Photo: CR: TNT
Photo: CR: TNT

The top 10 longest running TV series shot in metro  Atlanta

Basketball, Robin Meade, zombies, reality stars abound

Originally posted Monday November 18, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Longevity is a signpost of success in any field. On TV, “Sesame Street” and “60 Minutes” have passed the half century mark. “Saturday Night Live” is in its 45th season. “The Simpsons” hits 30 years in December. 

Atlanta has its fair share of shows that have become veterans in the field. 

In compiling this list of the 10 longest-running active shows, I included shows that have never been cancelled or were placed on hiatus for a relatively brief time. TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” was off air for two years but came back in 2018 and made the top 10. “Sunday Best” on BET and Food Network’s “Good Eats” both had much longer breaks and didn’t qualify. 

Only one of the shows is live-action scripted. Two are animated. The rest are a mix of reality and live TV programming. 

1. “NBA on TNT”/ “Inside the NBA” TNT (1989)

TNT purchased rights to NBA games in 1988 and started airing them in 1989, with a post-game show called “Inside the NBA” shot at the Techwood campus in Midtown Atlanta.

In the early 1990s, it was a straightforward news show focused on what happened during the game itself and hosted by Ernie Johnson Jr. 

But when Tim Kiely, executive producer, arrived in the mid-1990s, he decided to shake things up. 

“I wanted it to be more rough and rugged, like life itself,” he said. “If it got messy and we made mistakes, we celebrated that.”

Soon after he arrived, Kiely directed Johnson to do the show without a Teleprompter. 

“The prompter is a drug or a safety net,” Kiely said. “Once you’re reading, you’re not talking or having a conversation.” 

Although Johnson was unhappy by the sudden change and threw a coffee cup across the room in anger after the show, Kiely said he simply wanted to unleash Johnson’s snarky sense of humor. “We bought him a coffee cup from the mall saying ‘Going Postal,’” Kiely said. “He still has it.” 

Another game-changer: the arrival of NBA legend Charles Barkley, fresh out of retirement in 2000. His personality popped. “He was already a quote machine,” Kiely said. “And he possesses an intelligence behind what he is saying as well.” 

Adding Shaquille O’Neal in 2011 made “Inside the NBA” even more entertaining, Kiely added Their cosmically weird interplay inspired multiple “Saturday Night Live” skits. 

One of Kiely’s favorite moments is when Kenny Smith and Barkley held a diaper-changing contest in 2008. “Just to mess with Charles, we stuck a microwaved Baby Ruth bar in one of the diapers,” Kiely said, chuckling. (Here are other highlights from the past 30 years.)

2. “Morning Express With Robin Meade” HLN (2001) 

Robin Meade has been a fixture on HLN, going back to when it was still called CNN Headline News. Even as HLN has cycled through numerous programming changes, Meade has provided a steady ray of sunshine out of CNN Center studios.

Meade is modest about her longevity crediting the loyal viewers for keeping her around. 

“We’ve been that little engine that could,” Meade said. “Morning is about habits. I want my coffee a certain way. I want my TV shows a certain way.” 
Her morning show is brisk and matter of fact, without the extraneous “Today Show” gimmicks or cable news political blather.  

Meade said she sees herself as “the emotional guardian of the morning viewer.” She never wants to turn the morning into anything too heavy, minimizing the gory details, especially if it’s literally gory. 

“It has to pass the cereal test,” she said. “Would the image or description literally make you want to spit out your cereal while you’re watching? Like the [2008] Jodi Arias murder case. People expect Nancy Grace to get into the details. Not us. We’ll say her boyfriend was stabbed but not how many times.” 

3. “Squidbillies” Adult Swim (2005)

This oddball, low-budget animated series was one of  the early success stories for Atlanta-based Adult Swim, developed out of the network’s Williams Street offices by long-time buddies David Willis and Jim Fortier. 

Fortier recalled Adult Swim creator Mike Lazzo providing a funny name for a show - “Squidbillies” - but commissioning Willis and Fortier to create something around said title.

The result: the often violent high jinks of the Cuylers, a poor, rural family of squids who live in the North Georgia mountains. 

Fortier, who attened Heritage High School in Conyers with Willis,  joked that the survival of “Squidbillies” has to do with a certain portfolio they have compiled about their bosses. “We just flash a few pages and they give us a new season!” he said.

In reality, the show has maintained a core following, requires a relatively small staff and is done entirely in Atlanta, from animation to sound. The animation features cool folk art backdrops and the theme song has been recorded by a huge variety of artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neko Case, T-Pain, Alabama Shakes, William Shatner, Steve Earle and the late great George Jones.

Plus, Fortier noted, the more episodes you make, the more valuable the franchise. 

So far, “Squidillies” has compiled 12 seasons and 123 episodes. A 13th season is forthcoming.

THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA -- Pictured: (l-r) NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak -- Bravo Photo: Wilford Harewood

4. “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” Bravo (2008) 

The Atlanta housewives spin-off of the original “Real Housewives of the O.C.” came out when reality TV was hitting its stride and stars were being born based more on their personalities as opposed to any particular set of skills. 

The show also opened the curtain behind the world of wealthy black women in a Southern city packed with them. 

