It’s the time of year to make trips home for the holidays. Images of families spending time together opening presents and gobbling down dinners are staples of the holiday season.
However, don’t look to television to provide those images. The lack of family sitcoms on TV is making people wonder where all the family shows have gone.
Father Knows Best, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Good Times and The Cosby Show were important family sitcoms of their era. But family shows have been wiped out by the waxing popularity of reality television and medical and police dramas. People want fewer warm and fuzzy family moments and more extreme and compelling storylines featuring sex and violence. Even 7th Heaven, the longest-running family drama in the history of television, traded in its original squeaky-clean image and became more risquÃ© over the years by addressing topics such as suicide, teen pregnancy and hate crimes.
In addition, the very few family shows that do exist tend to reflect how the family structure has changed in America. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 18.5 percent of adults age 15 and over were widowed, divorced or separated. Furthermore, the number of single-mother families has increased from 3 million in 1970 to 10 million in 2003. The number of single-father families has increased from half a million to 2 million.
As a result, no longer do families on television consist of two parents and a number of young but typically responsible children. It isn’t unusual for a show to focus around a divorced couple who has become a blended family, or single parents who struggle every day to deal with their situation.
A good example of this is country music star Reba McEntire’s self-titled family sitcom. The show is about how her character, Reba, was married for 20 years to her husband. During the course of her marriage, they had three beautiful children, but all that happiness came to a painful end when she found out her husband cheated on her with his dental hygienist.
If that doesn’t create enough stress, Reba’s eldest daughter becomes pregnant at age 17 and decides to marry the high school football star who is the father of her child. Though it’s just a show, it reflects many families that exist in America today.
If you are through with the reality TV hoopla, it’s possible to catch a handful of family shows still on the air. The CW network has The Gilmore Girls, which chronicles the relationship between a single mother and her daughter. All of Us, which is about a divorced couple that still lives together with their young son, has become a hit amongst the CW’s black audience, along with one the biggest hit shows of the year, Everybody Hates Chris.
FOX has the most family-themed shows of all the networks. They have five under their belt, but four are animated. King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad are all family-themed shows, but since they are animated and the content can be crude at times, many parents believe they aren’t appropriate for children to watch. ABC had George Lopez, but the show has been put on hiatus. Neither CBS nor NBC have any family shows on their fall lineup.
From the looks of it, it seems as though the family sitcom is on its way out as America gravitates away from the genre. Nevertheless, hope is not lost. A May 2005 article in the Memphis Flyer pointed out that the death of the domestic sitcom has been declared many times, only to see the genre reinvent itself and flourish again.
For instance, when it seemed the change in America’s values was the end of family sitcoms, All in the Family debuted in 1971 and America was once again in love with family shows. In the early ’80s, domestic sitcoms died again, only to rise from the ashes with the debut of The Cosby Show.
The younger generation may love watching stars in a dance competition or a young adult drama about kids in Orange County, but Nick at Nite on Nickelodeon and the TV Land channel keep the spirit of good family sitcoms alive. Years after most of the shows have taped their final episodes, families still enjoy watching Samantha twitch her nose in Bewitched, as well as the wacky antics of Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Before the final nail is put in the family sitcom’s coffin, they just might rise from the dead and recapture the hearts of Americans all over again.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.