The 1990s were a much different time for TV viewers. The networks dominated with CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX (and later UPN and WB); these were the major players. Cable TV was still light on original programming. The only way to watch shows on tape was via VCRs. It took until the mid-point of the decade for the Internet to become a commonplace thing in homes. Also, syndicated television was a huge business with scores of TV shows being huge hits. In this time period, watching shows live was pretty much the only way to go and a new generation of viewers meant some notable changes in TV storytelling. A major move was how shows like The X-Files and Star Trek’s revivals pushed sci-fi/genre TV to the forefront.
Of course, there were a whole lot of duds. For every super-hit show there were a dozen flops that were frankly horrible. Sci-fi suffered poorly in the ‘90s with too many shows trying to go for flash rather than execute actually good storytelling. Yet a few produced some fun ideas that could work today. In some cases, they were held back by the FX limitations and poor ratings. Other cases, the shows were just a victim of how storytelling in that decade was different. Today, there are a lot of shows, either short-lived or good hits, that can be revived today and work great. There are also a lot of shows that are far better off forgotten as in any decade, you can imagine them being disasters. Here are 10 forgotten TV shows of the ‘90s that are screaming out for a revival and 10 that should stay hidden, shielding future generations from how nutty the ‘90s could be.
19 REVIVE: TIME TRAX
Time travel is always a good concept for a TV series. This syndicated show mixed it with a fun crime procedural motif. In 2193, mad scientist Mordecai Sahmbi cracks the secret to time travel. Rather than helping the world, Sahmbi makes a fortune by charging crooks to be sent back 200 years to an alternate timeline. After Sahmbi himself escapes to the past, agent Darren Lambert is sent back to catch the fugitives. He’s aided by SELMA, a holographic aide who allows him to understand the 20th century. Armed with a special weapon to send the crooks back, Lambert is on the hunt in the past.
The show could be fun using the time travel aspects nicely. In some episodes, Lambert meets someone who’s famous in his time (from a country music superstar to a future President) and has to help them out. Some criminals were smart using their knowledge of the future to make money or cause some chaos. There was also the fun touch of how in the 22nd century, Caucasians were a minority. The banter between him and SELMA was also good. A revival can offer better FX, more thrills and more touches on the "future" to make “time traveling cop” work right.
18 HIDDEN: PREY
Before she landed her Emmy-award winning role on Will & Grace, Debra Messing had to cut her teeth on a few short-lived TV shows. The last of them was this ABC series which aired 13 episodes in early 1998. Messing was an anthropologist going over the DNA of serial killers to see if there’s a “killer gene.” Instead, she finds they have genetic markers indicating they are, in fact, a completely new species of human. She works with an FBI agent who turns out to be one of these “homo dominant” himself. Unlike the others of his kind, he can feel empathy and is thus hunting them down.
The show had a good concept but it could never make it work right. The low production values didn’t help and while the idea of serial killers literally not being human was fun, the show didn’t do too much with it. It wasn’t helped by too much of the “will they or won’t they” between Messing and the FBI agent and not enough humor. It was right after the show was axed that Messing landed the part of Grace and if she doesn’t want to remember this show, then neither should the public.
17 REVIVE: THE SECRET WORLD OF ALEX MACK
One of the most beloved Nick series of the 1990s, the title character was your typical tomboyish teenager played by Larisa Oleynik. Walking home from school, Alex is doused in some chemicals from a lab truck. She soon finds she has powers of telekinesis, firing electrical bolts and transforming into a puddle of goo. Her science wiz sister and best friend help her control her powers while the company behind the chemical is out to track her down. The series would feature Alex dealing with the usual teenage problems alongside her powers.
The series was loved for its realistic take on a crazy concept. Half the episodes have Alex wanting to get rid of her powers and be normal. Yet she also grew to love them and balance it out. A full reboot might be interesting to show Alex dealing with her powers amid today’s world of social media. However, it can also be fun to see Oleynik as a now-grown Alex helping another kid with the powers. Either way, the charm of the original series can still work to bring this world to life.
16 HIDDEN: SEAQUEST DSV
NBC did a major job promoting this show in 1993 but it never became the huge hit they wanted. The first season played with the idea that in the future, Earth has begun colonizing the oceans and using their resources. Roy Scheider was the captain of a super-submarine exploring new areas. The first season was a bit too light-hearted and really not putting the characters in danger. The second season upped the action but Scheider himself openly trashed the writing. The third season tried to throw in more sci-fi elements of aliens but it wasn’t enough to save it.
