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What TV Shows Were the Most Ahead of Their Time?

The ongoing discussion of The Prisoner inspired commenter Andrew X to recommend Max Headroom as a show worth revisiting.

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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July 17, 2014 - 5:04 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Also check out Monday’s question “Is The Prisoner Actually a Continuation of Secret Agent?,” Tuesday’s question: “Is The Prisoner TV’s Greatest Cult Classic?,” Wednesday’s question:What Are the Top 5 Episodes of The Prisoner? and Francis Poretto’s great essay. “Escaping The Village: Freedom And The Prisoner.”

Andrew X, yesterday:

You want “ahead-of-its-time”? “Ahead-of-its-time???

Take a look at this episode list for ‘Max Headroom’.

Max Headroom [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Headroom_(TV_series)]

When the show debuted in 1985 (UK), the computer mouse had been on market just one year. Windows, in so far as it existed, was a DOS interface. Few knew what a modem was, and a standard one would probably load this web page in about six hours. Cell phones for millionaires were the size of a brick. (Cue ‘Wall Street’ beach scene ref.) The Internet was eight years away.

Read that list, then let’s talk about “ahead-of-its-time”.

MaxHeadroom_Comp_anim

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios
All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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I guess to say "ahead of it's time' means by definition that the series was not successful but would spawn later series based on its format.

Star Trek might be an example but the original series was sorta successful -- it went more than one season -- and ensuing network space shows never really fared much better. Laugh-In, which begat Saturday Night Live, was a huge hit. I don't think Max Headroom would do any better today than it did at the time.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems odd today, but it was only a short time ago when original scripted programming was unheard of on basic cable. The broadcast networks churned out original programming. The premium cable channels did some original programming (although not as much as today). But cable mostly covered sports, syndicated repeats, news, movies, etc. They didn't have the budgets.

One of the first cable networks to dip their toe into original programming was SyFy (then Sci-Fi Channel) with a show called “The Invisible Man”. It is a testament to how experimental this was in that they followed the broadcast networks' model of 22+ episodes rather than the truncated seasons common on cable today. It wasn't a bad show and was ahead of its time just through the novelty of actually being produced. It lasted just two seasons. Following a network model while lacking a network budget and the immaturity of a developing cable market killed it off pretty quick...but had it been produced just five years later, at a time when cable was more-ascendant, one could imagine it succeeding for several seasons.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
Looking at the nominations here...

Looks like we should just nominate any of the porn shows on Playboy or Penhouse channels - or the slasher shows that have been popular on and off on other channels.

The common thread among all of these is that their "ahead of their time" was that they flouted whatever the current "accepted" depictions of their time were for the shock value.

From bellybuttons on Laugh-In, to incest on whatever that new show on MTV is (just read the story, promptly forgot the name). From a character actually dying on Combat! to whatever character is being gruesomely hacked up on the latest incarnations of Dracula. All the same so far as being "ahead of their time" - until a show comes out that is shocking to the viewer that has become accustomed to the last push.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think we're going to have a problem here with calling a show ahead of its time given how we might measure that: might that not mean the show influenced later shows? In this case, it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy. e.g., One could call Star Trek ahead of its time because a lot of what was in the series would be seen in other shows much later. Is this because it was ingeniously prophetic or was it because it was often imitated? I note the same effect from Monty Python's Flying Circus. See also Ernie Kovacs.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
'Max Headroom' was a 'head of its time.' Nothing is ahead of its time. It is of the time in which it is created or thought or imagined. Sorry, I would like for it to be otherwise, but sadly, no.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I might give Police Story a nod. It was an LA-based police anthology series from '73 to '78 that got pretty high marks for writing and acting.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
Police Squad, way over people's heads .
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
But it worked as a movie.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
OH YEAH. Agree completely.

But I will also add Paul Haggis' underappreciated, cruelly aborted EZ Streets. And as long as the subject is "Shows Ahead of their Time," you could include both Laugh-In and The Monkees. There are people for whom the structural and narrative innovations of 60s TV are still too sophisticated.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't know about Laugh-In. Watched as a kid when it was new and thought it was hilarious. Watched a couple episodes about twenty years ago and was mystified; it didn't seem as cutting edge as I recalled . Maybe it was ahead of its time in the late '60's/early '70's, but the time it was in was waaaay short of the early '90's. (I note the same problem with the movie Groove Tube; if it was funny to say sh*t, then it's hilarious to show it. Not so funny here in the future.) One might as well try to convince people the one-episode-wonder Turn-On was ahead of it's time.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
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