While there was some initial backlash from critics who felt the ladies lacked proper decorum and failed to “represent” the city well, the viewers loved this unscripted soap opera. There were verbal insults, wig pulling, conspicuous spending and ridiculous catch phrases (Sheree Whitfield’s “Who Gon’ Check Me Boo” ended up on T-shirts.)

NeNe Leakes and a white friend she recruited Kim Zolciak were early breakouts. Season two, “Real Housewives” gave former Xscape singer Kandi Burruss a new career, a husband and a line of sex toys. 

In season five, Kenya Moore, an import from Los Angeles, injected fresh “gone with the wind fabulous” energy into the proceedings. Now in season 12, the show keeps chugging along with no shortage of babies, marriages and relationship drama. 

ARCHER: Episode 12, Season 6 "Drastic Voyage, Pt. I" (Airing Thursday, March 26, 10:00 PM e/p) Archer and the gang prepare for their most fantastic voyage ever. Pictured: (top row, L-R) Dr. Krieger (voice of Lucky Yates), Cheryl Tunt (voice of Judy Greer), Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin), Lana Kane (voice of Aisha Tyler); (bottom row, L-R) Cyril Figgis (voice of Chris Parnell), Lee Gillette (voice of Adam Reed), Pam Poovey (voice of Amber Nash). CR: FX
Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk

5. Archer FX (2009)

Started as a spy spoof by Atlanta’s Adam Reed a decade ago, this wittily silly adult-oriented animated series has gone through several incarnations over the years. 

But regardless of venue, fans kept coming back to watch the crew of delightfully absurd characters such as bawdy Pam (voiced by Atlantan Amber Nash), crazy Dr. Krieger (Atlanta’s Lucky Yates) and eye-rolling Lana (actress and comic Aisha Tyler). 

The past three seasons have been in mind of the coma-ridden leading character Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), a self-centered cad and buffoon. Recent seasons have been set in a dark noir film circa 1947 in Los Angeles, a mysterious 1939 Pacific island and outer space. 

“I think ‘Archer’ has persevered because it’s both fun and smart. It’s also visually stunning,” said Nash. “I think FX trusts the creator and the show gave us [actors] the flexibility to make bold choices as well.” 

Photo: CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com Lori Allen, who runs Bridals by Lori in Sandy Spring and leads "Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta" on TLC

6. “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” TLC (2010)

This spin-off of the original New York version continues to charm, courtesy of Lori Allen, owner of Bridals by Lori in Sandy Springs and her spirited sidekick, bridal expert Monte Durham

The premise is simple: brides seeking the best dress they can find for what they hope to be the biggest day of their lives.

Even after overcoming breast cancer and suffering a nasty fall while filming earlier this year, Allen still loves doing the show and plans to do more as long as TLC is willing. 

“Fans love the authenticity of our show,” Allen said. “Bridals by Lori is a real shop with real people. I’m a hard-working woman who battled cancer. Monte and I are truly best friends.” 

7. “The Walking Dead” AMC (2010)

This ensemble apocalyptic horror/character study became the most popular scripted basic cable show of the 2010s, peaking at more than 20 million viewers in 2015. 

It transformed the small Georgia town of Senoia into a tourist attraction and turned several relatively unknown actors (e.g. Danai Gurira, Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus) into major stars. 

But since bad guy Negan whacked fan favorite Glenn in the head with his bat in the fall of 2016, the show has been rapidly bleeding viewers. It now draws just 25 percent of its peak audience despite what some fans view as a story-telling renaissance under current show runner Angela Kang.

The show is currently in the middle of season 10 and has already been renewed for season 11. 

8. “Dish Nation” syndicated, Fox 5 (2011)

This show originally started with four morning shows talking pop culture from all over the country. Over time, producers pared it down to just two. Rickey Smiley’s morning show in downtown Atlanta has been the lone survivor from those early days. 

The amiable Headkrack now leads the show and “RHOA” castmate Porsha Williams adds sizzle. 

Headkrack cites the team’s chemistry for its success: “We have all worked so closely together for so long, we know each other’s buttons. And we have a steady flow of intriguing guests as well.”

9. “T.I. and Tiny” VH1 (2011)

This has been one of the sturdiest VH1 shows to date courtesy of a made-for-TV celebrity couple: the eccentric rap star Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. - AKA T.I. - loving and clashing with fiery Tameka “Tiny” Cottle of Xscape fame. 

When their marriage fell on hard times, “T.I. & Tiny: The Grand Hustle” was nixed in 2017. 

But after they reconciled, VH1 added some famous players such as LeToya Luckett, Monica and Antonio “Toya” Wright to the mix and now calls it “T.I. & Tiny: “Family & Friends.”  

DON'T BE TARDY... -- Pictured: (l-r) Kim Zolciak-Biermann, Kroy Biermann -- (Photo by: Marcus Ingram/Bravo)
Photo: Bravo/Marcus Ingram/Bravo

10. “Don’t Be Tardy” Bravo (2012)

Zolciak negotiated this spin-off from “Real Housewives of Atlanta” as her time on the original show soured, (An attempted comeback on “RHOA” went nowhere in 2017.) Good news is she loves her large family and has managed to keep fans entertained with her potty mouth, patented facial expressions and goofy shenanigans. 

The show has aired seven seasons and 82 episodes to date with more to come in 2020. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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