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A Look Back at TV Guide Fall Preview 1987

by Jim H

Just a Handful of Classics was Introduced in the TV Guide Fall Preview 1987

1987 was a banner year for television. New 80s TV shows like My Two Dads and Full House changed the conversation about what constitutes a family. A Different World and Thirty Something created new blueprints for the ability for network TV to tell socially conscious stories, and America’s obsession with the police procedural continued full steam ahead. But alongside the gems came a whole flood of quickly forgotten relics. Whether due to being too formulaic or too revolutionary, shows that were glowingly covered in the TV Guide Fall Preview 1987 like The “Slap” Maxwell Story, I Married Dora, and Once a Hero became forgotten footnotes in television history.

Best New TV Shows 1987

1. My Two Dads (September 20, 1987, to April 30, 1990)

80s sitcoms

Paul Reiser, Staci Keanan and Greg Evigan in My Two Dads.

This fish out of water comedy followed the trials and tribulations of two best friends trying to raise a young woman, unaware of which of the two of them was the actual father. Despite the preposterous premise, My Two Dads found a modestly sizable audience of fans and continued through 1990. Paul Reiser played one of the dads and would later make a name for himself in the long-running couples sitcom Mad About You.

2. Everything’s Relative (October 3, 1987, to November 7, 1987)

tv guide fall preview 1987

John Bolger, Anne Jackson and Jason Alexander in Everything’s Relative.

You might not remember Everything’s Relative, but you probably remember its lead actor. The conventional sitcom, which took the premise of The Odd Couple and applied it to a pair of brothers sharing an apartment, failed to find an audience and was canceled after a single season. Jason Alexander took the lead as the responsible straight man of Julian Beeby, but he’s better recognized as neurotic George Costanza on Seinfeld.

3. Beauty and the Beast (September 25, 1987, to August 4, 1990)

tv guide fall preview 1987

Beauty and the Beast stars Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. Image: CBS Television

Beauty and the Beast’s unique presence in the primetime network space – as a modern update of a classic fairy tale, complete with lush and evocative set design – earned it three seasons and a cult of popularity. But it was most notable for casting two future genre superstars as its star-crossed lovers. Linda Hamilton would go on to star in the mega-hit Terminator 2: Judgment Day two years after the show’s cancellation, while Ron Perlman would later take on the role of the titular hero in the Hellboy film series and that of a compellingly sinister biker in the series Sons of Anarchy.

4. Dolly (September 27, 1987, to May 10, 1988)

Dolly tv show

Dolly Parton

By the time the TV Guide Fall Preview 1987 was released, the variety show was a dying breed, but ABC pulled out all the stops in their attempts to revive it. They enlisted country music legend Dolly Parton to serve as the show’s host and packed each episode with a seemingly endless parade of skits, celebrity guest stars, and musical numbers. Unfortunately for Dolly and ABC, this wasn’t enough to reignite interest in the genre, and the show was promptly canceled after a single season.

5. Tour of Duty (September 24, 1987, to April 28, 1990)

1987 tv guide fall preview

Tour of Duty cast Stephen Caffrey, Joshua Maurer, Terrence Knox and Ramon Franco.

Across four seasons, Tour of Duty took a bold approach to the kinds of stories that could be told in a primetime drama. By focusing on a multicultural cast of young actors and placing itself squarely in one of America’s most controversial conflicts, this Vietnam War drama managed to tell stories that were varied, poignant, and personal. While it’s largely forgotten today, it’s easy to see how Tour of Duty set the stage for serious televised war dramas like Band of Brothers.

6. Wiseguy (September 16, 1987, to December 8, 1990)

tv guide

Ken Wahl starred in Wiseguy

Wiseguy’s successful four-season run was largely predicated on the foresight and talent of executive producer Stephen J. Cannell. Cannell had made a name for himself creating shows like The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and The Rockford Files, and he saw in Wiseguy the potential to break from the procedural storytelling that dominated crime dramas of the time. The result was a mature crime drama about an undercover cop told through complex and well-paced multi-episode arcs.

7. The “Slap” Maxwell Story (September 23, 1987, to June 8, 1988)

1987 TV Guide

Dabney Coleman played “Slap” Maxwell

Where shows like Full House won viewership through their wholesome and digestible approach to sitcom tropes, The “Slap” Maxwell Story did quite the opposite. Slap Maxwell – portrayed by unconventional leading man Dabney Coleman – was an arrogant, loud, and ethically dubious sports journalist constantly facing termination at the newspaper for which he worked. Despite a stellar performance from Coleman and scripts that weren’t afraid to push the boundaries, the show never found its demographic and was cut from the schedule within a year.

8. Jake and the Fatman (September 26, 1987, to May 6, 1992)

80s tv

Joe E. Penny and William Conrad in Jake and the Fatman.

Despite being a more or less conventional crime procedural at its core, Jake and the Fatman lasted a respectable five seasons at CBS. This may have been in large part due to the on-screen chemistry between the gruff district attorney J.L.”Fatman” Cabe and investigator Jake Styles. The series would also go on to spawn a successful spin-off in the form of Diagnosis: Murder.

9. A Different World (September 24, 1987, to July 10, 1993)

tv guide

Dawnn Lewis, Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei in A Different World

Despite being a spin-off of The Cosby Show, a Different World occupied a space all its own by moving daughter Denise Huxtable to college and separating her from her traditional surroundings. Where The Cosby Show offered a wholesome view of a black American family that evoked sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s, A Different World was eager in its willingness to address real issues like drug use, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and racial stereotyping. This authenticity earned the show an enthusiastic young fan base who loyally followed the show for six seasons.

10. Thirty Something (September 29, 1987, to May 28, 1991)

80s tv shows

Thirty Something cast Ken Olin, Peter Horton, Mel Harris holding Jade Mortimer, Timothy Busfield, Dolly Draper and Patricia Wettig.

Among the primetime drama landscape of the 1980s, Thirty Something was a revelation. Amidst a sea of melodramas, Thirty Something managed to portray an unflinching and realistic look into the lives of the yuppie generation. The show would continue for four seasons and become an important cultural touchstone for its incisive insight into the culture of the late 80s.

11. Full House (September 22, 1987, to May 23, 1995)

tv guide fall preview 1987

Full House cast Jodie Sweetin, David Coulier, Candace Cameron, Bob Saget, Mary-Kate Olsen and John Stamos.

While Full House was critically panned, it gained a massive audience for its wholesome approach to sitcom dynamics and its uniquely non-traditional family. In the process, it sanitized the raunchy stand-up career of Bob Saget, launched the career of the Olsen Twins, and introduced an international audience to heartthrob John Stamos. A revival of the series in 2016 proved that the Tanner Family has staying power.

12. The Oldest Rookie (September 16, 1987, to January 13, 1988)

tv guide fall preview 1987

The Oldest Rookie cast Raymond J. Barry, Paul Sorvino, and D.W. Moffett.

There were bound to be some casualties as 80s TV networks raced to exploit the popularity of the TV crime. The Oldest Rookie, which took the traditional formula but added a mix of partnering an aging desk jockey with a young recruit, was one such casualty. Despite the presence of Paul Sorvino and the relatively fresh premise, the show was never renewed for a second season.

13. Hooperman (September 23, 1987, to July 26, 1989)

tv guide fall preview

John Ritter in Hooperman.

With charming leading man John Ritter and all-star creators in the form of Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, Hooperman was brimming with talent and potential. But the creators left after the first episode, and the show – which followed a care-free San Francisco cop through his daily and professional life – limped its way through a mere two seasons.

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