Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top 60 Sitcoms...In 30 Days! - Part IV

We're over halfway through the Countdown of the 60 Best Sitcoms of All-Time.  Let's dive right into the Top 25!


25. Bewitched, ABC (1964-1972)
Before this show, no Sitcom had ever showcased a supernatural being or a strange creature.  Then along comes Bewitched, a series that highlights the hi-jinx of a suburban housewife who just happens to be a magical witch.  The series was popular with audiences thanks to its many lovable characters, especially Elizabeth Montgomery as the charming Samantha and the brilliant Agnes Moorehead as her truly witch-y mother Endora.  And who could forget Samantha's husband Derwood...I mean...Darrin (played first by Dick York and then later Dick Sargent).  The series is one of the most popular classic sitcoms in syndication runs.

24. Soap, ABC (1977-1981)
Remember in my introduction to this list how I pointed out how several Comedy shows now tend to drift more towards the Dramatic?  Well, those shows (like Desperate Housewives and Glee) take their cues as much from Soap Operas as they do from traditional Sitcoms.  This Sitcom was among the first to parody the Daytime genre and it did it quite well.  The writing (which included writers who had written for shows like All In the Family and would later write for shows like The Golden Girls, but more on those later!) was so fresh and witty and made sure the audience was very much aware of the genre they were satirizing.  The cast was a delightful ensemble which included some of the best comedic actors including Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, Billy Crystal and Robert Guillaume (as the butler Benson, who later got his own series, but we already talked about that!)

23. Roseanne, ABC (1988-1997)
When you think of the family Sitcom, one thinks of the classic Ozzie & Harriet prototype or even the Huxtables of the '80s (soon to come!) or the more recent success of Modern Family. All of those TV families display a certain level of functionality.  But in the late '80s (from the producers of The Cosby Show!), a brash and in-your-face comedienne brought her blue collar outlook on work and family to our Televisions.  Roseanne Barr took the TV Mom to a whole new level.  She said what she felt like and she ran the roost (however she could!).  With the help of dynamic character actors like John Goodman (as her TV hubby) and Laurie Metcalf (as her scatterbrained sister), the show was a mega-hit with audiences and with critics.  Both Roseanne and Laurie Metcalf won Emmys for their work on the program.

22. The Odd Couple, ABC (1970-1975)
Not many shows are successes on TV and on Film and on Stage.  In this Sitcom, we have that triple threat package.  Neil Simon wrote his comic masterpiece and debuted it on Broadway back in the mid-1960s.  It was an immediate hit (winning several great reviews for its stars Art Carney and Walter Matthau).  In 1968, the equally successful film version (starring Matthau and Jack Lemmon) cemented Simon's work into the cultural landscape.  But that wasn't enough.  Producer Garry Marshall felt it was ripe to be developed into a TV series.  Starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in the iconic roles of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, respectively, the Sitcom defined sophisticated humor of the early 1970s.  The chemistry between Klugman and Randall particularly made it one of the great TV pairings of all-time.

21. Family Ties, NBC (1982-1989)
In that echelon of great TV Families, there are several who have earned their place (the Huxtables, the Bunkers, the Riccardos, the Barones and the Simpsons, all of whom are soon to come in the Countdown!).  The Keatons are another TV family that belong on that list.  With its relatable characters and their typical family situations, they were the iconic '80s family.  Parents who were activists during the flower-child days of the 1960s; a son who embraced the yuppie-ism and pre-neo-conservative ideals of the Reagan Era; a vapid daughter who spent more time at the mall than she did at the library; and a sarcastic daughter who yearned for normalcy despite her surroundings.  The show was also a break-out hit for young Michael J. Fox, who one three of his five Emmy Awards for his work as Alex P. Keaton, a man who when it came to money: enough was never enough.

