James Lileks
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Is the fall TV season still a big deal? There are still networks, so there has to be a fall season with exciting new shows. I'm guessing it's something like this:

"Detective Awesome" — A series about a brilliant, dedicated but exhausted female detective in a medium-sized town with a 100% unemployment rate. She's divorced, trying to quit smoking and has to deal with rebellious teenage children and a brash mother, as well as a bright, new detective who's been assigned to help her in a case that has troubling connections to the town's richest family, the Murdersons.

"Medical Doctor Hospital!" — A show about charismatic, complicated medical professionals who can save nine out of 10 patients, grieve deeply about the 10th for a minute before having a tryst in the supply closet.

"CSI: Fargo" — Cynical cops with exaggerated accents investigate a series of shocking crimes, including turning left when the arrow is red on Veterans Boulevard.

From the producers of "Modern Family" and "This Is Us," it's "Us Are Family" — A domestic comedy where people sit on sofas and address the camera about things that happened. (It's roughly based on "Nous Sommes Famile," a French comedy hit, based on "Family, That's Us," a British sitcom.)

That's about it. Oh, things were different before cable, when there were only three channels. The Fall Season TV Guide arrived, thick as a brick, bursting with ads and stories on all the new shows. If you were around in the '70s and '80s, you knew exactly what you'd be getting:

A variety show that took on the burning issues of the day in musical-comedy form; something by Norman Lear where crotchety archetypes took on the burning issues of the day, and a Jack Webb-produced show about firefighters who took on the burning issues of the day.

A breezy sitcom about young married people who have to deal with an overbearing mother-in-law, a tyrannical boss who invites himself to dinner and a horse who lives in the spare bedroom.

A sitcom starring Tim Conway (who played "Tim Conway") or McLean Stevenson (who played "McLean Stevenson"), or perhaps a buddy comedy starring Conway and Stevenson.

A sequel to a popular miniseries, such as "Richer Man, Thanks to the Miracle of Compound Interest, Poorer Man," or "Herman Wouk's 'The Winds of Minor Border Disputes.' "

"Professor Shotgun," about a lovable academic in the Old West who did his best to raise his son, Luke, woo the schoolmarm and uphold the law, which required him to shoot at least one bad guy per episode without any legal consequences whatsoever.

A "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff, this time featuring not Rhoda or Phyllis or Lou, but Mary herself. She moves to St. Paul, where she has romantic misadventures with out-of-state politicians who turn out to be married every ... single ... time. Don't miss "You Lying SOB," only on CBS.

A "Happy Days" spinoff where Richie comes back from 'Nam and doesn't say much and certainly has no time for the Fonz and all his childish ways.

Something with a sci-fi gimmick, like a guy who can turn into a dolphin that drives a car and fights crime.

Page after page of new shows. Within a few months, the slaughter would begin. Half the shows would be axed within eight or 13 weeks, and a new slate of junk would be shoveled onto the air. If "Bachelor Husband" didn't catch on, they'd dump it and put on "My Mother the Ice Maker" (a policeman raising two kids by himself discovers that his mother has been reincarnated as a commercial ice machine outside a 7-Eleven).

Most of it was awful, but we watched, because that seemed to be your duty as an American. You liked it when one channel had a good lineup, because you didn't have to rise from your chair, cross the room, find the pliers and change the channel.

It's hard to express the importance and the excitement of the new fall season. Now shows come and go, start and finish, with no relation to the calendar. The nation is no longer united by a common culture — we're enjoying our own choices on streaming services that provide a kaleidoscope of options, not passively enduring rote dreck en masse. People used to have water-cooler conversations about shows, and this bound the nation together.

"Didja see 'The Waltons' last night?"

"Yeah, but I fell asleep."

"Want to know what happened?"

"Not really."

"OK, see you around."

Is it better now? Of course. We don't talk around the water cooler because no one's at the office, but the shows we don't discuss are much, much better.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks