It is of culturally historical importance when you have a show that spans years and still retains its same audience while upholding the “feel” that it started out with (Not jumping the shark and turning into a mess, etc.) The particular generation that grew up with that show infers many things about culture and “the times” from that show. As a result of this, there is an emotional bond with the characters. Children and households literally grow up with some of these characters. There is context placed into this, and as it has been pointed out numerous times before on this site, it’s an influencing force on prevailing thoughts and ideas of the time.
So what happens NOW that there are a lot of shows that may last only a few seasons? There’s big competition for a primetime spot, so any show that doesn’t deliver is in danger of getting booted, so any new shows must run their course FAST and must get the audience to be emotionally invested right away. The character development must happen fast, and anything exciting must happen this episode or at least the next. Characters must grow, NOW.
Sure there are still shows that have been/are going to span years while still remaining faithful to their audience and having drawn out character development such as How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs, but to explain why I feel this way about current television, (I don’t watch much TV so I feel like I’m way off.) I’ll show it with this comparison:
How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs are different from older shows such as King of the Hill, Three’s Company, Seinfeld, and the Simpsons because in the latter shows, the characters aren’t moving as fast through life. The characters spend most of their time doing nothing, literally. Contrast it with How I Met Your Mother, where the characters are reaching their 30s and have to figure out where they’re going in life and where Ted Moseby has to hurry up and meet Your Mother.
So if it’s the writer’s intention to keep the emotional captivation of the audience, maybe it’s having an effect on the psyche of people GROWING UP with these shows. I don’t think people have noticed that even kids feel *rushed.* Never before has there been such a large “gap” of experience between the ages of 22 and 18. I know it’s always been like this, but freshman are a lot different than seniors these days. It’s not like the 70s where kids went into high school listening to records and smoking weed and exited high school doing the same exact thing with the only difference was either going to college or taking after whatever job their fathers did.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that kids feel like they are having to growing up fast. The cultural context in which they are being placed in may be a part of it if it’s one where music, TV, and news gets recycled incredibly fast with the help of facebook, twitter and the internet.
I know you won’t believe me, and I’m just talking from my own experience, but I’ve seen early 20s kids who are reaching that 25 year mark talk about how they’re FEELING OLD. Early 20s college kids who miss Pokemon and Cartoon Network and Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons who think that these “children” in high school who listen to Lil’ Wayne instead of Radiohead don’t get it. Notice that those shows I just mentioned are from the 1990s. And I thouht you’re not supposed to start feeling old until you’re 40.
Or, maybe they’re just reflecting what the generation above them is saying about getting older.