Here we go:
35. NEWHART (1982-1990 CBS)
So the question really was? Which Bob Newhart show to choose? The 70s show where he’s the shrink in Chicago and the amusing patients or the show where he runs a small bed & breakfast in Vermont? I chose NEWHART simply because of “Hi, I’m Larry, and this is my brother Daryl and my other brother Daryl.” Those character as well as Tom Poston’s George the Handyman sealed it for me. However you could throw either show into this slot, because basically Newhart plays the same person, the person he made famous doing standup. However both shows were important in the land of sit-coms.
See Bob Newhart was famous for being the first solo “straight man,” when generally a “straight man,” is part of a comedy team. His unique approach was then taken to sitcoms and he was able to pull it off there as well. In fact it was so original at the time that it lasted for 2 hit TV shows, and without his shows ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and their ilk that combined much of what he brought to sitcoms with other techniques wouldn’t have existed like we know them. America wasn’t much on “intelligent humor,” like the guys on the other side of the pond. So what Newhart brought was extremely fresh for the time.
The show is also famous for the finale. It has been voted the greatest Series Finale in history on more than one occassion. In the final scene of Newhart, Bob wakes up to wife Suzanne Pleshette from the first series only to find that “Newhart,” was a dream. However, it pulled it off with some truly off the wall craziness before hand. Japanese Businessmen had bought up the town to turn into a golfing resort and the b&b was the only holdout. It fastforwarded 5 years with his wife dressing like a geisha, and the japanese help were hilarious. Just as Newhart yells “you’re all crazy,” he’s hit by a golf ball in the head. Then he wakes up to the famous ending.
34. SECOND CITY TELEVISION (1976-1984 on Global, CBC, and the Superchannel)
A year after SNL became a surprise hit in the states, the Cannucks decided to do their own thing. SCTV was unique in that it was a sketch comedy show but it was all supposed to be real segments for a fictional TV Network in the city of Melonville. My favorite bit was probably the bit about shooting celebrities (Where the game show consisted of trying to shoot celebrities) and of course John Candy’s Johnny La Rue and the soap opera “The Days of the Week.”
The show garnered such recognition that NBC even ran it for a couple years. While SNL had Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, & Garrett Morris (and later Bill Murray after Chase left) the SCTV group was just as talented with John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and Harold Ramis.
The show had such an incredibly low budget that they had to create techniques that are still used today. In addition that low budget meant cheap makeup and hair, so they had to improvise what exactly to do for each sketch. That also lead to how to switch between sketches and they came up with promos for shows on the network they’d never do a sketch of (but were rather hilarious).
One thing the show never gave up even when it was moved to Cinemax for its final season was the idea that this was a real TV Network making real shows for the people of Melonsville. So they had “plots,” that would carry over from show to show in the background. One was “Moral Majority,” which won an Emmy, that was about advertisers wanting to force change on the Network’s programming. The time when if my memory is right they were taken over by the mafia and the answer to their competition was to have hits put out on people from different shows (like THREE’S COMPANY).
One of the greatest sketch shows ever, and it did it all on such a low budget it’s amazing.
33. STAR TREK (1966-1969 NBC)
Gene Roddenberry pitched the show as “Wagon Train to the stars,” and twice went through pilots. First in 1964 with Captain Pike, and then again in 66 with Captain Kirk. Lucille Ball ended up pushing the show through onto NBC (the show was produced by Desilou at the time). It never had good ratings. In fact without Ball a 2nd season never would have happened. A 3rd season only happened due to fan letters (yeah fans have caused shows to be brought back for a long time). Of course NBC rewarded the fans with a Friday Night time slot, and one that would be its last. However despite all the wrangling 79 classic episodes of cheesy sci-fi were made.
STAR TREK dealt with a lot of social and political problems at the time by using sci-fi to mask them. Racism was dealt with a race of humanoids who were both white and black, but if white on the left side, the members of the race who were white on the right hated you for instance. The show covered a lot of different social and political themes over the 3 seasons and this would make it something more than just a cheesy sci-fi show.
The show also happened to use some of sci-fi’s best writers at the time: Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, George Clayton Johnson as well as well known writers of non-sci-fi like Robert Bloch (PSYCHO).
However STAR TREK is STAR TREK because of the three lead actors. This is an ensemble piece at its heart. Without Wiliam Shatner as James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, and DeForrest Kelley as Bones would the series have ever done as well as it did? Who knows.
