The Goldbergs: Nostalgia's recurring place in television

Nostalgia has played a role in television programming since 'Happy Days'.  ABC continues the long-standing tradition, with its hit show 'The Goldbergs'.  Wendi McClendon-Covey, the matriarch on the series, discusses what makes it so successful. 

By Charlie Brugnolotti, Larry King Now

Since the creation of Happy Days, television has used nostalgia as a mechanism to create hit shows.  Shows like The Wonder Years, That Seventies Show, and now, The Goldbergs, take us back to a time that elicits fond memories and educates younger generations on what it was like to grow up in a previous era. 

Larry King asked Wendi McClendon-Covey if she felt nostalgia played a key role in the show's success, to which she replied: 'It absolutely does, the show is created from our narrator's memory. So he is thinking back to when he was a kid and when all of the really nostalgic things happened to him." Wendi expands upon this, stating, "We never did a whole episode about one eighties pop culture reference. It has nothing to do with that, its about his memories as a kid."  So, it's not only the references to a past time that makes the show successful, but also how those events affected the protagonist of the show. 

Nostalgia can be explained as “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.” said Alan R. Hirsch in “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,

To Wendi McClendon-Covey's point, it's critical for the show's success that we empathize with the protagonists, in order to feel a certain way about the events that occurred. It's why characters like Kevin Arnold and Richie Cunningham are so memorable. We relive what we see as an incredible time in our lives, through the eyes of these characters.  As someone who grew up in the eighties, I can tell you that when Adam lost his Transformers in a bet, I felt his pain! 

In an article by Elite Daily, Lauren Martin, while discussing nostalgia writes, "The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It's seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now."

Since we're likely to see our own past through rose-colored glasses, television uses that to create relatable characters, allowing us to vicariously relive the moments of our past through their eyes.  Certain shows have even faked nostalgia successfully.  How I Met Your Mother took place in present day, but was told from a future viewpoint, as the narrator was sharing his memories with his children. 

Another technique used to elicit nostalgia is bringing shows back from a previous time period. Fuller House is one example of a show that has a core audience that's nostalgic. In this case, it's the show itself that's the vehicle for nostalgia, as it brings viewers back to a point in their lives where they watched Full House.  Jimmy Fallon may just be the king of nostalgia, calling for several reunions and appearances on from past TV shows, including his famous Saved By The Bell reunion. 

Relatable characters and memories of a past era is a recipe for television success. The Goldbergs and Fuller House are riding the nostalgia wave now. And someday soon, there's sure to be a show that reminds us of this millennial generation. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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