The year 2020 marks anniversaries for some of the world’s most loved sitcoms, including How I Met Your Mother, The Office (US) and The Golden Girls. So, that begs the question – what is the greatest sitcom of all time? (Image source: Devsari.com)
By Lauren Thomas-Nehmy |@lthomasnehmy
Sitcoms have been one of TV audiences’ favourite forms of entertainment for decades. They are funny, have characters we can relate to, and generally make us feel good.
The first televised sitcom was Pinwright’s Progress, which first aired in 1946 on the BBC Network.
The show’s focus was J. Pinwright, the owner of the world’s smallest multiple-store, and his misadventures alongside his daughter, rival and co-workers.
Since then, sitcoms have evolved to reflect changes experienced in our society; however, there is still no definitive answer as to what classifies a series as a sitcom.
Determining the ‘greatest sitcom of all time’, therefore, poses a difficult task.
There are also many other variables to consider, such as changing eras, genre, duration, and the inclusion of live audiences.
To provide some guidelines, I’ve considered the series with the most-watched finale, the series with the most awards and the longest-running series.
5) The Cosby Show – ‘And So We Commence’, 1992
Long before being tainted by the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby’s sexual assault allegations and convictions, the show’s finale aired on NBC during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Cosby appeared on the news to plead with the city to stop the violence and instead watch the finale. It appeared to have worked, as the episode had 44.4 million viewers.
4) Friends – ‘The Last One’, 2004
Following ten successful seasons and a decade of airtime, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey enjoy their last night in Monica’s iconic New York City apartment during the two-part series finale. Premiering on NBC, the episode attracted 52.5 million viewers and remains the highest-rated series finale to air in the 21st Century.
3) Seinfeld – ‘The Finale’, 1998
In its ninth season, the finale of Seinfeld aired on NBC to 76.3 million viewers. Unlike many other sitcom endings, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends do not receive a happy ending. Resultantly, it received divisive reactions from fans and critics alike. The episode was also famously displayed on a big screen in Times Square.
2) Cheers – ‘One for the Road’, 1993
Cheers wrapped up its eleven seasons with a three-part finale on NBC. The episode attracted 84.4 million viewers and is the most-watched series finale of the 90s. A spin-off series was created, continuing the story of one of the bar’s patrons, Frasier Crane; ring any bells?
1) M*A*S*H – ‘Goodbye, Farewell and Amen’, 1983
M*A*S*H, standing for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, is an American war comedy series. The finale aired on CBS to 105.9 million viewers. Nowadays, fragmented viewership would make it difficult for any modern show to attract an audience as large as M*A*S*H did, so it will likely retain the title of ‘most-watched series finale’ forever.
5) Modern Family – 22 wins and 81 nominations
The newest entry featured here, the ABC hit series won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series for its first five seasons. Stars of the show, Ty Burell, Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen have also won awards for their performances.
4) Cheers – 28 wins and 117 nominations
Over its 11 seasons, the series was nominated for outstanding comedy series every season and won the Emmy award four times. Members of the cast, Rhea Perlman and Ted Danson each won two Emmys while on the show.
3) The Mary Tyler Moore Show – 29 wins and 67 nominations
Airing in the 1970s, the series won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series three times throughout its seven seasons and star of the show, Mary Tyler Moore, won four Emmys for her ongoing performance.
2) The Simpsons – 32 wins and 89 nominations
The most-celebrated animated sitcom of all time, the series won the most Emmy awards in one category, collecting 10 Emmys for outstanding animated program over its 32 seasons.
1) Frasier – 37 wins and 108 nominations
The NBC spin-off series to Cheers, this show won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series five times over its eleven-season run. Additionally, Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde, the show’s stars, each won four Emmy awards for their performances.
5) My Three Sons/King of the Hill/The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – 14 seasons
The fifth spot is a three-way tie. My Three Sons first aired in 1960 on ABC and moved to CBS until ending in 1972. The series follows widower Steve Douglas as he raises three sons with the help of his father-in-law. Meanwhile, animated series King of the Hill ran from 1997 to 2010 on FOX. Set in Texas, the show follows propane salesman Hank Hill deal with the antics of his family, friends and most of all his son, Bobby. Lastly, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered on radio in 1952 and after two seasons moved to television until its conclusion in 1966. The series follows Ozzie and Harriet as they raise their two sons, guiding them through the experiences of growing up.
4) It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – 15 seasons
With its final season set to air in 2021, the show premiered on the Walt Disney Company channel, FX, in 2005 but has since moved to associate channel FXX. It follows a group of five egotistic friends who co-own a deteriorating Irish bar in Philadelphia.
3) Family Guy/American Dad – 19 seasons
Both created by comedian Seth MacFarlane, these satirical cartoons aired on FOX, with Family Guy first in 1999, followed by American Dad in 2005. Both series feature the dysfunctional lives of American families and their opinionated pets.
2) South Park – 26 seasons
Fellow animated series, South Park first aired on Comedy Central in 1997. Intended for mature audiences, the series has become infamous for its crude language and dark humour. It follows the misadventures of four primary school students in the quiet town of South Park, Colorado.
1) The Simpsons – 32 seasons
The first episode of this record-breaking show aired on FOX in 1989. In 2019, producer Al Jean put rumours to rest that the show was coming to an end by confirming yet another season. The animated series follows working-class father, Homer Simpson and his seemingly ‘normal’ family as they navigate the ups and downs of life in the fictional American town of Springfield.
So, what is the greatest sitcom of all time? If you’re like me and are surprised by the entries (or lack thereof) in this article, I invite you to share your additional picks in the comments.