In today’s world, people have the luxury of watching pretty much whatever they want, as soon as they want, and as often as they want. They also have the ability to pause and rewind and re-watch specific moments frame-by-frame. In the 1990s, cable television had just been born and was starting to create competition for the Big Three Networks, giving people more flexibility in what they wanted to see. There are shows that began in the 1990s that either live on through syndication or are still in production.
The Simpsons is arguably the longest-running scripted primetime television series around. It began as a series of animated shorts that appeared between skits on the Tracey Ullman Show. It gained a large following very quickly and took off on its own. Over 700 episodes later, it still shows no sign of slowing down to this day.
The comedy series Friends has amassed a cult-like following that has very few contenders. Everyone found a character they could relate to, and the audience found a home in the characters’ shared triumphs and failures. It worked for multiple demographics and age groups and it ran successfully for a decade.
The creators of Seinfeld were very proud of the fact that it was a show about nothing. It was based around the life of New York comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his group of friends, and the show gave us weekly glimpses into their lives, relying on quick-witted, observational humor. One of the reasons it lives on in syndication is its ability to laugh at itself in retrospect by mocking its own outdated technology, fashion, and verbiage.
Fans of the supernatural and conspiracy theorists alike were happy to flock to the X-Files, a show that made it acceptable to discuss theories about government secrets and alien abductions and otherworldly forces living among us. By casting the main protagonist as a skeptic, and pairing her with a hard-core believer, there was something for everyone, even those who were in a pendulous state between the two. The romantic undertones were another reason for people to tune in, as we all waited for the inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they trope.
Cheers was an interesting show, not only because it itself had a massive fanbase, but because it spawned Fraiser, another massively popular show in its own right. Seeing the regulars come into the bar each week on Cheers was like visiting with old friends. The theme song “where everybody knows your name” and the warm, inviting style of the opening credits lent itself perfectly to how it feels when you are warmly greeted by people you know and love.