ABC’s announcement that it will launch an updated 1980s version of the classic TV show “The Goldbergs” reminds me that in the history of television, some of the most popular series have been about, well, history. “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Happy Days,” “MASH,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” were all huge ratings-generators and all were about bygone days.
Today it’s a lot different. Almost all of contemporary scripted television is set in the present. There are, of course, a few huge exceptions on the cable networks and PBS. “Mad Men,” “Downton Abbey” and “Boardwalk Empire” are not only unusual in being great dramas on their own, but they have the added virtue of using history to illuminate the present.
With their slavish attention to historical detail and long-since-abandoned social mores, these shows makes us think seriously about how society has evolved over the past few…
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