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TV Rewind: The 9 Shows That Defined 1990, From ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Wings’

“Twin Peaks” wasn’t the only show that made its mark at the beginning of that decade.

“Twin Peaks,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “In Living Color”

Lynch/Frost/Spelling/REX/Shutterstock, SNAP/REX/Shutterstock,

The year 1990 was the beginning of a new decade that just had survived the neon excesses of the ’80s. This fresh start was seen in the world at large with the reunification of Germany, the unification of Yemen, the release of Nelson Mandela and the resignation of Margaret Thatcher as the U.K.’s prime minister.

It was also the fledgling days of the internet, when the first web server was created, providing a foundation for the World Wide Web as we know it.

READ MORE: ‘Animaniacs’ Reboot Being Developed by Steven Spielberg, Amblin TV and Warner Bros. — Exclusive

Over on television, “Saturday Night Live” welcomed the new talents of Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and Julia Sweeney.

The year also marked the end of an era for shows like “ALF,” “227,” “Newhart,” primetime soap “Falcon Crest,” Nickelodeon’s slime purveyor “You Can’t Do That on Television,” “Mr. Belvedere,” the Linda Hamilton-Ron Perlman “Beauty and the Beast,” “Charles in Charge,” “DuckTales,” MTV’s first non-musical show “Remote Control,” and “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies.”

Of those shows, “Beauty and the Beast” has already returned as a remake on The CW, and “DuckTales” and “Muppet Babies” have revivals in the works. As for everyone’s favorite cat-eating alien life form, “ALF” enjoyed a brilliant and bizarre return on USA’s “Mr. Robot” this past season.

And while some shows attempted to break in but failed miserably like the first live-action attempt at “The Flash” and the ill-fated musical police show “Cop Rock,” several other series made indelible marks.

Here’s a look at nine new shows that defined 1990.

Twin Peaks” (ABC)

Premiere Date: April 8

What hasn’t already been written about the David Lynch and Mark Frost collaboration that rocked everyone’s TV sets? ABC made a bold move in broadcasting this story of a homecoming queen murdered in a sleepy Washington town. It mixed avant garde filmmaking with melodrama that was a holdover of the ‘80s in such a compelling and curious way that captured everyone’s imaginations. The series was ahead of its time, and ABC didn’t quite know what to do with it. After the network forced the series to reveal an answer to the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” the show never quite recovered after that.
Legacy: ”Twin Peaks” changed the way people thought about TV and what it can do. It influenced a number of shows ranging from “The X-Files” to “Wayward Pines” and inspired a number of clever homages. And of course its legacy lives on with Showtime’s 2017 revival, which returns to the sleepy town of Twin Peaks 25 years later to see how FBI Special Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachclan) has fared.

In Living Color” (FOX)

Premiere Date: April 14

After the success of films like “Hollywood Shuffle” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” in the late ‘80s, Fox offered Keenan Ivory Wayans his own series, and he chose to make a sketch comedy show that featured more people of color than counterparts like “Saturday Night Live.” It was an unqualified hit in the first two seasons, thanks to how its pointed, saucy and self-aware humor challenged upscale series like “The Cosby Show” with a different vision of black America. Characters like Homey D. Clown, Fire Marshall Bill and the Men on Film became part of the pop culture conversation and cemented the Wayans family’s place in Hollywood. The show made its most audacious move in 1992 by offering a halftime special as Super Bowl counter-programming (a common practice nowadays) — which lured away approximately 20 million viewers from the actual big game itself on CBS.
Legacy: ”In Living Color” opened the door for talents like Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, Steve Park, T’kedah Crystal Keymah and Jim Carrey. Its dancers, known as the Fly Girls, introduced the world to future “Dancing with the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba and Jenny from the Block herself, Jennifer Lopez.

“Wings” (NBC)

Premiere Date: April 19

“Wings” was an odd duck that epitomized the insular workplace comedies of the era. From the first notes of Franz Schubert’s “Piano Sonata No. 20” in the title sequence, the sitcom offered a gentle refuge where the dramas in the lives of its protagonists could be resolved and whisked away as easily as a short flight on Sandpiper Air. Pilot brothers Joe and Brian Hackett (Tim Daly, Steven Weber) have some unresolved history and yet are thrown together to work at the small airline on Nantucket Island. Their dreams, their love lives and the small dramas with the other people who work at the airport created a microcosm much like that of a small town, where characters from “Cheers” would occasionally drop by.
Legacy: While leads Tim Daly and Steven Weber are still active today, it was Thomas Haden Church and Tony Shalhoub who broke out as supporting characters on “Wings,” which really ignited their careers. For a while, the series lived on in syndication, and seemingly kept USA Network on the air for years until it was almost synonymous with its programming.