Despite an okay cast, the show suffered from a lot of bad writing and just being stuck with its undersea motif. It could never decide if it wanted to be an “underwater Star Trek” or something more offbeat. It had some potential but just didn’t work out right despite a more socio-political storyline in season three. Some might argue but the fact is this series should just remain sunk out of sight.
15 REVIVE: EARTH 2
It only lasted one season in 1994 but this NBC series has gained a huge cult following. The plot is that in 2192, Earth is uninhabitable and the search for a new home is on. A woman seeking to save her ill son, leads a project to settle onto a new world in an Eden-like area. But things go wrong and the ship crashed on the other side of the planet. The survivors begin a trek across the world which leads to them finding its own inhabitants and various dangers. They also have to deal with a mysterious “Council” that want to exploit the planet for their own means.
The series had a good vibe, mixing its characters well and smart with its science. While the show has detractors, even they note that the series had its strengths. It even attacked the idea of how some in the expedition are concerned about the effects of colonizing this world. With a new cast, better effects and much better writing, a revival could pay off on the show’s potential. If any series deserves a second shot, it’s one about finding a new home world.
14 HIDDEN: TEK WAR
William Shatner is of course best known as Captain Kirk and Denny Crane. In the ‘90s, Shatner tried to branch out with his Tek book series. It took place in a future where people take part in Tek, a highly addictive virtual reality experience. After being framed for corruption, a cop is freed and becomes a P.I. investigating various crimes. USA tried to make it a regular show with Shatner himself co-starring as the arrogant head of the agency.
Like many shows of the mid-90s, the limitations in FX hurt the series a lot. The attempts for “future tech” like VR computer hacking and a future L.A. were rather laughable. Shatner, amazingly, underplays his own role which robs a lot of the potential fun. The rest of the cast isn’t much better and the attempts of mixing cyberpunk and old-school detective storylines don’t mix well. It’s best for Shatner to stick to Kirk (or at least the ShatnerVerse novels) rather than try and bring this work back.
13 REVIVE: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK
Basically a Twilight Zone for kids, this Nick series remains a delight. The concept was simple as a group of friends sit around a campfire and try to top each other with scary stories. Even by the FX standards of the time, the show could be genius in presenting truly scary tales. You could get some future famous faces here and there but the stories were always the appealing part. You could get a truly horrifying story one week, then a surprisingly heartfelt tale the next. The way the kids tried to tell the best tale was always fun and made the series stand out.
The smart thing would be to keep to the “less is more” approach. Keep it to a half hour and let the stories focus on real thrills rather than just super FX work. Right now, Nick is working on more teen comedies but this series is perfect for a revival. A wonderful anthology that still scares today, it can be a reminder for a new generation how nothing tops a scary story at night.
12 HIDDEN: MERCY POINT
Every now and then you get a TV show that, on paper, sounds terrific and should be successful. But in execution, it just falls apart. This UPN series is a good example. Set in the 23rd century, it focuses on the adventures of the crew of a space station hospital. It should have been good, a Grey’s Anatomy in space with good effects and storylines. However, the “future tech” looked amazingly dated even for the late ‘90s and the aliens seemed like very cheap cast-offs from a bad Star Trek episode.
Joe Morton did his best as the head of the facility but the rest of the cast just didn’t connect at all. The idea of an android doctor learning empathy was a bad copy of Data and the attempts to integrate dramatic stories came off poorly. The show only aired three episodes before being pulled with the remaining four airing over the next summer. This is a series best left off DOA.
11 REVIVE: BRIMSTONE
High on the list of “great genre shows Fox axed too early,” the 1998 series had a cool hook. In 1983, cop Ezekiel Stone takes revenge on the man who attacked his wife. When he’s shot in the line of duty, Stone is sent to Hell for his actions. Fifteen years later, a massive “jailbreak” allows 113 of the worst souls of all time to escape to Earth. The Devil (John Glover) offers Stone a second chance at life in exchange for sending the damned back to Hell. Armed with a tattoo for each escapee and his own wits, Stone has to handle these escapees while getting used to life on Earth.
