Monday, May 10, 2021

Top 100 Sitcoms of All-Time -- Really???


ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE ran a real fool’s errand by trying to name the Top 100 Sitcoms.  You can find it here.  It’s impossible to get right.   You’re not just comparing apples to oranges, in some cases you’re comparing apples to table lamps.  

What they didn’t seem to take into account was the impact certain shows had.  Beyond the writing and acting — some shows made a big imprint in popular culture while others were popular at the time but quickly disappeared.   Since we’re talking about 70+ years of shows, it seems you’d need someone in their 80’s who really had an overview select the list.  On the other hand, someone in their 80’s would have no appreciation for more recent shows.    

And what is considered a “sitcom?”  ROLLING STONE lists THE SIMPSONS as the number one sitcom of all-time?  THE SIMPSONS is one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium, but do animated shows qualify as sitcoms?  Some could argue yes; others could argue no.  The fact that there’s an argument at all seems to suggest it’s not.  

With all that in mind, let me comment on the Top 10.  Throughout the 100 there are some rankings that are so absurd they’re not even worth discussing. But let’s center on the Top 10.   Setting aside taste, or bias, or anything else — the number one sitcom of all-time has to be I LOVE LUCY.  It’s not even close.  It was groundbreaking, created an art form, and has continued to run and get amazing ratings for close to 70 years.  Six generations from around the world adore that show.  And six more generations will discover and love it.    I say that and two of the shows above it (CHEERS and THE SIMPSONS) are shows I wrote.  They’re not Lucy.  

You can’t have an all-time Top 10 without including FRIENDS.  You just can’t.  That show is so globally beloved it belongs in the Top 3.  

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW also needs to be in the Top 10.  That show changed the direction of situation comedies, won a boatload of Emmys, and still is being seen and admired today.   The Golden Age of smart multi-camera comedy that sprung up in the 70’s and 80’s was because of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  

I love both PARKS & REC and LARRY SANDERS but both are niche shows.  LARRY SANDERS is a favorite of a smart media-savvy portion of the audience, but in the grand scheme of TV it didn’t move any Seismic Meters.  It was for “those in the know.”   PARKS & REC never got much attention, was not a ratings juggernaut, got very little Emmy love — it was a terrific well-crafted sitcom, but not worthy of the all-time Top 10.  

And as much I love CHEERS, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW needs to rank above it.  MARY is where it all started.  From MARY came TAXI came CHEERS came FRASIER.  Alan Burns & Jim Brooks set a tone and created a style of excellence that led to those other wonderful series.  So points for being the first.  

MASH belongs in the Top 10.  Like LUCY and FRIENDS, it continues to do extraordinarily well in syndication and streaming.  ALL IN THE FAMILY turned this country on its ear.   SEINFELD was a sensation and inspired comedy — I don’t know how well it’s aging.  My sense is it’s fraying.  THE HONEYMOONERS is my personal all-time favorite, but would I put it in an overall Top 10?  I’m not sure.  

So those are my thoughts.  Would love to hear yours?


Rob Greenberg said...

Great article. I agree with your assessment, especially about some of the inclusions being absurd. Not just the non-sitcoms or obscure Comedy Central shows, but 'A Different World'?? 'Family Ties', the much better show it replaced, didn't even make the list!

I do consider 'The Simpsons' a sitcom, but disagree it's later years shouldn't be held against it. 'Seinfeld' called it quits probably the same year 'The Simpsons' should have to protect it's legacy. That should matter.

Honest Ed said...

In reality, it's a list of the 100 best US and international sitcoms which have been available on US streamers rather than the best 100 sitcoms ever. How on earth can they call Fleabag a sitcom? I'd say there are lots of UK sitcoms which deserve a mention, esp compared to some on that list - like Coupling, The IT Crowd, Father Ted, Scotland's Still Game, the Young Ones. Even France's Call My Agent.

Wm. Adams said...

I agree with you on every point. There are a many worthy shows on their list, but the order is completely out whack. And there are at least a dozen they list that I would boot to make room for The Middle, one of the best but least appreciated shows in the last 20 years.

kitano0 said...

Well, the first fool's errand is to take anything Rolling Stone writes seriously. Generally speaking, the magazine seems to be run and written by idiots. There are some good people there. David Fricke is a legend. But a lot of it comes across as very amateurish.
My personal top five: Dick Van Dyke, Seinfeld, MASH, The second Newhart show, and The Golden Girls

Mike Barer said...

Top 10 lists are published for the exact reason as this post. They get attention and inspire debate. If something is left off the list, that's all the better.
They turn up on popular blogs which are then forwarded on social media.

Jeff said...

Of course an article like the one in Rolling Stone is click bait so you can't blame it for trying to get page views. I did begin to review the article but as soon as I saw a sitcom on the list that is still on the air and only in its third season I realized it's a waste of time.

Bob Sassone said...

The list irritated me too. I wrote about it here:

Markus said...

I had to think of your potential reaction the moment I saw the article yesterday, and my thoughts largely echo yours. All in all it's another case of bovine feces, which is true for just about any such ranking, be it Top 10 or Top 50 or Top 100 or more. (I have a book somewhere called "The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of all time" and plenty of issues with it...) The criteria are too undefined and unrefined to make any sense. What does constitute a "Top" quality? Is it ratings? Number of Emmys? Review love? Folk lore? Number of devoted fanclubs? Streaming access? DVDs sold? "Objective" quality after careful analysis of scripts, plots and cultural impact? What, pray tell?

What exactly constitutes a qualified "sitcom" in the first place? Does any kind of comedy qualify? Are cases of genre crossover allowed, say, scifi-comedy shows? The case of including cartoon shows is iffy enough already. The Simpsons are way up there, sure, but it sure as hell isn't the Top Sitcom in a list of 100 in all of TV history. On the other end of the spectrum, if you do include cartoons, putting e.g. Futurama as way low as they did is ludicrous and doesn't make any sense at all.

