Coming Around Again: The Longest Running (and Longest Gaps Between) Hits

From Jurassic Park to Ed McBain, meet the masters of entertainment longevity.

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To say that 2020 has been an odd year would be an understatement on the order of “The Beatles were mildly popular.” One of the places that the strangeness of our lockdown year has been reflected has been at the movies. With regular theaters closed, drive-ins surged, frequently playing older films. That resulted in the unusual case of 1993’s Jurassic Park hitting the top of the box office again in June. That phenomenon leads to the following questions: what are the biggest gaps between chart toppers, whether at the box office, the record charts, or elsewhere, and what are the film and TV series that have stuck around the longest?

1. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

Jurassic Park stomped to #1 for three weeks upon its initial release in 1993. On June 22nd, lifted by drive-ins, the film took the top spot again 27 years after its original ride. Gone with the Wind remains the all-time box office champion if you adjust for inflation, and the 1939 film had three official re-releases (1989, 1998, 2019), but none of them cracked the #1 spot.

2. Cockroaches and Cher

 

Singer Cher during a performance
Cher performs during a NBC Today show segment. (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com)

There’s an old joke that goes that if there’s ever a nuclear war, all that’s left will be cockroaches and Cher. While that’s a loving, tongue-in-cheek tribute to the star’s longevity and resiliency, it also has a ring of truth to it where the charts are concerned. Cher hit #1 for the first time in August of 1965 with her then-husband Sonny Bono on their classic “I Got You Babe.” After a continuous run of hits throughout the rest of the 1960s, the 1970s (with three solo #1s), the 1980s, and the 1990s, Cher took “Believe” to #1 in March of 1998. That’s an amazing 33-year-and-seven-month gap between her first #1 and her most recent #1.

Other prodigious gaps between first and most recent #1s have been held by George Harrison (23 years and 11 months between “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as a Beatle in 1964 and “Got My Mind Set on You” in 1988), The Beach Boys (24 years and 5 months between “I Get Around” and “Kokomo”), Elton John (24 years and 8 months between “Crocodile Rock” and “Candle in the Wind 1997”) and Michael Jackson (25 years and 8 months between “I Want You Back” with The Jackson 5 and “You Are Not Alone”).

3. His Name is Series, Longest-Running Series

Daniel Craig and Berenice Marlohe during a premier of Skyfall
Berenice Marlohe and Daniel Crag during the Berlin premier of Skyfall. ( Piotr Zajac / Shutterstock.com)

 

While the overall continuity of the James Bond series is in question, everyone generally treats the films as if they’re part of an ongoing mega-series. It’s the third-highest grossing franchise in movie history, behind only the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars. But the biggest weapon that Q never designed is Bond’s insane longevity. The first film, Dr. No, was released in October of 1962. If No Time to Die keeps its adjusted November 20, 2020 release date, then that will be 58 years and one month between the first and most recent installments of the series.

4. Call The Doctor!

Models of Dr. Who mainstays: The Tardis, Daleks and K-9
Models of Doctor Who mainstays: The Tardis, Daleks and K-9. (PJ_Photography / Shutterstock.com)

Another British favorite that will seemingly go on forever is Doctor Who. There’s no question about Who continuity; everything is fair game, particularly when your main character is a regenerating Time Lord that is simply the same character in a new form with each re-casting. The Doctor’s first adventure aired in 1963. The original series ran uninterrupted until 1989. A TV film aired in 1996. The series restarted in earnest in 2005 and has been running ever since. The most recent season ended in March of this year. While the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has put production dates everywhere in question, a special, “Revolution of the Daleks,” should air around the holidays, and the next season is generally expected to air beginning in 2021. If you simply use today as the metric for how long the single continuity of Doctor Who has been running, that’s 57 years of adventures in space and time.

5. Hang on, Marshal Dillon; Detective Benson Is Here

Mariska Hargitay at her Hollywood Walk of Fame star
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress Mariska Hargitay at her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. (Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)

For many years, the issue of the longest-running drama on prime time American television wasn’t a question. That was Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955 to 1975. In 2019, that record was passed by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which started in 1999 and is ongoing at present; in fact, NBC has already given it a blanket renewal through a 24th season. The longest-running prime-time program overall is animated comedy The Simpsons, which launched in 1989 and is still running.

On the daytime side, the Guiding Light still holds the record for longest running daytime drama with 57 years on the books at its 2009 sign-off. That record will fall to General Hospital in the very near future. Had it not been for the interruption in production brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, GH would have passed it this summer. At the moment, a hard pass date can’t be established until production resumes.

6. Seriously, I Was Writing the Whole Time

Some writers seem to function at an inhuman level of output. For every George R.R. Martin, who takes years between A Game of Thrones installments, you have his pal Stephen King, who has averaged 1.4 novels a year since 1974 (plus 11 short story collections, 19 screenplays and five nonfiction works). Then you have the entirely opposite end of the spectrum where dwell writers that have a literal lifetime between their first and second novels. The big winner there is Harper Lee; 55 years passed between the release of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. On the technical level, the issue of what to call Watchman exactly is the subject of some debate; yes, it’s a novel, but it’s also really the first draft of what would become Mockingbird.

If you’re looking for the longest gap between an original novel and its sequel, then King might hold the record. It’s true that 59 years passed between the publication of Upton Sinclair’s King Coal and the follow-up The Coal War. However, Sinclair finished the sequel in 1917; the publisher didn’t want to put it out and it sat until 1976, eight years after Sinclair’s passing. King’s gap comes between the 1977 publication of The Shining and its sequel, 2013’s Doctor Sleep, which hit stores 36 years later.

7. Another Day in the 87th Precinct

When it comes to the longest-running series of novels, there are quite a few qualifiers involved. Some novels are franchises given over to other writers, or are based on characters owned by companies rather than individuals. That might account for characters like Doc Savage or Remo Williams/The Destroyer, that have hundreds of novels under their fictional belts. Then you get into series, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with 40 books, or Agatha Christie’s 38 books centered on Hercule Poirot, or the exploits of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe in 49 books. Erle Stanley Gardner produced 82 Perry Mason mysteries between 1933 and 1973.

But the longest sustained series by one author appears to be the 87th Precinct series of novels by Ed McBain, which is the pseudonym of Evan Hunter. Between 1956 and 2005, McBain put out 54 novels that take place in one overarching continuity. Set in the city of Isola, a fictional analogue of New York City, the novels follow the cases of the Precinct, most of which involve Detective 2nd Grade Steve Carella.

It seems appropriate to give a mention here to Sue Grafton. From 1982 to 2017, she published “The Alphabet Mysteries,” a series featuring her detective Kinsey Millhone. The books were designed to be a series of 26, one for each letter of the alphabet (A is for Alibi, etc.). The series ran for 35 years. Unfortunately, Grafton passed away in 2017 before beginning the planned Z is for Zero. As opposed to writers like Robert Jordan, who worked with others to see that his Wheel of Time series would be completed after his death, Grafton disdained the idea of having a ghostwriter finish the series. In the Facebook post that announced her mother’s passing, Grafton’s daughter Jamie wrote, “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

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