Monday, October 24, 2011

Top 60 Sitcoms...In 30 Days! - Part V(a)

When I was starting this list, I first thought that it could be a feature on my frequent 10 FAVORITES column. I thought I could pick my 10 FAVORITE Sitcoms of All-Time and, at first, I did.  But as I was discussing the idea with friends and family, there were 5 shows that came up in conversations and were becoming the "Honorable Mentions."  I then thought why have 5 "Honorable Mentions," when I can have a whole list of Sitcoms.  Hence, the list of Top 60 Sitcoms was born.  And now we are down to those Top 15 that inspired this list to begin with.  These 5 listed below are the 5 shows that didn't quite make it into my original Top 10 (which you will see beginning tomorrow!).  But these 5 Sitcoms are just as worthy of the honors and have been equally influential over the past decades of TV hilarity.


15. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, CBS (1970-1977)
This landmark Sitcom broke barriers, charmed critics and amazed audiences with its delightful ensemble and its sophisticated writing.  Mary Tyler Moore gained several fans after her work on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s.  In 1970, CBS decided to take a chance and give the star her own eponymous series.  It was one of the first Sitcoms to show a single woman with a professional career (in TV Journalism!).  As Mary Richards, Moore was surrounded by a top-notch cast as some of the most endearing characters in TV history: There was Ed Asner as her irascible boss Lou Grant; Valerie Harper as her outspoken friend and neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern; Gavin McLeod as her sarcastic co-worker Murray Slaughter; the fabulous Cloris Leachman as her nosy landlady Phyllis Lindstrom; the timeless Betty White as the slutty TV home expert Sue Ann Nivens; and who could forget the late Ted Knight as the incompetent but lovable anchorman Ted Baxter?  The show set the standard for Ensemble Comedies and was the show to watch of the 1970s when it came to critical acclaim and high ratings.  The only reason such a worthy show is as low as #15 is because (though I have seen many episodes, including all the infamous ones like "Chuckles Bites the Dust" below!) it was a show that I didn't see much of growing up.  And when it was on in my house, my father (who was never really a fan of the show!) would wince and (in his own way!) deride the program.  As this is a list that includes my own personal taste, #15 was as high as I could get it and still be true to myself!

14. Barney Miller, ABC (1975-1982)
One of the most underrated Sitcoms in TV History and a workplace Sitcom that defied the convention of what the typical Sitcom workplace could be.  In the tradition of other 1970s Sitcom fare like All In the Family and Maude, this show took serious (and oftentimes controversial) subject matter and dealt with it in an honest (yet of course humorous!) manner.  Like Mary Richards above, Tony Award-winner Hal Linden played the title character, a police captain surrounded by an array of quirky fellow detectives.  The highlight of the show was the fact that the jail cell for the criminals was in the detectives' squad room, adding another element of wackiness as the many criminals they brought in had their own eccentricities.  In addition to Linden, Gregory Sierra, Ron Glass, Max Gail, Jack Soo, Steve Landesburg and Abe Vigoda were among the other actors who played Miller's fellow detectives.  Vigoda's character Lt. Fish became something of a slight phenomenon as he appeared on both Barney Miller and on his own spin-off show (titled Fish) simultaneously, one of the first TV characters to do so!  The show, though a ratings hit and beloved by the critics, rarely got awards recognition.  It wasn't until its final season in 1982 that the show won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series, its only win in its 8 year run!