In short: just another meaningless "Top XYZ" list in Internetland that is not worth the hassle of wondering wtf...

Brian said...

I'm surprised that "It's Garry Shandling Show" doesn't merit a mention on this list. While the fourth-wall bits were not groundbreaking (Burns and Allen did that a LONG time before this), it was inventive and funny. It can be argued that it faltered later on, but if this list can incorporate shows that needed to find its voice ("A Different World"), I can stump for this show.

It also helped "legitimize" cable situation comedies, being the first show to be shown on both Fox and Showtime, albeit not simultaneously and somewhat censored.

Glad to see Frank's Place mentioned. No bad episodes. So the story goes, it was axed, not due to bad ratings, but due to the last episode having to do with a plotline that had to do with corporate power moves rankling a CBS executive. NO ink needs to be spilled over "Linc's", a racier and feeble attempt to recreate the flavor of this show.

Mike Barer said...

I checked the list. I think top 10 in each decade would be better.

Anonymous said...

The Honeymooners should be top 10 because next to I love Lucy it was the best of the ensemble comedies
.Is there a more iconic character than Ralph Kramden?
Maybe Archie Bunker, maybe not. Ralph Kramden was Larry David before there was Larry David.
And Art Carney's Ed Norton is as good a second banana as there ever was.

Unknown said...

I'd have to put Arrested Development in the Top 10, and I don't think there's any way that Parks and Rec should be that high. But, if we're talking about the "best" in terms of "funniest," The Simpsons probably belongs at #1.

N. Zakharenko said...

Rolling Stone magazine is now irrelevant, so they now resort to clickbaits by writing crap.

The Beverly Hillbillies has one of the highest rating half hour shows of all time.

It ran for 9 years - and maybe longer if it had not been for the rural purge.

So naturally it would not appear on a top 100 list.

Kevin In Choconut Center said...

I read the full list and found it to be much too heavy on current or recently current shows. For what it's worth, this is my Top 10 all time list of American sit-coms.

#1 I Love Lucy
#2 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
#3 Friends
#5 All In The Family
#6 Cheers
#7 Green Acres
#8 Sgt. Bilko
#9 The Jeffersons
#10 The Bob Newhart Show

Michael Hagerty said...

First, I'm with you, Ken. Animation shouldn't be on this list. So THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW can move into the top ten.

And yes, I LOVE LUCY should be number one. I'd argue that FRASIER and THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW could trade places, putting FRASIER in the top ten, as well.

Beyond that, ranking these is just a recipe for crazy-making. But some of these shows are criminally underrated on this list:

MURPHY BROWN (the first one, not the reboot)
NIGHT COURT (#97? Really?)

....and I haven't watched it yet (it's next on the list), but are there really 99 sitcoms better than SCHITT'S CREEK?

I gotta think every one of those should be in the top 40.

And we could be here all day listing the ones that didn't make the list at all, but UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT would be on mine.

Pat Reeder said...

I already commented on this last week, noting how many classics like "Car 54, Where Are You?" were left out to make space for "meh" modern shows, many of which aren't even sitcoms. And as you point out, the rankings of those that do belong are ridiculous. But then, this is Rolling Stone, whose recent list of the 500 greatest albums put "Sargent Pepper" by the Beatles at #24, behind Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Radiohead. In short, we're dealing with ignoramuses who shouldn't be trusted to make a grocery list.

Honest Ed said...

And, of course, how could I forget 'Till Death Do Us Part'. Which showed a sitcom could be funny and hard hitting too, and have real things to say about the world we're in. All In The Family was basically a remake, no? And a couple of shows which didn't really do much for me but were hugely loved in the UK - The Royle Family and Gavin & Stacey. Though the latter did infect James Corden on the world, so maybe it deserves to be ignored...

Craig Gustafson said...

1. The Phil Silvers Show
2. Blackadder II
3. Barney Miller
4. Get Smart
5. Fawlty Towers
6. The Dick Van Dyke Show
7. The Honeymooners (and Lost Episodes)
8. Taxi
9. Soap
10. Police Squad!

My criterium is this: if I'm channel surfing and this shows up, do I drop what I'm doing and watch it?

Special mentions: The Thick of It - funny as hell, but the hand-held camerawork makes me nauseous, so I literally can't watch it.
Green Acres - lumped in with the "rural sitcoms," though it operates on an insane, surreal level. Built on the premise, "What if George Burns were surrounded by an entire world full of Gracies, so that *he's* the odd one out?"

Jeff Boice said...

As you say, lists like this are a fools errand. I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW changing the direction of situation comedies. Yes, it's one of perhaps 3 or 4 60's sitcoms worth watching today but it damn near got cancelled in its first season and soared in the ratings only after when it aired right after THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. 60's TV in remembered for all those filmed rural and fantasy sitcoms (a fad started in large part by HILLBILLIES). My point being that if you rank sitcoms by impact on the industry HILLBILLIES (a show I consider unwatchable) would be in the top 10.

Craig Russell said...

However they did probably what they set out to do. You talked about and gave them some free advertising, as Im sure many other will as well. When was the last time you talked about, wrote about, or even thought about RS?

" “I don't care what people say about me as long as they say something.” - P.T. Barnum

Anonymous said...

LUCY, M*A*S*H, SEINFELD (in chron order), absolutely.

The biggest rating blunder? BIG BANG THEORY. They put it in the bottom 10 when it should be in the top 15 at a minimum. It's a second cousin to FRASER, about brilliant but socially clueless boys struggling outside academia. It also had the best cameos of any shows ever. From Dr. Steven Hawking and multiple Nobel Prize winners to Stan Lee to Bob Newhart. Yes, like many money-making sitcoms, it stayed around a couple of years too long and some of the joke forms were getting very hoary, but I still watch it and laugh even though I know the line that is coming.


zapatty said...

