Television used to be so … uncomplicated.
You knew that the TV season ran from September to May, and the summer months were a barren wasteland, and you could spend that time doing “summer” things, such as surviving piranha and shark attacks, attending summer camp near crystal lakes, finding a dead body near the train tracks that would lead you and you buds to learn life lessons about friendship, and oh, oh, those summer nights!
Occasionally (as you’ll see), the networks would throw something new up during the summer that would catch the eye, but it’s only been during the last decade or so that networks such as HBO, Bravo, and Syfy have discovered that there’s actually a huge audience for fresh programming during the months of June, July, and August.
Check out these memorable shows, all of which debuted in the months when it was still fashionably legal to wear white.
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy
Debuting on Bravo on July 15, 2003, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy became an instant phenomenon, and caused endless debate about whether it was perpetuating stereotypes or raising gay visibility, or both.
The show lost its novelty after the first season, and eventually jumped the shark when it started branching out from its intended mission (helping lovably schlubby straight guys) and tried to “make-better” guys who didn’t really need it (remember the hot professional ice-skater)?
Still, the show did have a huge effect on pop culture, and even earned the ultimate tribute – a South Park parody.
Debuting on HBO on June 2, 2002, The Wire is, simply, one of the most underrated series of all time. It garnered enormous critical acclaim, but received only two Emmy nominations (both for writing) and struggled in the ratings, coming close to cancellation numerous times.
If there’s one thing that Syfy knows (besides how to make fabulously cheesy TV movies), it’s how to make fun and entertaining genre series. Warehouse 13 debuted on July 7, 2009, and became one of the highest rated shows in the channel’s history.
Best of all, it features the natural wonders of Eddie McClintock, who’s frequently seen shirtless for no good reason (but then, any reason is a good reason).
America’s Next Top Model
Premiering on UPN on May 20th, 2003, America’s Next Top Model has given us the endearingly unhinged Tyra Banks, as well as a a cornucopia of colorful characters, including, but not limited to, heavily-swathed Vogue editor André Leon Talley, and models Twiggy, Janice “I’m the first supermodel!” Dickinson and Paulina “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight” Porizkova.
The many cycles of the show have given us great drama, but to my knowledge, no actual “America’s Top Model.”
Six Feet Under
Debuting on HBO on June 3, 2001, Six Feet Under brought us the adventures of the Fisher family, who would give us five seasons of comedy, drama, and quirky death scenes.
Best of all, it introduced us to David Fisher, one of the most complicated and interesting gay characters we’ve ever seen, and his relationship with gay cop Keith Charles, which remains a high waterrmark for gay relationships on TV.
Debuting on AMC on July 19, 2007, Mad Men gave us an insider’s view of a 1960’s ad agency and dealt with the changing mores of that turbulent time.
It also gave us another complex gay character in Sal, a married, closeted art director who is fired for not allowing himself to be seduced by a wealthy client. Hopefully those changing mores will allow Sal to come back for the new season (whenever that is).
Boy Meets Boy
Hey, “memorable” doesn’t have to mean “tasteful,” it can also mean “tacky and embarrassing.” Boy Meets Boy debuted on Bravo on July 29, 2003, and was a gay version of all of those reality dating shows.
It was fun at first, with blank-slate bachelor James being courted by a bevy of hot guys, as BFF Andra helped him decide who should stay and who should go.
Then things took a turn for the “memorable” when it was revealed that some of the guys he had to choose from were straight, and he had to try and weed out the fakers.
Drama ensued, as well as screams and tears, courtesy of Andra. But didn’t we all wish we could have our own personal Andra?
In the end, James chose wisely (although he and the winner never really pursued a relationship), and lessons were learned … allegedly.
Sex & The City
Debuting on HBO on June 6, 1998, Sex & The City became the cable giant’s first across-the-board mainstream smash, and the show would enter and forever stay in the pop culture consciousness.
Years after the end of the run of show, A theatrical film did boffo box office, followed by a second film that … was also released.
Debuting on Syfy on July 18, 2006, Eureka proved to be another fun winner from Syfy, and just perfect for summer viewing.
And the occasional flesh is the icing on the beefcake.
Debuting on CBS on May 31, 2000, Survivor was a gamechanger, and ushered in a decade of reality competition programming.
Out Richard Hatch became the first winner by playing the villain card, a tactic employed on every subsequent edition. Of course, he remains the only one to play the naked villain card.
Debuting on f/x on July 23, 2003, Nip/Tuck was a stylish and sexy guilty pleasure … for a while.
Eventually, it went completely off the rails, becoming more preposterous until not even the most gifted plastic surgeons could put this grotesque Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Debuting on HBO on July 12, 1997, Oz was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by the premium cable network, and it ushered in a new era of frank subject matter on pay TV.
Oz was shocking, not only for its extreme violence and copious amounts of nudity, but for its no-holds-barred look at same-sex relationships in prison.
There had never been a show like it, and its still a milestone in how far the envelope can be pushed.
Debuting on Fox on June 1, 2001, no one realized how American Idol would change the TV landscape.
As of June 2011, it is the most-watched TV series in the Nielsen ratings and is the only program to have been number one for seven consecutive seasons, surpassing All in the Family and The Cosby Show, which were both number one for five consecutive seasons.
Impressive numbers for a show that was thrown on the schedule as a summer replacement series. And the first season did lead to a certified cinema classic.
Debuting on Showtime on August 8, 2005, Weeds became a breakout hit for the HBO rival.
Unfortunately, Weeds has experienced wildly varying levels of quality over the years, and is a shadow of the smart and entertaining pot soap opera it once was.
But thanks for the hot guys!
Debuting on NBC on May 31, 1990, Seinfeld (along with American Idol) is probably the epitome of how successful a summer replacement series can become.
TV Guide named it the greatest TV program of all time, and while that may be a ridiculous assertion, there’s no denying the impact the show had on the zeitgeist.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of other well-known shows that debuted in the so-called “off-season.”
For instance, Dark Shadows and The Prisoner both debuted during the summer months in the 60’s
The summers of the 90’s saw classic shows Northern Exposure and Melrose Place debut, as well as a personal favorite of mine, USA’s Swamp Thing.
And there are plenty more recent shows that got off to hot starts during summer, including The Closer, Entourage, The Lair, and Burn Notice.
So what’s your favorite summer debut? What show would you choose over a day by the pool, or that summer beach party?