From ‘The Spot’ to ‘Expedition Robinson’: Shows That Changed TV

Here are three shows that not only changed what we watch, but how we watch it

If you turn on your television today, what you find there is nothing like what there was twenty years ago, or even five years ago.

The way we watch television is changing rapidly, and its hard where it will go next. But looking back, some of the biggest changes to television happened in the mid 1990s. Here are three shows that not only changed what we watch, but how we watch it.

First web series: "The Spot"

"The Spot" was a different kind of web series than we have today. It was part video, but a good deal of the story was also told through characters' online diaries (they didn't have a word for blog yet) and photographs. It followed the lives of several attractive twenty-somethings sharing a beach house is Santa Monica, Calif.

"The Spot" was the brainchild of Scott Zakarin, who worked for an advertising agency and in 1995 convinced his employer they could make a huge profit selling advertising and product placement for an ongoing serial told through the web.

While "The Spot" did become hugely popular, it never managed to create enough revenue to support itself and its three sister sites. "The Spot" only lasted until 1997.

However, even though "The Spot" never managed to bring in much money, it created a trend that became wildly popular. Its message boards alone lasted until 2009.

And in 2006, when video streaming finally became fast and easy enough to be viable, several web series such as "lonelygirl15," "Soup of the Day" (also created by Zakarin) and "Sam Has 7 Friends" brought in massive audiences and made web series a staple of modern entertainment.

So was "The Spot" a change in the right direction? I say definitely. Being able to watch content on the Web as well as the television gives viewers more selection and gives creators more freedom and versatility. Sounds good to me.

First elimination reality show: "Expedition Robinson"

Reality television has been around in various forms since the 1940s, from "Candid Camera" to the "Miss America" pageants.

But the pattern of the elimination reality show as we know it started with the Swedish reality show "Expedition Robinson." British production company Planet 24 (later renamed Castaway Productions) developed the show in 1992, but it didn't became a reality until 1997.

Due to its popularity in Sweden, Castaway Productions made numerous international versions of the show. In many countries, including the United States, they renamed it "Survivor."

Americans responded to it in huge numbers, and it made reality shows a mainstay of American television. It is currently in its 22nd cycle, and doesn't show signs of slowing down.

"Expedition Robinson" has caused dramatic changes in the way we watch television, but I can't say it's all for good.

Being on a reality show, and especially being voted off of one can be incredibly psychologically damaging. Sinisa Savija, the first contestant to be voted off, threw himself under a train. His wife claims that being on the show changed him completely, and that he became fixated on the idea that the show would make him look like a fool.

In response, the show started psych evaluations for potential contestants. There is a surprising number of reality show contestants who have commit suicide after being on air.

However, elimination shows like "Expedition Robinson" have had some unforeseen good in the world as well. In elimination shows where results are chosen by audience choice, some countries have had the closest thing to fair voting in their history.

In 2005, "Pop Idol" came to China as the reality show "Super Girl." The Chinese government banned it in 2006 for vulgarity, but also for its democratic nature.

First mockumentary television series: "Operation Good Guys"

A direct result of reality television, the mockumentary parodies reality television and documentary styles, while providing hilarious characters and ridiculous situations.

The first, "Operation Good Guys" premiered in 1997 on BBC. Mockumentary films have been around far longer, "This is Spinal Tap" was 13 years earlier, but this was the first time a television show attempted to tackle the genre.

For "Operation Good Guys," it did not go so well. It parodied a fly-on-the-wall documentary series, like "COPS," about a group of police officers and their failed attempts to catch a sinister drug lord.

Producers wanted to make the show as natural as possible, with poor camera work and improvised dialogue.

However, they kept giving huge name celebrities cameos as themselves, which hurt its believability. Even worse, after the first season they added a laugh track. The show did not find a large audience, and ended after its third season.

Even though "Operation Good Guys" did not become popular itself, it laid the groundwork for shows like "The Office," "Reno 911!"and "Modern Family." It gave television writers and producers a starting point to make far more successful and entertaining shows.

I love mockumentaries, and "The Office" is one of my favorite shows, so I am deeply grateful to "Operation Good Guys" for failing so triumphantly and influentially.

Without it we might never have come to accept characters talking directly to the camera. It brought a new genre to television, giving us more variety of what to watch.

What will change the way we watch television next? Who knows. It might be an unpopular British sitcom, or a Swedish sensation.