Classical British & American TV-Series
I must admit that I am no great fan of television and spend very little time watching TV. However, it is an important part of popular culture and it has its merits if it is not abused. During the first 20-30 years of its life, it also had an enormous impact on people, how people perceived the world around them, and on culture in general. That's the classical period of television, which, together with pop/rock music, then was a melting pot of creativity. Neither of them are so any longer. Both have gone stale. Creativity has moved elsewhere.
The selection of TV series mentioned in this article is subjective. There were and are many other series around – even entirely omitted genres. This is my selection and may or may not coincide with what you would choose. I have especially excluded comedy series, because humour doesn't age well. What was fun 20 or more years ago, is not often fun today.
I have also focused on old series, from the classical era of television (even if there are a few exceptions to that), series that shaped the public taste and defined genres. Nothing created today would have the same impact; indeed, television today doesn't have the impact it had during the 1950s-1970s. There are too many channels and too many programs competing about the audience – not to mention the competition from internet and other media that didn't exist during the classical period of television.
Many of the old series are available on DVD. I also made some searches on YouTube, and could establish that episodes of these old series are sometimes available there. When they are, however, it is almost always a violation of copyright. That means that they come and go quickly. So, if you find something you want to see, watch it immediately. Don't expect it to remain until later. Or download it to watch at your convenience.
Western series have a strange appeal, and they age well. Unlike many other TV series, they do not feel too old-fashioned. Maybe because they have never been contemporary. Instead the genre developed its own standards; it's own archetypes, symbols, and style - indeed, its own little world; an imaginary world, in some aspects quite different from the real historical epoch it is based on. The times, mainly from the North American civil war to the 1890s, were probably considerably less violent and dramatic than later artistic interpretations suggest. The classical period for TV Westerns were from the 1950s to 1974. All good Western series were produced then.
I think one can say that the four big ones were Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and High Chaparral. In my opinion, the best of them was High Chaparral. The people there were less stereotype, more real, and the interaction between the characters were one step beyond what other Westerns used to offer.
Gunsmoke is the longest running TV series in American television ever. Too long. A
series - and that goes for all series, not only Westerns - tends to repeat itself too much if it continues beyond 3-4 seasons. Sometimes much earlier than that. Longer is not better.
During this period, there were a number of other high quality Western series as well. One that deserves mentioning is Rawhide, with a young Clint Eastwood in one of the major roles. So does Alias Smith and Jones, the last of the classical Western productions. Nothing noteworthy has been produced in the genre after that.
When it comes to murder mysteries and detective stories, the best of them are British. For this genre, they have a massive literary tradition, starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), and then the generation of Agatha Christie (Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot) and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey). The tradition continued far into the television era, with TV series based also on more recent authors, such as Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse, and to some extent Lewis), P.D. James (Inspector Dalgliesh), and Ruth Rendell (Inspector Wexford).
Public Eye is a detective series unlike every other. It is about a private detective named Frank Marker, and when I first saw a couple of episodes of this series, I thought it was close to the worst rubbish I had ever seen. Much later, I heard people who saw it as genial, the best that had ever been made. That made me look again when I found some episodes on YouTube. I can see what they mean, but I still think it is boring. I wouldn't even mention it here, unless there were so many people who love this series.
The Americans never reached the same standard in the genre of murder mysteries, although they have made a number of adequate ones, often more rough and hard-boiled than the British ones. Examples of that are the works of authors like Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer) and, above all, Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe). The latter is the father of the hard-boiled American style.
Of the not too rough, I think the series Columbo, Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe deserve to be mentioned. Undoubtedly, the American style is better suited to Westerns, of which nothing significant has been produced anywhere else.
Spy series is a separate genre. I'm not personally very fond of that, but there is one I want to mention, the British series Danger Man, about the agent John Drake. In my opinion better and more realistic than James Bond.
Then, when discussing old TV series, we have to mention The Saint, Simon Templar, which doesn't really suit the definitions of the different genres we have discussed, but is related to them. It's a classic, with Roger Moore as Simon Templar. After The Saint, he and Tony Curtis played the main roles in another series, The Persuaders.
Let's also mention a British science fiction series, Space 1999 or Moonbase Alpha. It was produced (1974-1977) and at the time it was the most expensive British TV production ever made. Two seasons were made, but this is an excellent example of that “longer is not better”. While season one is amongst the best ever produced in the genre, season two is not worth the time watching.
Science Fiction is tricky, it belongs to the genres that don't generally age well. It must be admitted that even season one of Moonbase Alpha feels a trifle outdated. But it is still worth to watch.
Speaking about science fiction television series, it is impossible to avoid Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. The TV series started a phenomenon, apart from TV series, Star Trek became movies, novels, comics, games, merchandise, everything. It has cult status, with fanatical followers, called Trekkies.
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