I have to agree with you on SEINFELD. When I watch the reruns now (not very often), *all* of the characters come off as shrill and hateful. I most certainly won't CANCEL the show, but I no longer find it that funny, for the most part.

Marc said...

Not sure where you would rank but sgt Bilko
And car 54 where are you both very high on my list
Marc Horowitz

Marc said...

Car 54 where are you and sgt bilko
I apologize if this is duplicate use first
Marc Horowitz

Tjack said...

This seems to be a trend for lists like this. Whether it’s TV, Movies, Comic Books or Rock Albums, the judges go with the relatively newer stuff they liked in their youth and ignore the classics of the genre. This is also no doubt to please the audience who enjoy these lists and have probably never heard of the older contenders.

Daniel said...

I think for a more apples-to-apples comparison of shows, you can have three categories of evaluation:

-- Historical or cultural impact

-- Innovative

-- Craft

My favorite sitcom of all time is Frasier, but Frasier was not innovative at all and, despite being popular, it was never a series which captured the cultural zeitgeist. What it was, though, was exceptionally well crafted. It was the platonic ideal of what sitcom is and could be. It did nothing that no other sitcoms hadn't done before. It simply did it better than any of them. In this category I would also put Cheers, Taxi, and Dick Van Dyke.

The appeal of shows like All in the Family (and pretty much everything that Normal Lear did) completely baffles me. I don't get them. But there's no denying how popular they were in their day and how much of an impact they had on the cultural conversation of their day. For that reason they should be acknowledged. In this category I would also put Mary Tyler Moore, MASH, and Friends.

And then there are shows that really push the envelope on what the medium/genre can do. The most noteworthy example of this would be Seinfeld. My view is that a lot of these shows don't age all that well (what's innovative today has a tendency to become standard fare tomorrow), but, again, their contribution to moving the medium forward should be acknowledged. In this category I would also put The Office (the UK version), The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and Moonlighting.

I think when you evaluate a series by these criteria, you can have three different lists that acknowledge the greatness of each show, but group like shows with like shows.

brian t said...

It seems to me that having The Big Bang Theory so far down the list was making a socio-political point of some sort, a reaction against the show's longevity and popularity. I agree that it took a long time to find its feet, and find the comedy in what were sometimes genuinely unpleasant characters. There is a distinct lack of Chuck Lorre's work on the list overall e.g. no Dharma & Greg, Two and a Half Men, or Mom - just Roseanne and TBBT.

At least some UK shows got a look in, but one odd omission is The I.T. Crowd. Maybe the failure of the US remake was a factor: as with Fawlty Towers or Open All Night, British comedy often doesn't translate across the Pond, which makes the success of All In The Family or The Office the exceptions, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Agree very much with what your thoughts. I read the article and audibly scoffed - and I am no easily-made-audible scoffer. Obviously, many of these sitcoms, where they sit isn't truly that important. So long as they're included is good enough. A few inclusions were very high. Ditto on Parks and Rec's slot, it's too high and I'm not sure it should even be on the full list, though I get it. But Lucy - and I can't recall the entire list - has to be head of the class or thereabouts. Not only is her impact of utmost significance but its craft and innovation remains long after the show went dark.

Unimportant side-note (but I think noteworthy, at any rate): when I was a kid, my family went on one of those invasive Tour of the Star's Homes. You know, rubes in the big city, what can I say? Apologies to anyone who actually lives there and has to sit behind a big old bus on one of your narrow streets. Anyway, a lot of those tours are bullshit. They have no idea where anybody lives. But this was the 80s and, sure enough, we stopped outside Mlle. Ball's mansion and there she was in her front yard. That kind of thing is a terrible invasion of privacy and wouldn't happen nowadays, wouldn't be received well at all but she came to her gate, waved, posed for pictures, talked with us. And she had clearly not gotten ready for her day, was in her robe - just an amazing lady.

Not important to your post but I've always wanted to share that anecdote.


Sammy B said...

I share similar thoughts, but ultimately I was happy they remembered Newsradio existed! Having it right next to one of my other favorites in Barney Miller made me smile.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Wish they had not included all those animated series on this list and left off "The Flintstones."

JRandall said...

You are right on the money!! Did it shake the ground, did it change the medium, did it have and effect???
Ratings don't matter if it didn't make you scratch your head and say...well that's different!

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I thought Rolling Stone got it right in its description of "M*A*S*H," that is three separate series under an umbrella title. But I never considered "M*A*S*H" a sitcom, even in its relatively lighter, early years. It certainly wasn't one in the final few seasons.

Liggie said...

Rolling Stone can't go more than a couple of months without a half-baked "listicle". That's all.

Lou said...

The problem is that everyone has their own list. Tastes are too subjective for any rankings compiled by “experts” to be definitive. These writers need to learn that opinions are not facts.

And sometimes you’re in the mood for a certain type of show over another. Ken’s right, you can’t compare apples to table lamps. There were some interesting observations, but they only represent the opinion of the person writing them.

Jeff Boice said...

Here's my top 10 - in alphabetical order (yeah, I know, I wimped out...)
Andy Griffith Snow
Barney Miller
Bob Newhart Show
Car 54 Where Are You?
Dick Van Dyke Show
I Love Lucy
Phil Silvers Show

Honorable Mentions would go to Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and Leave It to Beaver.

SummitCityScribe said...

My favorite sitcoms have changed over time, but I'll always love Barney Miller and Rising Damp.

flurb said...

As the adage goes, comparisons are odious. All these lists are intended provoke discussion, i.e., clicks. I think some thought went into this one. Some attempt was made at historical context - I was impressed that "George Burns and Gracie Allen" was mentioned at all! - but it's easily-written magazine filler, and the rankings are arbitrary.

