Last week I invited you to join me in a bit of fantasy, imagining what the movie blockbusters of 1982 would look like if they were made in 2012, with the casts and crews of today’s biggest cinema releases. There are quite a few more fun amalgamations that could be attempted down that line of wondering, but I thought it would be equally beneficial to take a gander at the most popular television shows of 1982 compared to today’s. According to TV by the Numbers, our collective pop culture tastes haven’t changed all that much in the intervening 30 years, though there the the onslaught of reality show programming has clearly taken it’s toll. (Go here for a similar Top TV list for 1982-1983 if you’re bored by modern website design.) Actually, based on the 2011-2012 Nielsen Ratings, our most popular television programs have generally changed less in content than that of our preference for movies set in realistic fantasy lands in favor of the earthbound realism from past films.
Take a look:
1982-1983 Ratings 1. “Dallas”, CBS, 28.4 million viewers 2. “60 Minutes”, CBS, 27.4 million viewers 3. “Three’s Company”, ABC, 23.7 million viewers 4. CBS NFL Football Post 2, CBS, 23.7 million viewers 5. “The Jefferson’s”, CBS, 23.4 million viewers 6. “Joannie Loves Chachi”, ABC, 23.3 million viewers 7. “Dukes of Hazzard”, CBS, 22.8 million viewers 8. “Alice”, CBS, 22.7 million viewers 9. ABC Monday Night Movie, ABC, 22.6 million viewers 10. “Too Close For Comfort”, ABC, 22.6 million viewers
1. Sunday Night Football, NBC, 20.74 million viewers 2. “American Idol” Performance Shows, Fox, 19.81 million viewers 3. “NCIS”, CBS, 19.49 million viewers 4. “American Idol” Results Shows, Fox, 18.33 million viewers 5. “Dancing with the Stars” Performance Shows, ABC, 18.24 million viewers 6. “Dancing with the Stars” Results Shows, ABC, 16.08 million viewers 7. “NCIS: Los Angeles”, CBS, 16.01 million viewers 8. “The Big Bang Theory”, NBC CBS, 15.82 million viewers 9. “The Voice”, CBS, 15.77 million viewers 10. “Two and a Half Men”, CBS, 14.64 million viewers
In terms of fictional programming, 1982 also had “Simon & Simon,” “Magnum P.I.,” “The Love Boat,” “The A-Team,” and the start of a little show named “Cheers.” Meanwhile, 2012 can also claim “Modern Family,” “2 Broke Girls,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and, mercifully, “New Girl” as hits. Other than the overall decrease in millions of viewers, the biggest differences are that football has moved from the third spot to the top slot and we no longer watch the news in droves. Make of that what you will, but it would definitely be much harder, based on these lists, to call 1982 or 2012 the best years in TV ever than it was for the movies. To say the U.S. doesn’t still prefer fluff over substance, because we’re relatively lousy with some great TV shows (that nobody else watches), would just be obtuse. That said, because we do have some of the most interesting television series yet currently on the air, I wonder what some of that fluffy history would look like if they were made by today’s more substantial artists.
So, don’t turn that dial…!
“The Love Boat” meets “The Newsroom”
Created by Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jeff Daniels as Captain Stubing, Emily Mortimer as Emily Stubing, Alison Pill as Vicki Stubing, Sam Waterston as Doc Bricker, Dev Patel as Isaac the Bartender, John Gallagher Jr. as Gopher, Olivia Munn as Julie the Cruise Director, and Thomas Sadoski as Ship’s Photographer “Ace”
In this fantasy world, Aaron Sorkin has dispensed with all pretense and written the TV show he’s always wanted to, in his heart of hearts, “The Love Boat.” As audiences in this universe, we’ve seen Sorkin’s youthful, idealistic cyphers fall in and out love with each other — when they aren’t delivering speeches that even Joe Biden would consider gauche — in job settings of varying degrees of national import from television studios to The White House. Here, the writer succumbs to his populist nature by crafting a romantic ensemble comedy about the crew of a Princess Cruise Liner as they jump into each other’s beds and bring their guests a memorable — and sexy! — time of their lives. His most recent cast fits right in, with Jeff Daniels as the romantically challenged ship’s captain, Emily Mortimer as his still hopelessly in love ex-wife, and Alison Pill as his neurotic and romantic daughter. This lead trio is supported by the wisdom spouting ship’s doctor, Sam Waterston, and the dating-advice-dispensing bartender, Dev Patel; with John Gallagher Jr. in the role that he was born to play: the bumbling and well-meaning Gopher. Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski co-star as two more people with dialogue and storylines no one really cares about but is used for filler and/or drama as needed.
