It rots your brain and grows couch potatoes. But the so-called idiot box also swings elections, rewires brains, snares criminals, and even sways the Supreme Court. The following may not be the best shows of the last 25 years—in fact, some are among the worst—but their impact reaches far beyond the living room.
The weather gave him additional reason to panic. With the sun shining and the temperatures pleasant, Yeltsin fretted that his city-dwelling supporters would decamp to their dachas, or country cottages, instead of staying home and voting. No show was more popular in Russia than the Brazilian morality soap Tropikanka, which regularly drew 25 million viewers to the state-owned network ORT.
With the election looming, ORT made a surprise announcement: More amazing was the fact that the scheme actually worked. When the episode ended, it was too late to trek out of town, but voters still had time to get to the polling station. But the show had more depth than anyone realized. Starting in , the program served as a highly visible billboard for up-and-coming artists.
When Chin approached Melrose set decorator Deborah Siegel with the idea of dressing the show in avant-garde works, she immediately approved. Together the GALA Committee and Siegel collected pieces from artists around the country and worked them into the show. Each time viewers tuned in for a little trashy fun, they got a hidden dose of culture.
Some of the art was surprisingly subversive. The art world, for its part, embraced the exposure, and in , the Melrose Place pieces were displayed in their own show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Just chat with pretty much anyone. So when audiences in Belarus got their own knockoff of The Big Bang Theory in , nothing seemed out of place.
Like its American counterpart, The Theorists depicted the adventures of four lovably geeky scientists living next door to a beautiful waitress. There was just one problem. Rather than continue to star in a rip-off, they protected their integrity by walking off the set. Left without a cast, the producers had no choice but to cancel The Theorists. The next time we need a scrupulous Eastern European actor, we know where to look. As the rest of the record industry flailed, the Glee recordings found staggering success on iTunes.
By the end of , the cast had sold more than 11 million albums and another 36 million single tracks. Forget garage bands—aspiring stars should be shooting garage teen dramas! Three patients in need of a kidney compete for the organs of a terminally ill woman, with the dying woman picking the winner, using input from viewer text messages.
The show drew an avalanche of criticism before it aired. What could be more twisted than making sick people duke it out for vital organs as TV entertainment? Worse still, who thought that letting the same TV audiences that can barely be trusted to pick the next American Idol make such a harrowing decision?
Dutch health officials vehemently condemned the show and attempted to block its airing to no avail. Like many reality shows, De Grote Donorshow had a twist ending. And while the three contestants really did need kidneys, they were in on the stunt to help publicize the problem. A day after the airing, 43, viewers requested forms to become organ donors. The research involved a group of 60 4-year-olds who were asked to spend nine minutes watching an educational cartoon, watching SpongeBob, or coloring.
Kids who watched SpongeBob scored significantly worse in tests involving solving puzzles, delaying gratification, and following instructions. Nickelodeon fired back that SpongeBob was intended for older kids, not preschoolers. Her other line of defense was less helpful: The Show That Saved a Genre In the s, hour-long action shows were designed to lose money in their early seasons.
But by , action reruns had stopped matching the ratings of their comedic counterparts. Undeterred, Paramount produced the series anyway and cobbled together its own group of local affiliates who agreed to broadcast the show. Cash motivated this unprecedented defection. Paramount gave episodes of The Next Generation to the affiliates for free, but with a catch. Each hour-long show included 12 minutes of ads.
Stations could sell five of those minutes and keep the loot; the remaining seven belonged to Paramount. The deal was incredibly profitable for everyone involved. The studio responded by investing more heavily in the show to keep it at the top of the pile.
By boldly going where no show had gone before, Star Trek: The Next Generation made TV safe for action again. The Show That Improvised Justice Getty Images In , year-old machinist Juan Catalan faced the death penalty for allegedly shooting a key witness in a murder case.
He had the ticket stubs and everything! It was a long shot, but maybe Catalan could be seen in the background. When his attorney watched the outtakes, it took just 20 minutes to find shots of Catalan and his daughter chowing down on ballpark dogs while watching from the stands. Thanks to the footage, Catalan walked free after five months behind bars. And Larry David found one more thing to be self-deprecating about. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Rembrandts, however, jumped at the opportunity.
Nobody will even know it was us, anyway. A Nashville radio station solved the problem by looping the jingle for three minutes. The stitched-together tune shot up the charts.
It was a smart move. The rerecorded single spent 11 straight weeks at the top of the charts and helped move more than two million copies of their album.
The Rembrandts receive performance royalties every time a Friends rerun airs. The Show That Gave D. That became a real problem for prosecutors. The tests are expensive and can take weeks, and they tax already overworked crime labs. Circumstantial evidence and eyewitness accounts, on the other hand, can be just as damning for far less money. A study by Michigan judge Donald E. Shelton even discovered that investigators were doing unnecessary tests just to make it look like they were giving crime scenes a CSI-level scouring.
Real or not, prosecutors fear the effect could cost them an important verdict. How I Met Your Mother: Although the episode airing in syndication had been shot in , a poster in one of the scenes was eerily modern: It was pushing Bad Teacher, a movie that had been in theaters only a few weeks. Did Neil Patrick Harris have a time machine? The bizarrely prescient ad was the work of SeamBI, a company that has craftily elevated the practice of product placement by digitally inserting new ads into old scenes of syndicated shows.
SeamBI plans to slice and dice markets so that your television does what the Web has been doing for years—help advertisers target very specific geographic areas. Viewers in New York, for instance, might see a Manhattan-based billboard on an old sitcom, while Delaware viewers could see a completely different one while watching the exact same show.
As Entertainment Weekly pointed out, the scheme makes syndicated shows even more profitable, with How I Met Your Mother opening the floodgates to a whole new world.
Sex and the City: A Ohio State University study found that undergraduates who viewed an episode of Sex and the City were more than twice as likely to talk to their partners about sexual-health issues. When it debuted in , few would have predicted that the all-female American Idol knockoff would draw million viewers.
What really scared the government, however, was how viewers chose the winner by text message. In a nation where citizens have no say in who will lead them, that sort of exposure to the democratic process seemed dangerous.
This being China, you can probably guess how the story ends. Government censors gave the show the ax following the season finale. Still, Super Girl managed to give China a real taste of democracy. Not even Simon Cowell could find fault there. The show was disappearing just as an unlikely super couple was emerging.
Single mom characters Olivia Spencer Crystal Chappell and Natalia Rivera Jessica Leccia were doomed to go off the air without sharing their first kiss. More radically, Chappell defrayed her costs by selling online subscriptions. Rather than launch a letter-writing campaign at the end of the second season, die-hard viewers appealed to a higher power: Amazingly, the ploy worked.
Did fans love seeing the show saturated with sandwiches? Maybe not, but watching Chuck down a foot-long was better than not watching Chuck at all. Offscreen, however, Carter was a staunch Republican and found the diatribes repulsive. If only Congress would learn to make such compromises. Fei Cheng Wu Rao: On a episode, a suitor asked year-old Ma Nuo whether she would ride a bike with him on a date.
It also changed the way America ate.