That said, if it means some "Black & white! I won't watch black & white!" person - and they are, outrageously, legion - decides to try watching Lucy or Dick Van Dyke, or some younger person decides to give the (still-fantastic) "All in the Family" a shot, I'm all for this list being widely read!

The only problem is, once you've sampled the great, the less-than seems more meh than ever.

Cedricstudio said...

I adore MASH but it was a dramedy so arguably not a sitcom. I think if you nix THE SIMPSONS from the list then, as much as it pains me to say it, you have to cut MASH as well.

Unknown said...

I have to argue about Friends being in top 10. Top 100 yes, but not 10. When it was first on, I was a big fan, but by season 3, it started to bore, so I stopped watching until last part of last season. Didn't look back.
That is one of the prime show where characters change episode to episode. One episode the dinosaur guy is smartest in the room. Next episode he is a bumbling fool. I think Joey is the only one that was consistent.
Maybe I am missing something. When it is announced Friends re-running on different channels, everyone gets excited. I try to watch an episode, and then switch to something else.
Some of the ones I think that have aged well, Barney Miller, Golden Girls (never saw it in first run, only current late night re-runs), Green Acres, Seinfeld, among others.
So, that is my $0.02, and I'm not a robot

KB said...

Lists like this are produced for these kinds of discussions/arguments. People will always disagree to some degree. With that said, I agree with you that "I Love Lucy" should sit at #1 on all lists. Without it, there is no list. That show defined what we call a sitcom. Additionally, it was the very best at the genre. And yes, "The Simpsons" is a sitcom. Not sure why anyone would argue otherwise.

Michael said...

I say this without being a big fan of the show: I Love Lucy created the template for a lot of things. I'll also say something that may sound a bit radical. What doesn't wear well for a lot of people is that Lucy gets into messes and Ricky has to straighten them out. What if we look at it as Lucy as a precursor to Betty Friedan talking about women unhappy with being stuck at home? Lucy may not have succeeded, but I wonder how many women were sitting at home and thinking, yeah, I'd like to get out, too?

I agree on the idea of mold-breakers. Your list makes a lot more sense than theirs.

Paul Blake said...

Ken, gotta agree with you on the top ten. So much to debate and so many 'of it's time' discussions to be had.
Is there a differentiation on what makes a top ten? Is is longevity? Influence? Or is it simply is it funny? There are terrific shows that are still laugh out loud funny (Car 54), or just goofy funny (F Troop), that certainly are not as well regarded as some of these shows.
And as a lifelong NY'er, who, along with his wife, still laugh out loud at the Honeymooners, yeah, it could sure be a #1 just based on - IT'S FUNNY!
Love the blog, you inspired me to start my own;

Bob Sassone said...

To add on to my earlier comment, I think it's truly insane that they don't include The Middle or Leave it to Beaver (in a top 100!) but they find space for Bluey, Letterkenny, and the reboot of One Day at a Time.


Pizzagod said...

I think ranking the 100 worst would be way easier-2 Broke Girls, Joey, The Joey Bishop Show, I Married Joan, The Pruitts of Southhampton, almost any show with a one word abbreviation of the main character's name as the title, Camp Runamuck, gee, it goes on and on.

Ten best-I agree with Ken
Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore
The Phil Silvers Show
The Honeymooners
Bob Newhart Show
Barney Miller

Skipping the sentimental favorites that were actually pretty decent shows, but not groundbreaking (Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, etc.) and no, I cannot fit the Simpson's in, even though they have been on the air since the days of the Dumont network.

thomas tucker said...

I think they overlooked many shows from the 50's and early 60's. where are Dobie Gillis, Love That Bob, and Our Miss Brooks?

maxdebryn said...

For me, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is the best sitcom of all time. And I didn't get where I am today without thinking that !

Brian said...

Would love to compare this with Billboard Magazine's "Hot 100" list of situation comedies.

JS said...

I Love Lucy
Dick Van Dyke
Everybody Loves Raymond
The Middle (points because no laugh-track)
Seinfeld - although I watched an episode the other day and it seems to be getting really dated
Andy Griffith Show
Leave it to Beaver
The Office (although that is not aging well)

an interesting post for you - what shows just don't age well.

Brian said...

Rolling Stone's very first cover featured John a helmet in a movie role ("How I Won the War").

Maybe we should have viewed this as some sort of warning that they'd write something like this. In fairness, the Beatles were having a pretty quiet year in 1967 :)

Eric said...

How do you not put "Married...With Children" in a list of Top 100 sit-coms? Regardless of whether you liked it or not, there's no denying its cultural impact and launched a network.

Tom said...

If the Simpsons even makes this list, then I insist (insist, I say) that The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends be included VERY high up.

Rob Greenberg said...

"Newhart" is the biggest omission from this list.

Irv said...

How come "The Wonder Years" never gets any love?

Great stories, great writing and a great ensemble. The show totally nailed it for those of us who grew up during that period.

(See also "The Me Generation by Me.")

Anonymous said...

When writers and editors put these things together they are really positioning themselves in their careers in entertainment and popular culture media. Dead people cannot get you freelance, but if the dead people are hip or relevant enough to make you look sharp, knowledgeable or socially aware, they will make the cut. None of these people would dare to put themselves into the "nerd" TV category so they have to be exceedingly careful to only include classics that they cannot in any way exclude, make sure there are tons of qualifiers to protect themselves, and polish the apples of the people (and publicists) they are most likely to be in the next meeting and interview with. No one from "Our Miss Brooks" can get them anything. Of course, they can make a mistake and tomorrow one or two of these cast or backstage people might be the next Weinstein, Cosby or ... hey, isn't it interesting how Ren & Stimpy isn't on the list? If the vile discoveries about its creator were still being concealed, it most certainly would be near the top as an "innovation."

