge in Borneo and The Australian Outback. When the power shifts, it becomes more interesting to watch.) When one takes into account that there was nothing like hidden immunity idols or Exile Island... the first two seasons were actually kinda bland, weren't they?
      • Borneo and The Australian Outback were fair for their day, since at the time, the main draw of the show was the premise itself (being stranded on a deserted island, being stranded in the wild, etc). Since the emphasis wasn't on shocking twists and "blindsides", they can still hold up to the modern viewer who simply likes the adventure and/or voyeur aspects.
    • Jerri Manthey references this phenomenon in the Heroes Vs Villains season. When Jerri first appeared in the Australia season, American viewers hated her - she schemed against other players, and was the first certifiable "villain" of the show (so much so that when she appeared on that season's reunion show, she was booed off the stage). In the following seasons, other players would up the stakes in terms of villainy (arguably culminating in Russell Hantz's run in Samoa, whereupon he insulted fellow players, sabotaged his own team multiple times, tricked everyone and generally acted like an entitled savior). Jerri's "villainy" is now run-of-the-mill - practically every player backstabs their fellow teammates at this point.
      • Corrine from Gabon also helped take away Jerri's infamy from Australia. When someone openly disses another contestant's dead father (and refuses to apologize during the reunion show), that crosses the Moral Event Horizon beyond a point that any contestant can cross, female or not. Jerri, even at her worst, never acted that nasty.
    • The American version of Big Brother also gets this said about it, especially since there originally was no "power of veto" and there were almost no "twists" to speak of in the first two and three seasons. Considering how radically different it is, it can be very hard to appreciate the concept of the early Big Brother seasons. And not just in the American version where it's more competitive. (There was some degree of competition in the Brazilian Big Brother still.)
  • The Twilight Zone. The original was shocking. The best episodes still are, but once the show was known long enough for everyone to expect a Karmic Twist Ending Once an Episode, the writing had to be that much better for the episodes to still work than they needed to be first time around. And the ante keeps getting upped, because viewers get savvier with the conventions and because other works go ever farther...
    • At the time the Twilight Zone aired, American TV was saturated with anthology series showcasing one-off dramatic or science fiction teleplays. The Twilight Zone gave period viewers a new take on what they saw all the time, its biggest innovation of all.
  • The Ultra Series suffers particularly bad from this. To some it looks goofy and stereotypical, but it established so many reoccurring elements in Japanese Cinema (from Humongous Mecha to Kamehamehadoken), that its impact can be difficult to appreciate.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link both introduced the Dramatic Lighting and Music that would be used by every prime-time game show that came after them (1 vs. 100, Deal or No Deal, Minute to Win It, etc.) At the time it was quite epic. Now it's so common it's actually a trope.
  • Will and Grace is considered offensive by some people for its portrayal of gay men as shallow and superficial. It was the first American TV show to have gay leads. Without it, more serious gay live media (The L Word, Brokeback Mountain, etc.) would never have gotten off the ground.
  • The Young Ones was considered anarchic and subversive in the early 1980s. In comparison with their successor Bottom many of the violent scenes (Vyvyan destroying something or hitting Rick over the head) can seem rather tame today.
  • The concept of professional partners eventually developing a romantic relationship is almost a requirement in crime dramas/FBI procedurals nowadays, but in the days of The X-Files' Mulder and Scully, it was a new idea. And it goes back further than that. Moonlighting was the first to have partners hooking up, but other shows had similar Will They or Won't They? tension.
  • Rich Man Poor Man was the first miniseries, an exploration of long-form storytelling that's become completely standard today. As well, one of its biggest selling points was its frank depiction of sexuality, with the Moral Guardians up in arms over characters talking about "nailing" each other and a white woman considering an affair with a black man. Nowadays, of course, all that seems remarkably tame.
  • Much of the humor, even the political bits, of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour seems so dated and unfunny today that you would be forgiven for thinking CBS was trying to spare the audience by censoring them. But even doing some of the political bits was risky enough for most TV at the time, which steered clear of anything political. Thanks to Tom and Dick, it's routine now. That said, the show's also a subversion, with some portions that were censored in reruns decades later. Infamously, the punchline to a sketch featuring the first interracial marriage was the priest asking for a noose instead of the wedding ring.