13. Murphy Brown, CBS (1988-1998)
The TV world is ripe with great Sitcom material (just look at The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the most recent hit 30 Rock!).  And in the late 1980s, acclaimed actress Candice Bergen (daughter of the legendary Edgar Bergen!) took to the airwaves as the brash, outspoken and pioneering (fictional!) TV journalist Murphy Brown.  Modeled much after the likes of Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, Murphy was very different from Mary Richards.  She was a recovering alcoholic and was anything but sweet.  Her fellow news anchors (on the fictional news show FYI) were just as professional as she was on camera (or at least tried to be!), but were even wackier in their own personal lives.  The show gained even more viewers in the early 1990s when Bergen's character became unexpectedly pregnant and chose to keep and raise the baby on her own.  At the time, Vice President Dan Quayle made a now infamous speech in which he "called out" Murphy Brown and chided her for setting a poor example for the youth of America and thereby degrading the importance of a Father in the life of a child.  Several Women's groups and Family advocacy groups jumped on the bandwagon of the show and turned the tables on Quayle and his fellow conservative pundits deriding the character.  The show became one of the most popular in CBS' line-up and won Candice Bergen a record 5 Emmy Awards as Best Actress (so much so that after 5 wins in 7 years, Ms. Bergen removed herself from contention and stopped submitting herself for Emmy consideration!).

12. Frasier, NBC (1993-2004)
By far this is one of the most successful spin-offs in TV History.  Kelsey Grammer took his beloved Cheers character from the Boston bar to a Seattle radio station where he became a renowned radio psychiatrist (long before Oprah got behind that Dr. Phil guy!).  To follow an extremely successful sitcom is hard enough to do and what Grammer and company did was nothing short of unpredictable.  Though the energy felt similar to Cheers thanks to Grammer's presence, the comedic elements couldn't have been more different.  Dr. Crane (divorced from Bebe Neuwirth's Lilith) now lives with his irascible father, Martin Crane (played by stage character actor John Mahoney), and his lovable (yet annoying to Frasier!) dog, Eddie.  Also in the house with Frasier and Martin was Daphne Moon (the charming Jane Leeves), who was Martin's live-in physical therapist.  But the true highlight of the series that gave it the special "magic" it needed was the casting of Frasier's brother, Dr. Niles Crane, a fellow psychiatrist.  As Niles, David Hyde Pierce often stole the spotlight, yet his chemistry with Grammer's Frasier was unmistakable.  The two actors are so perfect in these roles and became so well-known as a pair, they even lampooned themselves (and their characters) on The Simpsons!  The Sitcom was a ratings dynamo and was absolutely raved about by the critics, that it was no surprise in Hollywood when it became the most awarded Sitcom in Emmy History.  The show won the Best Comedy Series Emmy 5 years in a row and that's one more than Cheers' own 4 times as Emmy champ!

11. I Love Lucy, CBS (1951-1957)
This is the Sitcom that pretty much started it all.  It is one of the most popular Sitcoms of All-Time and it has been that way ever since its very beginning.  Former dancer Lucille Ball became a TV pioneer as she, and her husband Desi Arnaz, began a series that showed the antics of a Night Club performer's housewife as she tried desperately to work her way into show business.  As Lucy Riccardo, Ball became the ultimate clown.  So many of her wacky moments have become the stuff of legend.  Just think of the stomping of the grapes, the Vitameatavegamin commercial, the candy conveyor belt (below) and the many celebrities Lucy tried to meet (from John Wayne to William Holden to Bob Hope to George Reeves to even Harpo Marx!).  You might be wondering why this show is not in the Top 10 (as many of you might think it should be!).  Well, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show above, this is yet another show where I grew up knowing about its legendary history but never really got into watching it.  Sure, I've seen several episodes and some of those famous moments listed above (and they of course tickled me!), but again my father was not that much of a fan of Lucy (or Desi/Ricky...or Fred and Ethel Mertz!).  Therefore, the show didn't leave the kind of impression on me it has obviously left on several (and I mean several!) fans.  So #11 seems like the perfect place for this landmark series.

Now, I know what you are all thinking.  If these are the shows that couldn't eke their way into the Top 10, then what did?!?!  Well, tomorrow you shall see the beginning of that honored 10, with a little shared each day until Friday when I shall reveal the Sitcom that earned the #1 spot in our Countdown!  So Stay Tuned...because the end is near!

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