In 1985, during its sixth season, the Robert Guillaume-anchored political sitcom Benson somehow found itself the first television show to depict someone accessing the Internet. In the surprisingly nihilistic episode “Scenario,” Governor Gatling’s staff (of which the title character is a member) conducts a computer-driven training scenario to learn how to function in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
The “joke” is that there is no way to survive the attack, and the maudlin 1980s message is that, as we all know, the only winning move is not to play. During the scenario, a member of the staff accesses the ARPAnet to receive data on the fictional attack and consider how to respond.
We’ve come a long way in the last quarter century. The Internet has gone from obscure plot device to a central conceit of several mainstream programs. The raunchy Comedy Central show Tosh.0 is based entirely around finding amusing or shocking video clips from the Internet. Person of Interest is about a group of vigilantes that subvert an Internet panopticon AI to fight crime. And Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) from How I Met Your Mother devised an entire seduction scheme around tricking girls that habitually check out men using mobile phone Internet searches: The Lorenzo von Matterhorn.
Not bad for a TV star that got its first break nearly 30 years ago — and as a background extra, to boot. That’s not just some clairvoyant computer-related casting; it’s a historically hysterical hyperlink of Geek Trivia.