Often times, if a TV series is fortunate, it wil gain extraordinary popularity in its earlier years. But eventually, the buzz fizzles, the show airs a couple of lower-rated seasons and is inevitably cancelled. Or it finishes out on its own terms and lives on through reruns, Netflix or in the hearts and minds of nostalgic pop culture lovers and TV fanatics. And then there are the shows that just keep going and going (and going.) Shows like The Simpsons and CSI, for example. But you know those are on the air, even if you aren't watching them regularly. Others seem to slip through the cracks, returning season after season but no longer receiving the kind of attention or relevance they once had in the public eye.
At one point in time, everyone was talking about Jerry Springer and that funny home video show with the guy from Full House. Water cooler chatter for shows like those may have died down a bit since the 90s, and yet, The Jerry Springer Show is still on the air, as is America's Funniest Home Videos. Those are just two of the listed series you might not realize are still on the air...
Remember the Writers Guild strike of 1988? Cops creators John Langley and Malcom Barbour certainly do. Thanks to the lack of writers, their (at the time) strange idea for a network reality show following law enforcement personnel was taken seriously by the network. Twenty-five seasons and almost nine hundred episodes later, the program is still on the air and shockingly, very little about the original format has been altered. As with the early episodes, the show still employs cameramen who run with the officers, still employs squad car interviews and still prefers splitting the action into three distinct parts.
Despite its indulgent and goofy theme song, Cops has never been a particularly flashy show. Since 1989, it has run on Saturday nights, which for a program like Smash might be a kiss of death but for one like Cops is right in its wheelhouse. Over the years, its popularity has ebbed and flowed but its core audience has never left, which is why Fox really doesn’t advertise new episodes with much vigor and many outside the target demographic are unaware new episodes are even being produced. Considering its currently syndicated on three different networks, CW, TruTV and G4, that’s actually understandable too.
Cops might be a bit trashy, a bit low budget and a bit out of place amidst Fox’s more glamorous shows, but there’s something about its basic format that just works.
America's Funniest Home Videos
When America’s Funniest Home Videos first aired in 1989, the show was a pre-YouTube special, a window into a world of home videos where kids landed on their asses and pets did stupid tricks. The special was so popular, it eventually morphed into a series, a program that has run continuously, give or take some shooting breaks and specials, ever since—but how many of us are even aware this program is on the air, anymore?
There aren’t a lot of huge differences between the early incarnation of AFV and the current program airing on Sunday nights on ABC. Sure ,Tom Bergeron is now in place where Bob Saget had the floor initially, but the two men both shoot the same schtick. Additionally, the show is still taped in front of a live studio audience and offers prizes to the first, second and third place videos each episode, with a chance to come back and try to win bigger in a later episode. While the show has tried different timeslots over the years, it’s currently snug as a bug in a rug, airing on the night of the week it first began, Sunday nights at 7 p.m. EST.
With the dawn of YouTube and even cable programming like WebSoup, AFV has gone from a show that averaged 38 million viewers an episode—you read that right—in its first season and was a medium for people to come together and talk about funny, silly stuff. Now, it’s difficult to compete with the entire Internet and quite frankly, it’s impressive that AFV has lasted as long as it has.
Photo Credit: ©ABC
The Jerry Springer Show
In the late 1990’s The Jerry Springer Show was one of the most controversial shows on television, feeding a voyeuristic obsession that helped Jerry Springer overcome Oprah in the daytime ratings at one point. Featuring guests willing to air the dirtiest of laundry in public and frequent violence on stage and language so foul most episodes had more words bleeped out than could be heard, Springer was a train wreck but a ratings monster.
Although it started airing in 1991, Springer didn’t gain momentum until the mid-90s, when its format changed, showcasing deviant sexual behavior and bringing in some of those most unbelievable guests a talk show had ever seen. Springer’s popularity even extended to a movie, Ringmaster in which Springer basically played himself and earned the show’s security man, Steve Wilkos, his own show.
At its height Springer was the ultimate guilty pleasure for daytime TV watchers. But as the heyday of the sensational talk show passed, so too did Springer’s popularity. Viewers turned to the rapidly expanding reality TV genre for their train-wreck viewing.
This past September The Jerry Springer Show started its 22nd season on the air, but the shock value has long since worn off. Jerry Springer is still heading up his daytime circus and little has changed. The current season has featured episodes like “It’s Raining Trannies” and “Meet My Gay Stripper Boyfriend”. The guests are still brawling on stage and the audience is still chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
The Real World
In 1992, MTV introduced America to the "true story" of seven strangers picked to live in a loft, to have their lives taped, etc. etc.. More than twenty years later, the show is still churning out new seasons. Sometimes as many as two a year, in fact, with the series Portland-bound for its next season. Once upon a time, The Real World was a pop culture craze, but these days, do most people even realize it's still on anymore? With viewership for the last new season (The Real World: St. Thomas) falling below the one-million mark for some episodes, it doesn't look like it.
When the series premiered and peaked in the 90s, reality TV wasn't a defined genre. Scripted television held most of American viewers' attention and most of that was airing on network TV. The Real World was an alternative to the norm in a time when alternative was all the rage. Today, the show is a basic 20-something-drama reality show airing in a sea of reality TV shows across network and cable TV, many of which offer something a little different to stand out (eg. Jersey Shore, Buckwild, Breaking Amish).
At its start, The Real World was revolutionary for television, showcasing the challenges of being a young adult from various perspectives as the housemates actively worked toward personal and professional goals. Some of them even had jobs. In its current state, the "reality" of the "real world" as it pertains to young adults has been narrowed down to sex and partying, with little focus on anything else. Given its low ratings, it appears as though the show's alcohol-soaked melodrama has grown too stale for consumption.
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
The highest-rated game show in American history and first to offer a seven figure prize, may not be in the topic of water cooler discussions anymore but Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is still very much alive. And very different from the ABC version hosted by Regis Philbin that everybody started watching in summer of 1999. Based on a British show of the same name that spawned several international variants, the award winning series contained the same 15 question structure and three lifelines (50/50, Phone A Friend and Ask The Audience) as the original only to undergo several alterations since the move to syndication. At least it's immortalized in "Q&A," the bestselling book that became a little movie called Slumdog Millionaire.
It would take an entire college course to adequately explain all the changes that took place over the 12, soon to be 13, seasons but here's a brief breakdown of some of the most significant adjustments. The syndicated Millionaire adopted a half-hour format with the move to the daytime schedule (check the link for local showtimes) as well as a new host in Meredith Vieira until Cedric the Entertainer takes over in the fall. The Fastest Finger is long gone as a way into the Hot Seat and current lifelines include things like Jump The Question and Crystal Ball. Oh, and there are only 14 questions with the first few no longer growing incrementally harder or more valuable, both are random until hitting a certain plateau. There's still a million dollar prize but that, and the name, will soon be all that remains.