The Enduring Power of TV's Legacy Series

by Elisabeth Sereda May 22, 2019
Scene from the finale episode of The Big Bang Theory series

michael yarish/cbs

One of the most iconic TV- sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory, ended last Thursday. After 12 seasons and just shy of 300 episodes, Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Raj, Howard, Amy, and Bernadette took a final bow. The ending – quite unlike a certain other series we will talk about later on – was not divisive amongst the fans, and there are many. It tied together with open storylines, revealed a few more surprises and was emotionally satisfying. And there was even a big celebrity cameo no one would have guessed. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a somewhat date for Raj. When The Big Bang Theory premiered in September of 2007, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar, and Simon Helberg were unknowns, Johnny Galecki was somewhat famous as a kid star having played Roseanne’s son. Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch who joined the cast later also became stars because of it.

The show was created by Chuck Lorre, a man we can attribute many legacy series to, and unlike with his Two and a Half Men, this one did not blow up in the end. Its stars stayed well behaved. The Big Bang Theory nudged Cheers out of the number one spot for the most successful and longest-running multi-camera sitcom in TV’s history. It received seven Golden Globe nominations, 52 Emmy nominations, and 10 wins and has made over one billion dollars worldwide and counting since syndication and reruns will be the gift that keeps on giving for many decades to come for everyone involved.

The same can be said for Friends which ended in 2004 after nine hugely successful seasons. It, too, made stars out of its six protagonists Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. And it has a life of its own with endless reruns. Its secret was summed up once by Brad Pitt (then in the beginning stages of his relationship with Aniston): “It just makes you happy. You can be depressed, have the shittiest day, but when you watch 1 episode of Friends, you will be okay.”

Also enjoying endless reruns and a new life with a new generation is Sex and the City. Considered cutting edge, daring and hilarious when it first started, the sex lives of the four New Yorkers Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte captivated audiences – mostly female and/or gay – for six seasons and survived two bad films that were made in a desperate attempt to keep it going, but thankfully did not manage to put a dent into the enthusiasm of TV-watchers.

On the more dramatic end of the spectrum, Game of Thrones had its final winter coming last Sunday, much to the dismay of hardcore fans. The obsession with this eight-season hit escapes people who could not get past episode 3 of season 1, but for those throwing themselves GOT parties where they dressed up like the characters and hat viewing parties at home every time it aired, it was THE conversation piece at the water cooler the next morning.

Scenes from Friends, The Wire, Sex and the City and West Wing

Unforgettable: scenes from The Wire, Friends, The West Wing and Sex and the City.

hbo/nbc

 

Still keeping its allure is The Wire which was only recently voted ‘best iconic TV series of all time’ by a European film & TV magazine. “You come at the king, you best not miss...” is probably the most quoted line of a series that Barack Obama listed on top of his watching list when he was running for president and has made Baltimore a character of its own among a superb ensemble cast in this David Simon created crime series.

Speaking of crime: whoever got past season 1 of Breaking Bad was certainly hooked. Although even the actors admitted that it had a slow start, this meth drama by Vince Gilligan was considered cult even before its six seasons had ended. Fans would easily hurt you if you revealed plot spoilers in the lives of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman before they had a chance to see it.

For admirers of witty and fast-paced lines, smart banter and great character development, The West Wing remains one of the best political dramas ever and is still on TV (in reruns mostly but not only) in over 100 countries. Aaron Sorkin, the master of rapid-fire dialogue, already a name when he created the series, became a writer/producer powerhouse not just on the big screen but the small through The West Wing. Why is it still so beloved? Maybe because we all long for a President Bartlett…

What all cult series have in common, be they funny or dramatic, is great writing, a cast that morphs from unknown or barely known into mega famous and storylines that never run out and leave the viewer wanting for more, even years after the final episode has aired.