Television Thursdays- The Reincarnation of 90s TV Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, I am listing the best of the 1990s television ripe for remake. Read on for my predictions.

7. Children’s Television (Non-Animated)

Clarissa Explains It All was Melissa Joan Hart’s breakout role. The series revolves around young teenager Clarissa Darling, her parents, and her annoying younger brother Ferguson. Her best friend is a young boy named Sam who uses a ladder to climb through her bedroom window every episode. Clarissa talks directly to the audience in each episode through what were essentially vblogs, long before the concept even existed (check out this 1991 article which discusses the show’s hi-tech innovation). She often breaks the fourth wall as she processes all of her pre-adolescent concerns like boys, pimples, and embarrassing parents.

Clarissa Explains It All was the first Nickelodeon show with a female protagonist. As Linda Shrieves’ 1993 article in the Orlando Sentinel put it, “In the wide, wide world of television, teen-age girls do not become heroes. And they do not have television shows written about them.” Prior to this series, executives believed that male children wouldn’t watch a show with a female lead. Happily, Clarissa Explains It All proved them wrong with a successful run from 1991-1994. It is crazy to think how reluctant executives were to have a female lead and now almost all of the modern Nickelodeon and Disney children’s shows have female leads (Hannah Montana, iCarly, VicTORIous, just to name a few). There are enough current shows with young teenage female stars, but it seems like most children’s shows today revolve around a main character who wants to be a famous singer/actor. I’m hard pressed to think of a single show starring normal teenage girls with teenage problems. It would be interesting to see Clarissa re-imagined in a new updated series or perhaps as an adult.

Other Children’s Shows: Power RangersThe Secret World of Alex MackSalute Your ShortsPete and PeteDoogie Howser M.D., Ghostwriters, Dinosaurs

8. Mature Female Comedies

The Golden Girls was remarkable in that it broke all the rules. A comedy about old people? Who’d want to watch that? A lot of people. Golden Girls illustrates female-centered comedy with middle-aged female stars, almost non-existent on today’s networks (Hot in Cleveland being a welcome exception). The show revolves around three roommates who are all recent transplants to Miami. Blanche is the sexy Southern lady, Rose is the sweet dimwitted Minnesotan, and Dorothy is the loud, abrasive New Yorker. Dorothy’s Italian mother Sophia ends up moving in with them after she burns down her nursing home in the first episode. These four women become very close friends who typically resolve any problems over late-night girl talk and cheesecake. The show ran on NBC from 1985-1992.

Today there are few shows with middle-aged or elderly women in the lead roles. And with executive’s insistence on catering to the 18-25 year old age group, this looks unlikely to change. I will commend the person who is able to recreate The Golden Girls for new audiences, whether it be for television or in a feature film. If someone can create a project for older women where they are more than someone’s mother or grandmother but vibrant interesting people in their own right, star talent will be clamouring to attach themselves to the project.

Other female-centric 1990s shows: Designing Women, Cybill, Pearl

9. Game Shows

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is an early 1990s game show and a prime adaptation example. Running from 1991-1995 on PBS, the show was based on a popular Brøderbund Software computer game of the same name. The show concept involved children aged 10-14 answering a series of geography questions in order to figure out clues to where Carmen Sandiego could be hiding next. If the children correctly figured out her location, they won a grand prize trip anywhere in the continental US. Runner up prizes were all geography-related such as atlases or world music CDs. The show was particularly famous for its acapella house band Rockapella who sang the series’ theme song.

Out of all the game shows that were popular in the 1990s, I chose a children’s game show to adapt because there is a large gap in today’s market. Educational game shows targeted to children are non-existent on television these days. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was inspired after its creators learned from a National Geographic quiz that 1 in 4 Americans could not locate the Pacific Ocean. The series was the rare combination of educational and fun, wisely using the popularity of the computer game to promote their agenda. I propose an adult version of this game show, attracting the now grown up fans of the original show. The questions would be more difficult and perhaps require interactive videos and cash prizes. In related news, Jennifer Lopez has just bought the rights for a feature film based on the television show, with the intention of starring as the mysterious international criminal. If the film is successful, perhaps they will consider making a drama series out of it. That would then make this show a multi-level adaptation (computer game> TV game show> feature film> TV drama?). Whew, that makes me dizzy.

Other notable 90s game shows: Legends of the Hidden Temple, Singled Out, American Gladiators, Love Connection

10.  Family-Centered Sitcoms

Full House portrayed widower Danny Tanner who has been left with three young daughters after his wife dies in a car accident shortly before the start of the series. He asks his best friend comedian Joey and his brother-in-law musician Jesse to move in and help him raise his daughters. Danny works for a San Francisco morning news show with his co-anchor Becky Donaldson, who eventually marries Jesse. The three daughters D.J., Stephanie, and Michelle navigate the pitfalls of growing up while surrounding by a loving family. Youngest daughter Michelle Tanner, played by twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, became the biggest household name. Full House ran on ABC from 1987-1995. There was a 1993 book series adaptation focusing on younger daughters Stephanie and Michelle.

