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Fox 25th Anniversary: J.J. Abrams, Howard Gordon And More On 'The Simpsons,' 'The X Files,' 'Married ... With Children' And Other Shows

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Fox's 25th Anniversary: Hollywood looks back
Fox's 25th Anniversary: Hollywood looks back

In celebration of Fox's 25th anniversary, the youngest of the Big Four broadcast TV networks is gathering its biggest stars to look back on the quarter-century of lots of laughs and plenty of drama that all started on April 5, 1987.

The alt-nuclear family of "Married ... With Children," "Ally McBeal" herself, Calista Flockhart, the heartthrobs of "Beverly Hills, 90210," Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny of "The X-Files," the flashback friends of "That '70s Show" and many more will reminisce on Sunday in a special will be there to pay tribute to Fox's most memorable moments.

But before "Fox's 25th Anniversary Special," hosted by none other than Ryan Seacrest, kicks off on Sunday, April 22 at 8 p.m. on Fox, HuffPost TV reached out to some of the industry's finest to look back on the network.

HuffPost TV asked those who helped shape Fox (from "Lost's" J.J. Abrams and "24's" Howard Gordon), those who were in front of the camera and those who were fans from the get-go (of course, some of these categories overlap) to tell us the Fox show first made an impression on them and why. Was it when they first saw "The Simpsons"? Was it Scully and Mulder who drew them in? Was it the antics at the Bluth's banana stand?

And for those who have worked for Fox shows, we asked: "What's your strongest impression of having worked on that show? The biggest chance you were allowed to take, or perhaps the best or worst memory?"

Find out which supernatural writer/producer loved "Party of Five," who called Fox "a network with balls that takes big swings; and frequently, big swings at people's balls," who got sideburns thanks to "Beverly Hills 90210" and much more below!


J.J. Abrams
Co-creator, "Lost"; Creator, "Alias"; Executive producer, "Fringe," "Person of Interest"
The first show I remember loving on Fox was "The Tracey Ullman Show." I loved the ensemble and those funny little interstitial cartoons that eventually became the studio's annuity ["The Simpsons"]. I remember visiting the set of the last episode's taping, where I got to meet Jim Brooks, who was always an idol of mine. "The Ben Stiller Show" was another favorite of the same era. THAT was brilliant TV. Essentially, any Fox series with a comedian's name, followed by the word "Show" was good by me.

Jeff Pinkner
Writer/producer, "Fringe," "Alias," "Lost"
The *first* Fox show that made an impression on me? It would perhaps be more hip to say "The Simpsons," or even "Married ... With Children," but for whatever reason I was too busy with other things to watch those shows routinely. So, the first Fox show I can say I really connected to was "Party of Five."

For reasons I can't quite parse, the struggles of the Salinger family appealed to me. The show contained a mixture of earnestness and honesty without being sentimental. Of course, the cast was phenomenal. Maybe on some
level I liked that the show stayed true to its own vision -- and thus earned a devoted group of fans -- despite never being wildly popular. (Hm.)

Then came "The X-Files." And that blew my mind.

As far as *working* for Fox... the network has been wildly supportive of the chances we take on "Fringe." In fact, it was initially the network's suggestion that we incorporate singing into an episode. Of course, when we pitched back a marijuana-induced fractured-fairy tale musical noir episode there was the understandable, "Whoawhoawait... You want to do WHAT?" What's amazing, actually -- and what I will remember the most fondly -- is the degree of TRUST the network has for the storytellers it hires. You don't end up with shows like "The Simpsons," or "The X-Files"... or even "Glee" without a massive amount of trust.


Carol Leifer
Author, writer/producer, "Modern Family," "Seinfeld," "Saturday Night Live"
The first Fox show to make an impression on me was "Married ... With Children." And looking back, I don't think it gets the credit it deserves in terms of changing the rules of the family sitcom. To me, it was the first "anti-Cosby" family show. (And not to say that "The Cosby Show" wasn't valuable for its own reasons.) It was just big, over-the-top fun. I think it was a seminal show that set the stage for "Roseanne" and for "Seinfeld." And it was my therapist mother's favorite show besides "60 Minutes." I loved how it really made her laugh.


Ryan McPartlin
Devin "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb, "Chuck"
My first memory of Fox was probably in 1990, when all the girls at school were talking about Luke Perry and Jason Priestley. I decided to tune in to "Beverly Hills 90210" to see what all the fuss was about. Long story short, I decided if long sideburns were what the ladies wanted, that's what I was going to give them. I quickly found out that you had to be on a TV show and live in the 90210 zip code to pull off cheesy sideburns.

Ken Levine
Writer/producer/director, "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "Frasier," "Wings"
I remember Fox from Day 1. The first two shows on the network were "Married ... With Children" and "The Tracey Ullman Show." Fox premiered them back-to-back on a Sunday night -- three times. At 7 p.m., then 8 p.m., then again at 9 p.m.