Glover was always a delight as the wicked Devil who seems to hinder as much as help Stone. There are some good touches like how Stone has to destroy the eyes (“windows to the soul”) to beat the escapees. The show had a great noir edge with Stone dealing with his wife having moved on but still loving her and the various escapees. A revival can push the dark edges more and bring better effects while keeping Glover as the Devil could make it just as gripping.
10 HIDDEN: NIGHT MAN
Glen Larson created some major TV hits like Magnum P.I., Knight Rider and the original Battlestar Galactica. But he also created one of the worst super-hero shows in television history. Based on the Malibu Comic, Johnny Domino was a saxophone player who was struck by alien technology. It gave him the power to “see evil” while robbing him of sleep. With no real powers of his own, Johnny got a millionaire to craft a suit to allow him to fly and fire laser beams out of one eye.
The series looked incredibly cheap and the villains were rather laughable from other-dimensional aliens to an Egyptian prisoner to a cryogenically frozen Al Capone. Larson even found a way to have Night Man team with his infamous 1980s hero Manimal. The entire thing was a joke and amazing it lasted two seasons. Suffice to say, no one is begging to see the Night Man take flight once more.
9 REVIVE: HIGHLANDER
Based on the cult movie, this series actually became far more successful. It focused on Duncan Macleod, one of a race of Immortals living among humanity. Duncan himself was 400 years old and each episode would feature flashbacks to his long life. He found himself dealing with evil Immortals in sword duels with the winner taking his enemy’s head. This unleashed the Quickening, a spectacular electrical show that was always great to watch. The show was a good hit and inspired a short-lived spin-off focusing on popular supporting character Amanda.
The concept for a revival is huge. Even without Duncan, you can feature another Immortal around for centuries, handling their long life spans and modern times. A female in the lead could be more interesting to show how she’s handled different time periods. The sword fights can still be the highlight but the potential for the life of an immortal warrior is just perfect for a TV series.
8 HIDDEN: SINBAD
After Hercules and Xena became hits, various syndicated TV companies began looking at other mythological-themed shows. Basing one on Sinbad wasn’t bad as the character does have a familiar name. The idea was sound as Sinbad is on a quest across the seas trying to find treasure while also stopping a major threat. But like too many shows, it didn’t make the concept work right. The lead actor was rather bland instead of a dashing hero and the love interest was shown flaunting her body more than her character.
Despite some gorgeous location shooting, the series failed to utilize its main character and his adventures. An attempt to make it more “serious” in season two backfired, robbing the light-hearted feel that had at least made the first season watchable. If anything, the failure was shown when BBC tried to revive the idea for a 2013 series that lasted just one season. Somehow, the famed sailor just sinks on TV.
7 REVIVE: KINDRED THE EMBRACED
Another good genre show Fox axed too early, this 1996 series has attained a cult following. Based on the popular role-playing game, it focused on a race of vampires living in San Francisco. The idea was the vampires were divided into several clans, each with their own different beliefs and features. A human cop stumbles onto them and learns to adapt the supernatural into his crime-fighting. Meanwhile, the head of the clans is dealing with power plays while falling for a human reporter.
The show had a good cast and some smart storytelling. One episode has a rocker Kindred “turning” groupies without permission which can break the Masquerade. The political fighting was also good to show these vampires not that different from humans. The idea of a supernatural mob drama is genius and it can cut loose today with more adult content and make the concept work even better.
6 HIDDEN: ACAPULCO HEAT
There’s an unwritten rule in television that when a show becomes a success, you see lots of attempts to copy it. When Baywatch became a smash hit, a lot of other syndicated shows tried to capture that. Among them was this show which was so cheesy it made Baywatch look like Game of Thrones. The idea was an elite team of operatives working out of Mexico and South America. Their cover was working at a lush resort and running a beach fashion shop. Yep, it’s as bad as it sounds.
The show tried to spice it up by having supermodel Fabio as the hotel’s owner but it became clear he was a horrible actor and pushed aside. Trying to buy this group of low-talent actors as elite operatives was laughable. There was also the “cat burglar” character who would go around in a bikini half the time. There were a lot of “cheesecake TV” series in this time but this is one of the worst of that era.
