The Essentials: TV Action (90’s Edition)
The new fall TV season is right around the corner and while many web sites are providing you with 2015 Fall TV Previews, how many of them are taking you back in time to the 1990’s and examining the top action shows of that decade?
There was a lot of quality action shows on TV in the 1990’s, I am going to do my best to narrow it down to 10 shows and there is only one logical place to start…
1. Walker, Texas Ranger – Chuck Norris was an action movie icon for over two decades when Walker, Texas Ranger first hit the air. With his movie days winding down, at least in the theatrical sense, moving to TV was a smart career move for Norris. It gave him career longevity and introduced him to a whole new generation of fans, in fact I’d say for anyone born in the late 80’s and on the role of Walker, Texas Ranger is what they most associate Chuck Norris with. Walker was such a hit that famed NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby named his sons, Walker and Texas Ranger in honor of this iconic show and character.
2. Baywatch – While it technically started in 1989, Baywatch became a juggernaut in the early to mid 1990’s. The first season aired on NBC and was cancelled due to poor ratings, but there was enough faith in the project from the creators and its star, David Hasselhoff, that they managed to keep the show alive in syndication. And Baywatch was syndicated EVERYWHERE! In fact at its peak, Baywatch was the most watched show on television in the world! Of course a big part of the appeal of the show was it was loaded with beautiful people in swimwear (it was a show about lifeguards after all). Pamela Anderson, Nicole Eggert, Brooke Burns, Erika Eleniak, Kelly Packard and Donna D’Errico all mesmerized many a male viewer running in slo-motion up and down the beach.
3. Renegade – The success of shows like Baywatch in syndication opened the door for more shows to go the same route and find similar success, one such show was Renegade starring Lorenzo Lamas. Lamas played Reno Raines a cop who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Raines, now on the run, teams up with a bounty hunter Bobby Sixkiller to capture bad guys and help people along the way. Lamas’ real life wife Kathleen Kinmont was on the show for 4 out of 5 seasons, she was not coincidentally dropped from the show after her relationship with Lamas soured. Another interesting note is that series creator, Stephen J. Cannell, had a recurring role as Donald “Dutch” Dixon, the crooked cop who framed Reno.
4. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys – This show started as a series of TV Movies for a syndicated package that Universal had put together known as the Action Pack. The Hercules TV movies starring Kevin Sorbo in the titular role, were so well received it was developed into a series that would run for six seasons. It also spawned two spin-offs, one was Young Hercules but the other was…
5. Xena: Warrior Princess – It isn’t often that a spin off surpasses the show it was spun off from, but there was no stopping Lucy Lawless and Xena: Warrior Princess. This show was a ratings hit and it made its star, Lucy Lawless, a household name. I think a big part of it was there had never really been a show like this on TV with such a strong female lead. People had seen many incarnations of Hercules before and since, but there’s only been on Xena! One plus that Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess had over other 90’s action shows was the marketing behind them. There were toys, video games and comic books based on the shows, which made them money making machines!
6. Highlander: While shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and Renegade took stars from action movies to help give their shows an instant connection with action fans, some shows did that one better and were direct spin-offs from 1980’s action movies. There were shows based on Robocop, Total Recall and F/X in the 1990’s but the most successful of the bunch was without a doubt, Highlander. For the pilot episode of the Highlander series, Christopher Lambert, star of the 1986 film, was brought in to help introduce the world to another member of the MacLeod clan, Duncan (played by Adrian Paul). This was another syndicated action show, but it would eventually end up on the USA Network here in the United States. And speaking of the USA Network…
7. La Femme Nikita – Based off the 1990 Luc Besson film of the same name and the American remake, Point of No Return, La Femme Nikita starring Peta Wilson aired on the USA Network for 4 years beginning in 1997. In the series, Nikita is recruited and trained to kill by Section One, a secret anti-terrorist organization. La Femme Nikita was a bonafide hit for the USA Network, but issues between the network and the distributor ultimately sabotaged the show.
8. Stargate SG-1 – The events of the TV series take place about a year after the events of the 1994 movie that starred Kurt Russell and James Spader. In the TV show, Russell and Spader are replaced by Richard Dean Anderson (of MacGyver fame) and Richard Shanks. The show aired on Showtime for the first 5 seasons, but would move to the SyFy channel for seasons 6-10. The show would eventually air in syndication as well and spawn several spin-offs and some direct to DVD movies. Stargate also benefited from having a variety of branded merchandise much like Hercules and Xena.
9. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine/Star Trek: Voyager – One has to wonder if a show like Stargate SG-1 would have ever received the green light if not for the success of the Star Trek franchise on TV. For a good portion of the 90’s there were two first run Star Trek themed shows on television. When Star Trek: Deep Space 9 went on the air in 1993, Star Trek: The Next Generation was still going for another year. Then in 1995, UPN launched another Star Trek series, entitled Star Trek: Voyager, featuring the first female captain, Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew of Remo Williams fame). I will let the Trekkies debate which of the two Star Trek shows launched in the 90’s was superior.
10. Acapulco H.E.A.T. – Now this show did not have the success of the other shows on this list, but I’m not sure any other show on the list oozed the 90’s quite like Acapulco H.E.A.T. Before I go any further let me tell you that H.E.A.T. stands for Hemisphere Emergency Action Team. The team is lead by Ashley Hunter-Coddington (played by Catherine Oxenberg aka Mrs. Casper Van Dien) and Mike Savage (played by Brendan Kelly). Ashley is former MI6, Mike is former CIA. They recruit a bunch of operatives to fight terrorism around the globe and nobody ever suspects them because they all pose as owners, photographers or models of a beach wear company. Let that sink in for a minute. The show also featured Playboy Playmate Alison Armitage, Michael Worth (from action movies like Fists of Iron and To Be The Best) and 90’s icon Fabio even had a small role on the show. The first season aired from 1993-1994, but a second season would not appear until 1998 and only Worth and Armitage returned.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at some of the most memorable action shows of the 1990’s. it was tough narrowing things down, so I figured I’d share a few honorable mentions…
- JAG – Some may have classified this one under “action for old people”, but CBS was known for targeting that demographic (remember The Equalizer?), although it originally aired on NBC. The show starred David James Elliott and Catherine Bell (who also did a few action movies in the 90’s like Men of War and Crash Dive).
- The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. – This was a fresh take on the classic western TV show and starred the beloved Bruce Campbell.
- Thunder in Paradise – The creators of Baywatch tried to strike gold again this time with the trio of Hulk Hogan, Chris Lemmon and Carol Alt. Hogan and Lemmon play ex-Navy SEALS who have a high-tech boat named Thunder that they use to help them fight crime.
- Martial Law – The popularity of Walker, Texas Ranger on TV and Jackie Chan movies in the late 90’s led to CBS green lighting Martial Law starring Sammo Hung. Hung played a respected Chinese cop and martial arts expert who ends up transferring to Los Angeles where he fights crime with Terrell Parker (Arsenio Hall) and an undercover cop Grace Chen (Kelly Hu).