Fewer networks have taken as many chances over the years that have paid off than FOX. In its history, FOX has changed science-fiction television with The X-Files, conquered the ratings charts with American Idol, introduced the adult world of animation with The Simpsons and Family Guy and kept audiences thrilled with 24. But for every success found out on a limb FOX has found five or six disasters, averaging little more than thirteen episodes per failed series.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the game-changing network that`s not afraid to do things a little differently. On April 5th, 1987, the network debuted with the dysfunctional response to The Cosby Show, Married With Children, as well as the variety series The Tracey Ullman Show. Of course, Simpsons buffs know that the yellow-colored family debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show, though not for two more weeks on April 19th. Eventually the network rolled out 21 Jump Street (launching Johnny Depp's career), Mr. President (sinking George C. Scott's career) and Duet. And the rest, as they say ad nauseum, is history.
Last FOX revisited its original night of primetime with the debut episode of Married With Children as well as the first full- length episode of The Simpsons (which didn't air until December 1989). It's unfortunate that they didn't opt for the original Tracey Ullman Show, but alas. At 8pm FOX took a look back at its own 25 years with a two-hour special, reuniting casts of The X-Files, Married With Children and Beverly Hills 90210. Since FOX is in the reminiscing mood, I thought I would take a look back at a few of the most important programs from FOX's first 25 years in prime time, and a few that didn't quite take off.
Where would my life be without Mulder and Scully? I've talked a few times about the impact the sci-fi favorite has had on my life, but enough can't be said for the impact it had on the rest of television. Debuting in 1993 on a Friday evening in September, The X-Files showed that the paranormal was possible and that two FBI agents could share intense sexual tension for many, many years, much to the delight of the show's younger female fans. One can only assume they have grown up and are the Twi-Hard Moms of the world.
Chris Carter's creation lasted nine seasons on FOX's schedule, bouncing from its Friday night home (where it posted FOX's only successful numbers on the night ever) to a Sunday night anchor position where it would be seen by millions of X-Philes until 2002. It remains one of the few, the proud shows in history that have spawned its own feature film as well as a sequel. Even more rare? The first film hit theatres in the midst of its television run. Only The Simpsons and South Park come to mind as pulling off this rare feat.
Sure, the ups were met by equal or more depressing downs, but as a whole, The X-Files was an incredible, inimitable ride. Just hearing the whistling theme song takes me back to a simpler time in my life, as it likely does for others. Some generations were influenced by Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I'm thankful that my generation has The X-Files. The truth is... ah, you know the rest.
Just as The X-Files ended, one month later saw the debut of a singing competition program that would launch careers for Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and many others (to a lesser extent). And if we're going to talk launching careers, where would Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest be in the world without American Idol? Before Simon Cowell, most of us thought we had to be cordial and polite to people with less-than-stellar talents. Now we're free to call others ghastly and horrid, and they feel free to punch me in the face. But I digress...
For all its successes, FOX never enjoyed that prime position of Number 1 on the ratings charts until American Idol took off officially in 2003 and hasn't really looked back. Despite declining numbers, it still ranks in the top five every week, after eleven seasons. Not even the departures of Simon, Paula Abdul and short-term judges Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres could stop the success. They simply traded up for Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Someday, it will end, but I don't see it anytime soon.
The following takes place between 12AM and 1AM on the day of the California Presidential primary...
And so began eight seasons of action-packed TV on FOX, courtesy of Jack Bauer and Co. Rarely at a loss for excitement, 24 became one of the most beloved series of the new millennium. After winning the Emmy Award for Best Drama for its fifth season, 24 suffered from quality decline in the last three seasons, not to mention postponing its seventh season due to the writer's strike in 2007. The series followed Bauer and CTU (mostly) as they fought terrorist plots to harm the United States. Of course each season contained 24 episodes equalling 24 hours in one day. To say no one has ever had days like these would be an understatement, but that's TV.
Most shocking in its run was 24's ability to kill off many of its recurring characters, beloved or otherwise. The key to 24's success was being able to off characters, even when it meant losing a key persona. Often imitated, 24's success has yet to be duplicated, although Homeland may be the closest to come so far, trading in breakneck progression in storylines for a more controlled, methodical approach. Even with a feature film often rumored, nothing can come close to 24 at its prime.
**Married With Children**
Love and marriage... love and marriage...
Up until 1987, we all thought that families resembled The Bradys and The Huxtables. The Bunkers came closest in their definition of family, but it was The Bundys in 1987 that shoved dysfunctional in the faces of the American family. Never at a loss for insults for each other, The Bundys exposed a side to the traditional family that had previously been hinted at but never completely exploited.
Married With Children launched the careers of Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate. David Faustino? Well... three out of four ain't bad. O'Neill and Sagal have enjoyed the most success, thanks to ABC's Modern Family and FX's Sons of Anarchy, respectively, while Applegate has bounced around between film and TV in the last few years.
The series lasted eleven seasons, one of the longest running sitcoms of all time, and helped establish a new breed of family sitcom. Even at their most vicious at one another (and everyone else in their lives), there was still a level of love beneath the surface. You knew The Bundys may constantly ridicule their inept father, but The Bundys were still family. And that's what mattered.
