What happened to original TV shows?

When I found out last month that “Saved by the Bell” was going to be on Adult Swim for two weeks, I was ecstatic. It was a little trip down memory lane, back to my childhood.

But the adventures of Zack, A.C., Screech, Kelly, Jessie and Lisa did more than just take me back to when I was 7 years old. They made me remember what TV was like back in the good old days, when shows were easily enjoyable and fresh.

That, or I could just be stuck in the 1990s. Wouldn’t surprise me if that was true.

I think it was sometime between commercial breaks that I realized “Damn, what happened to good TV?”

Now, this could just be the part of me stuck in the 1990s talking, but doesn’t it seem like original ideas are reaching the network executives’ minds. They’re just copying someone else’s ideas that are already out there.

In school, it’s called plagiarism. In the world of the big four networks – NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox – it’s called business.

CBS has “CSI”, “CSI: Miami”, “CSI: New York”, “NCIS” – and coming soon – “CSI: Pocatello”.

Fox and ABC are too busy stealing each other’s ideas to even worry about new ideas. Whether it’s “Trading Spouses”/”Wife Swap,” “Supernanny”/”Nanny 911,” or “Dancing With The Stars”/”Celebrity Figure Skating,” the shows are identical in design.

On top of that, Fox has “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” which are essentially the same show, but one has more of a political slant toward it. Yes, I know one was created while the other was cancelled, but now that “Family Guy” is back” do we really need a less funny version of it?

NBC has “My Name Is Earl,” the most original thing on TV, but they’ve also got the American version of a British show and 63 different “Law and Order” spin-offs. On top of that, they’ve been trying to find the replacements for “Frasier” and “Friends” ever since both shows went off the air.

Other times, the problem is shows are kept on too long by networks, seeking to milk them for every last penny. “ER” was great when it started, but now, it seems rather stale and repetitive compared to “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House.”

Fox’s “That 70s Show” should have ended when Topher Grace left the show. Instead, fans are stuck through one final abomination of a season that is neither funny or good in any way.

And reality TV? If I even began to explain to how each network rips off the other, it’d take up this entire page.

That’s not to say all television is bad. I’ve already mentioned NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” and Fox’s “House,” but there are other good shows on the major networks, like ABC’s “Lost,” Fox’s “24,” CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” and NBC’s “The Apprentice.” These shows all feature a uniqueness that no other network has been able to copy or has tried to.

The main problem with TV is that it is repetitive, and I’m tired of it. Television used to be our escape from Hollywood’s copycat mentality, a mentality that has only worsened in recent years.

The suggestion to the major networks is simple: get original.

I don’t like “Survivor” or “American Idol,” but they’re unique enough that no one else has copied it yet. Plus, they’re getting huge ratings, which you think would speak loudly to the networks.

You can even make the American version of a foreign show funny. NBC’s version of “The Office” has taken a writing direction that makes it different than anything else on TV. Having Steve Carrell on the show doesn’t hurt either.

There’s a second reason for why originality is key, though. Channels focusing on a single area of the market, such as ESPN, Comedy Central, CNN, Cartoon Network, the many different movie networks are fracturing audiences. This makes finding new ideas important for the major networks key in keeping their audiences from heading elsewhere.

What the networks need to realize is that copying each other’s shows will only get them so far. Without putting out new and original ideas, viewers will tune elsewhere to search for them, and they will eventually become relics of the past.

Network television coming up with new and creative ideas on a regular basis? That sounds like an original idea to me.

Send comments to Brian at [email protected].