I have heard that as well.
I'd call it the first gasp of modern television- arc storytelling over disconnected episodic plots, real consequences and lasting character deaths, and a beginning, middle, and end.
It's sad that that's considered noteworthy for American TV rather than the default. If you said that about an anime show viewers would shrug and go, "yeah, so? They're all like that, what of it?"
I think a lot of the nostalgic fondness people have for G1 actually comes from the way Beast Wars treated it.
For me it was solely because the original G1 transformers looked like real world items/vehicles. That didn't last long -- Shockwave and the Dinobots abandoned the pretense early on -- but the toys took a serious dip in quality after the first generation and they never got it back. There were some exceptions (Alternators FTW!), but for the most part TFs after the original line were crap.
Apart from that, the sole appeal of G1 for me is the cast. Everyone was distinct and memorable, and there was some good voice talent there (doing all of Hasbro's shows, granted, but still). Later shows tried to recapture that but all of them failed miserably.