“Cheers” meets “Parks and Recreation”
Created by Greg Daniels and Mike Schur
Cast: Amy Poehler as Diane Chambers, Adam Scott as Sam Malone, Aubrey Plaza as Carla Tortelli, Chris Pratt as Woody Boyd, Nick Offerman as Cliff Clavin, Retta as Norma Peterson, Aziz Ansari as Dr. Frasier Crane, Rashida Jones as Lilith Crane, Rob Lowe as Robin Colcord, and Jim O’Heir as Coach
With “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” producers Greg Daniels and Mike Schur have proven that choice of locale with their sitcoms doesn’t matter nearly as much as the characters that populate it, or the actors who bring those roles to life. Though, assuredly, their portrayal of the existential crises that come from working at a paper company in an increasingly digital world, and the dedication and compassion necessary for public service thanks to our increasingly divisive politics, had just as much to do with those shows’ brilliance as the working class watering hole, an oasis in a depressingly lagging economy, would have on the success of their version of “Cheers.” Surprisingly or not, the government employees of Pawnee, Indiana turn into the barflies, and those who serve them, of Boston, Massachusetts so easily: Amy Poehler and Adam Scott co-lead, respectably, as bar manager Diane and bar owner Sam, in the most adorable will-they-won’t-they relationship on TV; Rob Lowe’s indelible positivity proves a charming foil as Diane’s on-again/off-again crazily rich boyfriend; Aubrey Plaza transforms Carla, the acid tongued, single mom waitress into a younger version of same, and Chris Pratt continues to perfect his loveable idiot as Woody the bartender; Nick Offerman’s mailman may be hyper masculine, but he still lives in his own bizarre world and leads with his ‘stache; Retta’s gender-swapped Norma can happily drink anyone under the table; and Jim O’Heir’s Coach will never not be the butt of all the jokes. Admittedly, Aziz Ansari as Frasier takes a bit getting used to, but by the time he gets his own spin-off, we’d all wish his podcast were really real. Rashida Jones as Lilith is a no-brainer.
“Three’s Company” meets “Fringe”
Created by J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joshua Jackson (RIP) as Jack Tripper, Anna Torv as Christine Snow, Jasika Nicole as Janet Wood, John Noble as Mr. Roper, Blair Brown as Mrs. Roper, Lance Reddick as Ralph Furley, Kirk Acevedo as Larry Dallas, with Anna Torv as Faux Snow I, and Anna Torv as Faux Snow II
J.J. Abrams projects always bring the funny to some extent, but they’re mostly known their super science fiction or grounded character drama. Sometimes both. But in this universe, very much like what might be the case in the alternate reality on “Fringe,” Abrams is known for situation comedies that have a touch of the fantastic and super natural. In that vein, he creates “Three’s Company” about one man, Pacey’s Jack Tripper, hiding the truth behind his identity — being from a parallel dimension at war with our own — from his extremely nosy landlords, John Noble and Blair Brown as the Ropers, with the help of his two roommates, Anna Torv’s Christine and Jasika Nicole’s Janet, and the best friend of this dimension’s Tripper, Kirk Acevedo’s Larry the handy man. Eventually, Christine is replaced for a few seasons by her alternate identity, Christy, who is then replaced in the second-to-last season by an accidentally discovered third reality version, Chris. In the very final season, J.J. Abrams returns to the showrunner chair and spices things up by having Torv play triple duty as all three iterations of her character. The move is either hailed as pure artistic genius by some or criticized as a laughably useless extended pun on the show’s title by most. “Three’s Company” is then cancelled, but proceeds to win every Emmy the following year. Because, hey, no matter which universe you’re from, that’s show biz, right?
Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He tried really hard to get “Community” into a 1982 format, but it was surprisingly impossible to get right.