Remember back in the 80s when once a year normal sit coms would totally stray from their usual format and do a sort of PSA-type episode addressing a social problem? There was usually a disclaimer about the sensitive material to be addressed in the episode, and sometimes there was a dedication at the end: "For John." And we can assume that "John" probably died because of whatever issue was being addressed in the episode? I totally remember that.
Ricky Schroder's rebellious cousin comes for a visit, and we learn that shoplifting is bad. Jessie Spano gets in over her head with her new band, academic pressures, and student council responsibilities, turns to pills to keep herself going. Alex Keaton does the same thing, rifles through Mallory's purse (which severely strains their mutual trust), and ends up sleeping through his super important test after he comes crashing down from his diet pill high.
Carol from Growing Pains has a boyfriend (which we couldn't even believe to begin with) who drives drunk and dies. Poor Carol.
Kimberly's friend on Different Strokes leaves a positive pregnancy test in their bathroom. Arnold befriends a person with epilepsy and we learn to be nice to people with challenges like that.
I remember a particularly poignant episode of Silver Spoons that has turned me off to hunting for the rest of my life. I guess hunting was in the same category of evil as doing drugs, drinking, and making fun of people with diseases back then?
But now every show is in itself a PSA. You want to learn about the ups and downs of teen promiscuity? Just watch "Friday Night Lights." Need a cautionary tale about drugs? You can try "Breaking Bad." I mean, the list goes on. Instead of designating one special show a year, the entire premise of shows now is sex, drugs, and the evils of hunting (just kidding, hunters). It's an interesting shift. I don't know what it means. Maybe it's a moral decline? Or maybe it's art imitating life more accurately--we all know someone who sells meth on the side, right? Or maybe it's just that TV thinks it needs to be more complex and "grown up" than it used to be?
Oh, TV... What will you think of next!?
Another thing you don't see on TV anymore that used to be a STAPLE is Christmas-themed episodes where a character on the show has a visit from the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. I miss those episodes!