TV’s Best Comedies (Year by Year)


The first known use of the word ‘television’ is at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 Philo T Farnsworth, at age 14 has a vision of electronic TV scanning while plowing hay in 1921 the very FIRST image to be broadcast over television airwaves was of Felix The Cat “A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister walk into a bar and the bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?'” – Vicky Lawrence, The New Match Game
In this Issue Musea looks at the best TV Comedies since TV began. Its TV that has brought the belly laughs, pathos, and slapstick into our own homes, and this editor was there for just about every minute of it. Sit back with your TV dinners and review the history of comedy on TV starting with that magical year of ….

Puppet Playhouse (The Buffalo Bob Show, The Howdy Doody show) 1947-60. This kids show had the works: live kid audience in the “Peanut Gallery, Clarabell The Clown (Capt. Kangaroo from 47-53) Buffalo Bob and his red haired puppet friend, Howdy Doody – “What time is it kids?”

The Milton Berle Show (The Texaco Star Theater) 1948-71. “Uncle Miltie”, Mr. TV’s, variety show (with him usually in drag somewhere) was the reason people bought there first sets.

The Toast of the Town (The Ed Sullivan Show) (1948-71). Among the variety acts – Beatles & Elvis to plate spinners and dog acts – there were 2 decades worth of comics, some of the best got the best shot of their careers on the “really big shoe”

1949 (static)

The Jack Benny Show 1950-65. Benny was the zen comic. Less was more. He could look at the audience with his hand under his chin and that lost soul look, and get laughs – laughs by doing nothing! (Violin screeching somewhere in the background)

Your Show of Shows 1950-54. Variety show with as many stars writing as performing! Out front: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner. Behind the scenes, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, etc.. See the film “My Favorite Year” for fictional details.

I Love Lucy 1951-1957. This sitcom foursome was the best (with great writing from headwriting couple Bob Caroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh) There was the 2nd banana couple next door – Fred and Ethel, the much underated Desi (a TV pioneer and a fine comedian) plus the Glamorous Lucy with her conniving schemes and shtick. The Red Skelton Show 1951-71 Skit comedy that included such clowns as the bumpkin, Clem Kadiddlehopper, and the tramp Freddy the Freeloader.

The Ernie Kovacs Show 1952-1956. So hard to describe this show! You didn’t laugh so much as watch with awe and surreal wonder at the antics. Ex. A band of monkeys playing a song and at the end the drummer smacks another over the head. Then they repeat. And that was the skit I could understand. WAYYYYYY ahead of his time.

The Jackie Gleason Show 1952-1959. Variety show had a lot of characters but its the ‘Honeymooners” we remember with bus driver Ralph (Jackie) his not-quite-right, sidekick and sewer worker, Norton, and his down-to-earth wife Alice – “And a-WAY we go!”

Our Miss Brooks 1952-56. High School English Teacher has to deal with bossy principal, wacky kids, and a biology teacher that was more interested in his experiments than her! The tall, Eve Arden stared.

1953 (static)

The Tonight Show Steve Allen 1954-57, Jack Paar 1957-62, Johnny Carson 62-92, Jay Leno 92-?. Almost 50 years of comedy here with standouts being Allen’s skits, Jack’s stories, Johnny’s monologues, Jay’s (too soon to tell) and all the 1,000’s of comedians they showcased night after night. (Personal note – my cousin is the talent coordinator for Jay)

Love that Bob 1955-59. Click. Flash! “I think you’re going to like this picture!”And who wouldn’t with bachelor Bob having to photograph beautiful models for a living!

The Phil Silvers Show 1955-59. Sgt. Bilko (Silvers) runs the motor pool and some way or another has the entire camp doing his bidding. Perhaps the best army comedy ( also see 1972)

1956 (static)

Leave it to Beaver 1957-63. This was the best of the family sitcoms with Beaver, his older brother Wally , Wally’s rascal friend Eddie, and almost pefect TV parents, Ward and June, that would somehow straighten out Beavers mistakes week after week. Wholesome fun.

1958 (static)

1959 The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis 1959-63. “Dobie, wants a girl that’s dreamy” says the theme song. Dobie ponders life by the statue of the Thinker – mostly on how to win girls. (My candidate for “If aliens came to earth and produced one TV show, which one might it be). Note pre-Gilligan sidekick, beatnik , Maynard G. Krebs crying out in horror, “Work?”

Rocky & His Friends (Later changed to The Bullwinkle Show – we know who the real star is) 1959-73. Jay Ward cartoon creation of “Moose & Squirrel” had bits for the kids and puns for the adults. I think everyone involved graduated with honors from “Whatsamatta U.”

