Sitcoms After Friends
The other day I found myself thinking about television comedies--I'm not entirely certain why--and specifically about the dominance of Friends in the late 90's and early 2000's. It was this huge phenomenon, and although there were shows that I liked better and watched more religiously, once Seinfeld ended there simply wasn't any other TV comedy--possibly any show of any genre--that competed with it in terms of broad popularity and cultural impact. And as I thought about it, I realized that I don't think there has been any show in the post-Friends era that has really come close to the same level.
Mind you, there are some very popular and very funny shows out there. Modern Family is excellent, and shows like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory seem to have big followings. But all three of them still feel relatively niche, especially in comparison to Friends. The current show that I think probably comes closest is the NBC version of The Office, but even that feels more on a level with shows like Frasier or Everybody Loves Raymond, neither of which ever really got out of Friends' shadow, in my opinion, despite being pretty popular.
Even today, six years after the show ended, Friends remains a huge cultural touchstone. Along with Seinfeld, it's probably the sitcom I most often hear referenced in normal conversations, even more than shows that are currently airing.
But I wonder if that's the kind of thing that will last. When Jason is older, will Friends continue to be iconic, the way that I Love Lucy still is? Or will it be more a generational thing? Friends ended four years before he was born, and when I look back at shows that were popular shortly before I was born--shows like M*A*S*H or All in the Family--I don't find them particularly relevant to me. I am aware of their past popularity, of course, and I might even catch some references to shows of that era, but I'm not sure how much is due to a real, lasting cultural impact and how much is just because I have an interest in trivia and pop culture history.
Even the shows that I might have seen as enduring classics before, like The Cosby Show and Cheers, don't seem to really be much a part of the cultural fabric of people much younger than me. Try referring to someone as a "Cliff Claven" type in a conversation with a 20-year-old; I bet that more often than not you'll be greeted with a blank stare.
But maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe Friends was never as big a deal as I remember it being, or maybe there are a lot more shows from the past that continue to be a big deal now. What do you think?