Recently, the Library of Congress came out with a list of Books That Shaped America–88 tomes that are not necessarily the “best” American books (though some probably are), but that “have influenced our lives” as Americans, one way or another. (Public radio’s The Takeaway aired a discussion of the list last week.)
The list–which runs from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Words of Cesar Chavez–got me thinking that you can do the same thing with TV, which arguably has outdone books as an influencer for the last several decades. So as we head into the Fourth of July holiday, I want your nominations for the TV Shows That Shaped America: not a “best” list, necessarily, but shows that have influenced modern culture or helped to capture or define what America is. These could be anything from shows that got Americans talking (Roots?), told us parables (The Twilight Zone?), informed us (60 Minutes?) or satirized us (The Simpsons?).
I’ll give you a few nominations, just to start:
The Andy Griffith Show. One of the first and best depictions of regional Americana, from a time, at the dawn of mass-culture, when American regions were still, well, regional. This gentle small-town comedy gave us Mayberry’s quirks without ridiculing or patronizing them. And Griffith’s Sheriff Taylor, who’d rather wield a wry comment than a gun, was a weekly example of Americans talking through their problems.
Friday Night Lights. About half a century after Andy Griffith, the story of Coach and Mrs. Taylor shared a surname with Griffith’s show and a similar faith in people’s basic decency. A show about football, family and faith in a small town, it was one of TV’s best demonstrations of the meaning of community in action.
All in the Family. A TV show doesn’t have to be small-town to be about Americana, and one of TV’s most distinct post-’60s urban voices belonged to Queens dockworker Archie Bunker, who gave good argument.
Roseanne. This show transformed Archie’s chair into Roseanne Conner’s beat-up, quilt-covered couch, in a sitcom that was always conscious of the work it took to keep bills paid and a family afloat.
The Wire. Because, come on. It’s The Wire.
This is barely a start; you take it from here. I’m having Robo-James auto-post this while I’m on vacation, so I probably won’t be playing along in the comments, but there’s no need to limit our list to 88 shows. Suggest as many or as few as you want, and tell us why. And have a happy Fourth.