25 defining moments of Fox's 25 years

After "Saturday Night Live," "The Simpsons" is the

After "Saturday Night Live," "The Simpsons" is the most influential pop-culture show in TV history. This 1989 midseason replacement has the longevity (504 episodes-and-counting, prime time's longest-running scripted series) to prove it. (Credit: Fox)

During the month of April 1987, the Fox Television Network launched in prime time with three Sunday series: "Married . . . With Children," "21 Jump Street" and "The Tracey Ullman Show."

From that humble if memorable beginning 25 years ago to this: An anniversary special Sunday night celebrating a quarter-century of taste-busting, rule-squashing TV rabble-rousing that upended an industry and gave the world some pretty darned good shows (and yes, some pretty awful ones, too) in the process.

In that spirit, here are the 25 Fox shows, developments and triumphs that changed TV:

 

 

1. THE CREATION OF FOX ITSELF

 

Most said it could never be done -- pointedly, not by News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch nor Barry Diller, the wily former chief of Paramount he hired to launch Fox. Diller told reporters at the time: "We think there's a market for it and the opportunity is in the declining three-network share. The fragmented audience is not an audience that went out to play gin rummy." Murdoch bought the Metromedia station group on May 6, 1985, and on April 5, 1987, launched the new network's Sunday prime-time programming block.

 

 

2. 'THE SIMPSONS'

 

After "Saturday Night Live," the most influential pop-culture show in TV history. This 1989 midseason replacement has the longevity (504 episodes-and-counting, prime time's longest-running scripted series) to prove it.

 

 

3. 'AMERICAN IDOL'

 

Pushed Fox to the front of the pack, giving the network prime-time win after win over much of the past decade, while salting the national dialogue with words like "pitchy" and "dawg."

 

 

4. NFL GAMES

 

Fox stripped CBS of its NFC package in 1994, giving Fox a bigger audience and almost instant parity with ABC, CBS and NBC.

 

 

5. 'MARRIED . . . WITH CHILDREN'

 

No single show in Fox's history symbolized its difference with The Other Guys than this one. Raw and raucous, the Bundys wore their dysfunction as a badge of dubious honor. (Fox will rebroadcast the show's first episode -- the very first show that ever aired on the network -- Sunday night at 7.

 

 

6. 'FAMILY GUY'

 

Seth MacFarlane's animated series was canceled then resuscitated a year later. This raunchy show can also be pretty darned funny -- but don't tell that to its many critics.

 

 

7. 'BEVERLY HILLS 90210'

 

Established a new genre -- the teen soap -- then an almost equally successful spinoff, "Melrose Place," for the viewers who had aged out of the original.

 

 

8. 'THE X-FILES'

 

This classic starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seemed to capture -- or reflect -- a fleeting moment in the nation's psyche perhaps best described as paranoid.

 

 

9. '24'

 

Who knew that one very bad day in the life of one Jack Bauer -- or eight bad days over mostly good seasons -- could also reflect a nation's mood in the months, and years, following 9/11. A revenge fantasy with traces of paranoia alongside all the elements of a high-octane thriller, "24" was pure entertainment for some, and a release for others.

 

 

10. 'HOUSE'

 

Fox's "quality" drama featuring Hugh Laurie as the world's crankiest doctor became the world's most-viewed show for a while in the late '00s -- more than 88 million viewers, according to one count. After "The Simpsons," "House" was Fox's single biggest export.

 

 

11. 'MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE'/'THE BERNIE MAC SHOW'

 

Linwood Boomer's "Malcolm" dominated Fox's non-animation comic sensibility through much of the '00s -- single camera, sardonic, sly -- and stand-up Bernie Mac's eponymous series did as well, though to a lesser extent. Both broke the "fourth wall" -- talking directly to viewers, making them part of the show (and joke) as well.

 

 

12. 'IN LIVING COLOR'

 

Besides launching the careers of Jamie Foxx, "Fly Girl" Jennifer Lopez and Jim Carrey, this early-'90s comedy series was a rarity: a sketch show produced by and largely starring African-Americans that also appealed to white viewers.

 

 

13. 'GLEE'

 

This fusion of musical theater with TV comedy and prime-time soap was, needless to say, wholly original.

 

 

14. 'AMERICA'S MOST WANTED'

 

A show that actually caught criminals? "AMW" -- canceled after 23 years last May -- did, and by the show's own count, 1,178 of them. "AMW" and Saturday-night companion, "Cops," were audacious ideas in their early days -- reality shows part- nered with law enforcement.

 

 

15. 'ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT'

 

A mid-'00s classic comedy, from Mitchell Hurwitz, and as funny, original and odd as anything most viewers had ever seen on a major TV network. Its influence remains wide and deep, and, in fact, the series will be born again soon on Netflix.

 

 

16. 'THE LATE SHOW STARRING JOAN RIVERS'

 

Before Fox ventured into prime time, it launched this late-night talk show in October 1986. Rivers' hiring sparked a feud with Johnny Carson -- she had been "The Tonight Show's" permanent guest host -- which garnered the nascent network a huge amount of press.

 

 

17. 'FRINGE,' 'DOLLHOUSE' AND 'FIREFLY'

 

Provocative sci-fi series that captured small passionate audiences and gave Fox a rep for daring to do something the others wouldn't consider.

 

 

18. 'ALLY MCBEAL'

 

Late-'90s David E. Kelly legal drama with Calista Flockhart got viewers to talk -- about law, feminism, Robert Downey Jr. and for one weird stretch, a Dancing Baby meme.

 

 

19. 'LIVING SINGLE,' 'NEW YORK UNDERCOVER,' 'MARTIN'

 

Mid-'90s black-oriented program block on Thursdays that perfectly illustrated Fox's "when they zig, we'll zag" philosophy. These were the most viewed shows in black households at the time.

 

 

20. '21 JUMP STREET'

 

The show that launched Johnny Depp's career, this Stephen J. Cannell teen cop drama was no one's idea of great TV or even original TV (remember "The Mod Squad?"), but it did get the job done -- the job being to get Fox established, and to attract those young viewers who spurned the old fogey networks.

 

 

21. ODDBALL SHOW MAGNET

 

Fox was the place to be for oddball show ideas, such as the genre-busting "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." -- was it a comedy? A Western? Who knew?

 

 

22. TERRIBLE REALITY-SHOW MAGNET

 

The names are now mostly just a bad lingering odor, but Fox once led the way with some of the crummiest unscripted shows to ever assault an entire culture -- including "The Swan," "Joe Millionaire," "Temptation Island," and, worst of all, the short-lived "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" -- short-lived because the first multimillionaire turned out to have an order of protection against him.

 

 

23. 'THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW'

 

Fox's second show was cheeky and original, but will be forever remembered for this contribution -- "The Simpsons" was spun off from it.

 

 

24. 'KING OF THE HILL'

 

Funny and smart, but Mike Judge's animated show about a Texas family rarely went out of its way to offend.

 

 

25. 'THAT '70S SHOW'

 

Massive success that seeded careers (Mila Kunis, Laura Prepon, Topher Grace, and of course some dude named Ashton Kutcher) and further established others (Debra Jo Rupp, Tommy Chong and Kurtwood Smith).

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