I write about television for a living, so it's no surprise that it had a particularly big impact on my childhood. But after spending time with my family over the holidays, I've realized just how crucial television has been not only to me, but also to my relationships with my family. Except for those of you poor souls who grew up in households that didn't allow television (I'm not here to judge), it's probable that you and your family watched certain shows together. What were the most defining TV shows that you watched as a group while you were growing up? And alternatively, are there any shows currently on today that you and your various long-distance family members can still bond over?
Here are the six that spring to mind for me, but I'd love to hear your picks in the comments!
I was little when The Cosby Show was still on the air, but my normal bedtime was 8pm so I never really got to stay up late enough to watch primetime television. You can imagine the thrill when my parents decided my younger brother and I could stay up late on Thursday nights to watch The Cosby Show with them. The Cosby show was awesome! Even later on when I was allowed to stay up late anyway, we still watched this show together, right up until the finale when Cliff Huxtable silently danced Claire off the soundstage.
As a kid I went through a bit of an urban legends phase, a nerdy obsession that centered heavily on UFOs, Bigfoot, various sea monsters, and of course, ghosts. These interests happened to overlap with my mom's fondness for true crime, so when she introduced me Unsolved Mysteries, a TV show that embraced both, it was probably the first time I ever realized how cool she was. This show was the best.
All right, hear me out. Many people may not remember this, but before Baywatch became the internationally syndicated, montage-heavy boobstravaganza we all remember it as, its first season aired on NBC and featured a mostly different cast and a slightly more serious tone. Because my family drove to the coast as often as possible during the summer, we all pined for the beach during the rest of the year. The existence of a show about lifeguards had our immediate attention. For that first, strange season we all gathered around the TV on Friday nights, riveted by the adventures of Mitch, Shawnee, Billy, and Jill (until she got eaten by that shark), and patiently waited for summer to return again.
Here's the rare show that my dad and I still talk about. I was probably about 12 when I was first allowed to stay up late enough to watch SNL, and I used to have to force myself to take a nap on Saturday afternoons so that I could remain wakeful enough to see it. But my dad, my sister, and I were the ones who fancied ourselves the comedians in the family, so while everyone else was in bed, the three of us would be up and teary-eyed from Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Chris Farley's antics like it was our own special little club. I'll never forget the first time we saw the "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" sketch where Chris Farley picked up and cradled David Spade while Christina Applegate struggled not to laugh. That singular moment clarified for me that I needed to be involved with comedy somehow. I wanted in on that feeling! These days SNL's still on and actual friends of mine have been hired to work on it, which has demystified it somewhat, but still: No matter who the cast (or the show's ups and downs, quality-wise), I still view it as the show I got to stay up and watch (and laugh at) with my dad.
While those first examples were nostalgia driven, here's one that applies to the current state of my family. Now that I live quite a distance away from most of them, we do keep in contact regularly. Aside from the usual minutiae and family gossip, a default topic of conversation is the TV shows we're watching. When I got my dad started on Battlestar Galactica, it felt like a weird passing of the baton: The person who'd most influenced my creative life through his taste in television was now taking my recommendations. And he became just as hooked as I was! I don't know if that feeling of poignant pride makes me a grown-up, but I do know that to this day my dad and I can get lost in conversation about shows like Battlestar (and more recently, Game of Thrones or Homeland) and I have never felt more proud about getting to watch TV for a living.
The current HGTV lineup
Like a lot of people, I disapprove of the amount of cable news my parents watch, so I felt some relief when my mom told me she had cut back on the talking heads and begun watching a lot more HGTV. So had I! I never knew I'd have so much in common with a sixty-something woman, but it turns out she and I are both equally interested in learning the market values of open-concept kitchens around the world. Add to that my older brother's sudden interest in home remodeling, and suddenly we're all spending Christmas Eve dinner discussing Holmes Inspection or Income Property. Most HGTV programming alternates between education and wish fulfillment, but either way it results in the viewer feeling good. Just like being around my family does.
Now it's your turn to weigh in: Which TV shows have brought your family closer together?