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1990s Television – Introduction

Fox scored big with The Simpsons, the animated brainchild of comic artist Matt Groening.

Bart Simpson, the show’s young troublemaking fourth-grader, immediately became an icon for underachievers of all ages, leading to a rapid proliferation of T-shirts bearing Bart’s mantra: “Don’t have a cow, Man”.

Twin Peaks also touched a nerve with viewers but was more of an acquired taste.

Directed by David Lynch, the unsettling, dreamlike series revolved around the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?”.


The plot became impossibly convoluted – and the ratings dropped severely – by the time detective Kyle MacLachlan got around to solving the mystery – it was her dad (who became a homicidal maniac when possessed by an evil spirit named Bob!)

Far more wholesome was Beverly Hills 90210, an Aaron Spelling production that followed the lives of eight Beverly Hills high school students.

Many ordinary people were made famous by real-life docudramas, including Airport, Pet Rescue and The Cruise.  The most sensational example of this was possibly the trial-by-television of American football star OJ Simpson.

The very nature of television began to change in the 1990s. The arrival of satellite TV (and eventually the multi-channel digital age) fragmented the viewing audience. People watched the same amount of TV but it was now spread over a huge array of channels and programmes.

No longer would half the nation be glued to The Morecambe and Wise Show or an episode of Steptoe and SonViewers now made individual choices and scheduled their own viewing as they wished. This abundance of choice brought viewing freedom but meant that we began to understand each other less, as we could no longer rely on having the same cultural coordinates, no matter what our other differences.


Title Channel Date Audience (Millions)
1 The Funeral of Princess Diana BBC1/ITV 06/09/1997 32.10
2 Only Fools and Horses BBC1 29/12/1996 24.35
3 EastEnders BBC1 02/01/1992 24.30
4 Torvill and Dean – Winter Olympics 1994 BBC1 21/02/1994 23.95
5 World Cup 1998 (England vs. Argentina) ITV 30/06/1998 23.78
6 Panorama Special – Princess Diana BBC1 20/11/1995 22.78
7 Coronation Street ITV 08/01/1992 21.60
8 Neighbours BBC1 26/02/1990 21.16
9 National Lottery Live BBC1 19/11/1994 20.17
10 One Foot in the Algarve BBC1 26/12/1993 20.00
11 Worst of Alright on the Night ITV 01/02/1992 19.90
12 Birds of a Feather BBC1 25/12/1993 19.39
13 You’ve Been Framed! ITV 19/01/1992 19.30
14 Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ITV 07/03/1999 19.21
15 London’s Burning ITV 01/12/1991 18.86
16 Inspector Morse ITV 13/01/1993 18.77
17 The Trouble With Mr Bean ITV 01/01/1992 18.74
18 Heartbeat ITV 19/11/1995 18.68
19 More Auntie’s Bloomers BBC1 27/12/1992 18.40
20 Darling Buds of May ITV 21/04/1991 18.35