It’s purely a subjective exercise since everybody’s tastes are different. Plus, you’ll please forgive us if we simply don’t remember every great show Fox aired over the last 25-plus years.
And since we’ve decided, in the interest of brevity and readability, to limit this list to only 10 shows, you can expect some shows to be missing — shows you are free to include on your own lists.
Having said all that, we acknowledge that the impact Fox has had on the TV business since its launch as TV’s fourth network in October 1986 is not something you can quantify in a list of 10 TV shows. We’re sure Fox will do a much more comprehensive job of it when it celebrates its own anniversary Sunday night (April 22) with its own two-hour special, titled simply, “Fox’s 25th Anniversary Special” (8/7c on Fox).
As an added bonus that evening, Fox will air the very first episode of “Married With Children” (at 7/6c) from 1986, followed by the recent 500th episode of “The Simpsons” at 7:30/6:30c. One of those shows is on our own list; one of them is not. To find out which is which, please read on.
Here are our 10 favorite Fox shows (in no particular order, at least until you get to Nos. 1 and 2):
No. 10: “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire”: TV Guide includes this notorious special from 2000 in its list of the worst 50 TV shows of all time. And that’s understandable, based on its crassness alone. But this show was simply too important a milestone in the history of TV to consign it to a “worst shows” junkheap.
Remember this one? This is the show that introduced the world to a bachelor named Rick Rockwell, who met and married Darva Conger on the show — after which the marriage was annulled in a matter of days and these two spent the next couple of years hammering each other in the media.
Not only was this spectacle hugely entertaining, but it begat all the dating and relationship shows that followed, including, on Fox, “Joe Millionaire,” “Temptation Island” and a slew of others, plus the “Bachelor” shows on ABC.
No. 9: “When Animals Attack”: Remember these wild video clip shows Fox used to air? They aired primarily on Thursday nights in the era when NBC was so dominant on that evening that the other networks didn’t even try to compete with the Peacock. So Fox had tons of these things, of which “When Animals Attack” was just one. Crass and cheap to produce, these shows were nevertheless the pioneers for all the video-clip shows that followed and are still seen today on Spike, TruTV and elsewhere.
No. 8: “Melrose Place”: Maybe you’ve forgotten shows such as “Joe Millionaire,” but back in the day, “Joe Millionaire” had the whole nation talking the next morning. The same could be said of Fox’s pioneering work in prime-time soaps, with shows such as “Melrose Place.” This show was so popular that even the characters in “Seinfeld” were obsessed with it.
Basically, Fox took the prime-time soap formula that had made “Dallas” and “Dynasty” such huge hits on CBS and ABC, respectively, and produced similar shows with younger characters for younger viewers — with the help of Aaron Spelling, of course. We’re honoring “Melrose Place” here, but we really mean to celebrate all of Fox’s great soaps — from “Beverly Hills 90210” to “The O.C.”
No. 7: “Martin”: Why include this Martin Lawrence sitcom on this list? Because “Martin” did what so many Fox shows did throughout the network’s history — mainly, launch its star into the stratosphere. From Johnny Depp on “21 Jump Street” and Queen Latifah on “Living Single” to most of the cast members of “In Living Color” (including dancer Jennifer Lopez), Fox has long been the jumping-off point for future mega-stars. And we happen to love the outrageous comedy of “Martin,” which we still watch in repeats.
No. 6: “In Living Color”: What can you say about a show that featured the Wayans brothers and Jim Carrey? Well, the least we can do is include this historic sketch-comedy show on our list. We have too many fond memories of “In Living Color” to exclude it. Plus, we count characters such as Homey the Clown (Damon Wayans), Men on Film (Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier) and Fire Marshall Bill (Carrey) as some of our favorite TV characters of all time, period.
No. 5: “Arrested Development”: This ridiculous comedy series occupies a planet all its own in the pantheon of TV sitcoms. “Arrested Development” was the wholly absurd story of the Bluth family, led by patriarch Jeffrey Tambor and matriarch Jessica Walter, and just barely held together by son Jason Bateman. This now all-star cast included Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Portia De Rossi and Will Arnett. This was the kind of show that made us scratch our heads over how on earth this exercise in open-ended surrealist comedy ever got produced — but we never stopped laughing.
No. 4: “King of the Hill”: This long-running animated series about the residents of a middle-American neighborhood in a fictional Texas town called Arlen evolved into one of the most timely and accurate portraits of contemporary American life that has ever been produced for television. That might sound like a lot to put on a cartoon show, but there it is. For us, “King of the Hill” was much more than a cartoon — it was a work of art. With great affection, we will never forget Hank and Peggy Hill, son Bobby, niece Luanne (voiced by the late Brittany Murphy), paranoid exterminator Dale Gribble, Bill Dauterive, Boomhauer and all the rest. Yes, for us, this show was a masterpiece.
No. 3: “24”: We can’t remember any other TV show — or theatrical action film, for that matter — that ever had us so far out on the edge of our seats and chewing our fingernails as much as this now-legendary Kiefer Sutherland suspense series. At its height, “24” was the scariest, most nerve-wracking and exciting series ever seen on TV — a coronary-inducing thrill ride. It was something else too — a very timely series that pulled no punches, and captured the fear we all felt in a post-9/11 world.
No. 2: “American Idol”: We can’t even admit to watching “American Idol” religiously for all of its 11 seasons, but this show’s impact on TV in particular and popular culture in general cannot even be measured. It not only spawned virtually every reality-competition show that has aired since — from music to fashion to cooking (and everything else) — but all told, it has made billions of dollars for its creators, its stars, its network and its performers (at least most of them). In a way, “American Idol” saved network TV, proving that it’s possible to produce a TV show, in the age of media fragmentation, that will attract viewers of every age group in the tens of millions. As TV fans, we cannot thank “American Idol” enough.
No. 1: “The Simpsons”: Take portions of the praise we wrote for the previous nine shows and apply them all to “The Simpsons.” As a running commentary on American life for about a quarter century, few works of popular art or entertainment (if any) can equal this show’s contribution to our understanding of that era. That achievement would be enough to qualify “The Simpsons” for this No. 1 position, but then you have to take into account this show’s extremely high standards of quality, continuity and creativity. And after you do that — thinking back to all the indelible characters and guest voices — you might even conclude that “The Simpsons” was the finest TV show ever produced anywhere, for any network, in any era.
“Fox’s 25th Anniversary Special” airs Sunday night at 8/7c.