FOX celebrates 25th anniversary tonight

Although it may be hard for even those of us who were around at its launch to recall, FOX really was an upstart network and the butt of many of jokes in the wake of its primetime debut in April 1987 (it continued to be the punchline of some jokes regarding dubious programming for years afterward, even into the 2000s, but what can you expect when you greenlight shows like Man vs. Beast and The Littlest Groom?). There was also plenty of criticism of some of its “edgy” program choices early on. Married…With Children was an early success for the network and was a lightning rod for outcries over the show’s crudeness, while the network’s biggest hit, The Simpsons, in the early years of its run, would find itself the subject of national debates — sometimes even mentioned at the presidential level — over “family values.” But the network may simply have been prescient in what the public wanted, as these two series seem quite tame by today’s standards.

Ultimately, though, FOX has had the last laugh, outlasting any naysayers. For better or worse, it has greatly influenced the types of programs we watch, and how we watch them — both in terms of scripted series, reality shows and in the sports coverage that it has also grown in over the course of its existence, particularly NFL, MLB, and even now testing the waters with soccer and UFC. It has launched numerous pop-culture phenomena, memes and catchphrases into our living rooms and around our water coolers, and made many actors into household names.

One thing I notice about FOX is how it tries — and generally succeeds — in maintaining a youthful edge, even as it gets older. In terms of network age, it obviously is far younger than ABC, CBS and NBC. It seems to be acting like a 25-year-old — not completely immature, but also not ready to fully give up a rocking lifestyle, either. I notice that the most each time I attend the Television Critics Association press tour. The FOX panels are almost always the most unique, and exciting and fun, with plenty of rock music blaring, plenty of swag and food available, fun activities on hand and enjoyable evening events during which talent is available for interviews. The network seems to be acknowledging what many actual people also realize as they move along in years — that you can grow up without “getting old.”

In recognition of this first quarter-century of growing up, FOX will premiere the two-hour FOX’s 25th Anniversary Special tonight at 8pm ET/PT. Ryan Seacrest hosts the special, which pays tribute to FOX’s most memorable moments with appearances by FOX talent, highlights from iconic series, and specials and reunions with cast members from fan-favorite series.

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Talent appearing in the special will include:

* Keenen Ivory Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Tommy Davidson from In Living Color

* Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Laura Prepon and Wilmer Valderrama from That ’70s Show 

* Calista Flockhart from Ally McBeal 

* Gabrielle Carteris, Shannen Doherty, Jason Priestley and Ian Ziering from Beverly Hills, 90210

* Seth MacFarlane from Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad

* Hugh Laurie from House

* Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler from American Idol

* Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny and creator Chris Carter from The X-Files

* Christina Applegate, David Faustino, Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal from Married…With Children

Speaking of Married…With Children, at 7pm ET/PT tonight, FOX will be kicking off the 25th anniversary festivities by airing the original pilot episode of that classic comedy, which first aired on April 5, 1987, with three half-hour broadcasts as FOX’s first primetime signal transmission. In the episode, Al Bundy (O’Neill) gets front-row seats to a basketball game, but his wife, Peggy (Sagal), makes him stay home and meet their new neighbors, Marcy (Amanda Bearse) and Steve Rhoades (David Garrison).

This is followed at 7:30pm by the 500th episode of The Simpsons, “At Long Last Leave,” which premiered earlier this year, leading up to the anniversary special. Happy anniversary, FOX!

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