Ellen ran for five seasons, and while it was not the best sitcom ever to grace the airwaves, it was definitely one that made an impact on American society. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres, the show’s lead actress, came out of the closet as a lesbian during the show’s fourth season, creating a mild controversy and garnering tons of press.
Roseanne starred the oft-crass, overweight, outspoken Roseanne Barr in its title role. Roseanne differed from shows on the air at the time because of its blunt method of portraying a semi-functional American family living in poverty. The program dealt head-on with difficult issues such as domestic violence, gay rights and teenage pregnancy. Roseanne ran until 1997, when the series finale pulled the metaphorical rug out from under viewers and explained that the entire last season had been a fictional account from lead character Roseanne Conner.
8. Saved by the Bell
The topics may have been trite, the acting may have been terrible, the outfits may have been even worse, but few shows on television during the time portrayed such an iconic caricature of 90s youth as Saved by the Bell. Zach Morris and his group of curiously dressed high school buddies got into all kinds of mischief and learned many life lessons while young Americans watched.
Author Michael Crichton probably had no idea just how successful is hour long medical drama ER would turn out to be. Despite many predictable plot lines and egregious misuses of medical equipment and terminology, most people in the 90s who didn’t lead medical careers found it transfixing. The show aired in 1994 and saw success throughout the 90s and beyond, churning out movie stars left and right, including George Clooney.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the first television dramas to put a young woman in a position of power in the leading role, so it’s no wonder that girls flocked to the program and created a loyal, cult audience–along with their male counterparts. Sarah Michelle Gellar played the leading role of Buffy alongside other actors who used the show to break out, such as David Boreanaz (Angel) and Alyson Hannigan (Willow).
5. Law & Order
Law & Order debuted in 1990 with its oft-parodied two-note intro. The show differed from similar police or legal dramas at the time in that it saw each episode’s case from moments after being committed to prosecution. Law & Order was written and cast well, and thus became wildly successful. It spawned four spinoffs in later years, two of which had a successful run of over a decade.
4. The Simpsons
Animated television series The Simpsons started just before the 90s did and ran throughout. The show impacted 90s culture so heavily that it even brought new words and phrases into our lexicon, from dopey Homer’s "d’oh" to mischievous Bart’s "eat my shorts!" The Simpsons was packed with humor, pop culture references, and even the occasional dose of sentimentality.
3. The X-Files
Agents Scully and Mulder developed a massive legion of fans on The X-Files, Fox’s sci-fi detective drama. The program ran for nearly a decade after debuting in September of 1993 and maintained a rabid audience throughout its nine seasons. The series had impressive ratings for a primetime science fiction drama, which is no surprise: The X-Files successfully ran the gamut of television styles, from creepy to introspective to sentimental, often incorporating some dry humor into the mix.
Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica and Joey: the six people you wanted to hang out with in the 90s. NBC’s Friends was centered around the promiscuous lives of these New Yorkers, set primarily in their favorite coffee shop ("Central Perk") or their impossibly vast Manhattan loft. The show caught on with audiences almost immediately and ran for ten seasons.
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David created Seinfeld for NBC in 1989, and it aired to critical acclaim for nine years. Similar to Friends, Seinfeld was centered around a group of Manhattanites who spent most of their time in the lead character’s apartment or their favorite diner. The difference, however, was that Seinfeld’s characters were not very likable or relatable. The style of humor was abrasive and obnoxious, but it was a hit with viewers. The series finale aired in 1998 to a massive audience of 76 million, though its reception was less than stellar.
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