1990's Television

Television 1990's.mp4

1990's Television

Television in the 1990's was leaning into the expansion of cable networks as the Big Three - NBC, ABC and CBS fought to keep as much of the market share as possible.  Traditional television shows of the 1980's were not as popular as new niche networking which allowed for programming that appealed to smaller segments of the population.  As the number of television networks increased the number of television screens in the home increased as well, families did not watch shows as a family as often as they used to - television had become a personal affair.  

Sitcoms in the 1990's became more reflective of everyday society and shows started to tackle tough issues like in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when Will breaks down after his father leaves again or on Saved by the Bell when the Bayside gang tackles teen drug use.  NBC was "Must See TV" and the TGIF lineup had the youth and their families tuned in every week.

By the end of the decade a new technology was introduced that would change television forever - the Digital Video Recorder or DVR was introduced by Tivo and for the first time in history you didn't need to use your VCR to record a show, you could program a computer record it and the recording would even be digital.  You could also rewind live TV and fast forward through commercials.

Television, technology and targeted marketing were merging and things would never look the same again.


  Task 1: Watch the Introductory Video to this Unit (5 minutes)

Task 2: Review the provided videos and attached links for Television during the 1990's (10 minutes)

Task 3: Dig deeper into one of the Television Shows presented in this area of focus for the 1990’s (25 minutes)

Task 4: Share Your Findings With The Class (With Anyone Who Completed the Same Show) (10 minutes)


Families disappeared on dramas. Instead, hour-long ensembles were composed of cops (NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street), lawyers (Ally McBeal, The Practice), and doctors (ER, Chicago Hope). These people’s personal lives may have been a mess — NYPD‘s Sipowicz is a recovering drunk, Ally is a spindly bundle of neuroses — but they found warmth at the hearth of the workplace. TV simply reflects society. And, in this case, TV also reflects how society watches TV. With hundreds of cable options, and 2.4 TVs in the average American home, families no longer gather in front of one set to watch the same show.  (https://ew.com/article/1999/02/19/100-greatest-moments-television-1990s/ )


Original Release September 19, 1994 – April 2, 2009 

No. of Seasons 15

No. of Episodes 331

Stars Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, Noah Wyle, Julianna Margulies, Eriq La Salle, Gloria Reuben, Laura Innes, Maria Bello, Alex Kingston

Network NBC

"The lives, loves and losses of the doctors and nurses of Chicago's County General Hospital. " - IMDB


Original Release September 10, 1993 – May 19, 2002

No. of Seasons 9

No. of Episodes 202

Stars David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, Mitch Pileggi

Network FOX

"Two F.B.I. Agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts. " - IMDB

Law & Order

Original Release September 13, 1990 – Present

No. of Seasons 23 (and counting)

No. of Episodes 488+ (and counting)

Stars Dick Wolf, George Dzundza, Chris Noth, Dann Florek, Michael Moriarty, Richard Brooks, Steven Hill, Paul Sorvino, Carolyn McCormick, Jerry Orbach

Network NBC

"Filmed on location in New York, the drama showcases the sometimes-complex process of determining guilt or innocence, while lives hang in the balance. Often inspired by the latest headlines, the plots highlight legal, ethical or personal dilemmas to which people can relate. " - IMDB

Law and Order Movie - Exiled 

(1 Hour 45 min)

Game Shows and Reality Shows

The term ‘reality television’ became commonplace in different academic studies during the 1990s, with early literature focusing on crime, consumer affairs and disaster formats (e.g. 999, Cops, Crimewatch). The makeover, talk show and ‘docusoap’ formats of the 1990s (e.g. Changing Rooms, Jerry Springer, Airport) meant that the focus of the literature and the use of the term ‘reality television’ expanded to include these genres. ‘Social experiments’ (e.g. The 1900 House, Survivor, Big Brother), which emerged at the turn of the millennium, expanded the genre further, as did the early 2000s resurgence in talent shows heralded by the Pop stars and Pop Idol franchises – to the point where reality has moved away from being a single genre, and, instead becomes more of what Nick Couldry (2009) terms a ‘meta-genre’ (p. 47) encompassing several sub-genres .  (https://books.emeraldinsight.com/resources/pdfs/chapters/9781839090240-TYPE23-NR2.pdf )

The Real World

Original Release May 21, 1992 – August 29, 2019 

No. of Seasons 33

No. of Episodes 614

Stars Everyday People....

