Though in recent years television networks have shifted their focus to reality shows and crime dramas for years the sitcom made up a big part of their viewing schedule, and audiences tuned in weekly to laugh along with their favorite characters for 30 minutes (minus commercials). Coming up with a list of the top 50 best sitcoms was definitely tough, simply because there have been so many funny shows over the past 5 decades of TV. I’ve done my best to separate the wheat from the chaff, and come up with a truly definitive list that covers a broad range of eras and themes, and this is what I narrowed it down to. Here are my picks for the funniest sitcoms of all time:
50 – Night Court – Part of NBC’s powerhouse Thursday night must see TV in the 80s, Night Court followed the antics of judges, lawyers and criminals in New York City. John Laroquette became a breakout star with his role as sleazy defense lawyer Dan Fielding.
49 – Laverne & Shirley – Penny Marshall (Laverne) and Cindy Williams (Shirley) served up the laughs in this goofy comedy about a pair of roommates who work at a local brewery. Just one of several sitcoms that spun-off of the hugely popular Happy Days sitcom, this show was often stolen by supporting characters Lenny and Squiggy.
48 – Mork & Mindy – Another spin-off of Happy Days this out-of-this-world comedy launched the career of Robin Williams, who starred as Mork from Ork, an alien who lands on Earth in an egg-shaped spaceship and winds up rooming with Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber).
47 – The Facts of Life – Another spin-off (this time from Diff’rent Strokes) this show was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 80s. Charlotte Rae starred as Edna Garrett, a housemother looking after 4 teenage girls (Jo, Blair, Tootie and Natalie) and trying to control their wild behavior and their widely differing personalities.
46 – Diff’rent Strokes – A young Gary Coleman starred as Arnold in this comedy about a pair of African-American brothers from Harlem who are adopted by their mother’s employer after she passes away. Though it has been more than 23 years since the show last aired Arnold’s catch-phrase “Whatchoo talkin’ about Willis?” is still widely quoted to this day.
45 – Barney Miller – Hal Linden stars as Barney Miller, captain of the 12th Precinct in New York’s Greenwich Village in this goofy 70s cop comedy.
44 – The Addams Family – Not your usual sitcom, this one featured some rather ghoulish characters based on the cartoon by Charles Addams. John Astin played the patriarch Gomez Addams, who along with wife Morticia, children Pugsley and Wednesday, Grandmama, Uncle Fester and butler Lurch delivered 64 creepy, but amusing episodes between 1964 and 1966.
43 – The Odd Couple – First a play, then a film starring the incomparable comedy duo of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, this 1970s comedy already had a built in audience to draw upon. This time it was Tony Randall and Jack Klugman playing the roles of Felix and Oscar, and though it wasn’t quite as funny as the film there were plenty of laughs during its 6 year run.
42 – Roseanne – One of the best sitcoms of the 80s and 90s this show starred sarcastic comedian Roseanne Barr and helped launch the successful career of John Goodman who played her husband Dan on the show. The show lasted 9 seasons, and was one of the most watched TV shows in any genre during its run.
41 – Futurama – Not all sitcoms are live action, and this sci-fi cartoon sitcom by Simpsons creator Matt Groening has gained a huge cult following over the years. Futurama fans rejoiced as after being cancelled by Fox back in 2003 the show returned to network television with new episodes airing on Comedy Central in 2010.
40 – Taxi – One of the most star-studded sitcoms of all time Taxi starred Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman. DeVito is hilarious as a taxi company dispatcher who heaps abuse on his fleet of taxi drivers. The show racked up an impressive 18 Emmy awards in its relatively short run.
39 – Entourage – This smart, funny comedy/drama on HBO was a huge hit over its run. The show followed the adventures of Hollywood movie actor Vincent Chase and his buddies (or entourage) E, Johnny Drama and Turtle through their many misadventures. Jeremy Piven stole the show as Vincent’s mercurial agent Ari Gold.
