The top 5 shows of all time are….
5. TILL DEATH DO US PART (1965-1975 BBC1)
First lets talk about ALL IN THE FAMILY (this will all make sense later)
This show is most remembered as The King of Sitcoms back when sitcoms dominated television. In the 70s the top shows weren’t procedurals they were sitcoms. During this time, ALL IN THE FAMILY ruled above them all, airing pretty much the entire decade. I’ve already mentioned the power of the spin offs. The impact this show had in the 70s was undeniable. It had an extremely humble start (34th top rated show) and almost was canceled. However over the summer the lead character of Archie Bunker was receiving a lot of press and that changed well… everything.
You see, Archie was a biggot. They like to say a lovable bigot. I suppose bigots could be lovable. He did have many endearing qualities, but the fact is the man was a biggot. Was he funny? Yes. Bigotry can be funny, Mel Brooks proved that without a doubt in BLAZING SADDLES. However he was also incredibly stupid. This was their answer to his bigotry. He’d lose just about any argument he got in, and they tried to use the humor to show just how stupid the hatred was. CBS even issues a warning before early episodes, that basically said “this show will offend you, but we hope you see through the humor just how stupid racism is,” of course that is paraphrased. I can’t find the actual statement on the internet, because everytime I find it, it says something entirely different, but like mine with the same gist.
This lead to ALL IN THE FAMILY having 5 straight number 1 seasons. However, ALL IN THE FAMILY was a remake. Norman Lear who provided the top 2 sitcoms of the 70s: SANFORD AND SON and ALL IN THE FAMILY got all his ideas from the UK. TILL DEATH DO US PART was not just the inspiration of ALL IN THE FAMILY it was basically the same show, only done better.
First lets talk about why it was done better: The Brits don’t seem to care as much as Americans about subjects matters and language. So the show just flat out went all out. Alf Garnett (the British version of Archie Bunker) however wasn’t exactly lovable, and his hatred was taken to a more extreme level. Garnett was portrayed by Johnny Speight a man with undeniable charm. The problem was that Garnett ended up having some of Speight’s charm show. Speight would always state that was extremely disappointing, he believed that Garnett just shouldn’t have been likable.
The show (and its American remake) would tackle many controversial but important topics to society at the time from racism, homosexuality, politics, etc. The primary form of entertainment of both shows was the interaction between the conservative father and the left wing liberal son-in-law.
4. SEINFELD (1989-1998 NBC)
The show about nothing. Well we all know it wasn’t really a show about nothing. It was a show about a group of 4 friends and their personality disorders! It is perhaps the most nihilistic comedy ever made. We all know the characters, etc. So lets discuss just how this show came to be.
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld pitched it as a show about nothing. NBC picked it up. It flopped. It was even shopped to Fox who turned it down. Finally Rick Ludwin who was the Late Night VP at NBC took some of his budget to pay for ordering 4 episodes. The lowest number of episodes ever ordered for a pickup. Part of Ludwin’s argument was to demand the show air after CHEERS. This would of course give it a great lead in. The ratings were strong enough for the show to be picked up. However, it was further derailed by the Persian Gulf War, which kept the new (after the 4 ordered) episodes off the air for a while.
When the show came back it was placed after NIGHT COURT which had lost its audience by that time and was on its last legs. SEINFELD was still able to squeek out 3 seasons and multiple times barely avoided the axe usually due to Ludwin. When it became obvious that NIGHT COURT was dead, the shows flipped time slots and the ratings improved for both shows. That fact kept SEINFELD around for a 4th season.
For the first time SEINFELD broke the top 30 and after CHEERS was announced to be ending, the show was moved to again be behind CHEERS. The SEINFELD reruns surpassed the CHEERS reruns that Spring. The 4th season was also the first to incorporate a season long story arc (pitching the fictional Jerry sitcom).
Then it happened. SEINFELD beat out HOME IMPROVEMENT for the Emmy of Best Comedy Series. The hype around Seinfeld was fierce after. Season 5 would be the first season to break the top 3 (at 3rd). It would never drop below being ranked 2nd for the rest of its run.
The interesting thing about SEINFELD is that it got picked up in the first place. Then that it survived for 3 seasons of abysmal ratings. The 4th season when it finally broke the top 30 (and finished 25th overall for the season) justified the early moves to keep it around, but the fact that virtually overnight it went from doing ok finally, to full on big hit is … unheard of. I can’t think of another comedy that has done that. Someone mentioned NCIS to me, and I had to tell them that every season of that show was top 30, and it slowly climbed from 26 to 5 over six seasons.
What SEINFELD accomplished was amazing. It is also another reason it does so huge in syndication. The vast majority of American TV viewers didn’t see the first 4 seasons. So when it became a hit in season 5 and was finally sold into syndication it was considered a gold mine. It sold so much, because it was worth a lot. Here was a show no one watched, and was all of a sudden a top 3 show. Now they’re selling it into syndication. Everyone knew that these shows would be watched because people hadn’t seen the majority of them before. Ludwin basically made everyone involved filthy rich.
3. BLACKADDER (1983-1989 BBC1)
Each season of this show is entirely different and set in a different era. What holds all the seasons together as a whole is that each one follows the excursions of Edmund Blackadder. The character is always of the same bloodline and one of the most interesting aspects of the show has been the status of the character. In the first season he’s basically an idiot and a Prince. In each subsequent season his social status drops, but his character’s intelligence grows. So by the 4th season his social status is much lower, but he’s brilliant. I don’t know what Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson are trying to say about people with high social status! 😉
The smarter Edmund Blackadder gets, the funnier the series got. However there is always one major point in the series, the character is a cynical opportunist. Throw in the fact that we get to see him in different parts of history and you have a fascinating show. The cast of the series was top notch. Tony Robinson portrays his servant Baldrick in ever season and does a brilliant job of it. Tim McInnern, Miranda Richardson, Hugh Laurie (yes, that Hugh Laurie), and Stephen Fry all have extremely memorable roles over the different seasons.
A very unique, and very engaging sitcom. One of the greatest ever.
2. THE SIMPSONS (1989-???? FOX)
Do I have to describe this show to anyone? Do I have to even mention its cultural impact? Is anyone not aware of what it did for TV? Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought. 20 seasons, likely 5 more before they hang it up. Amazing.
1. GET A LIFE (1990-1992 FOX)*
From 1990 to 1992 Chris Elliott was in the funniest TV program ever made, and likely will ever be made. He played a 30 year old paper boy living with his parents (with his famous comedian father Bob Elliott playing his dad). The show was so brilliant and ahead of its time… In something like half the episodes Elliott would die at the end in bizzarre and horrible accidents (something stolen by SOUTHPARK with Kenny). Simply the greatest TV show of all time!
Update: Ok, yes the number 1 was a joke. I’ll have the real greatest show of all time written up tomorrow. It will be epic because…
It’s more than one show. I can’t decide if a drama is more important than a comedy, if a police drama is more important than a normal drama, etc. So the top show is really shows. Yes, yes, it’s another cop out. It just manifested itself when the list was made and made total sense.
Also my apologies to the fan of GET A LIFE, & Chris Elliott.