Network MTV

"This is the true story...of seven strangers...picked to live in a house...(work together) and have their lives taped...to find out what happens...when people stop being polite...and start getting real...The Real World." - IMDB

Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

Original Release August 16, 1999 – March 21, 2021 

No. of Seasons 22

No. of Episodes 3,398

Stars Regis Philbin, Meredith Vieira, Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews, Chris Harrison, Jimmy Kimmel

Network ABC

"Contestants, selected by calling a phone number, are chosen based on their ability to arrange 4 answers to a question in the correct order the fastest. They then have to answer 15 multiple-choice questions correctly to win increasing amounts of money, the largest of which is $1,000,000. They can choose to use three "lifelines": 50/50: two incorrect answers are eliminated; Ask the audience: the studio audience votes on the correct answer; and phone a friend: they can call one of 5 pre-arranged friends who can help with the answer"  - IMDB

Iron Chef

Original Release October 10, 1993 – September 24, 1999

No. of Seasons 7

No. of Episodes 295

Stars Takeshi Kaga, Kenji Fukui, Yukio Hattori, Shinichirō Ōta

Network Fuji Television

"Chefs from all over the world come to Kitchen Stadium to do culinary battle with one of Chairman Kaga's "Iron Chefs." Both the challenger and the Iron Chef have one hour to prepare a meal in which each course must prominently include the featured ingredient for that day's show. After the meals are prepared, a panel of judges samples both meals and determines who has made the better meal. Throughout the cook-off, running commentary is made by two "sports-casters" in a booth and one floor reporter."  - IMDB


Traditional family comedies such as The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Growing Pains (ABC, 1985–92) remained on the air into the 1990s, while at the same time more “realistic” shows featuring lower-middle-class families such as Roseanne (ABC, 1988–97), The Simpsons (Fox, begun 1989), Married…with Children (Fox, 1987–97), and Grace Under Fire (ABC, 1993–98) introduced a completely different vision of the American family. The cultural consensus that had united so much of television during the network era had been obliterated. Audiences were no longer watching the same things at the same time, and the choices they had were the greatest ever and continuing to multiply.  (https://www.britannica.com/art/television-in-the-United-States/The-1990s-the-loss-of-shared-experience#ref283646 )


Original Release July 5, 1989 – May 14, 1998

No. of Seasons 9

No. of Episodes 180

Stars Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander

Network NBC

"The continuing misadventures of neurotic New York City stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York City friends." - IMDB


Original Release September 22, 1994 – May 6, 2004 

No. of Seasons 10

No. of Episodes 236

Stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer

Network NBC

"Follows the personal and professional lives of six twenty to thirty year-old friends living in the Manhattan borough of New York City." - IMDB

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Original Release September 10, 1990 – May 20, 1996 

No. of Seasons 6

No. of Episodes 148

Stars Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Joseph Marcell, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Ross Bagley

Network NBC

"A streetwise, poor young man from Philadelphia is sent by his mother to live with his aunt, uncle and cousins in their Bel-Air mansion." - IMDB


Throughout the 1990s, television content continued to move into areas that made many viewers and special interest groups uncomfortable. Strong language and explicit sexual topics became common both on cable and on broadcast TV, even in the early evening hours. Two of the more controversial series of the decade were cable products: MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head (1993–97, 2011) and Comedy Central’s South Park (begun 1997). Both animated series that challenged traditional notions of taste, and both part of a new wave of adult cartoons inspired by the success of The Simpsons, these programs demonstrated that the bulk of the experimentation on television was taking place off the major networks.   (https://www.britannica.com/art/television-in-the-United-States/Teen-dramas-and-adult-cartoons )


Original Release August 11, 1991 – August 1, 2004

No. of Seasons 9

No. of Episodes 172

Stars E. G. Daily, Christine Cavanaugh, Nancy Cartwright, Cheryl Chase, Tara Strong, Kath Soucie, Dionne Quan, Cree Summer, Jack Riley, Melanie Chartoff, David Doyle, Joe Alaskey, Michael Bell, Tress MacNeille

Network Nickelodeo

"The cartoon misadventures of four babies and their snotty older cousin as they face the things in life they don't understand." - IMDB

Beavis and Butthead

Original Release March 8, 1993 – November 28, 1997

No. of Seasons 7

No. of Episodes 205

Stars Mike Judge, Tracy Grandstaff, Kristofor Brown, David Spade

Network MTV

"Animated MTV series about two teenage heavy-metal music fans who occasionally do idiotic things because they're bored. For them, everything is "cool" or "sucks.""  - IMDB