5 REVIVE: DEADLY GAMES
In some ways, this 1995 UPN series was a bit ahead of its time. A game programmer is putting together an ultra-realistic VR styled game where he plays the hero trying to rescue his love who’s modeled on his ex-wife. Thanks to a botched experiment by his nutty scientist partner, the game’s villains are brought to life in the real world. Led by the suave Sebastian Jackal (Christopher Lloyd), the villains go about causing chaos so the programmer has to recruit his ex to be a hero for real taking them down.
The series was fun using video game logic for stories. For example, the heroes can’t just shoot Jackal because as the “final boss,” he’s untouchable until they take out all his underlings. There’s the fun touch that each villain is based on someone who made the main character’s life miserable (his father, his mother-in-law, a bad boss, etc) and each has their specific powers and weaknesses. With video games bigger today, the show could do more with the concept and even the idea that after Jackal is beaten, a “sequel” brings in a new pack of villains for a new season. Having a video game brought to life can make for a fun TV show.
4 HIDDEN: COP ROCK
To this day, it’s high on the lists of “what were they thinking” TV shows. That it came from Steven Bochco, the creator of NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues makes it even crazier. The idea was right there in the title. It looked to be your normal police procedural looking at the lives of cops, detectives and prosecutors in Los Angeles. The crazy part came as, with no warning, characters would burst into song. It was everything from rapping drug dealers to a jury turning into a gospel choir to a mother singing over her shot son.
Even today, in a post-Glee world, it’s hard to see this working. The songs could be fun but watching a normal cop show suddenly turn into a musical was way too bizarre to accept. To his dying day, Bochco defended the show as being “ahead of its time” and not given a chance by critics. The fact is, this weird series should remain untouched as a strange product of its era.
3 REVIVE: LEGEND
Richard Dean Anderson is best-known for MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. But he also starred in this too-short-lived UPN series. Anderson was Ernest Pratt, an author who used himself as the model for his literary hero Nicodemus Legend. While Legend was a noble adventurer, Pratt was a womanizing drunk and a bit of a coward. A huge fan of the books is Jason Bartok (John de Lancie), an eccentric inventor who encourages Pratt to take part in real adventurers. Needing inspiration for his books, Pratt agrees and soon finds himself drawn into being a real legend.
The show utilized a steampunk vibe that was ahead of its time with Bartok and his assistant coming up with wild inventions to help Pratt out. Anderson was fun in the lead role which would show Legend as the noble hero then reveal Pratt to be the complete opposite. He and de Lancie had a good banter that brought humor to the Old West setting. Even today, Anderson could pull the role off but a new version can keep the fun steampunk motif and add in more action to pay off on its potential.
2 HIDDEN: BAYWATCH NIGHTS
At one point, Baywatch was the most-watched show on the planet. So, a spinoff only seemed natural. However, the actual version was more than a bit suspect. The concept was Mitch (David Hasselhoff) decided to open up a private eye agency and somehow balance it with lifeguarding. Moving away from the beach beauties (which was always the reason to watch the show) was a weird idea and seeing Mitch as a gun-wielding P.I. was downright silly.
What made the show infamous was that in its second season, it tried to emulate The X-Files. Suddenly, Mitch and his team were investigating vampires, werewolves, aliens, Mitch being cloned, mere-beings and more. It was completely ridiculous and beyond belief to watch. Today, the show is notable for being one of the worst spin-offs of all time. Even wilder is that it boasted the first major TV credit of Angie Harmon as Mitch’s assistant.
1 REVIVE: ANIMORPHS
Based on the best-selling YA novel series, this Nick show did a good job replicating the storyline. A group of teens find a crashed spaceship and are met by a horse-like alien. He informs them that their world has been invaded by the Yeerks, a parasite race who take over the bodies of humans. As he warns them, anyone the teens know can be a Yeerk which means they can’t trust anyone. The alien grants them a device that will allow them to transform into various animals. The teens use this to try and combat this secret war on their own.
The show was held back by the FX limitations of the ‘90s. Today, the “morphing” can be much better and help the series out. A CW revival can up the drama and connections as well as the paranoia of the teens knowing anyone can be a Yeerk. The show takes the fun motif of how teens think the weight of the world is upon them and makes it literal. While the book series has long ended, a revival could be good to mix some fun transformations with a gripping alien invasion storyline.