Make someone money, fame or profitable connections and you'll get on their "list" and/or win their award vote. The old and dead need not apply.

Anonymous said...

Petticoat Junciton and Mayberry RFD are rural junk.
Green Acres is your surrealistic pillow.
And the Beverly Hillbillies, at least the first three or four years, are as good a social satire as there was on TV. After that, it became formulaic junk. BTw- another good social satire were selected episodes of Dobie Gillis. Just a few, but the good ones were really good.
But the four actors on the Beverly Hillbillies were as good a four actors as any sitcom ever. They managed to always stay in character and convince you they were nothing like they were in real life. No on ever did that better.

Stealthlite said...

I am so glad you have addressed this article. I read it a few days ago and could not believe that the Simpsons (as much as I like the show) came out on top. I am one of those who do not consider it a sitcom. As far as the top ten goes, other than the Simpsons, Parks & Rec and Larry Sanders, all the other shows belong on there but in a different order.

At least Cheers was included in the top ten. That’s all I care about! 😄

Tom Galloway said...

I want to come at Big Bang Theory from an odd direction. First off, I should note I have experience in this environment; I've worked at MIT (and hacked the Harvard-Yale Game). I've worked at Google. I've been in graduate school in Artificial Intelligence. I'm also very up on geek pop culture. I know these characters, and their environments from personal experience.

And I think the core problem with the show is that the characters were *too* good.

When at their peak, such as the early on episode where Sheldon and Penny first exchange Xmas presents, these are interesting, complicated, and very smart characters. In Sheldon's case in particular, any and every thing he does, no matter how odd, should actually make sense if you can twist and stretch your mind to his perspective and postulates and how he'd process a line of thought. For example, one cold open had them ending a debate on where/when to go to a movie by realizing if they left Sheldon at home, it was a solved problem. Sheldon didn't mind this, because it solved the problem. From his perspective, that was the important thing.

The problem though, was twofold. Overall, it meant you had to really think to write these characters. It was particularly bad if you decided one or more of them had to carry the idiot ball for the episode, since that was immediately massively out of character. More commonly though, one of two things would happen. First, each of the leads had some shorthand traits you could go to for a quick laugh and easier writing than making full use of those traits nuances and reasons for being. So, Howard could just be written as a cheezy user of pick-up lines and girl crazy, rather than work with why he was that way and being a practical engineer. Sheldon could be written as compulsive, having to sit in his spot, without working with why that was important. Etc.Particularly when dealing with extremely smart characters, you need to know why they're doing something right then, not just "Well, they acted this way before, let's just repeat it." Ken, I'd bet this is how the best Frasier scripts approached him and Niles. Ditto for MASH with the intelligent Hawkeye, B.J., and Charles (not that Margaret, Potter, and Mulcahey were slouches either, and even Radar had a certain naive intelligence)

Second, there was a major problem that the writing staff as a whole severely overused insult humor. There were episodes where if they were at all realistic, there should've been several fights, three breakups, and possibly a homicide by the end. And it came across as casual nastiness, or worse "They said something nasty just because the writer needed a laugh there and was seemingly too lazy to work to get a non-insult there".

For a great example of how to write a smart comedy about sci/tech geek geniuses, see the mid-80s film Real Genius, also effectively set at Caltech (while supposedly at "Pacific Tech", it's full of Caltech easter eggs and they interviewed a fair number of Techers and had an effective Caltech consultant on staff). Big Bang Theory sometimes reached that level, but all too often fell victim to the two aforementioned problems. I sometimes wonder what it would've been like if limited to 10-12 episodes a season with the writers really working on each episode to really get the nuances of the characters in consistently.

Michael said...

Some folks are questioning list just because it came from Rolling Stone, but one of the writers who helped created it was Alan Sepinwall, who is a well-respected TV critic. Sounded like it was a group effort, so does not necessarily fully match his personal view but not like it was created by totally unqualified team.

sanford said...

For those bitching about Rolling Stone, I don't know that it was particularly a magazine decision. I am guessing it was Alan Sepinwall's (tv writer and reviewer) that came up with the idea. He actually started writing about tv in college, when he did recaps of NYPD Blue, and other shows including the Wire, Justified, Fargo and a lot of others that I am leaving out. So I wouldn't call it click bait. He and some one else did a book about the best 100 tv shows, so there was some over lap. It is hard to believe how upset some people are getting over this list or any best list. There are so many other important things in the world I am not a big Simpson fan. I was 4 when I Love Lucy came on the air in 1951. So close to that 80 year old marker Ken mentioned. There are a few shows on that list I haven't seen only I just didn't care. I didn't watch Friends until they started being rerun. I have seen everyone a million times. Not to mention Mash and other sitcoms I am not sure that Sepinwall has seen the run of all those shows. It is way harder today of course to watch every episode of every show these days.

RockGolf said...

This is a step up from Rolling Stone's all time top 100 TV series a few years ago, which didn't include Frasier at all.

zapatty said...

@Tom Galloway - Totally agree with you about the movie Real Genius. With that film and Top Secret, Val Kilmer showed a real gift for comic acting.

Kevin from VA said...

I'm sorry, but if you're rating shows by the cultural impact they had, then "The Apprentice" surely has to rank as the number 1 sick-con of all time.

Oh wait, it's sitcoms of all time?

Never mind.

JessyS said...

@ Eric - I agree with you on Married... with Children. I read through the list of shows as well as the comments on the list. Every other comment was regarding the omission of MWC. Plus there are other omissions and head scratching inclusions for this list. For example, why is a cartoon about a blue dog on the list as well as Spongebob? I would have decided to omit cartoons which would have me to omit "The Simpsons" because it is a cartoon. On that note, here is my Top 10 list.

