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How Are These 12 Classic TV Shows Still Not on Streaming?

Our wish list of the fun, formative and forgotten

Although available on Netflix in a few countries such as Canada, Fresh Prince hasn't made it to U.S. streaming yet.

Netflix struck a streaming coup last month when it added every episode of Friends, then scored another win this month by adding the first five seasons of M*A*S*H. So what's left?

A surprising number of modern classics are still padlocked under pay-per-episode arrangements, meaning they could (and likely will) come to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Crackle.

Some of the most highly demanded shows still airing—The Simpsons and Game of Thrones, say—are already available on streaming for those with cable subscriptions. But that still leaves many programs up for negotiation.

Such discussions are, of course, usually kept secret, so we (Adweek digital managing editor David Griner and TV writer Sam Thielman) decided to create out own wish list. Check it out below and let us know which shows you'd most want added.

[UPDATE: We initially had Saved by the Bell on here, but apparently we had just missed the fact it is indeed on Netflix.]

12. Golden Girls

Sam: I cannot believe The Golden Girls is not on streaming. This has blown my mind. I mean is this a protracted bidding war? Is that what's going on? Betty White is this generation's Ghandi. There's a forgodsakes petition about it.

David: I only recently learned what an impressively diverse fan base this show has. I actually enjoyed it as a teen, which is saying something, so I guess it makes sense. 

Sam: I feel like there's a real danger here that kids will grow up without thinking regularly about elder sex. Do you want to live in that world? I don't.

David: I love seeing it pop up in memes. Almost 30 years later, and Sophia's still getting zingers on Blanche, that ol' floozy. I really do think this show would be a hit on streaming. It's comfort food, but it's earnestly good, too.

11. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

David: Help me out here, Sam. I have almost no memory of this one.

Sam: This is the greatest show in the history of mankind, obviously.

David: Let's unpack that, please.

Sam: It's a steampunk Western starring Bruce Campbell, written by the writing team (including Carlton Cuse!) that descended like Prometheus to give the world Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Literally everything good about mankind comes from this show. But we didn't deserve it, and so it got canceled after a single season. Think of it as Back to the Future III: The Series.

David: Ah yes, something we've all been clamoring for.

Sam: Then we're agreed!

David: And still better than Wild Wild West, I'd wager.

Sam: Scoliosis is better than Wild Wild West.

10. Homicide: Life on the Street

Sam: This is a capital-G Great TV series. In a lot of ways it pioneered the contemporary gritty crime drama model, although its successors, like its creators' The Wire and FX's The Shield, get more of the credit. One of the best things about this series is that the writers know whereof they speak—David Simon was a crime reporter at the Baltimore Sun, and Ed Burns was a cop. This isn't Dick Wolf we're talking about here.

David: I was so used to Law & Order the first time I jumped into an episode of Homicide. I was like, "Wait, I need to know the characters in this one?"

Sam: Exactly!

David: It's perfect for streaming. I wanted to watch them in a row on my own pace. It's so funny to me that Detective Munch is the lingering legacy of that show.

Sam: Channel-surfing and seeing Richard Belzer at various ages and levels of surliness is one of life's great pleasures.

David: He was doing it before Boyhood made it cool.

9. Babylon 5

Sam: Have you seen Babylon 5? Can I lend you the DVDs?

David: I've not. It was one of those "galaxy at the brink of war, tons o' species shoved into the same place" kind of shows, right? (Admittedly a genre that might only include DS9 and Defiance.)

Sam: Exactly, and my god, it's really good. The politics are complicated but not so complicated that they're boring, the characters are really interesting and it doesn't tie into a seriously awful video game developed by snake-oil salesmen.

David: Do the effects hold up? I tried watching Farscape, but couldn't get past the Muppets in Space vibe.

Sam: They hold up because the script holds up. J. Michael Straczynski is a hell of a screenwriter and also a very impressive comic book author, which, full disclosure, endears him to me in a borderline creepy way.

8. ER

David: Another one I'm shocked isn't already out there.

Sam: That is surprising, especially given the strength of the cast. I mean, George Clooney? Alex Kingston has a huge fan base after her run on Doctor Who. Every third cast member is like that. I do wonder how this one ages, I'll be honest.

David: It's funny, when you watch anything on TV ... ANYTHING ... and you IMDB the somewhat-recognizable actors, they always had a role on ER for an episode or two. It was the Hollywood career equivalent of flying through Dallas-Fort Worth.

Sam: Or like L.A.'s Law & Order; it's clearly what people did for cash between indie movies until they made it big.

7. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (full run)

Sam: I love it. It's the show I put on during a lazy saturday when I want to sit in the dark and eat potato chips and pretend that bachelorhood was fun and not a blasted hellscape of tragedy and insomnia.

David: Ha, I have this somewhat opposite relationship with it. My wife and I watched it every weekend when we were dating. Lazy Saturday morning fare.

Sam: My wife hates it, but she is mistaken: MST3K is terrific. It's just that there are a few dozen episodes of this series strewn around the streaming universe, notably on Netflix and Hulu, and while there are a bunch of good ones, this show had a terrific batting average. For instance, where is Space Mutiny? Where is Overdrawn at the Memory Bank? These are national treasures. I'd recommend emailing me directly if you have a copy of episode 909, Gorgo.

David: Keep circulating the tapes ... to Sam Thielman's Dropbox.

6. Baywatch

David: OK, just to be clear ...

Sam: I ... eurrrrrgggghhh.

David: I'm not going to watch Baywatch. This isn't a personal endorsement. But ...

Sam: Bleaaarrrrrgggggg whyyyyyyy?

David: it was such a global phenomenon, I think it would have a lot of appeal.