38 – Red Dwarf – One of the best British sitcoms ever created this sci-fi comedy show about a man stranded on a mining space ship with a cat, a computer and a hologram. If you are looking for a completely different type of sitcom give Red Dwarf a try.
37 – Murphy Brown – One of the most popular TV shows of the 90s, Murphy Brown stuck around for an incredible 247 episodes. During that time the show won 2 Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, and lead actress Candice Bergen won an impressive 5 Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series between 1989 and 1995.
36 – That ’70s Show – Fox hit another home run with this show, detailing the “chronic” misadventures of a group of teens in small town Wisconsin. The show was the launching pad for the very successful careers now enjoyed by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and (temporarily at least) revived the career of stoner movie icon Tommy Chong. Absolutely hilarious to anyone who is old enough to remember life in the 70s, and still very funny even for those who weren’t born yet.
35 – Get Smart – Few sitcom characters are as iconic as Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart in the spy sitcom Get Smart. A satire of popular secret agent movies like the James Bond series of films, the show was clever and funny. A big screen adaptation of the series was finally made in 2008, but even the brilliant Steve Carell couldn’t live up to the high standards set by Don Adams. One of the best sitcoms of the 60s.
34 – The Bob Newhart Show – Some of the best sitcoms in television history have starred stand-up comedians in the lead role. Bob Newhart starred in the show as psychologist, who has to put up with not only with the problems of his patients – most notably those of the neurotic Elliot Carlin – but also his wife and his goofy neighbor at home.
33 – The Beverly Hillbillies – Another classic TV sitcom, this one starred Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, the patriarch of a rather unsophisticated family who move to Beverly Hills after discovering oil on some swamp land they own. Naturally the family – Jed, Jethro, Elly May and Granny – sticks out like a sore thumb, and hilarity ensues as they try to blend in to high society.
32 – Bewitched – Though the recent movie starring Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman was a box office bomb, this magical 70s sitcom about a witch who tries to live the normal life of a housewife was one of the most popular shows on TV during the 8 seasons it aired.
31 – The Mary Tyler Moore Show – This show about a single, working woman employed as a news producer in Minneapolis gained a huge following in the 70s, and routinely sat in the top 20 in television rankings during its 7 year span, earning a record 29 Emmys during its run. The record stood for a quarter century before Frasier finally topped it in 2002.
30 – The Jeffersons – A spin-off of the immensely popular sitcom All in the Family this show lasted 11 seasons, making it the longest running show featuring African-American actors in lead roles in the history of American television. A step above the usual fluff seen in most sitcoms The Jeffersons tackled such touchy subjects like racism and suicide.
29 – Married… with Children – Fox is known for pushing the envelope with their sitcoms, and this hilarious show following the misadventures of the Bundy family is no exception. Patriarch Al Bundy is one of comedy television’s greatest icons, and wife Peggy, and kids Bud and Kelly were almost as funny. The show lasted 11 full seasons before Fox finally pulled the plug in 1997.
28 – The Dick van Dyke Show – One of the best TV shows of the 60s this sitcom, starring Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore hauled in an impressive 15 Emmy awards. The show is especially funny if you enjoy physical comedy and slapstick humor, at which van Dyke was a master.
27 – Family Guy – Arguably the best animated series on TV right now this show is actually in its second run, after massive DVD sales prompted Fox to bring this immensely popular cartoon back. Taking its cue from shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy pushes the boundaries of good taste just about as far as they will go on network television in this day and age. If you have a sense of humor you can’t help but laugh at Peter Griffin, his wife Lois, kids Chris, Meg and Stewie and their dog Brian as they find themselves in one fantastical situation after another.
26 – I Dream of Jeannie – Competing with Bewitched for the title of the best magic-themed sitcom stars Barbara Eden as Jeannie, a 2000 year old genie whose bottle is found by an astronaut (played by Larry Hagman). Major Nelson finds himself constantly having to improvise to cover the well-intentioned changes Jeannie makes to his life.