1. I Love Lucy: Agree with Ken completely on this one.
2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show: This show and Lucy produced two of the more iconic moments in TV history. For Lucy, it is a certain TV commercial and for this show, "Chuckles Bites the Dust."
3. Cheers: Basically saved NBC.
4. The Cosby Show: Great Show even if you don't agree with what Bill Cosby did behind the scenes.
5. The Dick Van Dyke Show: Agree with Ken on this one.
6. Married... with Children: Groundbreaking in every sense of the word and deserved more seasons.
7. All in the Family: Groundbreaking for its time in the 1970s.
8. Friends: Universally loved.
9. MASH: War never been funnier.
10. The Jeffersons: Basically a great show that helped CBS and was groundbreaking in its own right.

@ Ken Levine

You might want to revisit the following post. Almost everything you mention describes MWC's Al Bundy to T.

Sue T. said...


Steve said...

No matter how beloved or influential, "comedies" that don't evoke actual laughs have no business being on this list, or even calling themselves comedies. By that yardstick, "Green Acres" and "Newhart" are grievous omissions. But worst of all...

For three or four years there after its feeling-their-way first season, "Married...with Children" was as close as anything ever to Great American Satire -- weekly! -- and was funny as hell. And, oh yeah, just happened to launch a new TV network. How is it not even in the list, much less on the top 10?

Unknown said...

I see the discuss of Big Bang Theory, I had a discussion with a therapist friend about Sheldon. They said the writing of that character was spot on for someone on the spectrum. They were amazed on they were able to pin point the traits so well.

Anonymous said...

These lists never make sense, and I doubt anyone over the age of 25 was involved in making this one for RS.

P.S. I watched Cheers and enjoyed it, but it was basically people just being nasty to each other for 22 minutes each week.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

I agree this is a fool's errand. I agree with the commenter who said a list of the best comedies of individual decades, or best workplace, best family and (why not) best animated sitcoms would be better. Most influential and funniest are probably two different lists, too.

and something in me really likes the idea "worst sitcoms", or along the lines of last weeks posts and podcasts: Popular sitcoms I can't stand (Home Improvement for me), or shows that didn't age well. Cosby was appointment TV for me back in the day, but even before Cos was exposed, the show didn't age well. Ditto Murphy Brown

Mibbitmaker said...

I would include animated sitcoms. But some on the list don't qualify. I would include the Simpsons, Futurama and the Flintstones (I suspect it didn't make the cut because they just saw it as a "Honeymooners" rip-off). But "Spongebob Squarepants" doesn't because it's a half hour made up of 2 cartoons, closer to the theatrical cartoons, but made for TV. "Phineas & Ferb" did have the occasional half-hour story, but that wasn't its singular form, so shouldn't count (and it's an excellent show).

Considering the capsule descriptions of each show, RS did the best job of summing up "How I Met Your Mother", better than any I've heard. The show impressed me with its storytelling techniques early on, but settled into a "Friends"-like mode after a couple seasons, then back to the early methods leading to the conclusion with the justifiably reviled ending.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

also, I wish I could document it, but I thought Louie CK was wildly overrated-- both as a stand-up and a would-be TV auteur-- before it was cool. Though I've never seen Horace and Pete, and people I trust tell me it's really good.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I haven't watched The Simpsons since Season Two - so no comment, except to say that it fits the category.

I don't "watch" South Park, but every time I do, it's often great and rarely bad. It helps that they skewer pretty much everyone and every "agenda" worthy of ridicule.

It doesn't help that there seems to no editor in sight - the R.S. blurb doesn't really get the show: "potty mouthed kids", "without any redeeming social value at all". The first is obvious - and ignores the content. The second ignores that satire doesn't actually qualify as such if not "socially redeeming".

I was "traumatized" (actually, just bored) by the Sponge Bob movie. They put the two best jokes in the trailer and repeated the same poop joke at least three times - so no comment on the TV show, either.

The Beverly Hillbillies offered a smart critique of 'city folks' in its first season (thanks to a DVD release) - no comment on the rest of it.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle - this is a good call - quite the satire in its day.

Craig Gustafson gave the best one-liner summary of Green Acres I've ever seen:

"What if George Burns were surrounded by an entire world full of Gracies, so that *he's* the odd one out?"


David Thiel said...

I’ve followed Alan Sepinwall for many years, and I’m not here to dunk on him.

That said, I read this list, and thought “Yep, that’s a list made by critics.” Recency bias and worse, indie darling bias. I’ll concede your point that “Parks & Rec” was a niche show, but I’ll bet its cultural impact is greater than that of “Bojack Horseman” by two orders of magnitude. (And that’s before we get to WTFs like “Bluey” or “Letterkenny.”) I adore “What We Do in the Shadows,” but no, it’s too damned new.

While I was not a fan, “Married...with Children” is an egregious omission. I’d argue that snubbing the entire “Happy Days” franchise—especially “Laverne & Shirley”—is a bigger one. We can certainly argue the relative quality of “Happy Days” itself—there’s a reason it inspired “jump the shark”—but I grew up in those days and it was HUGE.

Back when there were only three networks, shows that weren’t necessarily great were beloved by the masses. Here I’m thinking the likes of “Three’s Company,” “Welcome Back, Kotter” and “Chico and the Man.”

And there’s the entire category of high-concept ‘50s and ‘60s fantasy comedies. Certainly “Bewitched” and “Green Acres,” but also “The Addams Family,” “Batman” and “Mr. Ed.” (The latter was probably a big part of the early success of Nick at Nite.)

Buttermilk Sky said...

I've never even heard of some of these. I would not include animated shows because the characters never age, unlike the characters in sitcoms. Sometimes they even die.

FRANK'S PLACE only #99? No wonder you can't see it except in a museum.

If you like PEEP SHOW and THE THICK OF IT, look on YouTube for 15 STOREYS HIGH. (While you're there check out Robert Webb's charity-show performance of "Flashdance.") If you have Britbox try DAMNED (a dramedy but sometimes very funny).

