4 Kinds of TV Shows That Have Disappeared From Television

December 2, 2013

Tastes in TV change, so TV changes with them. Here are some shows that were once part of the broadcasting landscape…that have since gone off the air.


Variety ShowsThese glitzy, glamorous, song and dance spectaculars were dominant TV format in the 1960s and ‘70s. Featuring big production numbers, colorful costumes, comic sketches, and banter between the hosts, extravaganzas Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour dominated ratings. By 1980 they were simply passé, as the garish ‘70s gave way to the sleek ‘80s. In 1987, ABC attempted to revive the variety show with what seemed like a sure thing. The network signed singer/actress Dolly Parton to a two-year, $44 million contract to star in Dolly. It flopped, and the network bought out Parton’s contract and cancelled the show in less than a year.


In 1961, NBC bought the rights to 30 major Hollywood movies and aired them in a two-hour block called Saturday Night at the Movies. It was a hit, because in the pre-home video days, if you didn’t see a movie in the theater, you never saw it. (Among the films broadcast: How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch.) A “movie of the week” became a TV staple for 40 years, with both big-screen films or ones made just for television. There was one on almost every night of the week. In 2000, there was one on every night of the week except Friday. The last time a weekly movie was part of a regular network schedule: 2005-06, with the CBS Sunday Night Movie. With home video, cable, premium cable, Netflix, and other options, movies on TV are no longer a novelty. Plus, movies were a fast and cheap way for a network to fill up a couple hours of airtime. By the mid-2000s, there was an even cheaper option: reality shows.


The 1971-78 series Columbo is one of the most popular detective shows of all time, but only 45 episodes of it were made. Reason: It was part of The NBC Mystery Movie, a “wheel” series that rotated through different shows each week. One week Columbo would air, then McCloud got a turn, and then it was McMillan and Wife. Other wheel series in the ‘70s: The Name of the Game (set around a newspaper, but each week’s main character would rotate) and The Bold Ones (with separate series like The New Doctors, The Lawyers, and The Senator.) In 1989, ABC revived the wheel format with The ABC Mystery Movie. That series rotated through B.L. Stryker (with Burt Reynolds), Gideon Oliver (about a crime-solving anthropology professor), and revivals of Kojak and Columbo. It was cancelled within a year—by then, audiences came to expect the same show at the same time every week.


Daytime soap operas aren’t quite dead yet, but they’re on their way. Before cable TV provided dozens of options, and when millions more women didn’t work outside the home, soap operas were a big part of popular culture. Some of the biggest TV moments have happened in soaps, such as the famous “Wedding of Luke and Laura” on General Hospital in 1981. The daytime schedules on all Big 3 TV networks were littered with soaps. There were 19 on the air in 1970, and around a dozen each season into the 1990s. Currently only four remain: The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital, and Days of Our Lives. The Young and the Restless is the most-watched, bringing in 3.6 million viewers. To put that into perspective, in 1981, General Hospital attracted 13.8 million people.