If you’re like me, you were born and raised on television. In fact, if you were born and raised on television, you share something in common with most people our age. From birth to adulthood, television has been there, offering valuable life lessons and manipulating our minds to “believe TV.” It’s even gotten to the point where we live vicariously through fictional characters, whose lives we are more invested in than we are in the lives of the people around us. Shows have come and shows have gone. Characters have been created and erased. In the TV world, almost every program has a certain limited nature — there’s always an expiration date. But some shows go a little further than just providing simple entertainment after a long day. Some shows do more than just distract and detract from everyday life. Some shows become an element of personal character.
The cult television phenomenon had a definitive start in the 1960s with shows like “Star Trek: The Original Series,” which inspired millions and created a subculture commonly known as Trekkies. But before exploring the many TV cults that have formed under the surface of mainstream culture, what exactly is a cult TV show? According to TV Guide, a cult TV show is one that “generates more than viewership, water cooler chat, and big ratings … series so unusual that they inspire what can be only called worship.” These shows go beyond ratings and popularity, with most of being cancelled within two seasons. Cult TV shows are infamous for poor ratings, hiatuses and premature cancellation. However, for whatever reason, these shows have inspired fan bases so loyal that they can be seen as followings.
“Star Trek”: Perhaps the most well-known cult TV show following are Trekkies. Despite its widespread recognition, “Star Trek” was originally cancelled after a three-year run on NBC because of low ratings. Today, the show has inspired several spin-off series and a plethora of films that only a true fan could enjoy (like the one where Kirk had to save the dolphins?). The beauty of this cult is that it’s still very much open to newcomers. Plus, with the highly anticipated “Star Trek: Into Darkness” film coming out in May, there’s never been a better time to explore your Vulcan side. Live Long and Prosper.
“Twin Peaks”: The latter half of the 20th century had even more notable cult TV shows produced and, naturally, cancelled. “Twin Peaks” is a serial murder drama that ran on ABC from 1990-91. Although the show was only on for two seasons, the networks were planning on cutting it midway through the second season. Fans took action, organizing into the COOP, Citizens Opposed to the Offing of Peaks. It was a letter-writing campaign that convinced the networks to finish the second season, tying up all the loose ends of the show.
“Lost”: In the past 13 years alone the media have seen a multitude of cult TV shows introduced. Perhaps the most mainstream of all these shows is, of course, “LOST,” an ABC drama in which everybody goes crazy. By 2010, if you weren’t already watching “LOST,” then you were that person by the water cooler feeling completely out of the loop with all that “island” bullshit with the “numbers” and the “hatch” and the “others.” 4 8 15 16 23 42. However, here we are nearly three years later and people still aren’t done talking about it. There’s something to be said about withholding answers for six seasons and subsequently never giving them. Like what was up with that polar bear?
“Firefly”: Then there’s “Firefly,” a show that lasted all of 11 episodes, yet still caused a drastic boom in the sci-fi community. When asked what was so great about a show that got cancelled after 11 episodes, Gavin Morrow, a freshman majoring in chemistry, offered: “Describe to me how it isn’t great. Cowboys, prostitutes, Nathan Fillion, spaceships. It’s the greatest thing ever.” While the show isn’t very much missed in the mainstream media, there are sci-fi junkies all over the place looking for a fix to replace this one.
“Doctor Who”: Lastly, there are the cult shows that were never cancelled — shows that don’t seem to die. I’m referring, of course, to “Doctor Who,” the show from which the Whovian’s hail. “Doctor Who” has garnered an immense cult following in America, though it’s merely pop culture in Britain. The series (spanning 50 years) is composed of 26 seasons, seven series, and 790 aired episodes. It’s the perfect show for any Brit-Pop-loving American’s TV palette.
People today have a life-long relationship with televised media. We laugh with it, we cry with it, we grow with it. But all throughout history there have been those shows that don’t stop when the tube is turned off. There are those programs that can’t be shut down. They become a part of your life, a part of your culture. So stop wasting your time with shows that are “hip” right now. Go find a genuine televised experience, a community, a doctrine.