I now have cable. But even with a gazillion choices, there's still so very little on TV that I care to watch. Even "Big Bang Theory" is getting predictable - in the allotted half hour with so few narrowly defined characters, the story lines are getting repetitive and predictable.
It seems like not so very long ago, there were great shows on. I miss them. "Great" seems to be missing these days.
How many of these do you remember?
"Upstairs Downstairs" (British, PBS, 68 episodes, 1971 to 1975) - Man, that was great! Even in rerun it was spellbinding.
"Northern Exposure" (CBS, 110 episodes, from 1990 to 1995) - The characters were all characters, and the writing was amazing. Threaded through the wackiness was deep philosophy and respect. If you'd never seen it, I pity you. (Lots of clips on YouTube, but no few clips will give the whole picture.)
"Ballykissangel" (BBC, 1996-2001, later on PBS in the US) - A rural Irish village. We meet the people, and follow their intertwined lives. Some of the storylines were slow in unfolding, some were tight. One of the things that impressed me was the way one, two, or three episodes would be devoted to a particular story, and things didn't ever get tied up neatly at the end of the episode. It was like life. It was life. (This is where I learned how to pronounce the name "Siobhan". It's like "Shivon".)
"Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) - I adored Dharma and her parents, and their "why not" attitude toward everything natural.
"James at 15 (and at 16)" (NBC, 1977-1978) - You know, I remember nothing about this show except the kid's face, and that I loved it (the show, not the face). It was very realistic.
"My Name Is Earl" (NBC, 2005-2009) - I discovered this show only recently, but I'm including it here because they aren't making episodes any more. I didn't watch it when it was on because I thought it was just another show full of redneck jokes, but I caught a few late-night reruns, got hooked, and bought the entire set of DVDs. Again, I love the characters, especially Joy (I'm so glad I don't know her, but I love her from afar, and the actress playing Joy deserves an Oscar, so what if it's just TV), Darnell (his backstory comes out in bits and pieces, and it's fascinating), and Patty the Daytime Hooker. The quality of individual episodes varied; the best usually featured Joy. If you watched it and didn't love it, try again, you just caught a blah one.
"Ally McBeal" (FOX, 1997-2002) - Again, an interesting cast of characters (I'm noticing a pattern here). The setting was a law firm, but law was not the main preoccupation of the scripts. The people were. I especially loved John Cage, poor guy. And smarmy Fish's fascination with wattles. I was never all that appreciative of Ally herself, though. This was the show with the dancing baby, and Barry White, and John's frog in the firm's unisex bathroom.
"The Wonder Years" (ABC, 1988-1993) - I don't remember anything about this show except Kevin and Winnie. That, and the fact that I loved it and cried when the characters grew up and out of the show, but that was the best thing about the show, really - the characters grew up, and the storyline with them!
"Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-2008) - I had never cared for William Shatner, ever. Never. Nohow. But Shatner as Denny Crane was perfection! His relationship with James Spader's character Alan Shore was amazing --- which was good, because the producers kept switching people in and out, nobody seemed to last very long. The writers had fun. In one episode, Denny, who had been increasingly showing signs of dementia, has won an especially significant court victory, and as he's walking down the hall surrounded by reporters (accepting acclaim being his favorite activity), he says, "You know, I was once the captain of my own starship."
"Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (syndication, 1976-1977) - Take a typical soap opera, remove it from mansions and penthouses, plunk it into trailers and apartments partitioned from run-down houses, and trade cocktails for beer. That was Mary Hartman's life. You either hated the show or loved it. But you sure did recognize the people and the situations. I loved it, of course.
"thirtysomething" (ABC, 1987-1991) - Oddly, I remember absolutely nothing about this show, except that at the time it resonated strongly with me.
"Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990) - the show with the famous line, "Hi. I'm Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl." Dick Newhart was not really the star of this show. The oddball characters surrounding him and his inn were.
"Fame" (NBC, syndication, 1982-1987) - The real thing, with heart and grit. "Glee" should die of embarrassment. A sure sign of its value is that "Fame" was more appreciated in Europe than in the US.
"The Tracy Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-1990) - Tracy Ullman may be the most talented person ever! The show consisted of short skits. Tracy could convincingly play male or female, young or old, big or little, could speak with any accent, and sang and danced. She was simply amazing. (The Simpsons got their start on this show, as short animated skits before or after commercials.)
I'm sure there were more shows I haven't listed. I'm remembering Flip Wilson. He and Geraldine were fun. And there's "Fraiser", of course, but that's in rerun so much now it may as well be a current show. Nope - I never liked "Cheers" or "Seinfeld". In fact I despised "Seinfeld". Those people were not nice. I don't like not-nice people. "Taxi" was pretty good, but limited. None of those reached the heights of the fourteen listed above.
Thinking about the list, I notice that I don't seem to be drawn to glamor or glitz. I'll watch legal, criminal, or medical procedural shows, but I won't miss them when they're gone. I'm drawn in by unique well-drawn but complicated characters. I like believably weird people who find themselves in believably weird situations in a believable storyline that grows in a consistent way. I prefer talk to action. I like to learn something, not in an academic sense - something about life and people.
So, restrict yourself to shows no longer in production, and tell me what shows YOU miss most.