Sam: It would be a huge hit, because we live in a world where Brisco County Jr. gets canceled after one season.

David: Baywatch might still be running now. For all I know.

Sam: Look: Baywatch was a gigantic success. Pamela Anderson, David Hasselhoff, Yasmine Bleeth—the whole show was a media juggernaut and it was probably formative viewing for a lot of people who are now old enough to watch it and laugh, and because this is how television (especially Netflix) works, probably watch another episode after that.

David: Based on a recent interview with the creator, Gregory Bonann, they seem to be holding out for more money.

Sam: What happened to the tenets of artistic integrity for which Baywatch has always been the aspiring TV producer's lodestar, Gregory?

David: He lived long enough to become a villain. 

5. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

[UPDATE: Thanks to the readers who pointed out that this one's available for Netflix subscribers in a few other countries, including Canada. Just not here in the U.S.]

David: This one was a heart-breaker last December, when a fake Netflix Twitter account got everyone's hopes up by saying Fresh Prince was coming to streaming. Nope, all vicious lies.

Whether it's because of Will Smith's subsequent stardom or just because this show is such an amazing '90s time capsule, Fresh Prince feels like it never left the cultural conversation: The Carlton Dance, that earnestly tear-jerking episode where Will asks why his biological dad doesn't want him, etc. And when James "Uncle Phil" Avery died in late 2013, it really hit a lot of guys I know hard. He was one of those amazing TV dads, and it would be great to revisit a lot of his best moments. 

4. Space Ghost Coast to Coast

David: So, correct me if I'm wrong, but this show pretty much launched everything that would become Adult Swim. Am I overstating things?

Sam: No, you're exactly right. This and The Brak Show (itself a Space Ghost spinoff) and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law were among the first series to show on Adult Swim, and they are nowhere to be found on free streaming services you can get on your TV or tablet.

David: As much as it hurts, I love the note on Adult Swim's site: "Due to our deals with various devils, we can't show you every episode."

Sam: For what it's worth, if you hang around long enough you'll eventually see marathons of these series on that self-same website, and they age pretty well.

3. The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross

David: I'm sure I'm not the only one who's tried to find episodes of this show online for the sole purpose of relaxation. I don't even need to watch it. I would just put on my headphones and zen out while doing spreadsheets or whatever.

Sam: It's like ambient music but with a beard and afro.

David: At risk of a tangent, I just wish I knew more about that guy. He was a 20-year Air Force veteran and retired at the rank of master sergeant. And yet he's the most relaxed, encouraging guy I've ever seen. James Spader even did a monologue about him in Blacklist.

Sam: He was a treasure. He and his happy little trees are a foundational part of my childhood. Which probably explains some things.

David: Your beard would make him proud.

2. Seinfeld

Sam: Seinfeld, I'm told, is definitely coming to Netflix. But it's not there yet. I mean, I say "defintely," but what I mean is that Jerry has said he's "in talks" with Netflix, which is code for "we're haggling over the price." The thing about a lot of these shows is that they might not recoup the necessary investment. I love Brisco County Jr., but I doubt most of the viewing public remembers it exists. Seinfeld, on the other hand, is money in the bank in a way that only a few shows are.

David: Can I ask a dumb question, though? How do these shows make money for Netflix? Hulu and Crackle I get, because they have ads. Is it all about getting and maintaining subscribers?

Sam: Subscriber numbers, baby. Everybody has the potential to access Netflix on some device, and if you can get a show this big, people go, "Oh, hey, I'd pay for that."

David: I bet Friends was one of those. I know quite a few people who literally watch the DVDs every night before they go to bed. If you're that into it, it's a small price to pay to not deal with discs and have all those seasons in one place.

Sam: Absolutely. The big problem with this business model is that networks (and Jerry) need to make it worth their while to sell these shows to Netflix, because if people have all the library content they need, they have no reason to buy a cable subscription. That's probably why the current agreement around these episodes is an ideal one: they show up ten at a time on Crackle. You can't binge them all weekend, but you can get your fix. It sucks less value out of the syndicated reruns.

1. Monty Python's Flying Circus

David: So, this was your pick. I'll let you explain.

Sam: What baffles me about this one is that it was ACTUALLY ON NETFLIX for several years! But it's gone now. I don't know why, or how—I assume someone involved wants a lot of money for it. It is the Sistine Chapel of sketch comedy as far as I'm concerned, and I'm certainly not alone in thinking that.

David: I'm always reminded of Family Guy making the gag about torturing Meg by making her watch "all the other 178 hours of Monty Python that aren't funny." And the sound effects were just this high-pitch British voice going "woo dee wooo yabba yabba yabba" or whatever.

Sam: I feel like there's a certain amount lost in translation from the British, but that is definitely a shorter torture than watching all the parts of Family Guy that aren't funny.

David: Heyoooooo!

Sam: There's actually a real danger to the content producers of not putting these shows on streaming, I feel, and that is that if they don't show up eventually in a legal way, they will show up in an illegal way. People are more than happy to buy a convenient product, but if you make it easier to steal your product than to acquire it legally, the free market will definitely bite you.

David: Well and I think there's another danger of not having your stuff out there for public consumption. It just dies a quiet death from lack of public awareness. 

Sam: That is very true.

David: All right, well there's our No. 1. And much like the actual Holy Grail, this one's already been found and lost a time or two. I bet if we revisit this list in a year's time, it'll be a completely different landscape.

Sam: I suspect so. Some stuff is going to show up, and some is going to disappear maddeningly. Either way, the history of TV is richer than most of us remember, and whenever one of these deals finally gets cut, it invites us to reread a chapter.

Sam Thielman is an Adweek staff writer covering television and digital video. David Griner is Adweek's digital managing editor.

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