“They don’t make ’em like that anymore” Part 3: How iconic, memorable and classic television episodes\scenes we still talk about seem like a thing of the past.
Welcome back to our third stroll down memory lane of tv’s most iconic, greatest, memorable and just plain classic scenes and episodes that made their mark in history and have yet to be topped. We don’t get ’em anymore like we used to. Shall we begin?
Dallas: “Who Shot J.R.?”
“A House Divided.” Season 3, episode 25. March 21st, 1980.
The final scene of Dallas’ season 3 finale where the ruthless, despicable and deliciously malevolent J.R. Ewing was shot in the stomach by someone who had beef with the conniving creep, was not just any cliffhanger… it was THE cliffhanger. It quite literally created the cliffhanger as we know it today but took it up several notches when it became a sensation across not only the country but the world as everyone became obsessed with the question “Who shot J.R.?”
This one moment became a global phenomenon the summer of 1980 and the following five months. If social media was around back then It’d be guaranteed that the slogan would’ve trended number 1 all the way up to the season 4 premiere. Other than the fact that it took over the world because of how shocking the action was and how intriguing the mystery was, it is one of the greatest and most memorable television episodes\scenes\moments of all time because of how good it is as a set up for a huge mystery and as a satisfying pay off for three years of Larry Hagman and the writers crafting slowly building one of the most lovably evil bad guys in tv history. It was a much deserved comeuppance for a truly evil character who had it coming.
The marketing campaign was unparalleled at the time with several T-shirts being worn by the nation with “Who Shot J.R.?” and “I Shot J.R.”, media outlets holding “Who shot J.R.?” contests and even the likes of former president Gerald Ford and Queen Elizabeth unsuccessfully trying to get it out of director of the episode Leonard Katzman. It spawned several spoofs including a sketch called “Who shot C.R.”, the “As The Florence Turns” episode of The Jeffersons, the classic two part“Who Shot Mr. Burns” of The Simpsons, King of The Hill’s two part “Hanky Panky\High Anxiety” and many years later the season 4 finale of Jane The Virgin.
This all paid off beautifully for the following episode that started the fourth season “Who Done It?” (That premiered eight months later due to a writers strike) became the highest rated television episode in U.S. history with more than three hundred and fifty million people watching, beating out the last record holder, The Fugitive’s series finale “Judgment Day.” It was only beaten by the series finale of M*A*S*H in 1983. The shooter was revealed to be….
Hill Street Blues: Hill and Renko get gunned down and fates unkown.
“Hill Street Station.” Season 1, episode 1. January 15th, 1981.
The pilot episode of Hill Street was truly groundbreaking, showing the world a cop show they’d never seen before. The style, characters, humor and emotional depth was totally unique for the time and the best example of that is at the end of the pilot where Hill and Renko were gunned down stumbling on a drug deal and we the audience presume them to be dead.
Hill and Renko pull through the next episode, but the impact and shock of two likable characters on a pilot episode of all things, both of whom the audience enjoy and think are major characters presumably being killed off at the end of the episode was astronomical. The moment became so iconic that it was listed at #63 of Tv Guide’s 1996 tally of the 100 Greatest Moments in Television History.
Magnum PI: Ivan saw his last sunrise.
“Did you see the sunrise?” Part 2. Season 3, episode 2. September 30th, 1982.
If ever a single moment made a hit show historic it was when Magnum shot Ivan, the despicably vicious and pure evil Russian and asked him “Did you see the sunrise this morning?” (Context: Magnum’s friend Mack who Ivan killed with a car bomb told Magnum that he could see the sun rising as they were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot of the Tiki Bar they were at all night.
The absolute shock of easy going, lovable and rascally Thomas Magnum shooting Ivan in cold blood was both unbelievably shocking and immensely satisfying. You must remember, this was wayyyy before something like this was commonplace in television dramas, especially on network. Ivan broke Magnum down to the core and in my humble opinion got his just desserts. This scene was like the moon landing, everyone remembers where they were when Magnum shot Ivan and “Did you see the sunrise?” is one of the most instantly recognizable lines in television history.
Magnum had many other iconic episodes and moments, and Home From The Sea and one of television’s finest series finales “Resolutions” are just two of them.
Such an iconic moment that of course other shows would pay homage to it.
Dynasty: A cat fight in the lily pond.
“The Threat”. Season 3, episode 23. April 13th, 1983.
There have been many big fights in Tv, but one of the best and most memorable ones was the iconic cat fight between Dynasty’s deliciously evil Alexis Carrington and Krystle Carrington.
This was the ultimate tv soap cat fight that was and still is impossibly hard to top, though the Dynasty reboot on The CW tried.
Miami Vice: In the air tonight plays as Crockett and Tubbs go for a drive.
“Brother’s Keeper.” Season 1, episodes 1 and 2. September 16th 1984.
