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Remote Life: TV a testament of storytelling, and only time will tell what shows from now will be future classics

CBS TELEVISION

By Samantha Suchland

April 11, 2012 1:19 a.m.

I never thought I’d get to watch Lucille Ball’s infamous drunk Vitameatavegamin commercial from “I Love Lucy” in a theater full of college students. More importantly, I didn’t expect a 55-year-old show to send a bunch of undergrads into fits of giggles.

And yet I was able to experience both this week thanks to a class on the history of television, and thanks to Lucille Ball’s indelible comedic chops.

It’s a testament to the craft of storytelling that shows more than 50 years old are still able to entertain us.

But it’s not as if most college students are watching black-and-white televisions shows. It’s easy to assume that the entertainment value of a show would be lost with the transition to color, cultural changes and increasingly sophisticated production value.

But I’ve got a class full of guffawing undergraduates that debunks that theory. The performances still ring true, and the stories still manage to affect us.

It’s not just “I Love Lucy” that got a reaction from my class. “The Honeymooners,” which aired in 1955, and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” which aired in 1950, both received their fair share of chuckles. While most students probably caught “I Love Lucy” on late-night reruns, these shows aren’t a part of the college student’s television zeitgeist.

Which begs the question: What earns a show a spot in television history? Looking at today’s television line-ups, which of our precious shows are going to make it into the history books and into rerun glory?

If we’re going by ratings alone, it looks like “American Idol” is going to represent our golden age of television. Or worse yet, think of that moment 100 years from now when college students are studying “Jersey Shore” in Sociology 2: Life at the Turn of the Century.

Of course, that’s if ratings alone are the reasonfor a show’s legacy. “I Love Lucy” doesn’t just live on in our televisions ““ Lucy is a pop culture icon slapped on lunch boxes, T-shirts and magnets.

Going off that logic, “Spongebob Squarepants” has the best luck at representing us even after the apocalypse. While he’s a fine entertainer, what does he say about us as a culture? I’ll let you ponder that one for a moment.

Of course, there’s always the chance that the shows that live on are the shows that speak to the writers of history. These are the shows that the few who write about television and culture decide to teach future generations about.

Today we remember “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” because our high school history books still mention them when talking about life in the ’50s, the post-war era and the birth of the baby boomers. Whether this is accurate or not is another debate entirely.

I have to wonder what shows historians will choose to reference when talking about our time. What shows speak to the world we’re living in now and the issues we’re dealing with (or not dealing with)?

I don’t even know if it’s possible to make a prediction at this moment. I just hope that we can be remembered for something more than “Dancing with the Stars.” I guess we’ll just have to let time decide.

What shows do you think will stand the test of time? Email Suchland at [email protected].

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Samantha Suchland
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