Southpark Season 1 Episode 18 Clip.mp4


Original Release August 13, 1997 – Present 

No. of Seasons 26 (and counting)

No. of Episodes 325+ (and counting)

Stars Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes, Eliza Schneider, Mona Marshall, April Stewart, Adrien Beard

Network Comedy Central

"Follows the misadventures of four irreverent grade-schoolers in the quiet, dysfunctional town of South Park, Colorado."  - IMDB

Talk Shows

The television talk show phenomenon took hold in the 1990s particularly in Western countries, but it has its precedents in earlier radio broadcasting. The talk show broadly refers to a style of unscripted discussion that privileges audience participation. The label has been used to describe a range of formats from celebrity interviews, conversations between elite peers, round table discussions, to talk between “ordinary people,” usually in a studio audience. It gained wider media attention and notoriety through participants’ engagement in rowdy and even violent behavior. The talk show has opened up an arena for “ordinary people” to speak in public, which has spurred a broad range of evaluations. More public-issue shows have been credited with providing a forum where formal institutions meet the public, leading some to describe them as “infotainment” or “democratainment”; other shows have emphasized spectacle and conflict and have been labeled “trashy” or “freak shows.” (https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199791286/obo-9780199791286-0181.xml )

Jerry Springer

Original Release September 30, 1991 – July 26, 2018 

No. of Seasons 27

No. of Episodes 4,969

Stars Jerry Springer 

Network Syndicated

"Among his peers' other talk-shows, Jerry's is of the more passionate and of the more sensational. His topics range from bisexual affairs to rape. His guests sometimes get out of control and yell and scream at each other, but they are more believable than some other talk-shows."  - IMDB

Late Night with Conan O'Brien

Original Release September 13, 1993 – February 20, 2009 

No. of Seasons 16

No. of Episodes 2,725

Stars Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter, Max Weinberg

Network NBC

"Stepping into the late-late slot vacated by David Letterman, Conan O'Brien stars in a show that far outdoes its competition in sheer strangeness. Along with the celebrity interviews and musical numbers typical of late-night talk shows, this program make frequent use of odd walk-on characters and frequent "visits" from celebrity guests. " - IMDB

Britney Spears On Total Request Live 5.12.1999 MTV 8 min.mp4

Total Request Live (TRL)

Original Release September 14, 1998 – November 16, 2008 

No. of Seasons 20

No. of Episodes 2,254

Stars Carson Daly, Dave Holmes, Hilarie Burton, Quddus, Damien Fahey, La La Vasquez, Vanessa Minnillo, Susie Castillo, Lyndsey Rodrigues, DC Young Fly, Tamara Dhia, Amy Pham, Erik Zachary, Lawrence Jackson, Matt Rife, Sway, Jamila Mustafa, Kevan Kenney

Network MTV

"VJs count down the top ten music videos of the day alongside a studio audience. Celebrities also stop by the studio and pop culture is discussed as well." - IMDB

Niche Networks

The 1990s is considered as the age of alternative media. Up until this point, television was the main mass medium with three major networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – offering very limited selections of programs. But by the 1990s, the continuing expansion of cable and satellite TV meant more channels and more choices for programming. By the end of the decade, about 65 million households had a cable subscription service. In addition, several new broadcast networks had also come into play.

TV used to be a shared experience. In many ways, it brought together many people no matter the age, status, or race. But with cable and satellite services becoming more accessible, television began to fragment. Unlike before where programs were made to attract a wider audience, television in the 1990s was the opposite. Programs tended to attract a smaller audience, or audience of a definite age group, income or preferences in order to attract certain advertisers. (https://mentalitch.com/television-in-the-1990s/ )

Fox News Network

The channel was created by Australian-born American media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who hired Roger Ailes as its founding CEO. The channel was launched on October 7, 1996 to 17 million cable subscribers. Prior to founding Fox News, Murdoch had gained significant experience in the 24-hour news business when News Corporation's British Sky Broadcasting subsidiary started Europe's first 24-hour news channel, Sky News, in the United Kingdom in 1989. With the success of his fourth network efforts in the United States, experience gained from Sky News, and turnaround of 20th Century Fox, Murdoch announced on January 31, 1996, that his company would be launching a 24-hour news channel to air on both cable and satellite systems as part of a News Corp. "worldwide platform" for Fox programming, reasoning that "The appetite for news – particularly news that explains to people how it affects them – is expanding enormously."