I was working on "The Tracey Ullman Show," writing sketches for it, so attended their first-night party. James Brooks was producing. We met at a now-defunct Cajun restaurant in West Los Angeles called Orleans. And it was like Groundhog Day because every hour we turned up the monitors and watched and cheered all over again.

Most memorable personal experience for me was writing for "The Simpsons" [Editor's Note: Levine wrote about the experience here] and getting to play a part in one of our episodes. I'm the announcer for the Springfield Isotopes. "Topes lose!" is my famous catchphrase. I can't tell you how weird it was to hear my voice come out of a cartoon character's mouth. So thank you, Fox, for that opportunity.


Jane Espenson
Co-creator, "Husbands," writer/producer, "Buffy," "Battlestar Galactica," "Angel"
I remember watching "The Tracey Ullman Show" and loving it. I didn't know, of course, what "The Simpsons" would become, but I loved the way Ullman sometimes took classic songs and worked them into sketches in ways that reinterpreted the lyrics -- very similar to what "Glee" does in its best moments. And they had a running sketch about two men raising a teenaged daughter that was decades ahead of its time.

Working on a Fox show -- I remember walking onto the "Dollhouse" set for the first time and being absolutely overwhelmed at the love and detail that had been lavished on it. I could LIVE in that set. Someone was willing to spend the money and pay the right people to make that set as gorgeous as it could be. Nicely done.

Rick Cleveland
Writer/producer, "Six Feet Under," "Nurse Jackie"
For me it had to be "The Simpsons." This was the first animated series to premiere in prime time since the "Flintstones," and I remember watching it and deciding right then and there that the bar for television writing had just been raised. I was both intimidated and inspired, and at the time I was still writing stage plays, which is something I thought only "real" writers did. But watching "The Simpsons" week after week, I quickly trashed that notion. Sure NBC had Saturday Night Live and HBO had "The Larry Sanders" show. But "The Simpsons" was a whole 'nother ballgame.


Damon Lindelof
Co-creator, "Lost"
Undeniably, it was "The X-Files." Friday nights haven't been the same since.





Nell Scovell
Creator, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"; Writer/producer, "Warehouse 13," "Monk"
James L. Brooks gave "The Simpsons" so much of its heart. I wrote an episode in the second season where Homer eats poisoned blowfish and is given 24 hours to live. We were tabling my first draft and looking at the key moment where Marge approaches Homer, slumped in his chair. We needed a way for Marge to--21-YEAR-OLD SPOILER ALERT--discover that Homer was not dead.

Jim had scribbled in the margin of his draft: "Marge reaches out, touches Homer's chin and says, 'His drool is warm ... He's alive! He's alive.'" It was absolutely perfect. Jim made cartoons both human and hilarious.


Howard Gordon
Writer/producer, "The X-Files," "24," "Homeland"
As much as I liked "The Simpsons" and "The Tracey Ullman Show," I liked the IDEA of a fourth network more than I liked the network itself. Like the scrappy quality and irreverence of its programming, the very IDEA of the network was a mind-blowing notion. It was like changing the borders of a map that had been drawn long ago.

My experience on "The X-Files" was formative and it was there that I really began to get an idea of what I was doing as a writer and producer. My most vivid memory of those early days was pitching my first "X-Files" story to a roomful of executives. The pitch wasn't going very well, and I remember glancing helplessly at Chris Carter while I was being peppered with questions like, "Why is this an X-File?", when an assistant came in with a folded note informing me that I had parked in Rupert Murdoch's space and needed to move my car immediately. Between that and the sinking pitch (which turned into a pretty good episode) I assumed I'd return to my office to find it cleared out and the lock changed. As it turns out, I spent the next 22 years here.

It was the same thing in the early days of "24." Finding a show when no one quite knows what that show is, and certainly no one has any idea what the show will become, is both frightening and exhilarating. But the culture at [Fox] had and continues to have something in its DNA that made "The X-Files" and "24" shows that were uniquely suited to that network.

Rockne S. O'Bannon
Creator, "Farscape"; Writer/producer, "Defiance," "Alien Nation," "The Twilight Zone"
When Fox was first announced, I thought it was just another PTEN-like network mutation. Nothing that would ever have much of a pulse. Then two shows landed hard for me -- "Married ... With Children" and "The X-Files." "Married ... With Children" was radical, almost anti-TV, certainly anti-sitcom. It was Fox saying, "We know we're not being considered part of the regular network club, and you know what -- screw them, we don't want to be." And then there was "The X-Files." "X-Files" introduced paranoia to TV -- it got under your skin in a way that no show had up until then. It also introduced serial threads that made each week required viewing, blazing the trail for what has now become the cable-drama series standard.

