Why 1994 was a vintage year for television

“There’s nothing to tell. He’s just some guy I work with!”

As a character the world would come to recognise as Monica delivered the inauspicious opening line of Friends, on 22 September 1994, audiences in North America tuned in, but there was no immediate hint of the sitcom behemoth that had been born.

Then again it was 1994, and if we currently live in Kevin Spacey’s “Golden Age of Television,” then someone may want to call the mid-nineties to ask them for the throne.

Friends premiered the same week as another beloved series, ER, and joined TV legends Seinfeld, Frasier and The X Files on the box, among many other strong shows.

· New mums shouldn’t be fair game in TV-land
· The Top 10 TV characters of 2014 (so far) 

· Friends forever: the allure of comfort TV 

Ironically it was only in 1994 that we started seeing Mad About You in Australia, which had launched in the US in 1992. Imagine having to wait two years for a TV show nowadays, People???

Britain also delievered one of our most beloved shows, The Vicar of Dibley, and we even launched a few classics ourselves. We also farewelled a few favourites.

All in all, 1994 was a vintage year for television.


Friends - Supplied

Friends: Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, Matt LeBanc and Lisa Kudrow. Photo: Supplied

The One Where Monica Gets a New Roommate ranked in the top 20 shows of the week when it launched and was critically praised, though compared unflatteringly to Seinfeld and another new sitcom Ellen.

In Australia, we didn’t see Friends for well over a year. A deal between Seven and Warner Bros. had run for years meaning that Seven had rights to air all the production company’s shows.

Someone at Seven made a bad call though and someone at Nine made a very good one.

Nine were allowed to take over the deal, but Friends was caught in the middle – Season 1 belonged to Seven under their old agreement.

Once Seven saw that Friends was becoming huge overseas they refused to air the first season, realising that they were merely going to build an audience for their major competitor.

Nine in turn didn’t want to launch season two on a confused audience.

The stand-off lasted for months. Eventually Seven burnt off the episodes quickly and Nine played season two at the same time. Somehow it worked and we all fell in love.

By the time Friends ended 10 seasons and slightly less than 10 years later on May 6 2004, the show had broken all sorts of records from audience to cast salary.

Much of its success was in the product itself, but much was in the timing – at the same time as we met Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Chandler, Joey and Ross the world was discovering home entertainment systems and DVD players.

Friends was the perfect box set fodder. Soon not just the video stores (remember them?) but the supermarkets, petrol stations and church fetes were selling VHS and DVDs of the show.


ER: Julianna Marguelis, XXX. Photo: NBC

ER: Julianna Margulies, Eriq La Salle, Anthony Edwards, Sherry Stringfield, George Clooney, Noah Wyle  Photo: NBC

In the US Friends aired on NBC alongside another new show, ER, which had debuted with the impressive pilot episode 24 Hours three days earlier on September 19.

Everyone was excited to see Goose from Top Gun (Anthony Edwards) back on their screens, but soon found their eyes drawn to Dr Doug Ross, played by a hitherto relatively unknown actor named George Clooney.

Unlike the very popular sitcom model, ER was hailed as monumentally different TV show for its face-paced, hand-held style of filming, and its huge ensemble class.

Produced by legendary director Steven Spielberg and created by Michael Crichton, a former doctor who had in 1990 written a book called Jurassic Park.

Crichton was working with Spielberg on the Jurassic Park film when they also collaborated on ER, the screenplay for which Crichton had written in the 1970s.

Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment only produced one season of this hit show, but he made one killer contribution; deciding to keep Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) alive. She was supposed to die from an overdose.

The show went on to last 15 seasons, the longest running medical drama in US series, but it’s first season was one of the most memorable – one of the premiere season’s episodes, Love’s Labor Lost, has gone onto TV history, being ranked No. 6 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time

It was another show that Seven lost to Nine in their deal with Warner Bros. By the end of the show’s 15 seasons, however, Nine were no longer so happy with the goings on at Chicago’s County General Hospital and the loyal fans were frustrated with intermittent scheduling of the last few seasons.

In 1994 however Nine were as doey eyed for Clooney as anyone else.

Party of Five

Party of Five:

Party of Five: Neve Campbell. Matthew Fox, Scott Wolf and Lacey Chabert. Photo: Supplied

As far as launching careers goes, the soap-opera style adventures of the Salinger siblings in San Francisco are pretty impressive, launching in America a week before ER.

Party of Five, about five orphaned children, gave us the fresh young faces of Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox, Neve Campbell, Lacey Chabert, Scott Grimes and Jennifer Love Hewitt kicked off a house party that would run for six seasons.

There was so much teen angst packed into this critically acclaimed teen drama that it spawned a million tears.

It also catapulted Campbell and Hewitt into the roles of the 1990s competing ‘Scream Queens’ when they appeared in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, while Fox went onto star in Lost. 

Party of Five would run for six seasons and won the 1997 Golden Globe for best TV drama series

The Vicar of Dibley


Vicar of Dibley: Dawn French. Photo: Supplied

A world away in a quite country village in England, Dawn French was about to shake things up in biblically hysterical fashion when the debut episode of The Vicar of Dibley aired in November, 1994.

Richard Curtis, the creator of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Blackadder and Mr Bean wrote the series for French and it is hard to believe there are only 20 episodes of The Vicar of Dibley (plus some shorts) in existence.

The ordination of women in the Church of England had only been allowed in 1992 and French was simply divine as the scandalously female vicar, sucking the wind out of the real world complaints at the notion.

It was as often as not Emma Chambers who stole the show as the delightfully ditzy verger Alice.

Australian Stars

Blue Heelers

Australia loves its cop shows, and none more so than Blue Heelers.

Seven may have made a bad decision regarding Warner Bros, but giving the green light to the first of ultimately 510 episodes about the Mount Thomas police force was a cracker.

The show premiered on January 15, 1994 and wound up in 2006.

With Lisa McCune currently treading the boards at the Sydney Opera House in The King and I and William McInnes doing the same at MTC, it is clear the show launched many careers.

John Woods, who appeared in every episode, was nominated for the Gold Logie every year from 1997 to 2007, winning the award in 2006.


Frontline, arguably Australia’s greatest comedy series, was also launched in 1994.

Three years before the Working Dog team would shoot to international acclaim with their classic Australian film, The Castle, the team, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Santo Cilauro, released this nugget of TV gold.

Taking the Mickey mercilessly out of Nine’s A Current Affair and Seven’s Real Life (which was in its final year in 1994), the daft but adorable host Mike Moore (Sitch) was terrifyingly convincing, particularly when mimicking real news stories such as in the episode The Siege, a clear spotlight on Mike Willesee’s interview with a gunman and hostage.


Australian television also said farewell to some favourites in 1994. The home grown A Country Practice and Mother & Son all aired their final episodes that year.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.