In February 1996, after former NBC executive and Republican Party political strategist Roger Ailes left America's Talking (now MSNBC), Murdoch called him to start the Fox News Channel. Ailes worked individuals through five months of 14-hour workdays and several weeks of rehearsal shows before launch, on October 7, 1996.

At launch, only 10 million households were able to watch Fox News, with none in the major media markets of New York City and Los Angeles. According to published reports, many media reviewers had to watch the first day's programming at Fox News' studios because it was not readily available. The rolling news coverage during the day consisted of 20-minute single topic shows like Fox on Crime or Fox on Politics surrounded by news headlines. Interviews had various facts at the bottom of the screen about the topic or the guest. - Source


MSNBC was launched on July 15, 1996, after a lengthy taped loop of promos aired following the end of America's Talking. The first show, which was anchored by Jodi Applegate, broadcast a lineup of news read by Lori Stokes, interviews and opinions. During the day, rolling news coverage continued with The Contributors, a show that featured Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, as well as interactive programming coordinated by Applegate, John Gibson and John Seigenthaler. Stories were generally longer and more detailed than the stories running on CNN at the time. 

The start was a bit bumpy due to a series of changes in management and continuing internal squabbles over the direction of the network. Some NBC affiliates were concerned that cross-promotion would divert viewers from their own programs, although that fear abated. However, MSNBC was often first to break news. It broke the story of the crash of TWA Flight 800 eight minutes before CNN, ushering in an era of hypercompetitiveness between the news channels that continues today. MSNBC originally demonstrated the interactive value of the Internet. The network's first slogan was It's Time to Get Connected, and e-mail addresses and phone numbers were displayed regularly. - Source

Court TV

Cable television channel Courtroom Television Network, known as Court TV, was launched on July 1, 1991, at 6:00 am Eastern Time by founder Steven Brill and was available to three million subscribers. Its original anchors were Jack Ford, Fred Graham, Cynthia McFadden, and Gregg Jarrett. The network was born out of two competing projects to launch cable channels with live courtroom proceedings, the American Trial Network from Time Warner and American Lawyer Media, and In Court from Cablevision and NBC. Both projects were present at the National Cable Television Association, in June 1990. Rather than trying to establish two competing networks, the projects were combined on December 14, 1990. Liberty Media would join the venture in 1991. The network's first logo consisted of a rectangle with the word "COURT", and the letters "TV" below, with a line underneath. 

The channel originally consisted of live courtroom trials that were interspersed with anchors and reporters. It was led by law writer Steven Brill, who later left the network in 1997. The network came into its own during the Menéndez brothers' first trial in 1994, and the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. - Source

Digital Video Recorder

The digital video recording revolution, started in 1999 by TiVo (and its oft-forgotten competitor, ReplayTV), has been eagerly embraced by consumers who enjoy the flexibility that the machines afford. And it's easy to understand why: DVR fundamentally changes the experience of watching television. First, it allows users to record programs to an internal hard drive for later viewing. Second, it lets viewers disrupt live TV—pause, rewind and, perhaps most importantly, fast forward (for delayed or recorded programming). (https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a1747/4217964/ )

Tivo Changes Television

In 1998, Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay developed a device they called TiVo and began public trials in the San Francisco area. After exhibiting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1999, TiVos started shipping later that year and quickly took off. The TiVo was essentially a Digital Video Recorder (DVR), serving a similar function to a VCR in that it allowed a television viewer to record programming for a later time. Instead of using VHS tape as the recording medium, DVRs used an internal hard drive. This innovation introduced a number of improvements such as little degradation for reuse and software to improve the replay of the recorded television. Although not the first DVR, TiVo included many features that greatly improved the television recording experience for its users. TiVo included such features as automatically recording programs that the user might be interested in, the ability to pause live television and rewind and replay up to a half an hour of recently-viewed television, and of course the ability to easily fast-forward through commercials.  

At first cable companies and broadcasters tried to stop DVRs by challenging their legality, but the genie was out of the bottle. Whatever small victories they achieved against the DVR industry, they were short lived as consumer adoption exploded. Toward the end of the 2000s, cable companies started to shift focus and rather than try to combat DVRs, they started offering DVRs as part of their service, offering to rent the devices to their subscribers and eventually integrating them into their cable television set-top boxes.  (https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/9681/the-evolution-of-dvr-technology )