Surveillance Summer Watch: History Lesson — Announcing this summer’s viewing projects

As most of you know, the summer months are light on quality television or even decent television worth writing about. Because of this, many television critics and fans use this time to re-watch some of their favorite series or catch up on things they have missed over the years. Not only does it keep the page views a-comin’ in, but it sustains that communal viewing/reviewing experience we all have on a weekly basis during the television season. This summer, The A.V. Club’s TV Club is dipping into all sorts of televisual classics, from Arrested Development to Alias, while Alan Sepinwall is deconstructing the great Deadwood and Myles McNutt is continuing his excursion into the world of Buffy and Angel.

Never one liking to feel left out, I hope to take on a similar project this summer. I made an attempt at this kind of thing last summer, as I wrote a handful of posts on my viewing experiences watching both the first season or so of The West Wing and the first two seasons of Sons of Anarchy. You can find all of those on the Surveillance Summer Watch page, if you’d like. Various external factors prevented me from really jumping into those posts, but this summer it is going to be different, at least I hope so. Instead of writing straggling pieces, I’m going to stick to a more structured schedule, which will not only force me to write posts each week, but also allow me to only watch a small number of episodes at a time each week.

When I was trying to figure out which series I wanted to watch and write about, I realized that the biggest holes in my televisual knowledge are older. I’m very well-versed in contemporary television, particularly U.S. television, but anything that aired before I was born (1988) or in the early years of my life (basically anything pre-1995ish that isn’t The Simpsons or Cops) is sort of blank. I am fully aware of what was supposedly good and what was supposedly bad, but I have really yet to experience many of those series for myself. Thanks to the glories of Netflix Instant streaming and Hulu, I can start to fill in the holes of my television viewing and I am hoping to document those viewing experiences with you.

In any event, I wanted to pick two series, one comedy and one drama, that I feel like I really need to watch, not only for their inherent quality, but also because of their influence on so many of the modern television series I love today. The drama selection? Hill Street Blues. The long-running NBC police drama is widely known as the father of most modern dramatic television and its influences can apparently be seen any many of television’s most recent greats such as Homicide, The Wire and much more. I’m coming to Hill Street with only a passing knowledge of its cast and narrative, with most of my knowledge about it centering on why and how it has been so influential to the modern television series like the ones I just mentioned. I plan on doing some background research that will go along with my viewing, but I will certainly be discussing the elements of Blues I’ve seen in the various series that followed it.

Schedule-wise, I’m looking to cover the series’ 17-episode first season this summer. The plan is to cover the extended pilot episode on its own first and then transition into two episodes a week there onward. The first season is readily available on Hulu, so feel free to watch along with and discuss it with me. Look for the Hill Street Blues posts to go live every Thursday, starting next week on June 9th.

As for the comedy series, there was only ever one choice that I had in mind: Cheers. I am certainly more familiar with Cheers than I am Hill Street Blues, but that is mostly because the former has had longer staying power than the latter. Before this week, I had probably seen two or three full episodes of Cheers, but again thanks to the Netflix Gods, that has changed. Much like Hill Street, Cheers is a series that is often regarded as one of, if not the, most influential on the showrunners who are making today’s television comedy. Community showrunner Dan Harmon has regularly talked about Cheers as one of his primary influences for his NBC comedy, so it seems to make a lot of sense for a major Community fan like me to take it on.

Schedule-wise here, I’m looking to cover Cheers‘ first season of 22 episodes over the summer as well. The current plan is a bit wonky, but it works out well due to the episode order: I’m going to cover the first two episodes together, then write about three episodes at a time for the following six weeks, before finishing with the two-part finale at the end of it all. The first season of Cheers is readily available on Netflix Instant Streaming, so again, feel free to watch the series and discuss it along with me. You can look for the Cheers posts to go live every Tuesday, starting next week on June 7th.

Please join me in my summer history lesson, would you?

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