The Andy Griffith Show 1960-68. Small town Mayberry comedy with Sheriff Andy, deputy Barney (Don Knots) Aunt Bea, Opie, and a town of offbeat characters. The Bugs Bunny Show 1960-62.Cartoons featuring Mel Blanc’s 1,000 voices – Bugs, Daffy, etc.

Felix The Cat 1960. A VERY offbeat bunch of characters with Felix’s bag of tricks, Rock Bottom, Poindexter, the Professor, and the rest.

The Dick Van Dyke Show 1961-66. He writes for the Allen Brady show (with Buddy, Sally, and taskmaster Mel), plus wife Mary Tyler Moore at home (‘Oh Rob!” ) Sometimes he trips over the ottoman sometimes he doesn’t. A very stylish and hip comedy that ushered in the 60’s

The Beverly Hillbillies 1962-1971 “The First thing you know ole Jed’s a millionaire. The kinfolks said, Jed move away from there. They said Californy is the place you out to be, so they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly, Hills that is, swimming pools and movie stars.” And 4 distinct characters, muley Grannie, ‘well doggies’ Jed, sophisticated playboy Jethro, critter loving Elly May ( plus Banker Drysdale, and his Secretary Miss Jane) and week after week of misunderstandings and fun with an overriding sense that even though everyone is so different, they somehow all belong.

1963 (static)

Gilligan’s Island 1964-67. 7 castaways from a 3 hour boat tour , and some of the worst scripts going – but somehow it’s all endearing enough to go on and on and on. Professor build a boat!

Green Acres 1965-71. Manhattan Lawyer Douglas decides to restart life as farmer with mixed results. Offbeat characters – Lisa, his glamorous wife, Arnold the Pig, Mr Hainey, and the rest make this the opposite premise of the Beverly Hillbillies but just as clever.

I Dream Of Jeannie 1965-1970. Astronauts Tony and Roger deal with wildcard (and very lovely) Jeannie the Genie and her troublesome magic. Pure delight with great slapstick from main writer Sidney Sheldon of all people.

Batman 1966-68. If corny is your favorite type of humor, here is a classic of the form. “Biff””Pow” say the balloons over Batman and sidekick Robin. Another great theme song too!

The Carol Burnett Show 1967-79. Hit and miss skits were always entertaining and reached real pathos with the incredible Mama’s Family episodes towards the end of a very long run for this musical/variety show.

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In 1968-1973. Hippie humor, Goldie Hawn dancing in a Bikini at the party, a wall of joke windows, and a big over-the-top cast offering new fangled burlesque – all very trippy, man! Sock it to me!

The Benny Hill Show 1969-89. 20 Years of bawdy British humor (and note his song lyrics) from the lovable Hill and his endless cast of cuties, + a chase at the end of every episode for good measure.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus 1969-1974. “And now for something completely different!” And this British cast was not kidding. Non sequitors mixed with skits and even a collage cartoon by a gifted cast of regulars.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show 1970-77. The epitome of the 70 sitcoms on tv, with Mary Richards working at the low rated Minneapolis TV station with what seemed like, an endless list of great characters. Unmarried Mary, somehow finds time to date in between the hurricane going on around her. Note the big hug finale.

All In The Family 1971-1979. Bigot Archie stirs up not only his family : dingbat wife, daughter Gloria, and meathead son-in-law, but most of America by saying what the PC world only thought. Controversial topics abounded but so did great comedy performances from Carol O’Connor and cast.

Bob Newhart Show 1972-79.
Newhart 1982-90.
Bob 1992-94. Spanning over 20 years, Newhart and assorted casts continually brought smart subtle comedy to tv. “Bob Newhard Show”: Chi- psychologist has craziness all around. “Newhart”: New England innkeeper with everyone from Daryl to Daryl visitng the inn. “Bob”: Cartoonist of Mad Dog Cartoon.

M*A*S*H 1972-1983 Korean war comedy ran longer than the war, and had a suicide lyrics for its theme song, yet somehow in all the misery of war it was consistently full of farce and moving pathos. Larry Gelbart – main writer.

1973 (static)

1974 (special notice of Fonzie, the tough hood teenager character in the series Happy Days 1974-84, and one of the most charismatic characters on sitcom TV.)

Fawlty Towers 1975-1979. 12 episodes – each a classic, of a small town British inn run very badly by Basil, his shrewish wife, Manuel (he’s from Barcelona), and the rest. Note the clever plots and dialogue writing from Basil, John Cleese, and maid character, Connie Booth.