The impact of this series is of course well known. It lead to a Movie Franchise, I believe 5 TV series, and lots of books and games. It also would inspire other things including George Lucas who himself would create a sci-fi masterpiece that would inspire thousands. The original series is still strong today. It has had its FX remastered and these episodes air in syndication and the G4 network has Star Trek 2.0.
32. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970-1977 CBS)
When CBS picked up THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW they made history. It was the first show where the main character was a single, never married, career woman. Oh yeah, she was independent too. She had no boyfriend that defined her. At the time, like SANFORD AND SON it was a gamble. Silly to think of now, but it was at the time a risk.
In fact this show was so ground breaking that many media outlets have called it one of the greatest tv shows ever. So how do I justify it being ranked so low? Same way I will with SANFORD AND SON. It just happened. There are literally so many shows, and so few spots left.
The show would win 3 emmy awards for best comedy (in a row) and at the height of its ratings it was the 7th most watched show on TV. For 3 seasons it would make the top 10, and would only have 2 seasons where it wasn’t a top 20 show (the first and final seasons). The show definitely stayed on the air too long. By the last two seasons it saw major loss in viewers (19th then 39th). So it doesn’t get a nod like many other shows on here do for going out while still on the top, however it did provide some great comedy for many years.
It also stole Emmy Awards from SANFORD AND SON, which at least one season was much more deserving. I’m not going to harp on racism of the 70s, but the fact remains that for some reason this show is always mentioned for being brilliant and one of the greatest shows ever, while SANFORD AND SON is usually mentioned as an “Oh yeah,” kind of thing. People must not remember that SANFORD AND SON was funnier, and watched by more people.
However Mary Tyler Moore suceeded in creating a character that wasn’t defined by another man and was independent. The cast of Edward Asner, Ted Knight (playing pompous and dimwitted like only he can), Gavin Macleod, Betty White, Valarie Harper, & Cloris Leachman might have been one of the most talented casts ever put together. The show shined, and TV GUIDE recently picked one of the episodes as the greatest episode of TV ever.
31. SANFORD & SON (1972-1977 NBC)
Ok, this was tough. I could easily have put this show in my top 10 and felt good about it. It however slipped, and kept slipping. 32 is probably a disgrace, but when you start getting to the top of a list like this it just gets tougher. SANFORD AND SON was a classic and it was one of the first successful shows starring African Americans. Red Foxx was a famous comedian, and no one knew how such a foul mouthed man could ever get on TV. Somehow they did it.
The show was based on a father & son relationship between Foxx as grumply old curr Fred Sanford and Demond Wilson as Lemont Sanford. In a technique that had been used before and will definitely be used again, the responsible one was the son, and it was as if the son was bringing up the dad. Fred was famous for having fake heart attacks “I’m coming to joine you Elizabeth!” and getting his son into all kinds of troubles.
The family owned a junk yard, and that is where the show usually took place. The troubles Fred would cause usually had to do with some get rich quick scheme or another. Lemont was always there to put out the fire. Their relationship was a classic love hate relationship with Fred usually calling Lement “Big Dummy,” and Lemont usually referring to his father as “Old Fool.”
However to truly understand just what it was that Foxx and Wilson were pulling off you have to understand the times. It was 1972 and the most popular show on TV was ALL IN THE FAMILY where the lead character was a biggot. Interestingly both shows were produced by Norman Lear and both were adaptations from accross the pond. Yet, while the show is based on STEPTOE AND SON, you have to realize the risk that Lear was taking by making Sanford black and placing the junk yard in Watts. It was a gutsy and bold move that easily could have backfired. Choosing Foxx a known comedian to portray the role was brilliant but itself also a risk. Could Foxx be controlled?
The answer was of course yes, and imho it outshined the show it was based on which is rare indeed. The true gems of the show usually came from Sanford making fun of one of his in-laws. First it was Ethel (but she got the ribs in most of the time) then it was Esther. The unique ways Foxx would put down Esther are now legendary. They were easily some of the best scenes of the show.
The show was a runaway success and made Lear a genius. Despite NBC picking it up, they were scared. So the best place to put it was on Friday Nights (here we go again with another example of Friday Night not killing a show). Despite being put in a time slot that NBC hadn’t had success with ever, the show debuted as the 6th most watched show on TV and then was the 2nd most watched TV series for 3 straight seasons right behind ALL IN THE FAMILY.
SANFORD AND SON redefined the black situational comedy and made it clear that there were plenty of people willing to watch shows based on African Americans.