**The Simpsons, Family Guy and The Animation Domination**
In 1989, The Simpsons debuted on FOX, forever cementing their legacy as television's number one place for primetime cartoons. It wasn't until 1995 that Jon Lovitz as Jay Sherman on The Critic that FOX expanded its animated lineup, to little success. Finally in 1997, after creating TV's popular slacker duo, Beavis & Butthead, Mike Judge brought King of the Hill to FOX, the Southern comedy lasting for twelve years. And in 1999, FOX turned up the heat with three animated entries: Matt Groening's second creation, Futurama; Eddie Murphy's claymation series The PJs; and most notably, the first of three official runs from Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.
None of the three series survived in original runs, all to be resurrected elsewhere. Futurama bounced around the network for four years before continuing its run on DVD and finally on Comedy Central, once a year for 12-13 episodes. The PJs got a second chance on The WB but quickly and quietly faded away. But Family Guy took several false starts to catch on. After being cancelled twice in its run, the second of which lasting a couple of years, Family Guy returned to great fanfare in 2005 and never looked back, routinely out-rating veteran The Simpsons.
Seth MacFarlane became a strong presence for FOX, creating American Dad and The Cleveland Show for the Sunday night lineup. Of course, for all its success on Sunday, FOX has found a few animated clunkers in the last few seasons, including Mitch Hurwitz's Sit Down, Shut Up and Jonah Hill's abomination Allen Gregory. The jury's still out on Bob's Burgers and Napoleon Dynamite.
One thing is certain: FOX can attribute much of its success in 25 years to the animated world imagined by Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane.
It's hard to choose every program that has defined FOX as a network in twenty-five years. Equal recognition has to go to the perpetually cranky House, which has ran for eight seasons to critical and audience acclaim, as well as the crime-solving duo of Bones and Booth on Bones. On Saturday nights, America's Most Wanted and COPS made fighting crime a very real matter for audiences to enjoy, since the late 80s. Both programs are being downsized to specials spread throughout the year, but their impact is unmistakable. Programs like Gossip Girl, Revenge and especially 90210 have to thank shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Party of Five and The OC for their successes. And while sketch comedy has been dominated by Saturday Night Live for almost 40 years, FOX had its own stab at the genre with In Living Color and MADtv.
I could literally go on and on about their triumphs, but FOX is equally as notorious for their tragedies. Late night talk wouldn't be the same without the horrific attempt by Chevy Chase to overthrow Leno and Letterman. Remember when America was wrapped up in the continuing saga of Joe Millionaire's attempts to seduce women with promises of money he didn't actually have? Can you remember where you were when Rick Rockwell proposed to Darva Conger on Who Wants to Marry a Multi- Millionaire? And how can FOX forget its subgenre of caught-on-tape action on such series as World's Wildest Police Videos and When Animals Attack! And you can't forget the sleaziness of Tempation Island, hosted for three seasons by Mark "Not That Mark Wahlberg" Walberg.
Bad ideas have always flocked to FOX by the dozens since 1987. How about Back to You, The George Carlin Show, Happy Hour, Holding the Baby, Luis, Method & Red, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Stacked, That 80s Show, Women in Prison, Girls Club, Models Inc., Pasadena, Skin, The Good Guys, Time of Your Life, Celebrity Boxing, American Juniors, The Chamber, Married by America, Murder in Small Town X, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, The Simple Life, Skating With Celebrities, The Swan, World Idol, Osbournes: Reloaded and Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show. Eek.
But for the most part, FOX has turned things around in the last decade, trading trashy programming for series targetted at younger demographics. From 2004-2009, FOX took the lead in the 18-49 demo over all networks, and even triumphed as the most popular network in 2007- 2008, a goal it had never attained until then. All networks live and die every year on hits and misses, but FOX might have the most colorful past of any network on television.
Congratulations on 25 years in television, FOX.
RIP Dick Clark
Fewer names are as iconic and legendary in television as Dick Clark. For thirty years, American Bandstand gave teenagers a chance to see their favorite musical acts every week, as well as giving them a chance to dance to their Top 40 favorites. Clark would eventually go on to host Pyramid, as well as his most memorable accomplishment to most: Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. Ending the year with Dick Clark in Times Square is a tradition for many Americans, ringing in the new year with the world's biggest musicians and thousands of screaming, dancing strangers in New York.
Nicknamed America's Oldest Teenager, Dick Clark was the original Ageless Man on television, long before Nestor Carbonell on Lost. And until a stroke in 2004 limited his television time, Clark was a presence in all facets of television. Alongside Ed McMahon, Clark introduced TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes in 1984, which remained in same form on television into the 21st century. Eventually, as age crept up, Clark made one more stab at making his mark on television in 2001 with the male-themed The Other Half, an answer to ABC's The View, co-hosted by Mario Lopez, Danny Bonaduce and Dorian Gregory.
Dick Clark has had many influences over individuals in television in his 50+ years in show business, but none are as obvious as Ryan Seacrest. A co-hosting gig in 2002 on American Idol has transformed into hosting the most popular show on television, hosting his own nationally-syndicated radio program, hosting E! News and co-hosting Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve every year since 2005.
Akin to Regis Philbin, Johnny Carson and Lorne Michaels, among others, Dick Clark's mark on television is extraordinary and immeasurable. For all of Seacrest's accomplishments, there will never be another like Dick Clark.
Dick Clark, you will be missed.
That's all for today's FOX-themed Ecks Factor. Later this week I will be back with a look at Girls, Veep, The Client List, GCB and Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23.
Until then, stay tuned.