Full House marks a growing 1990s trend for family-friendly series depicting unconventional family arrangements. Other shows from that same era depict blended families or widowed fathers, often with large numbers of children (3+). While family shows in the 1990s had premises that focused primarily on the parents, today’s family shows revolve entirely around the children. Many of these shows are not particularly family friendly either. A literal remake of Full House would be difficult to imagine with the same cast. My guess is that the show would probably be a spin off following one of the daughters into adulthood.

More 90s family shows: Step by Step, 7th Heaven, Home Improvement, Blossom, The Nanny, Malcolm in the Middle, Once and Again

11. African- American Comedies

Inspired by recent news that comedy In Living Color has been plucked for remodel, I took a look to see what other 90s African-American comedies are ripe for remakes. Far and away my favorite was the comedy Family Matters which ran from 1989 to 1998, the second longest running African-American sitcom. Family Matters was a spin off from Perfect Strangers where main characters Harriette and Carl Winslow were first introduced. The Winslows lived in Chicago with their children Eddie and Laura. But it was their geeky neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) who became show’s biggest star.

The 1990s were filled with sitcoms with predominantly African-American casts but I really struggled to come up with many examples that have been produced in the last ten years. I have no idea if this is due to greater overall diversity within individual television series in general or if African-American sitcoms are simply not being picked up as regularly. At any rate, television is long overdue for more African-American content and a Family Matters spin off could be added to the list. I’d like to see Steve Urkel and Laura creating their own family in Chicago or another city. Urkel could be an astrophysicist so wrapped up in his own work that he cannot relate to his children. It seems to work well for the Big Bang Theory.

Other notable 90s African-American comedies: Fresh Prince of Bel-AirMartin, Sister Sister, Living Single, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Moesha

12. Workplace Comedies

The 90s had a lot of shows that were focused in the workplace, which eventually led us Millenials to series like The Office (an adaptation of a British series). Arguably the most significant workplace comedy in the 1990s was Murphy Brown. Murphy Brown aired on CBS from 1988-1998. The show starred Candice Bergen as a journalist and news anchor for fictitious CBS new show FYI. The series mainly dealt with Murphy Brown’s interactions with her work colleagues and her home life. What was particularly remarkable about the show was how much its characters captured the public imagination, so much so that presidential candidate Dan Quayle made an infamous 1992 speech using Murphy Brown’s decision to be a single mother as an example of how fathers are neglected in today’s world.

But is Murphy Brown still relevant today? More so than ever. With our ever shrinking world, news programs like FYI are arguably more important now than they were back in the 1990s. There are also more single mothers today than there were in the early 1990s according to the Population Reference Bureau, yet I have been unable to find any other examples of single mothers by choice represented in the media. Every portrayal of single mothers is due to divorce or dead spouses which creates drama but does not reflect modern life. Imagine how much more an updated Murphy Brown could contribute to our post 9/11 world while raising her teenage son to be a strong feminist.

Additional 90s Workplace series: Newsradio, Spin City,  Just Shoot MeWings, The Practice, Sports Night, ER

13. Blue- Collar Comedy

If ABC network executives are to be believed, Roseanne should have never become the massive hit it was. The series revolved around Roseanne Conner and her family, but the subject matter wasn’t exactly family-friendly. The lead star may have already been a famous stand up comedian but she was hardly gorgeous. She was middle-aged and fat and struggling financially just like America. What made Roseanne stand out was that it depicted everyday life for the working class, a group that is consistently under-represented in the media. The show was unafraid to tackle controversial issues like teenage pregnancy or alcoholism with humor. Roseanne was also remarkable in that both main characters worked outside the home and Roseanne herself was the strong-willed family matriarch. Both main characters were overweight but their weight was not a target for jokes (unlike today’s Mike and Molly). The show ran from 1988 to 1997.

The world could use a new blue-collar comedy like Roseanne. With the global financial meltdown, the near dissolution of the European Union, and nationwide Occupy protests, America isn’t in the mood to watch yet another show about wealthy socialites with a healthy sense of entitlement. It is about time there was a series with real characters who struggle just like us to find work that doesn’t pay laughable wages so they can afford insurance to visit the doctor. A remake of Roseanne could potentially do the trick.

Other Blue-Collar 90s Comedies: Grace Under Fire, Married…With Children, The Jeff Foxworthy Show


Whew, that was fairly extensive list but there are many more series that I have missed in compiling my list. I could name 1990s shows until I was blue in the face but then you’d still be reading this blog ten years later. Some shows were consciously not included because although they may be associated with the 90s, they were predominantly filmed in the 1980s (The Cosby Show and The Wonder Years are two such examples). Other shows such as In Living Color were left off because there are already current plans to adapt them and I only wanted to deal with hypothetical adaptations. Finally, I tried to stay away from shows that were created around particular celebrities as it would be almost impossible to adapt those series without the original star’s involvement. Exceptions were made for Seinfeld and Roseanne due to their ground-breaking contributions in their respective categories.

Now that you’ve seen my dream team for 1990s TV adaptations, what does your list look like?


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