My personal experience with Fox was "Alien Nation," based on my movie. In the Fox series, the premise was really able to flourish -- much of the richer and more unusual relationship material that was in my script was mined more deeply in the series. I'm proud of the movie -- but, true to the times, it was much more of an action piece. The series on Fox allowed the more resonant themes of what it means to be "alien" -- the ultimate outsider -- to ring through.


Hart Hanson
Creator, "Bones," "The Finder"
The first Fox show that made an impact on me was "21 Jump Street" because it shot in North Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA. It was an American show shooting just down the street! Big stuff to a Canadian West-Coaster. I watched it totally to see my every day world exported to the States. I think it was the first time I thought of show business originating in real life on this planet. I started watching "The X-Files" for the same reason and then got hooked.

As for working for [Fox], it's always been interesting, because "Bones" was ordered by [former executive] Gail Berman just before she left the network. We are going into our eighth season as the not exactly loved, but grudgingly appreciated plucky orphan. Which ain't bad. Oliver Twist ended up doing okay too.

Mere Smith
Writer/producer, "The Nine Lives of Chloe King," "Rome," "Angel"
"The X-Files," unquestionably. It was my first semester at college, and I didn't own a TV, but somehow I managed to catch an episode in a friend's dorm room. It must have been "Conduit," because I still remember being stunned by that amazing visual of the little boy's binary code resolving into a woman's face. The next day I called home and asked my parents to tape (yes, "tape") the whole series, which I'd then hoover up 10 eps at a time during winter and summer holidays. By the time they got to "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,"" I'd decided this was the best, smartest show ever invented in the history of television -- that is, until Fox *Studio* [not the network, but the studio] backed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." That one made me want to *be* a TV writer, so between "X-Files" and "Buffy," if you see any of my work on the air, you can blame it all on Fox.

Amy Berg
Writer/producer, "Eureka," "Person of Interest," "Leverage"
I think I was in elementary school when "Married ... With Children" premiered. It was the first comedy I'd ever seen that was actually honest with its audience. Life isn't "Cosby" perfect. Not every family is like the Keatons or the Petries. Al Bundy was a real dad with real problems and kids who, more often than not, were giant pains in the ass. It mined the flaws of its characters like no show before it. All the great comedies since owe a debt of gratitude to "Married ... With Children."

There's a poster of "The X-Files" hanging in the waiting room at Fox Studio. Whenever I go over there for a meeting, I find myself staring at it. It gives me goosebumps. Holy shit, these guys made that. I want to create a show for Fox just so my poster can hang there next to it.

Rob Kutner
Writer/producer, "Conan," "The Daily Show"
Like many people, I received weekly comfort from "The Cosby Show." Then, out of nowhere came "Married ... With Children," this obnoxious drunken neighbor, and right behind it, "The Simpsons," a subversive cartoon that -- even more shockingly -- worked on every level of viewer. My impression of Fox since then -- even with black eyes like "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" -- is of a network with balls that takes big swings. And frequently, big swings at people's balls.


Shawn Ryan
Creator, "The Shield," "The Chicago Code," writer/producer, "Terriers," "The Unit," "Lie to Me," "Angel"
In 1989, while living in Vermont, I learned I had won a college playwrighting award through Columbia Pictures Television. The award was going to result in me getting to spend two weeks interning in the writers room of one of their sitcoms. I was told my time would be spent on one of three shows -- NBC's "My Two Dads", ABC's "Who's The Boss" or Fox's "Married ... With Children." I was familiar with the first two shows, but I had never heard of the third one, or even the network it was on. I couldn't find Fox amongst the Burlington, Vt. television stations, so I called back home to Illinois and found out that my parents got Fox. I asked them to record as many episodes as they could for my next visit back there. When I spoke to my mother a few weeks later she mentioned she was taping the show and had been watching it. She liked it a lot but told me it was "really different." When I finally got back home and started watching "Married With Children" I discovered the brashest, baudiest, most irreverent, risk-taking comedy on TV. I was blown away. I ended up spending my two weeks in Hollywood in the "My Two Dads" writers room, but "Married With Children" stuck in my head and I begged my way into watching a taping of the show. Been a Fox fan ever since.

An anonymous writer who has worked for various Fox shows over the years
Having written for Fox for many years -- and having dealt with their Standards and Practices [department] as well as their budget/production restraints -- I once twisted the old military phrase, "There are no atheists in foxholes," to "There are no atheists on Fox shows."

Don't forget to tune into Fox's 25th anniversary night, which kicks off on Sunday, April 22 with a re-airing of the series premiere of "Married ... With Children" at 7 p.m. ET. Then, the milestone 500th episode of "The Simpsons" follows at 7:30 p.m. ET and Fox's big anniversary special -- including major reunions -- starts at 8 p.m. ET.

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