Ten or even twenty years ago television sitcoms were only a fraction as prevalent as they are today, and rarely developed the following that today’s popular sitcoms count on. Our society is becoming so invested in television, and in particular fictional television series, that it is starting to affect the way viewers come to view the world. I am one of these viewers who seems to think that the characters from How I Met Your Mother or Friends are my real-life friends. I find myself missing them if I go too long between episodes- it’s a sickness.
Todd’s article Saying Goodbye to Friends-Fan Culture as Lived Experience discussed the television series finale of Friends as a worldwide media event, with Internet message boards having been filled with praise for the show’s ability to capture the U.S. during the 90’s and encapsulate the Generation-X experience. The article also commented on television’s influence as “a powerful cultural medium” and how it “plays a large role in the lives of many Americans (Todd, 2011).”
This study examined fans of the television show and their observed feelings of attachment to the characters in the show, finding that many fans felt more connected to the characters than many of their real-life relationships. Television producers know that by mimicking real-life situations and portraying those situations in a humorous light, consumers will connect with the message and in many cases the characters in those scenes.
Another article that I read sometime ago analyzed the success of gay-themed programming in the 1990’s. There is not that much of a gay presence in Friends, but in shows like Seinfeld and Sex and The City it was quite common during the 90’s. It was noted that highly visible battles over gay rights almost gave homosexuality some type of cutting-edge allure to the socially liberal. The success of gay-themed programming was attributed to the gay-inclusive television shows’ ability to make supporters feel that they were affirming their open-mindedness (Becker, 2006). I think this is part of the reason that shows like Friends gained the following that they did (and still do). The social context of the subject matter (even with “shows about nothing” like Seinfeld) make them popular if the audience feels gratified by the content.