Today, it's impossible to talk about "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75, following TV movies in 1972 and 1973) without talking about "The X-Files" (1993-present). While this annoys some "Kolchak" fans, they have to admit that "The X-Files" has helped keep the "Kolchak" cult afloat – indeed, "The X-Files" is mentioned in the first sentence on the back of the "Kolchak" DVD collection.
Like most people who weren't around when it was on the air, I was inspired to check out "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75) – and its preceding TV movies, "The Night Stalker" (1972) and "The Night Strangler" (1973) – because I'm an "X-Files" fan. "Kolchak" is often cited as the biggest inspiration and influence behind Chris Carter's landmark show.
Any discussion of the continuum of family dramas in TV history has to include the aptly named 1970s series "Family." Although the premise is simple – it's about a family of five in Pasadena – a quick investigation into the show's genesis suggests it was original at the time: Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg came up with the idea of an hour-long drama centered on the emotional life of a family, then playwright Jay Presson Allen wrote the pilot episode and Mike Nichols ("The Graduate") also joined the team.
If not for "Dawson's Creek," I might not know "James at 15" (1977-78, NBC) existed. Somewhat obsessed with "DC" at its inception, I picked up Andy Mangels' unauthorized Kevin Williamson biography "From Scream to Dawson's Creek" (2000). In it, Williamson reveals he was heavily influenced by the show and wanted to make a "James at 15" for the 1990s.
"Century City" (2004, CBS) was quietly – too quietly, as it turned out – one of the most innovative law dramas from the era when "Law & Order" and "The Practice" dominated the ratings. Because it's set in 2030 and therefore deals with the legal issues that are right around the historical corner, it forces thoughtful writing. No clichés allowed.
I like "Swingtown" (2008, CBS, available on DVD and Amazon streaming) almost entirely for the way it recreates the Summer of 1976, yet it's totally defensible as a legitimate one-season wonder on its overall merits, thanks to its wonderful characters and portrayal of changing societal values. For me, the buzziest part of the show – the fact that it chronicles (gasp!) the swinger lifestyle – is almost beside the point.
Marti Noxon wrote three of my top 20 "Buffy" episodes – second to only Joss Whedon – and in recent years she struck gold again with the inside-reality-TV drama "UnReal." She worked on a lot of shows in between, but the most interesting – and the most interesting failure, unfortunately -- is "Point Pleasant" (2005, Fox; available on DVD), on which she was the executive producer along with John J. McLaughlin.
After establishing itself as TV's elite adrenaline rush in the epic Season 2, "24" Season 3 (2003-04, Fox; now streaming on Amazon Prime) gets introspective and examines how family and romantic relationships can suffer under the weight of a job where you must put the safety of thousands of Americans above that of a loved one (or conversely, your work can suffer because of the distraction). Simultaneously, Season 3 marks the first time when I can see how easily "24" could slip into parody. This is the conclusion of a trilogy of great "24" seasons, and the show will never again be as consistently good.