“Dream On” (HBO)

Premiere Date: July 7

"Dream On"

“Dream On”


The series was one of HBO’s first forays into sitcoms — and lasted for six seasons. Martin Tupper (Brian Benben) is a single father who navigates life and relationships with the help of his memories of black and white vintage clips from television that often illustrate what he’s thinking. The series was created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who later created “Friends.”
Legacy: The series was one of the first American sitcoms to use uncensored profanity and nudity. It also introduced audiences to Wendie Malick, who played Tupper’s ex-wife Judith, before the actress went onto her most recognizable role yet as Nina Van Horne in “Just Shoot Me!”

“Northern Exposure” (CBS)

Premiere Date: July 12

"Northern Exposure"

“Northern Exposure”


The “fish out of water” trope popular in movies such as “Doc Hollywood” came to the small screen in this quirky comedy about Dr. Joel Fleischmann (Rob Morrow), a recent graduate from New York who is obligated to practice medicine in the small town of Cicely, Alaska. The resulting culture clash and Joel’s eventual harmonious relationship with the town’s oddball residents created a beautiful example of coexistence and acceptance. Over the course of its six seasons, the show won numerous awards, including Emmys and Golden Globes.
Legacy: To this day, Chris Stevens on “Northern Exposure” is John Corbett’s best role yet. Only an ex-convict who acts as Cicely’s DJ, clergyman and all-around philosopher could get away with flinging pianos and still seem charming. The show is also credited with inspiring the name of the indie band Bon Iver, a mangling of the greeting “bon hiver,” a French phrase meaning “good winter.”

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (NBC)

Premiere Date: Sept. 10

NBC brought popular rapper Will Smith into the acting world with this sitcom, in which he starred as a fictional version of himself. After a fight in his Philly neighborhood, Will’s mother sends him to live with his affluent uncle, aunt and three cousins in Bel-Air. Much of the show’s humor results from Will’s working class background clashing with his family’s bourgeois lifestyle. While this series is set in a world more like “The Cosby Show,” the addition of an interloper from a different neighborhood served to put their privilege in context.
Legacy: ”The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” introduced mainstream audiences to Smith as an actor, which allowed him to become the bankable, blockbuster movie star we know today. The series was also a comeback vehicle for Alfonso Ribeiro, who was previously a sweet sidekick in “Silver Spoons,” and let him show his more comedic side.

“Tiny Toon Adventures” (Syndicated)

Premiere Date: Sept. 14

As the first collaborative effort between Warner Bros. Animation and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, “Tiny Toons” revitalized the world of “Looney Tunes,” with a younger generation of cartoon stars learning how to be funny at Acme Looniversity. This reflected a trend at the time for shows with younger versions of known characters, such as “Muppet Babies” or “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo.” The series also returned to the practice of using a full orchestra for its score and infectious theme song that explained the show’s premise (see above).

Legacy: Production on “Tiny Toon Adventures” stopped after three years because its success made way for “Animaniacs,” which reunited the Warner Bros. and Amblin partnership and improved upon the formula of spoofing pop culture, but this time with wholly original characters, and using rich orchestrations for the show’s many original and instructional songs. Insiders recently told Indiewire that “Animaniacs” itself will be getting the revival treatment in the near future.

“Beverly Hills, 90210” (FOX)

Premiere Date: Oct. 4

The series about twins Brendan and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty) who move from Minnesota to Beverly Hills became a sensation by its second season for its teen soapiness combined with the upscale Beverly Hills lifestyle. It made Jason Priestley and Luke Perry teen heartthrobs, their sideburns into the must-have facial hair trend, and Shannen Doherty, Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth into household names.
Legacy: The series still lives on as the epitome of teen soaps and it inspired four spinoffs: “Melrose Place,” “Models Inc.,” and sequel series “90210” (2008) and “Melrose Place” (2009). Cast members Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth still ride on that fame — they were recently featured as judges on the “9021-Ho”-themed episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

“It” miniseries (ABC)

Premiere Date: Nov. 18


This was the first made-for-TV adaptation of a Stephen King property since 1979’s “Salem’s Lot.” The two-night miniseries about an inter-dimensional predatory shapeshifter that takes the form of its victims’ fears was a huge success for ABC and earned praise for the performances of Tim Curry as Pennywise and its child stars. Critics hailed the miniseries as a fun matinee-style flick that artfully combined childhood nostalgia and horror elements. The ensemble cast included John Ritter, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, Annette O’Toole, Seth Green and Olivia Hussey, among others.
Legacy: To this day, ABC’s “It” miniseries is a must-watch for any Stephen King fan, has built up a cult following in recent years, and critics still cite it as having one of the scariest scenes on TV. It was an ambitious undertaking in that it compressed more than 1,000 pages of story into less than four hours. This year, “It” will be reconceived as a big-screen duo-logy, the first part of which will be released Sept. 8.

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