13 Old TV Shows That Were Ahead of Their Time

13 Old TV Shows That Were Ahead of Their Time

Go back in time with these television shows that dealt with difficult issues despite initial controversy and backlash.

While television is primarily about entertaining, numerous shows have left an indelible impression on consumers. Television series that explored new ideas or forecasted future technologies had mixed reactions, but in retrospect, they typically stand out as innovators of the small screen. The fact that networks have subsequently rebooted previous series, particularly in the last several years, is a great tribute to how progressive many shows were for their time.

Consequently, it’s simple to observe how former successful television series inspired the shows we still see on TV and different streaming applications today. Not only did television give audiences honest dialogues that were indicative of the time period they aired in, but it also provided networks with clear guidance on what kind of programming viewers felt reflected and understood them. These shows were significantly ahead of the pack in terms of storytelling, genre, quality, and concept, and they are well worth seeing. Here are some examples of television shows that were far ahead of their time

13 Family Matters (1989)

Perfect Strangers spin-off, Family Matters centers on the Winslow family, a Black middle-class family from Chicago, Illinois. The geeky Winslows’ neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), who was initially intended to appear in a one-time role, was first presented to the audience halfway through the first season. Yet after joining the cast, he immediately emerged as the show’s standout character (and eventually its main protagonist). Family Matters aired for nine seasons, behind only The Jeffersons as the second-longest-running live-action American sitcom with a primarily African-American cast. The show dealt with touchy subjects including race, religion, adolescence, family strife, and more.

12 The Degrassi Franchise (1987)

The Degrassi series actually started in 1979 with The Kids of Degrassi Street, but as that program isn’t regarded as belonging to the same canon, it was Degrassi Junior High, released in 1987, that really set the trend. Despite a ten-year gap between Degrassi High and the revival of Degrassi: The Next Generation, little is altered about the ongoing series. The goal of the show was always to depict teens dealing with both tough and commonplace situations, such as sex, drugs, violence, family conflicts, bullying, and many other things. Many of the topics are ageless as seen by the fact that the franchise is still active today (it is now available on Netflix in its fourth installment, Degrassi: Next Class). Nobody does it as well as Degrassi does.

11 The Golden Girls (1985)

Susan Harris developed the comedy The Golden Girls, which ran for seven seasons and 180 episodes from 1985 to 1992. The program centers on four elderly women who live together in a Miami, Florida, residence and features an ensemble cast that includes Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. Over most of its time airing, The Golden Girls earned favorable reviews and won several honors, including two Primetime Emmy Awards for Best Comedy Series. In addition, it received three Golden Globe Awards. Each of the four stars also won an Emmy, making it one of just four sitcoms in award show history to accomplish this. In The Golden Girls, real-world topics including aging, sexual orientation, and harassment were addressed in episodes.

10 Maude (1972)

Maude, an All in the Family spin-off, set a new standard for women’s independence. Bea Arthur portrays Maude Findlay in Maude, a politically liberal, outspoken middle-aged lady, who lives in a suburban area of Tuckahoe, New York, with her fourth husband, Walter Findlay (Bill Macy), who runs a home appliance business. Maude always casts her ballot for Democratic Party candidates and supports racial and gender equality as well as civil rights. Nonetheless, she frequently gets into difficulties while discussing these concerns due to her sometimes aggressive and bossy nature. The series changed the way many women viewed their rights and freedoms.

9 All in the Family (1971)

From 1971 to 1979, there were nine seasons of the comedy All in the Family. Once All in the Family ended, Archie Bunker’s Place continued the story for four more seasons, ending in 1983. All in the Family, which featured Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, and Rob Reiner, was based on the British comedy Till Death Us Do PartAll in the Family tells the story of the life of a working-class guy and his family. It was innovative in handling topics previously deemed inappropriate for a US network television comedy, including racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence. The series rose to prominence as one of television’s most important comic shows, opening the door for later sitcoms to incorporate more dramatic scenes and genuine tensions.

8 Turn-On (1969)

Turn-On was a sketch comedy series that cleverly envisioned a post-modern television aesthetic with cluttered overlay imagery, quick cuts, thought-provoking ideas, and progressive issues. Teresa Graves, Hamilton Camp, and Chuck McCann were members of the cast. Tim Conway served as the inaugural episode’s guest host and took part in a few skits as well. Turn-On did not survive after the 1969 airing of its debut episode. And because it was so far ahead of its time, it would live in dishonor as one of the few television programs in history to be canceled before it had ever finished showing! Indeed, a campaign to cancel the show was organized by a network station in Cleveland, per MeTV.

7 He & She (1967)

The 1967 show He & She took creative risks. The comedy is recognized for paving the way for 1970s classics like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, sharing many of its fundamental ideas with that program. He & She was a show about a television producer (played by Richard Benjamin), akin to The Dick Van Dyke Show, who created a superhero show within a show called Jetman. Paula Prentiss, who is married to Benjamin in real life, played opposite him as his wife, a social worker. Allan Burns, who would later develop The Mary Tyler Moore Show, received one of the several Emmy nods for He & She.