Miami Vice influenced pop culture all throughout the 80’s: Making Tv Black\White buddy cop duos popular before Lethal Weapon, the youth oriented flavor, MTV music video style editing, camera work and appropriate use of music played during scenes that fit the tone of said scene and especially the fashion of Crockett and Tubb had most men 18–30 aping the style for the entire decade. But it all started in the two hour pilot episode of Miami Vice where we got a single scene that changed television forever. Phil Collins’ hit song “In the Air Tonight” played as Crockett and Tubbs drive through Miami at night to make a big drug bust. The scene was a marvel for its genuine cinematic quality, brilliant use of “In The Air Tonight”, perfect camera work etc. No one had seen anything like it before but they would again as more shows of the decade would go on to use big pop songs in scenes that fit the tone and help tell the story.
The humongous impact Vice would have on the world was evident when the day after the pilot aired on network TV radio stations across the country were flooded with phone calls requesting “In The Air” by Phil Collins. Everyone involved with the show knew they had something special.
The Cosby Show: Night and Day.
“Happy Anniversary.” Season 2, episode 3. October 10th, 1985.
This moment goes down as one of the all time smoothest, defining, memorable and classic moments Tv ever produced. The Huxtables throw a 49th wedding anniversary for Cliff’s parents and at the end of dinner we get Cliff, Clair and the kids doing a live performance of Ray Charles’ “Night and Day” for the grandparents.
The pure joy of all the actors involved was evident and has gone down in history as one of tv’s greatest musical moments. It has also inspired many real life families to do their version.
Other iconic scenes from The Cosby Show are Theo’s economic lesson in the Pilot where we get a truly hilarious and realistic response from Cliff after Theo gives his “regular person speech.”
And when Theo buys an expensive designer shirt to impress a girl his parents make him take it back and he has Denise make him an exact copy, but of course it doesn’t turn out exactly like Theo wanted.
Moonlighting: “Dreams do come in black and white.”
“The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice.” Season 2, episode 4. October 15th, 1985.
In its heyday Moonlighting was the most zany, innovative, wackiest, funniest and totally groundbreaking tv show on the air. The show broke the fourth wall so much the wall ceased to exist after a while. The blending of rapid fire dialouge, genre bending storylines and wicked hot chemistry between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shephard was what put Moonlighting over the top. The show did a variety of episodes like the one where they do a Moonlighting version of Taming Of The Shrew, a boxing episode, a dance episode, a Rona Barrett interview episode and plenty more out of the box type stories, but one of the most beloved and applauded of these efforts is The Dream Sequence Always Dreams Twice where after arguing (what they do best) over a cold case from the 1940’s, David and Maddie each have dreams about what went down; David’s dream is a 1940’s film noir with the black and white being gritty and dirtied up while Maddie’s dream is more classical 1940’s black and white musical.
The episode even had the legendary Orson Welles introducing it in the cold open. His last onscreen appearance before his untimely death.
I’d be remiss if I went out on Moonlighting and not mention perhaps it’s most notable and infamous episode is the season finale of season 3 “I Am Curious… Maddie.” Where after three years of bickering, flirting, bantering, arguing and red hot sexual tension bouncing all over the screen David and Maddie finally hit the sheets. But of course this act,while being what the fans have dreamed of since day 1 has also become known as the beginning of “The Moonlighting Curse” which is a term used for every television show with a will they\won’t they couple that they finally hook up and then the moment after the show jumps the shark and falls apart because all the tension is gone. Now, I would argue that it’s not the putting together the couple that kills the show, it’s more how the writers shape the dynamic forward and if they just failed at keeping the relationship compelling after the couple gets together, but nevertheless Moonlighting’s choice to put David and Maddie together and then the next minute the show reaches deep decline in ratings and quality definitely made its mark in television history.
The Golden Girls: Miami, you’ve got style.
“Big Daddy’s Little Lady.” Season 2, episode 6. November 15th, 1986.
The Golden Girls is certainly a show from the past that’s still very much as adored and cherished in the present as it will be still in the future. This iconic show about four older women sharing a house in Miami was the precursor of the all female ensemble comedy and without it there’d be no Designing Women, Living Single, Girlfriends, Desperate Housewives or Sex and The City. The show had many classic moments but one of the most charming, fun and most memorable is the famous “Miami, you’ve got style” bit where after Dorothy and Rose lose the songwriting contest they show Blanche and Sophia what they had entered.
How is it possible that they lost that contest?
The show also has one of the greatest bloopers in television history during the season 2 Christmas episode involving Blanche’s calender: “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir”
Family Ties: The Life and Times of Alex P. Keaton.
“A, My Name Is Alex.” Season 5, episodes 23 and 24. March 12th, 1987.
This special hour long, commercial free episode of Family Ties was simply masterful. In every conceivable way. It all came to creator Gary David Goldberg in a dream.
