1990s: TV and Radio
1990s: TV and Radio
Although the number of cable channels and cable subscribers continued to climb in the 1990s, network TV actually made a resurgence. The networks grew in numbers, adding FOX, WB (Warner Bros.), and UPN (United Paramount Network) to the big three of ABC, CBS, and NBC. The networks also succeeded in offering a number of shows that Americans truly loved. NBC was the dominant network of the decade, and its "Must See TV" lineup included some of the favorite shows on TV.
A comedy named Seinfeld (1990–98) was clearly the hit show of the decade. Appearing on Thursday nights on NBC, this show focused on the antics of stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld (1954–), playing himself, and his three self-absorbed friends. The joke went that the show was about nothing; in truth, the show captured perfectly the giddy, sometimes silly spirit of the 1990s. Joining Seinfeld in the "Must See TV" lineup were the hits shows Frasier (1993–), Friends (1994–), and the hospital drama ER (1994–). Another major network hit was ABC's NYPD Blue (1993–), perhaps the most gritty police drama ever to air on TV. Several other shows showcased the talents of stand-up comedians: ABC's Home Improvement (1991–99), starring Tim Allen (1953–); NBC's Mad About You (1992–99), starring Paul Reiser (1957–); and CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond (1996–), starring Ray Romano (1957–). Perhaps the most striking moment on network television came when Ellen DeGeneres (1958–), the star of the ABC sitcom Ellen (1994–98), revealed her homosexuality on the air in 1997. By the end of the decade, it was not at all uncommon to have homosexual characters on major programs, most notably on NBC's hit comedy Will & Grace (1998–), where two of the three lead characters were gay.
While the major networks generally stuck to the great middle ground of family entertainment, the cable channels and smaller networks pushed the envelope. The Simpsons (1989–) on FOX was perhaps the decade's most interesting show, with its bizarre animated version of a dysfunctional American family. Even more twisted were MTV's The Beavis and Butt-Head Show (1993–97) or Comedy Central's South Park (1997–), whose crude humor and handling of controversial topics won both fans and critics. MTV's Real World (1992–) offered a weekly glimpse into the lives of a band of twentysomething strangers thrown together in a house or apartment. Real World, along with FOX's COPS (1989–), paved the way for the success of a range of "reality TV" shows that were popular late in the decade and into the 2000s; CBS's Survivor (2000–) was the most successful of the genre.
Even kids got something new to watch in the 1990s. Japanese animation, called anime, came to the United States first as Pokémon (1997–), a popular TV cartoon as well as a card game and line of toys. Other anime shows such as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z followed. PBS offered Barney and Friends (1992–), which showcased a large purple dinosaur, and a British import about Thomas the Tank Engine that appeared in an American version of the show called Shining Time Station (1990–93).