With the upcoming Fall TV season ready to roll out, the jury remains sequestered on whether new, highly touted shows such as Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Trophy Wife,” NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” and its “Ironside” reboot with Blair Underwood, CBS’ “Hostages,” HBO’s “Hello Ladies,” Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” or even DIY’s “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” will turn out to be long-running classics or mere road kill.
In this thousand-channel on-demand universe, though, one thing is clear. You have to grab viewers right out of the box with something compelling—and given the sequential narrative sprawl of today’s TV dramas, it’s important to hook them at once with that all-important add to DVR lists.
These series might well take a cue from some classic TV series of the past, all featured on Xfinitytv.com’s Streampix site, where not only can you see the premieres, but you can follow each show through to its conclusion. Here are six of the more historic debuts in television history.
“Lost” (ABC): When J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Jeffrey Lieber’s scf-fi/thriller/adventure series debuted on Sept. 22. 2004, viewers were astounded at the big-budget values and sheer scope of the show, closer to a motion picture than anything seen to that point on network TV. The show began with the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, apparently flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, when it encountered mysterious turbulence, shattered in mid-air and crash-landed on what seemed to be a deserted South Pacific tropical island, leaving 48 survivors to fend for themselves. The opening episode set the dynamic as Matthew Fox’s surgeon Jack, Evangeline Lilly’s fugitive Kate and Dominic Monaghan’s drug addict rock star Charlie gauge the wreckage. From there, “Lost” turned into a combination of “Robinson Crusoe” and “2001,” the island itself serving as some metaphor for purgatory, with all the characters’ back stories eventually woven in before the question arose whether the show’s creators had any kind of plan, or were just winging it as they went along. The show lasted for six seasons, ending with a finale on May 23, 2010 that left most viewers just as confused as they were at the start. [Watch here]
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“Desperate Housewives”(CBS): Marc Cherry’s tongue-in-cheek soap opera comedy/dramedy offered something completely unique to network TV when it premiered on Oct. 3, 2004 on Sunday nights. With its trademarked Mary Alice voiceover from beyond the grave, a character whose suicide provided its central narrative history, “Housewives” was at once a satire of the suburbia it celebrated, taking the traditional ‘80s “Dallas”/”Falcon Crest”/”Dynasty” dramas to their illogical conclusion with a delightful campy absurdity (some compared its deadpan quality to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”), perfectly delivered by its game, stalwart Fab Four, who all became stars in their own right—Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria. The first episode set the tone, drawing a remarkable 21.6 million viewers as it set the table for a durable formula, with Hatcher’s Susan and Nicolette Sheridan’s Edie battling over the neighborhood’s newest resident, eligible (but mysterious) plumber Mike Delfino, as Susan accidentally burns down Edie’s house trying to discover whether they’ve hooked up. Longoria’s Gabrielle is having a steamy affair with her teenage gardener after being neglected by her husband Carlos, while Cross’ Bree watches her husband collapse from an allergic reaction after asking her for a divorce. The show lasted for eight seasons, ending in May 13, 2012. [Watch here]
“30 Rock” (NBC): Entering the 2006-2007 season, Tina Fey’s multi-Emmy-winning satire about a fictional “SNL”-style comedy series, called “TGS” (“The Girlie Show”), which starred her ex-“SNL” colleague Tracy Morgan and “Ally McBeal”’s Jane Krakowski, wasn’t even supposed to outlast its competition, Aaron Sorkin’s similarly themed “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Fey’s madcap show, though, turned into a critical favorite, if not an overwhelming commercial success, lasting seven seasons until its final episode last January 31. The very first show set up the winning dynamic between Fey’s bleeding heart head writer Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin’s Type-A Republican network boss (and GE lacky) Jack Donaghy, who forces her to accept Morgan’s movie star character Tracy Jordan as part of the cast. Like “Seinfeld,” it took audiences a little while to warm to “30 Rock,” but it eventually found its own niche among those who could appreciate its rat-a-tat-tat screwball dialogue and dizzying stream of pop cultural references. [Watch here]
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“Saturday Night Live” (NBC): When Lorne Michaels’ late-night comedy series first aired Oct. 11, 1975 as “NBC’s Saturday Night,” who knew the phrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night,” would still be echoing some 38 years later when it starts its 39th season with six new cast members. The very first show featured George Carlin as guest host and opened with a John Belushi bit as a foreigner being taught English by staff writer Michael O’Donaghue before Chevy Chase bellowed the by-now famous intro. Other notable highlights: Andy Kaufman’s famed performance of the “Mighty Mouse” theme playing on his portable Victrola; the Albert Brooks short movie, “The Impossible Truth”; Dan Aykroyd’s “Trojan Horse Home Security” sketch, the first appearance of “The Killer Bees” and musical performances by Janis Ian and Billy Preston. Could anyone have predicted on that evening a cultural milestone was being launched? [Watch here]
“Leave it to Beaver” (CBS/ABC): If you were a baby boomer coming of age in the ‘50s and ‘60s, this archetypal family sitcom, which ran for six, full 39-episode seasons starting on CBS, Oct. 4, 1957, switching to ABC the following year and concluding June 20, 1963, set the standard for all future family sitcoms, illustrating the white middle-class flight to the suburbs, with its picket fence,kindly parents (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley) and bickering, but loving, brothers (Tony Dow’s Wally and Jerry Mathers as “The Beav”). Along the way, we met such indelible characters as Ken Osmond’s delightfully two-faced Eddie Haskell, Rusty Stevens’ Larry Mondello, Frank Banks‘ Lumpy and Stanley Fafara’s Whitey. The very first episode, “Beaver Gets ‘Spelled” (after it debuted months before as a pilot) was originally scheduled to be third, but the first, “Captain Jack,” was delayed a week because a network censor objected to its depiction of a toilet tank. When Beaver receives a note to take home from his second-grade teacher Miss Canfield, his classmates convince him it means he’s getting kicked out of school, so he conveniently leaves it under his desk, before losing it on his way home. Turns out the note is a request Beaver play Smokey the Bear in the school pageant, while a subsequent missive to the teacher penned by Wally results in plenty of unnecessary confusion. By the end, when all is forgiven, Mathers has instructed Miss Canfield to call him “Beaver” rather than his given name “Theodore,” and offers her his most prized possession, a rubber shrunken head. [Watch here]
“Felicity” (The WB): This groundbreaking series, co-created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves for Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, ran on The WB for four seasons from 1998-2002, and set the standard for smart, female-centric shows while establishing its fledgling network as a player in the prime-time sweepstakes. Keri Russell plays the title character, a plucky college freshman who changes her mind in the show’s pilot to attend Stanford as a pre-med student and decides to follow a high school crush, Scott Speedman’s Ben Covington, on a whim, enrolling at NYU, where her overbearing parents show up, concerned about her rash decision. Russell proves a willful teenager, and gets involved in a romantic triangle with Scott Foley’s Noel Crane, Felicity’s resident advisor who harbors his own romantic aspirations. Other cast members include Amy Jo Johnson as an aspiring singer-songwriter/guitarist and one of Felicity’s best friends; Amanda Foreman as her weird, wiccan goth roommate and Ian Gomez as her kindly, gay manager at Dean & DeLuca, where she works with Ben. A cult favorite, “Felicity” was named to “Time” magazine’s list of “100 Best TV Shows of All-Time,” while “Entertainment Weekly” called Felicity Porter one of the “100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.” [Watch here]