In this YouTube age, a time when I can find any episode of Peyton Place or Herman’s Head with a few simple clicks, it’s hard to tell what kinds of old TV shows I genuinely miss and which I just like to revisit for kitsch value. Every year I feel like I’m slipping away from regular TV viewing and losing myself more and more in ancient YouTube footage, which is both edifying and horrifying. I think it’s time that TV programmers start minding my departure and adjust TV schedules to accommodate more of the stuff I miss.
Thus, I’m counting down five old — and perhaps outdated — genres of television series that I still miss. I’d personally love if some wild TVLand exec could exhume them promptly. Let’s begin.
1. Variety specials
Every Thanksgiving someone like Carrie Underwood will land a primetime special and sing a few standards, but I’m craving the deeply saccharine variety specials of yore. I wasn’t alive in the ’70s, but just knowing that the Carpenters, the McNichol siblings, John Davidson, and Olivia Newton-John pretty much all shared the same stage on national TV is enough to make me draw up a petition for a 2012 update. You have to give Rosie O’Donnell credit for trying her hand at the genre, but I require the kind of talent that commits to weepy balladry. Hit me with an Adele/Dionne Warwick/Gladys Knight/Leona Lewis special with comic interludes from Neil Patrick Harris.
2. Panel game shows
Unless you haven’t picked up on my righteous game show zealotry yet, it shouldn’t surprise you that this topic hits close to home for me. When Game Show Network revived the old ’50s panel game I’ve Got a Secret with an all-gay panel about a decade ago, I had an epiphany: Gays love games, and they’re usually pretty great when assembled together to play them. Whether we’re talking about Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares, Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game, or any of the visiting homosexuals on the What’s My Line panel (Robert Q. Lewis, anyone?), the gays on panel game shows combine smart repartee and shrewed game-playing. The new Hip-Hop Squares on MTV is a modern-day offshoot of Hollywood Squares, though it’s decidedly not gay. Sigh.
3. Dance music hours
Reserve an hour to watch an old episode of Soul Train. Go ahead and find an episode featuring one of your favorites, whether it’s Aretha Franklin rousing a room of bopping kids with “Rock Steady” or Brass Construction sending chills through Don Cornelius’ spine with “Movin’.” It won’t take you long to realize there’s an umistakable energy in a crowd that digs good music and respects the artists who created it. Given that the music industry is a fragmented, money-bleeding spectre of what it once was, perhaps it’s time to reinstate the formalized TV hullabaloos that brought live performance (or lip-synced in many cases, which is perfectly acceptable), uninhibited dancing, and a sense of camaraderie with the performing artist. Nowadays we have to wait until the Grammys or a Dancing with the Stars results show for such a stage spectacle. Call up Marilyn McCoo and hook us with Solid Gold again, someone!
4. Multicamera Workplace Comedies
The conventions of a multicamera sitcom can be nauseating. (See: Two and a Half Men.) But when a multicamera show embraces its hokey trappings and allows its characters to flourish within its strict storytelling methods, then the old-hat template is fun again. (See: Hot in Cleveland.) Workplace-set multicam sitcoms are most desirable because we’re usually spared the boring Mom/Dad/brother/sister dramas in place of honest, adult interactions. Anyone else miss Newsradio? Guy Branum and I concur here. I’ll even stick my neck out for Working with Fred Savage. Not joking.
5. The epic, scripted guest-star vehicles
Let me throw down a few important titles: The Love Boat. Fantasy Island. Hotel. You know what these shows gave us? Guest stars. Tons and tons of guest stars. On Fantasy Island alone, we were marooned with everyone from Don Knotts to Apollonia Kotero. On Hotel, we checked in with everyone from Didi Conn to River Phoenix. It’s so glamorously, eye-poppingly nutty that you can’t look away — even if you can’t handle the absurdity. And by the way? I hope the world isn’t too cool for Fantasy Island now, because the concept of having a fantasy, exploring it, and learning a moral is too funny to forget.
Now your turn: Which age-old genre deserves a reboot? Did I miss any?