20. 30 Rock, NBC (2006-present)
When it comes to smart and sophisticated humor today, Tina Fey is one of the first people to come to mind.  Her work as the first female Head Writer for Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s was a training ground for the success that came her way when she created her own Sitcom.  As Liz Lemon (Head Writer of a fictional NBC comedy-variety show!), Fey has become one of the most beloved and lauded actress-writer on Television today.  Her show is helped by the zany antics of her crazy-yet-endearing ensemble cast which includes Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski and the very well-respected Alec Baldwin (as the now iconic Jack Donaghy).  The series has won multiple Emmy Awards (including wins for both Baldwin and Fey and the top Comedy prize three years in a row from 2007-2009!).

19. Taxi, ABC/NBC (1978-1983)
This Sitcom showcased one of the greatest Ensemble casts in TV history.  Centered around the New York-based Sunshine Taxicab Company, the characters were a diverse bunch of cabbies whose lives intertwined at the Company garage.  Judd Hirsch starred as Alex Rieger, a sensible cab driver who has become disillusioned with life and has to put up with the antics of his crazy co-workers.  Danny DeVito won praise as Rieger's boss from hell Louie De Palma.  The Ensemble also included Marilu Henner, Tony Danza and the late Jeff Conaway as the various cabbies who filled Alex's life.  The breakout stars from the ensemble though included Christopher Lloyd (as a burnt out hippie turned cabbie) and the late stand-up comedian Andy Kaufman (as the humble immigrant mechanic Latka Gravas).

18. The Dick Van Dyke Show, CBS (1961-1966)
Just like Tina Fey's work on SNL inspired her to create the Emmy-winning 30 Rock, 45 years earlier Carl Reiner was inspired by his work on Your Show of Shows to create this Emmy-winner.  Star Dick Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, a writer for megalomaniacal comedian Alan Brady (portrayed with gusto by creator Carl Reiner).  At work, Rob is surrounded by fellow comedy writers Buddy and Sally (Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, respectively) and at home, Rob is supported by his loving wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore in her star-making role!).  Every time that theme music starts up and we saw Van Dyke trip over that ottoman, audiences knew they were in for a half-hour of hilarity.

17. The Jeffersons, CBS (1975-1985)
One of the most successful spin-offs in TV history (another one is soon to come!), the family that lived next door to the Bunkers made enough money to "move on up" to an East Manhattan penthouse apartment.  Sherman Hemsley and the late Isabel Sanford delighted audiences as George and Louise Jefferson on All In the Family enough to warrant their own series.  George was as bigoted as Archie Bunker was and Louise was just as exasperated with him as the rest of the Bunker clan was with Archie.  With a sassy maid (played by Marla Gibbs) and a wealthy interracial couple as neighbors (played by Franklin Cover and the late Roxie Roker), George and Louise enjoyed their little lap of luxury.  George was always scheming to get noticed more (particularly by the magnate who owned the building) and his arrogant strut was unmistakable.

16. Happy Days, ABC (1974-1984)
Like Bewitched, this Sitcom has also enjoyed an extreme fan growth in its syndication runs.  And in its original airings on ABC, the show enjoyed really high ratings.  So much so that ABC made it the first Sitcom to have two airings within the week (One on Tuesday and another on Thursday).  The show's nostalgic look at the culture of the 1950s starred Ron "Opie" Howard as Richie Cunningham as he dealt with life as high school teen in suburban Wisconsin.  His parents (brilliantly played by Marion Ross and the late Tom Bosley) were the prototypical 1950s parents and his friends were the prototypical 1950s buddies.  The breakout star though was Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli (aka The Fonz), who was originally only supposed to be a recurring character, but the audience response to his laid-back character was so great that (like Steve Urkel on Family Matters) the show became synonymous with The Fonz.  The show has even inspired several TV Tropes that have since become colloquialisms of the TV culture (most particularly "Jumping the Shark!").

Next week, as we wind down our Countdown, we explore the top quarter of the list.  Each day next week, I will take you through the 15 shows that I consider the definitive of the genre.  Each of those shows inspired, delighted, provoked and (most importantly) entertained.  So, be prepared to see some old "friends" (HINT!) like Mary, Murphy, Lucy, Ray, Jerry, Homer, Archie, Cliff, Hawkeye and Norm! (If you can't figure out some of the Top 15 from these clues, then live in suspense until next week!)

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