Saturday Night Live 1975-?. Live late-night sketch show has the longest and best cast of any comedy in history with … just about everyone!

The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin 1976-78. An amazing tour de force with the cast progressing through what I categorize as a sort of comic Russian novel (something Gogol might write). We see Reginald go from a cog at Sunshine Desserts to a faked suicide, to extraordinary success, then loose it all again. The story again and again questions the meaning of life. And in its comedy situations plumbs some serious questions of existence. Note the idea of Grot – a store where everything for sale is guaranteed to be totally worthless.

Second City TV 1976-1981
SCTV Channel 1983-84. Skit comedy with a super cast that includes: John Candy, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, etc.

3’s Company 1977-1984. Jack Tripper moves in with roomies Janet and Chrissy (and Ropers as landlords) and mix-ups follow. Light comedy was a blast of sexual inuendo. Later Ralph Furley and Terri as replacements.

1978 (static)

1979 (static)

1980 (static)

1981 (and more static)

Cheers 1982-93. Perfect 80’s show of Boston Bar, bartenders, and barflies. The romance episodes of Sam and Dianne (or of Sam and Rebecca) were standouts.

Late Night With David Letterman 1982-?. Dorky looking David takes his Wasp-ish everyman to quirky heights with stupid pet tricks, top 10 lists, and 2 decades of late night laughs.

1983 (static)

1984 (static)

1985 (static)

1986 (and more static)

Married With Children 1987-97. Way way underated dysfunctional family sitcom features the endlessly pitiable loser Al, his couch sitting wife Peggy, dumb-blonde floozy daugher Kelly, and horny and continual dissappointment, son Bud. (Plus the wacky neighbors Marci and her 2 husbands) Bad taste raised to an art form!

Red Dwarf 1988-?. This British sci-fi sitcom tells of rocket crew survivor Lister, hologram Rimmer, Kat, and robot Kryton, lost in space- with some of the most brilliant sci-fi writing and intricate plots mixed in with the laughs .

Mr. Bean 1989-95. The playful, childlike, self-centered, but always imaginative, Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) pantomines his way through adventures in city life -all in a manner reminiscent of the style of the silent comedies. Note his animated Teddy Bear.

The Simpsons 1989-?. “Worst episode ever!” “Doh!”, or best cartoon comedy ever? More likely the last with Homer, Marge, the kids Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the cast of characters of the town of Springfield. A real contemporary treasure that has stayed frresh and smart and covered just about every subject under the sun – created by Matt Groening (and the comic bookstore owner quips”No Groaning (Groening) in my store!”

Seinfeld 1990-98. The ‘show about nothing” was more about the anal world of comic Jerry Seinfeld, once girlfriend, Elaine, harried best friend George, and the kooky neighbor, Cosmo Kramer (his entrances into a scene are worth the price of admission). Special mention should go to writer/creator Larry David. For a sample of the well-plotted fun, try the golf ball in the whale, or the king of my domain, episodes.

1991 (static)

The Larry Sanders Show 1992-98. Late night TV talk show spoof starring Gary Shandling and sidekicks on and off the show within a show. Unfortunately it’s restricked to cable viewers only. Called devastatingly funny” by one critic. Note Rip Torn as Arthur.

The Nanny 1993-99. Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) is the poor Jewish Nanny to Mr. Sheffield a waspy Manhattan Broadway producer, and his 3 children. The Gorgeous Fran is a fashion knockout and dramatically funny, in a cast of greats that, like an Elizabethan comedy, ended with marriages of Fran to Mr. Sheffield, and butler Niles to his former arch enemy, the cold-blooded C.C.

Frasier 1993-?. Best spin-off (from Cheers), marvellosly written (with over 50 writers so far) drawing room comedy; showcasing brothers Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) Crane – both psychologists (Friasier with his own radio talk show) and both wacky!

1994 (static)

1995 (static)

1996 (more static)

King of the Hill 1997-? (See below)

South Park 1997-? (See below)

1998 (static)

Dilbert 1999-00 (See below)

Futurama 1999-? (See below)

PJ’s 1999- (See below)

Family Guy 1999-? (See below)

Oblongs (2001).

From ’97 on everyone tried to recreate the success of the Simpsons cartoon show. And all of these did remarkably well. If the best episodes of each were in a single show they would easily be among the best TV comedies. And so I’ll bunch them into a single super cartoon series and leave it at that.

2000 (static from K-2)

(Information for this article came from these internet sites: Internet Movie Database, and TV History.)

Web Person’s Note to Editor Art:Did you forget to mention WKRP??? One of the great ensemble comedies IMHO Back to the Main Page

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