And thus began one of television’s greatest and most ambitious episodes of all time. This episode dealt with Alex’s grief over losing his best friend in a car accident. Alex goes to therapy and basically just talks about everything from his family; his beliefs; and just his overall life.
This was a tour de force for Michael J. Fox who of course won the Emmy that year for this episode. I myself put it on such a pedestal as an example of how a television series should do a therapy episode or a “what makes a character tick” episode. It’s the gold standard and has never been beaten, only Hey, Arnold!’s amazing “Helga on The Couch” episode comes close.
The Wonder Years: Winnie’s big brother is killed in Vietnam.
“Pilot.” January 31st 1988.
When The Wonder Years premiered back on that fateful winter night in 1988 it wowed an audience that had never seen anything like it. It was an half hour comedy yet it looked and felt like an Indy dramatic film; Very innovative with its distinctive look of the period; Blend of comedy and drama; and its use of voiceover which would become the norm far after the show would go off the air. The show was a nostalgic walk down memory lane of the 1960’s and from the point of view of a 11 year-old boy, Kevin Arnold whose first day of Junior High is filled with teenage angst and humiliation… like all of us when we were his age. This wasn’t Leave It To Beaver, Kevin Arnold’s pov of life was anything but picturesque, it was quite relatable and at times both funny and heartbreaking. The real shock of the pilot is the reveal that Winnie Cooper’s brother was killed in Vietnam. This was pretty heavy for television at the time, especially a show from the perspective of a child.
In 2009, Tv Guide ranked the pilot episode #39 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes; Pretty impressive for a pilot episode. The show’s legacy would be further blossomed in the creations of family sitcoms like Malcolm In The Middle, Everybody Hates Chris and Fresh Off The Boat, which would never have been made without it.
Married… with Children: Al goes bra shopping and sets the world on fire.
“Her Cups Runneth Over.” Season 3, episode 6. January 15th, 1989.
This simple, every day episode of Married… with children caused an uproar of epic proportions. One angry, bitter housewife named Terry Rakolta happened to catch her children watching that episode that fateful night and had such a fit that she started a boycott that got so much press it caused a few sponsors of the show to drop out. But, to Ms. Rakolta’s detriment her little crusade actually put the show on the map. Ratings shot up after such controversy got viewers who had never ever seen it curious enough to check it out and they liked what they saw and stayed. Married… with Children would go on to become the longest running sitcom in Fox history to date and one of the most successful and beloved television shows of all time that would keep breaking ground by pushing the boundaries television was too afraid to push on their own before it. Thanks, Terri.
The show would pump out some more iconic and hilarious episodes and moments that everyone remembers and laugh every time they think about it like A Labor Day barbecue gone terribly wrong, The Bundys getting into a fight in traffic, the Bundys at the movies and Al beating up Kelly’s cheating boyfriend, Al vs. Spare Tire Dixon for the trophy at Poke High and Don Bundyone.
Newhart: It was all a dream.
“The Last Newhart.” Season 8, episode 24. May 21st, 1990.
Considered the greatest series finale in television history to this very day, the series ender of the second Bob Newhart show was completely original and truly one of the comically ingenious concepts ever. Now, most of the episode itself isn’t so remarkable, pretty standard stuff, but the actual last scene where Dick Louden is knocked out by a golf ball and wakes up as Dr. Robert Hartley married to Emily Hartley discovering that it was all a dream was and is truly classic television.
And you know the mastermind behind this iconic tv moment? Bob’s real life wife Jeanie Newhart. When she, Bob and Suzanne Pleshette went out to dinner one night during the 5th or 6th season of Newhart, Jeanie suggested to Suzanne and Bob what she thought would be a funny idea. None of them would’ve imagined what that idea became and would mean for the rest of television history. It of course inspired quite a few fun homages, including an alternate ending made for Breaking Bad with Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Fire!”
“The Best of Both Worlds Part 1.” Season 3, episode 26. June 18, 1990.
After Who Shot J.R.? I’d say that the cliffhanger to this immortal episode of Star Trek The Next Generation was the most anticipated and perfectly executed cliffhanger ending of all time. The Borg successfully got Captain Picard and turned him into Locutus, their spokesman forcing Riker, whose been wrestling over a decision to leave The Enterprise and command his own ship, to make a very hard decision.
These were the episodes that really saw Next Gen come into its own as follow up series to the iconic Original Series. Before these episodes the show wasn’t exactly taken seriously by the Star Trek fandom, but after this baby aired you can bet that folks changed their tune. In my own personal opinion part two, while very good didn’t exactly match or top the excellence of part 1, especially that ending, but nevertheless these episodes set a new course for the series and helped them finally make the splash they needed to be cemented into television history as one of the greatest Sci Fi television shows ever made and one of television’s greatest television series period.
On that note…. Time has run out and I’m leaving you hanging on this cliffhanger…
See ya next time!