Thursday, December 31, 2020

Classic TV 2020: The Year in Review


On January 1 of 2020 I posted a review of the most memorable classic TV-related moments from the previous year. How little we all knew then about what lay ahead of us.


I almost didn’t bother with a 2020 year in review piece, because most of us just want to turn the calendar page and never look back. But I enjoy a challenge, so let’s see if we can find anything pleasant to recall from a year of viruses, violence and political turmoil.


Best Classic TV Moment: Comfort from Old Friends

The pandemic kept many of us home for much of 2020, either by choice or government edict. And during those seemingly endless months of isolation and anxiety, millions of Americans found temporary relief from their troubles in episodes of their favorite classic shows.


Evidence for this trend isn't just anecdotal, according to a story on NPR. A Nielsen study examined the impact of COVID-19 on entertainment consumption and concluded that more than half of consumers sought comfort in familiar music and television shows. More than 50% said they'd recently re-watched episodes of an old favorite series.


“Knowing how something ends makes us feel at ease,” the study found. “Marcia Brady getting hit in the nose with a football has the same outcome today as it did when that Brady Bunch episode first aired in 1973. 




"Spoiler alert: she ditches ‘big man on campus’ Doug Simpson for nice guy Charlie. The level of uncertainty on old TV shows is pretty low, and during these unpredictable, always changing times, we like it that way.”


Shows such as The Andy Griffith Show and Little House on the Prairie were among those most frequently cited. Understandable. 




Worst Classic TV Moment: Star Trek: Lower Decks

We’ve seen this before: Hollywood hacks borrowing a familiar name with a built-in fanbase and then arrogantly destroying everything that made the original version successful. As a continuation or reboot or reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic version of our future, the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks was as authentic as Hilaria Baldwin’s accent. As one reviewer wrote, “This is a show that's trying to be something it shouldn't be, for an audience that doesn't exist.”



Thankfully, 2020 also added a more appropriate new chapter to Star Trek lore with Picard, which featured not just Patrick Stewart back in the title role but guest appearances from Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine. Though inconsistent at times, with a departing message that might be troubling to some viewers of faith, it was nonetheless delightful to see everyone again. The series’ seventh episode, “Nepenthe,” was the best new hour of television I watched in 2020.




Last year also saw a prequel revival of Perry Mason on HBO, which came and went without much fanfare like so much of 21st century television. And most of the old gang from Bayside High reunited for Saved By the Bell (which debuted in 1989 so just slides in under our 1980s Comfort TV limit).


Classic TV Character Sightings

The only one that comes to mind is Lynda Carter’s appearance in the new Wonder Woman movie. Hopefully that still doesn’t require a spoiler alert. 




New on DVD and Blu-Ray

The first season of My Three Sons debuted on DVD in 2008. It took 12 years, but season five finally came out last year. Only seven more seasons to go – perhaps a complete series set will be available in 2046. 



 Western fans celebrated the release of all 20 seasons of Gunsmoke in one gargantuan set, and I was happy to finally pick up Head of the Class, even if it was a little better in my memory than it played on DVD. Another pleasant surprise was a release of the short-lived 1971 series The Smith Family, starring Henry Fonda.


On Blu-Ray, there were complete series sets for The Flintstones, Mission: Impossible, Police Squad, Josie and the Pussycats, and Wonder Woman




In Memoriam

We continue to mourn Dawn Wells, (and I’m still not over the passing of Diana Rigg), while fondly remembering many other stars that made television a nicer place to visit. Last year we said goodbye to David Lander, Alex Trebek, Wilford Brimley, Regis Philbin, Carl Reiner, Marj Dusay, Ken Osmond, Phyllis George, Jerry Stiller, Robert Conrad, and Scooby-Doo co-creator Joe Ruby. 




Most Popular Comfort TV Post of 2020

I’m always surprised when I run the numbers on a year’s worth of posts, and this time out was no exception. The most-read piece from 2020 was about the five most annoying kids from the classic TV era. I guess we were all a little grouchy this past year, so it felt good to kick a few little brats around while being stuck at home. 




Least Popular Comfort TV Post of 2020

Okay, no more quizzes in the blog, considering how my Which Shows Featured These Characters quiz back in August didn’t get much traction.



What’s Ahead in 2021

Hopefully the end of lockdowns, masks, despotic governors, colorful circles on the ground marking out social distancing space, and other tribulations ushered in by 2020.


If that doesn’t happen? Well, there’s a new book out about the classic TV era you might enjoy, and after you’ve read it I’ll meet you in front of the TV for the forthcoming Punky Brewster reboot. 




  1. Mr. Hofstede, what has been your overall opinion of "Sealab 2021"? The series used animation from the 1972 Hanna-Barbera series "Sealab 2020."

    1. I never watched it. I'm not really a fan of taking a series geared primarily for kids and trying to turn it into something "edgy" and adult.

  2. Now I feel a little guilty for enjoying your piece on the 5 Most Annoying Kids :^) David, sure am glad I stumbled across your awesome blog here in 2020, I'm just sorry I didn't find you sooner. Also, I am heartbroken to read about Dawn Wells, why did I not hear this on the nightly news? I'm just in shock. After reading about it HERE, I went looking & found some more (like her very young & brief marriage). I find it ironic Dawn never married again, as she pretty much had the pick of every single American guy out there! Such is life... anyway, VERY glad to read of the new Trek show Picard on here as I JUST GOT THAT ON DVD. (I don't want to subscribe to CBS All Access, and since I have every other Trek show & movie on DVD...) I've only watched the first 3 episodes so far but man, I just love it. Well, I know I have a tendency to ramble--thanks for this week's post and Happy New Year to Comfort TV :^)

    1. I'm in Las Vegas, so Dawn Wells' passing was literally front-page news, as she was a former Miss Nevada. I think you'd enjoy this lovely remembrance of her from my friend Mitchell Hadley's blog: