The other night I was channel surfing, and an ad came on promoting a new FOX TV drama series, “Monarch,” starring Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins. The first episode aired on Sept.11, 2022 and, roughly speaking, it is about a successful country music husband and wife, their family, secrets, jealousy, betrayal…well, you can probably guess the rest. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. The promo had the following to say: Fox’s new series “Monarch:” “It’s “Nashville,” meets “Empire,” meets “Succession.” If you are a TV junkie (I am not, at least not anymore), these shows will probably be familiar to you (I have not seen one single episode of any of them!) and you will no doubt know that one of the things that all of these shows have in common is that they are about families, although in “Nashville” the “family” is a group of country musicians, not about a specific family, but it is about country music, so there you go. My first reaction to this promo went something like this: “I guess it’s a good thing that this new show is the same as three others.” When I did a little digging, I found an article interviewing the producers, writer, etc., for the show and they brought up these three shows, (which is no doubt why they were in the ad!) but they also gave a nod to “Dallas” (1978-1991-14 seasons) and “Dynasty” (1981-1989, 1991-10 seasons). It was the mention of these older “family” dramas that got me thinking.
My earliest recollection of watching a TV drama series centered around a family was “Bonanza” (the four men pictured above), which aired for 14 seasons from 1959-1973. From the age of nine to around twenty, I watched this show every Sunday night with my family. How things have changed! There are, of course, no shortage of television shows about families both past and present. I’ve already mentioned “Bonanza.” Six years later there was “The Big Valley” (1965-1969), followed by “The Waltons” (1972-1981), “Little House on the Prairie” (1974-1983), the above mentioned “Dallas,” and “Dynasty.” As is always the case with any technology, advancements mean change, and nowhere is this more evident than with television. By 1999, when “The Sopranos” (family with a capital F!) first aired, the television landscape that had been the backdrop of my “Bonanza” viewing days was vastly different. By the mid 2000s, “streaming” via the Internet was the new thing, and you no longer had to commit to be in front of your television every Sunday night from 8-9 PM watching your favorite show…for 11 years! Nope, now you could binge watch an entire shows’ run in two weeks, that is of course if you have the stomach for that kind of thing! Other shows about families that followed the “Sopranos: “Six Feet Under” (2001-2005), “Parenthood” (2010-2015), “Downton Abbey” (2010-2015). “Shameless” (2011-2021), “This is Us” (2016-2022), and “Yellowstone” (2018-present). These are all dramas, but if sit-coms and animation are your thing, then you have: “The Addams Family,” “All in the Family,” “Family Ties,” “Family Guy,” “Modern Family,” and my title, “Family Matters.”
As far as I can tell, the major difference between the family shows of my youth and the ones today can be summed up in three words (you probably need more, but I’m trying to get to the punchline!): Swearing, nudity and major dysfunction. Perhaps this is why I haven’t been able to summon up the will to watch all of these new shows. No, I’m not a prude who is uncomfortable with swearing and/or nudity, but after the last six or so years of watching a family’s dysfunction unfold in the newspapers and television screens of this country, I’ve had enough. Unlike the fictional shows, there are real-life consequences for this dysfunction, but just like the fictional shows, all of it revolves around money, power, and control.
Los Angeles 2022