Call Me Mike said...

I think a better list would've been the top underrated sitcoms or the sitcoms that deserved to last longer than a season or two. I'd never heard of Buffalo Bill before seeing this list. I mean, a Dabney Coleman sitcom?! Awesome.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

"SEINFELD was a sensation and inspired comedy — I don’t know how well it’s aging. My sense is it’s fraying."

I think a lot of comedy series from the 90s are feeling that, and I say that as someone who grew up during that era. I believe MASH and CHEERS will hold up better.

Don't misunderstand, I still love FRASIER and LARRY SANDERS, and think they will have lasting value. It's just that they might not translate as well to current young generations.

Cap'n Bob said...

Any list that doesn't have Leave It to Beaver in the top three is beneath notice.

sanford said...

Mike Buffalo Bill might be on DVD or even on Amazon. He he also was in the show Slap Maxwell. It only lasted a year, but it was also good. He was also great. He was also on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. 9 to 5. A great character actor.

Mike Barer said...

ABC comedies really don't get respect, no sign of Odd Couple, That Girl, Flying Nun, or Gidget.

Dave H said...

This is tough. Do you just list your favorites that still make you laugh or do you list classic shows that deserve to be there? Lol I have never laughed once at I Love Lucy. I find her annoying. Never found the Dick Van Dyke show funny. I never once enjoyed Friends. But whenever Seinfeld or Taxi are on I laugh. Seinfeld airs 5 times a day where I live. A lot of Classic shows to me just don't hold up. Just different humor than mine I guess. Different age group. I have had to turn All In The Family off. I don't want to regularly watch a bigot after the last 4 years of the White House.

RyderDA said...

A better strategy than giving "Top 70" lists is to group them, perhaps in 10's or 20's for convenience. As you note, you can't really compare THE SIMPSONS to PARKS & REC. But you can make tiers. "This group" are top, and yes you can argue which is better, but you can't argue they're the best of the best. "The next group" aren't as good as the top, but still spectacular -- funny, well written, great characters, etc. Maybe with a tweak or two, they could have been Top Tier.

Plus, these lists (like the "best Songs of All Time" lists) suffer from recency. A song released by the Beatles in 1963 has had 60 years of history, but it gets beaten by an Ed Sheran tune released last month. Will Ed's song really have 60 years of legs? How can you tell? This is why PARKS & REC is high on the list and HOGAN'S HEROS is not.

Anonymous said...

Not a single one of the other sitcoms on the list are multi-million-dollar making franchises that are in recent need of PR repair, some renewed attention as an aging brand, and justification for a massive purchase. Putting The Simpsons at Number One now gives stockholder meetings and various platforms that golden quote of the "Rolling Stone's All-Time Greatest Sitcom in History" for years.

That does not necessarily mean RS created the whole list just to serve this purpose, but The Simpsons getting to the top certainly could be the result of some "gentle prodding." There is no true justification to list an animated cartoon as better than all the other sitcoms of all time, no matter how good it is overall, when it has experienced varying levels in seasonal quality, having offended people as much as others on the list, as the greatest television sitcom in history. But the "blurb" factor is worth a fortune. It can go on the front of all the Simpsons merchandise.

Geo. Stewart said...

Thank Dog that we can watch all those sitcoms in whatever order we want regardless of some arbitrary list that doesn’t even define their criteria. Define your terms and then you can decide if an animated show is a sitcom or not. What ages so many sitcoms negatively are the laugh tracks. I’d love to see Burns and Allen, Addams Family and even Big Bang Theory without the unwanted guidance as to what is funny.
And one joke comedies like Green Acres and the Addams Family become tiresome by the fourth episode or sooner…
Geo. Stewart
Host, "Crazy College" and "Scratchy Grooves"
302 994 7571

More thoughts at

Michael said...

As I think about these clickbait lists, I wonder if they would do the funniest characters in TV history. And if they did, and did not include Andy Sipowicz and Lennie Briscoe, it would clearly be a lousy list.

I'm totally serious.

Pat Reeder said...

Re: Defining your terms. I wouldn't include animated shows as sitcoms if much of their plots and humor are derived from fantastic situations that could exist only in cartoons. The early Simpsons might be considered a family sitcom, but they've had too many off-the-wall diversions to qualify anymore. "Family Guy" and "American Dad" would also be out for that reason. The only animated shows I can think of that would quality are "The Flintstones" (a direct ripoff of "The Honeymooners"), "The Jetsons" (a futuristic setting but otherwise pretty grounded in sitcom-level reality) and my #1 pick, "King of the Hill." That could have been cast with live actors and it would have worked just as well. More so than "The Flintstones," which actually became two live-action films.

maxdebryn said...

Lest we forget the terrific Wait 'Till Your Father Gets Home.

gottacook said...

Michael - The funniest Sipowicz line (in context) was, in my opinion: "Those were SPECIFIC fish!"

Steve Fabian said...

Everybody is correct that such lists are imperfect. Some omissions for me include "Allo 'Allo" and "The Red Green Show" which would both be top ten on my list. One of the difficulties is that my own tastes and feelings change from time to time. I note some people think "the first two years" are best and that sort of thing--of the shows I'm really familiar with, I think there were only two long runners that got better the last several seasons after so-so beginnings: Barney Miller, and Friends. And finally, Red Foxx's version of Sanford and Son would be very high on my list, despite the fact that onlyabout half the episodes are funny! But the episodes that are funny, are very, very funny.

JessyS said...

@Steve Fabian, There is some justification for "Allo Allo" to be on this list, but not "The Red Green Show" as it excluded sketch comedy.

sueK2001 said...

Let's Family Ties or Wings? Nothing from the TGIF line up(I still say Perfect Strangers is underrated? No Middle? Barney Miller and Night Court were ranked way, way too low...Raymond should be higher..and my Mom just spent all day Sunday watching "Hazel" so she would be mad at that snub.