  • Many classical Telenovelas were kind of edgy at the time, like El Derecho de Nacer and its oblique references to abortion, the heroines empowering themselves by studying and working like Simplemente Maria instead of merely marrying into riches like every other one, villain protagonists like Rubí, and "bedroom scenes" consisting on two characters merely embracing together with a Modesty Bedsheet (quite scandalous in the era of Sleeping Single). Today, those stories are considered quaint at best, Reactionary Fantasy at worst, and even the actualized remakes show that their plots have not aged well. Many remakes of old telenovelas have to place the action on rural settings instead of the urban ambient they originally were, because even the broadcasters have to acknowledge that nowadays those are the only places where people would be Genre Blind enough for the plot to work.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond, when it first premiered in the Fall of 1996, stood out among other family sitcoms in that its focus was more on the parents than on the children. In fact, the children were, in many episodes, just Living Props. Given that many family sitcoms thereafter have focused more on the parents than on the children, the series doesn't seem quite as unique now as it used to (being that, aside from this one crucial difference, it was actually a pretty run-of-the-mill sitcom for the most part). Another groundbreaking aspect was introducing the "fat guy with a gorgeous wife" scenario (until then only present on Newspaper Comics and cartoon shows) which quickly replaced the Model Couple paradigm prevalent until then.
  • Reichen & Chip winning Season 4 of The Amazing Race might not seem like a big deal now, but in 2003 a pair of Manly Gay guys in a loving, stable relationship excelling at a physically and mentally based competition was a huge deal, to the point that it was one of the the main story lines of the season, especially near the end, and their kiss at the Finish Line was hugely controversial, and was even censored in many places. In comparison, when gay couple Brent & Josh kissed after winning Season 21 in 2012, people barely batted an eye at their relationship or their kiss at the Finish Line.
  • While talent shows existed, none would reach the popularity of American Idol. American Idol paved the way for many other talent shows, each with varying levels of success. Today, many people who didn't grow up watching American Idol don't see the appeal of a group of teenagers and young adults singing in front of judges.
  • Despite now being remembered mostly for its Narm Charm, Beverly Hills 90210 actually dealt with some pretty heavy-handed issues for a teen show during the early-90's. While our neighbors in Canada were enjoying Degrassi's honest depictions of teenage angst, we in The States were (at least on television) limited mostly to light and goofy depictions of high school life like Saved by the Bell. 90210, when it premiered, was actually very controversial for the way it sympathetically depicted serious issues like sex and cocaine addiction. As, before then, characters who engaged in such activity on teen television were generally either demonized or made to quit after one episode. Today, given how much high school dramas have evolved ever since, the show is remembered mostly for its hideously dated fashions, blatantly obvious Dawson Casting and heavy amounts of melodrama.
  • At the time Taxi premiered, Danny De Vito's height wasn't well known, so he spent most of the pilot inside the dispatcher cage, and when he stepped down the stairs he got a big laugh from the audience.
  • S Club 7 and their TV show popularised the idea of a modern musical TV series. While a Band Toon was nothing new and The Monkees had a similar TV series, S Club 7's TV show was something quite new. In 1999 musicals were essentially for old folks and the idea of combining the genre with current music and tacking on sitcom hijinks was something different. And of course a cast of attractive young singers. The musical numbers in this amount to the band either performing their own songs on a stage or singing them during trippy scenes. Yet the likes of Glee and High School Musical who explored this format better were likely heavily influenced by it.

Technology

  • On American TV shows of the mid/late 1960s and early 1970's, boasts of "in color." Viewers who have grown up on color TV are likely to have a reaction of, "Um, okay?" In the mid-1960s, however, many shows were still in black-and-white, making the changeover to color significant. Reruns of shows from that period generally leave off the "in color" intro. The real motivation for this kind of thing was to let people who still had black and white TVs know just what they were missing — at least, when the point had been reached when the "in color" boast continued to appear while everything was in color anyway.
  • The mid/late 2000's and the early 2010's saw programs boast, "Now in High Definition" for exactly the same reason. Though "high", being a relative term, will surely age even worse than "in color" as future technology surpasses it. "Presented in HD" was the norm for a short time back when channels being aired in high definition was groundbreaking. Nowadays, nobody really thinks about it due to a lot of channels being broadcasted in HD.
  • In stereo where available.
  • "This progam is closed captioned for the hearing impaired." Since it's basically the law outside of a few excluded programs, most networks don't bother with a logo denoting a show was captioned any longer, and only the Turner networks still use the National Captioning Institute's "screen and speech balloon" logo, which was nearly ubiquitous in the 80s and 90s.

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