I disagree. I did not like the Larry Sanders show, nor uncomfortable comedy generally. It’s just a string of stuff I dislike, and changed nothing AFAIC and I hardly think it represents the kind of revolution in quality writing that the other shows mentioned here do. Frankly, uncomfortable comedy strikes me as weak sauce, never having the punch or power that traditional comedy does. It’s kind of … lazy comedy.
The Office was 'uncomfortable/awkward comedy" but I don’t think it would be considered lazy, especially once it was past the first season and Michael Scott/Steve Carrell/the writers really made everything fall together. The found just the right amount of uncomfortable that viewers squirmed a bit and felt embarrassed (for Michael and his whoever he was being uncomfortable at) but not so much that they stopped watching).
I would nominate St. Elsewhere over ER, although that is not meant in any way to disparage the latter. Medical shows prior to SE were all pretty much cookie cutter clones of the same formulaic white-male-doctor-as-hero fare. It was actually disconcerting to me when I first saw the scene in which the weird girl who worked in the morgue lifted a liver out of a dead patient, weighed it, and recorded the result while Howie Mandel nonchalantly stood there eating an apple and watching the whole process. He then said something to her and walked out of the morgue, tossing the core of the apple into the scale the liver had had just been in. That struck me at the time as the grittiest realism I had ever seen on TV. I think that even if SE were a new show that debuted right now, it would receive just as much, if not more, acclaim than it did 30-odd years ago. The endless sexual harassment would have to go though, because it wouldn’t be consistent with modern workplace environments.
I knew there was some reason I only watched it once.
I’ve noticed, incidentally, that it seems like we’ve gotten to a point where there has to be a new Greatest Show in the History of TV every year or so. And of course whatever is Greatest always has to be something airing right now. That kind of hyperbole gets exhausting.
Of course it does. Everybody knows it’s Breaking Bad, so there’s no further need to discuss the subject.
THere are a few ways to consider this.
NYPD Blue and Hill St Blues were, in the tradition of the day, primarily episodic in nature. That was about to change. But they are important for a number of reasons, not least the quality of people - many from film - contributing to improving production standards, writing and acting in both network tv and cable.
An interesting link through the period is the work of Stephen Bochco and David Milch; from the early 80s with HSB, the pair again from the mid 90s with NYPD and then, for Milch, the big banana: he created Deadwood.
He’s def one of the guys to follow in tracing the evolution of series drama.
Not by a long shot. Bob Newhart turned his stand-up bit of one-sided telephone conversations into TV gold with The Bob Newhart Show. Until I heard his Button-Down Mind comedy albums, I had never noticed that he had one in almost every episode.
The X-Files was huge at the time. I even had a lady friend of mine uncharacteristically decline an evening out because an Important Episode was on that same evening (and being New Zealand c. 1999, using a VCR to tape it and watch it later was just too complicated And Just Not The Same as watching it as it aired.) And given how new the internet was back then (most people I went to school with didn’t own a computer and even fewer had net access) it’s not like spoilers were a concern. You’d have to actively go looking for them on either of the internet’s discussion boards* or something equally deliberate and foolhardy.
As a secondary contender, I’d also nominate Oz, which - besides having an engaging plot and complex characters etc - was also notable as the first time I saw a guy’s wang on television. Free to air television, I might add; it was broadcast in Australia on SBS uncensored.
*with an onion tied to your belt, as was the fashion at the time.
Ah, Classic Grampa Simpson.
This was the first successful show to basically maintain feature film length quality production on a TV show schedule and budget.
Today, I expect my shows to look more or less as good as a movie, but X-files really nailed making that happen and is one of the reasons it holds up well.
The technology moves on. Today there’s a web series based on Star Trek TOS that looks about as good as the original on a budget that is probably … considerably lower …
needing to be considered is cable vs broadcast. broadcast had to have wider appeal.
Hill Street Blues for sure for drama.
Simpsons for animation for adults.