6 N.Y.P.D. (1967)

ABC Films

There was the police crime drama television series N.Y.P.D., which aired decades before popular shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets. The show ran half-hour episodes that told stories of the 1960s New York City Police Department. Three New York police detectives who battle a variety of crimes and criminals are the focus of the N.Y.P.D. program. Jack Warden portrayed Lt. Mike Haines, Robert Hooks, who made headlines by portraying an African-American investigator, played Detective Jeff Ward, and Frank Converse portrayed Detective Johnny Corso. Along with episodes based on real New York City police cases, the show uses several real New York City locales. The N.Y.P.D. scripts used actors of various races that would not often be seen on American network television for many years.

5 The Star Trek Franchise (1966)

Fan Film Star Trek Continues
Star Trek Continues

Gene Roddenberry is the creator of the science fiction media brand known as Star Trek. It debuted with the namesake television series in the 1960s and soon gained popularity around the globe. The franchise has grown to include a number of movies, TV shows, video games, novels, and comic comics. It is one of the most well-known and highest-grossing media franchises ever with an estimated $10.6 billion in revenue.

No television program compares to Star Trek when it comes to cutting-edge technology, but Star Trek also pioneered on other fronts. Captain Kirk and Uhura shared one of the first interracial kisses ever depicted on American television in the original series, just one of several times in which the show’s creator used political commentary.

4 Slattery’s People (1964)

slatterys people Viacom

The introduction of Slattery’s People, a drama about neighborhood politics, opened each episode with, “Democracy is a very bad form of government. But I ask you never to forget: All the others are so much worse.” James Slattery, an honorable state politician, was portrayed by actor Richard Crenna, who is arguably best remembered for his subsequent work in the Rambo film series. Ed Asner and Tol Avery also appeared in the series.

James E. Moser, the program’s creator, spent nine months researching the legislative procedure in Sacramento, California, the location of the series, which earned the show accolades for its realism from American legislators. A television series focused on the inner workings of the judicial system had never been attempted prior to this and the series would pave the way for future law shows to emerge. Gaining further accolades, a Golden Globe Award nomination was made for Slattery’s People.

3 The Lieutenant (1963)

the lieutenant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television

The Lieutenant was Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek “trial run” in many aspects. The Lieutenant centers on the members of the Corps in peacetime against a backdrop of the Cold War and is set in Camp Pendleton in Southern California, the U.S. Marine Corps West Coast outpost. Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice, a rifle platoon leader and one of Camp Pendleton’s training instructors, is the protagonist of the story.

The Lieutenant is an hour-long drama that examines both officers’ and enlisted Marines’ daily lives. “To Make It Right” was a particularly remarkable episode of The Lieutenant with Don Marshall and Dennis Hopper about racial discrimination. Nichelle Nichols (who would later play Uhura in Star Trek) guest-starred in it, but the network was unwilling to air it or even pay for the production. Roddenberry’s dissatisfaction with this episode’s release prompted him to cover up relevant issues in Star Trek by using metaphors from science fiction.

2 The Twilight Zone (1959)

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone probably had some influence on almost every sci-fi entertainment that is now available. The original series by Rod Serling was so much more than merely a science fiction drama; its influence on culture cannot be overstated. Films, video games, comic novels, stage shows, and a Disney theme park attraction have all been inspired by the 156-episode indie series. One of The Twilight Zone’s major impacts is on Black Mirror, which used a similar anthology style to explore terrifying tales of technology gone bad.

The Twilight Zone still has an influence on the entertainment industry today, as there are plans for more films and a third revival series is already airing. The unexpectedly profound insight it provided into the future, much of which we may look back on as a warning, is possibly its greatest gift.

1 I Love Lucy (1951)

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy was among the first television programs to have a woman lead when it initially aired. It continues to be regarded as one of the best television shows of all time and broke several barriers over its six-season run. Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley all appeared in the program. The show centered on the life of Lucy Ricardo (Ball), a young housewife from a middle-class neighborhood in New York City who frequently devised schemes with her closest friends and landlords, Ethel and Fred Mertz (Vance and Frawley), to appear with her bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz), in his nightclub. Lucy is shown attempting a variety of strategies to mix with and become a member of the entertainment industry.

Among its numerous accomplishments, I Love Lucy was the first scripted show to use three cameras instead of the typical one to shoot in front of a live studio audience. It included a multi-ethnic romantic connection, which at the time was obviously contentious. The way Lucille Ball’s real-life pregnancy was portrayed in the program, which was scripted into it and designed to almost closely mirror the actress’s experience, was another unique feature. This was carried out at a time when it was even forbidden to use the word “pregnant” on television. The way women were portrayed in television, both on-screen and off-screen, was greatly altered by Lucille Ball, paving the way for future women to be directors, producers, and more.

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