I did notice something about this list. A lot of these shows are workplace or friends type comedies. Family sitcoms with real kids as part of the weekly plot seems to be in short supply on that list and in general.

I know Full House and Silver Spoons were not the apex of great comedy. So why is the actual "family sitcom" such a hard thing to pull off without being cheesy or childish?

Do comedy writers avoid shows like that? Would you have written for Full House or Step by Step if given the chance?

Greg Ehrbar said...

"We were looking for a consistent group of characters and settings. Then we considered not just how much these series made us laugh, but also how much they influenced the shows that followed, how well they reflected the world around them, and, on occasion, how deeply they made us feel emotions beyond mirth."

So says the “criteria.” Beyond just personal taste and opinion, now let's talk history and fact. "The Flintstones" meets all this criteria. Dismissing it merely as a "rip-off of The Honeymooners" when all one needs to do is watch Laurel and Hardy in "Sons of the Desert" and "Unaccustomed as We Are" and see that the same could be said, but that would be equally unfair, because while they are derivative--with identical storylines--the descendant transcends the earlier material.

You cannot examine television without acknowledging that it is derivative and no one denied that "The Flintstones" was based on "The Honeymooners," as it was all over the news in its day. However, you also could not sell a half-hour cartoon, much less a prime time one, in 1959-1960. Walt Disney could not sell a feature-length animated movie to most banks (adults would not watch it, the colors would hurt eyes, etc.). Few complain about "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" being a rip-off of the Brothers Grimm, or more recently "The Lion King" being a rip-off of "Hamlet," because they became so much more than that.

So did "The Flintstones." It changed the animation business forever. It gave Hanna-Barbera so much success (which their short cartoons could not do) that they became the biggest studio in the world. "The Flintstones" had a tremendous impact on the entertainment that followed it.

Wilma was the first pregnant animated character. Adoption, marital relationships, job status, and various family issues were occasional part of the series, even in the later episodes. The series was capable of having genuinely touching moments.

The impact was worldwide, especially after the network run. The theme song alone is widely known. John Candy proved that in "Trains, Planes and Automobiles."

I think all the "criteria" boxes are checked, for what it's worth. (I’m sure some will have to stop their eyes from rolling now.) I am certain that there will be many, many more such lists and the shows will constantly change around, but "The Flintstones" will also still be around whether they are on those lists or not.

StoicJim said...

I'm afraid to look to see where The Andy Griffith Show ended up on that list.

Anonymous said...

Impact, shmimpact. The list was about quality.

For a hot minute, Dane Cook was the most successful stand-up comedian working.

In no way is he going to wind up on anyone's list of "best of" anything.

I could come up with a million other examples of things that are/were wildly popular without being good. How about "The Big Bang Theory", which was execrable?

In terms of pure quality, "Friends" wasn't that good. Who cares if it's popular? Top 3 my eye.

-Peter G

Fred C said...

If it's top 100, Soap and/or Benson should be on there somewhere!

-bee said...

I think "Best" should be the best, not most influential, not most beloved. Its probably a fool's errand and/or click bait but I think in comedy, wit, cleverness, craft and not relying on cheap jokes (I'm looking at you "Friends") should be what one should be aiming for.

And what about shows that had some great seasons and then some not so great? Or overstaying their welcome like (IMO) The Simpsons? Maybe part of being a great show is knowing when to stop.

1. MASH (what other 1/2 hour show has nailed tragicomedy so well?)
2. Frasier (a swiss watch - best farcical comedy I have ever seen)
3. I Love Lucy (its in the vaudeville where it sings - I am not really that fond of its sitcom elements)
4. The Honeymooners - a lot more depth to it than I think it gets credit for
5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
6. All in the Family (Edith puts it over the top)
7. Roseanne
8. Blackish
9. Titus - season 1 (breaking my own rule - this show was incredibly influential in the ease with which it zipped around between present and past)
10. The Office

Might be 3-10 on my list on any other random day: King of the Hill, Better Off Ted, Sex and the City, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Insecure, Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld, Cougartown Aliens in America, The John Larroquette Show (season 1), The Simpsons (season 1 to maybe season 11?)

Stuart G. said...

It's amazing how many shows people mention here that I don't like. Or haven't liked in many years.
All in the Family - Painful now to watch.
Mary Tyler Moore, Cheers, MASH - Use to like, now find boring to watch
I Love Lucy - Never liked
And nearly every other sitcom!

What I like - The Honeymooners, Police Squad and anything in which Larry David is involved in.

Stephen Robinson said...

This is probably why I personally only rank my “favorite” shows. Trying to qualify the “best” rarely works, mostly because there is often no agreed-upon standards. I respect that Ken at least goes for impact, popularity, endurance, etc. For instance, I enjoy TAXI and CHEERS more than MARY TYLER MOORE but agree that MTM was the template that led to those series.

M*A*S*H was a sitcom where people died. Few series have managed that balance so well (I recall the unfortunate “dramedy” period). Shows like SEX AND THE CITY would try to be “serious” and make us care about characters that were farcical in the previous episode.

CHEERS is timeless, as is FRASIER, and both hold special places in my heart as a result. Neither series chased trends but were also not oblivious to their times. (Rebecca Howe, Robin Colcord, were both great commentaries of the 1980s “greed is good” ethos without feeling dated now.)

Anonymous said...

One could argue that if there was no Honeymooners there would have been no All in the Family.

Chas said...

Ask 100 people their top 100 sitcoms, and you'll get 100 different lists. Why waste time with something so subjective. Is I Love Lucy better than the Office? Are they 1 & 2 or vice versa? Who knows? Who cares? Just watch, laugh and enjoy.

Unknown said...

The Jeffersons?

victoria wilson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
victoria wilson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.