Online television offers a truly dizzying array of choices. Viewers of services like Hulu and Netflix, as well as customers of iTunes and Amazon Digital Services, can stream, rent or purchase episodes of television shows from every era.
But not every show that ever aired is legally available online. Surprisingly, there are plenty of high-profile shows that are not available for online consumption – not even for purchase. For a variety of reasons, there are some seriously popular (or once-popular) shows that you just can't find online.
Here's my list of the concluded shows that were popular in their day and are not currently available online in any streaming form. DVD collections do not count, and the show doesn't have to be free online: shows on HBO Go are regarded as online, even if you have to subscribe to HBO to get them. (I'm looking at you, Sopranos.) And because legal is the watchword here, I am not going to count the ways you can download copies of episodes with BitTorrent or watch them on YouTube.
Note that the availability of online shows is constantly shifting. The Cosby Show was once on Netflix, then off, and now is on Hulu Plus. Nor is this list complete: you may have your own favorites that you can't find online. Stick around until the end, though; I've included linkst to a set of tools that can find shows even on obscure networks.
Thanks to the DC Comics/Warner Brothers money machine, you can view Batman animated series episodes practically anywhere on the Internet. But the original 1966-1968 classic show starring Adam West and Burt Ward is not showing online at any Bat-time or any Bat-channel. For comic-book aficionados, this is both bad (it's Batman!) and good (the Batusi? Really?). But at the end of the day, who wouldn't want to relive the harrowing cliff-hangers we saw as kids while also catching the barely disguised innuendo we can detect as adults?
2. Full House
Yeah, I cringed too. But the 1987-1995 run on ABC was hugely popular and its absence online is sure to be noted. This wholesome-to-the-max family drama with three men caring for three girls (trust me, it worked) actually poked a few holes in the usual sitcom situation, especially with the notion that dads could parent, too.
3. The Golden Girls
In the days when comedy shows reigned supreme, this one showed viewers that old could mean funny. For seven seasons, from 1985-1992, this NBC show featuring four sharp women was acerbic enough keep even younger audiences interested. But older audiences flocked to this show, and might again if it was more widely distributed online.
4. The Honeymooners
"To the moon, Alice!" Or at least to the nearest IP address, please. But alas, the comedic genius of Jackie Gleason and an incredible cast of comedy veterans is not to be found online now. Popular from 1953-1956, and then even more when it was revived as a part of a variety show from 1966-1970 (with sporadic episodes throughout the '70s), this comedy about working-class couples remains timeless.
5. Little House on the Prairie
For about a season, maybe two, this NBC family drama followed the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder fairly closely. But the popularity of the family drama pushed the writers to expand the Ingalls-verse to keep the show going. Until the end, it mostly worked. The saga of Charles Ingalls and his family in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, was compelling and genuinely warm, even if it bore little resemblance to history.
One of the longest-running shows on television, this medical procedural/comedy/war series ran for 11 seasons on CBS, bringing the Korean War into our homes every Monday night. You wouldn't think a show about a medical unit in a proxy war in Asia would be a hit so soon after the actual Vietnam War, but it was. The chemistry of the cast and the razor-sharp writing kept this show alive far longer than the conflict in which it was set. I'd like my kids to see this one.
7. Mork and Mindy
This spin-off from Happy Days (yes, go look it up) followed the adventures of one Mork from Ork in Boulder, Colorado, for four seasons. Not a long run, but Robin Williams, Pam Dawber - and even the late Jonathan Winters - created a show full of insane improvisation and sheer goofiness… and maybe a valid mirror on human behavior. That it's not online now? ShazBot, somebody call Orson.
8. The Six Million Dollar Man
You can rebuild him. You can make him better than he was before. Faster. Stronger. But if you want to actually watch Lee Majors as the world's first bionic man online? Forget it, the show's locked up tighter than the OSI. Okay, so the show doesn't rank up there with the greats, but it was pretty decent sci-fi that managed to bring super-heroics to the screen and show us a surprisingly realistic future of bionics. Even if they always did run in slow motion.
I may be one of the few people on the planet that has never watched a single episode of this show, but there's no denying its impact as an ensemble drama that drew in the lucrative demographic of, well, thirtysomethings to ABC for four seasons. The show's depiction of baby boomers in their thirties was smart, well-written and very much loved by its viewers.
10. The Waltons
This nine-season family drama based on the novel Spencer's Mountain ran from 1972-1981 depicting the lives of a rural Virginia family in the midst of the Great Depression and World War II. This was a big family, too, with seven kids, the parents, and the grandparents all trying to make do in one of the roughest American economies ever. A lot of people make fun of this show, pegging it as pure schmaltz. Yet the Waltons enjoy a lifestyle that many people not-so-secretly strive for - and might watch all over again.
Good night, John-Boy.
Find Your Own Favorites
If you are not sure if the show you want to watch is online anywhere, try Sidereel, which does a pretty good job listing the online availability of shows. It's not 100% accurate, though, so if your results come up empty, try Hulu next.
Even if you are not a Hulu subscriber, you can still search for TV episodes on the site. If Hulu does not have them, it may point you to other sources (like cable channel websites) where the show can be watched.
You might also try Netflix, which often changes show availability at the drop of a hat.
Hopefully, all your favorite shows will be online someday. Until then, what shows are you missing?
Lead image courtesy of Henderson Productions/Miller-Milkis Productions/Paramount Television