25 – Home Improvement – This one is definitely one of the most popular shows of all time for guys. Starring Tim Allen as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, the show is about a guy who has his own DIY show and lives by the mantra that more power is always better.
24 – Will and Grace – #24 on my list of the funniest sitcoms of all time is also one of the most groundbreaking. Featuring an openly gay character in the lead role, living with a straight single neurotic female with relationship issues of her own the show often pushed boundaries that hadn’t been seen on network television before. Audiences and critics alike absolutely loved the show as evidenced by its incredible 83 Emmy nominations and 16 subsequent wins over its 8 seasons.
23 – The Golden Girls – A series about a bunch of geriatric women living together doesn’t seem like great fodder for a sitcom, but in this case it worked. Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan star as 3 single women all getting up in years who live together. The humor is biting and sarcastic, but the friendship is touching. Estelle Getty steals the show in her role as Dorothy’s (Bea Arthur) mother.
22 – Friends – One of the most popular sitcoms of the past decade and a half Friends starring Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow became a pop culture phenomenon almost immediately after its 1994 debut, and over 10 seasons it finished in the top 5 in TV rankings in all but its first season.
21 – Sanford & Son – If anyone deserves a spot on a list of the top 50 comedy shows of all time it is legendary comedian Red Foxx. This show about a bitingly sarcastic junk dealer and his son Lamont. The show was one of the most popular sitcoms in the 70s, ranking second to only All in the Family during much of its run.
20 – Everybody Loves Raymond – Though situation comedy often involves physical humor, it is dialogue that is the true backbone of a TV show. Few shows in the 90s, in any genre, had better dialogue than what we saw on Everybody Loves Raymond. The writing was top-notch and the delivery by all cast members, but by Ray Romano in particular, was brilliant. This was one of those rare sitcoms that never seemed to have a “stinker” episode, and is still laugh-out-loud funny in syndication today.
19 – South Park – Though many parents may not agree this groundbreaking series by Trey Parker and Matt Stone has been one of the best animated shows on television for better than a decade now. Following the daily adventures of Eric Cartman and friends the series goes where no other shows have gone before and often push the boundaries of decency. Still, if you get the humor there is no doubt this is one of the funniest TV shows of all time.
18 – The Office – This applies to both the UK and the US versions of the show as I believe they are equally as good. The show revolves around a manager at a paper company and his relationship with his employees. Where Ricky Gervais played the manager in the UK version, Steve Carell filled that role in the bulk of the US version. Both are equally funny and will make you cringe with their ill thought out attempts to impress their staff.
17 – Curb Your Enthusiasm – Another HBO show makes the list of the best TV sitcoms of all time. Starring Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld the show plays a lot like an R-rated version of Seinfeld with Larry David’s character comprised of elements of both Jerry and George. If you are a Seinfeld fan and are looking for humor in a similar vein then definitely check this one out.
16 – The Honeymooners – One of the very first sitcoms, this hugely influential show first aired way back in October of 1955. It lasted only 39 episodes on its own, but the characters continued to be featured (as they had prior to 1955) on the Jackie Gleason Show.
15 – The Cosby Show – If you were making a list of the best TV shows of the 80s this one would definitely get consideration for a high spot. Comedian Bill Cosby starred as Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of the family teaching his children moral values while making the audience laugh hysterically.
14 – Three’s Company – The late great John Ritter starred as the clumsy girl-crazed cook Jack Tripper in this series about a young man who pretends to be gay so the apartment building’s landlord will allow him to live with and split the rent with two young women. This show would make you cringe as you watched Jack try to extricate himself from embarrassingly awkward situations. Oh, and Mr. Furley (played by Don Knotts) has to be one of the best characters in sitcom history.
13 – Gilligan’s Island – A show about a group of tourists who get stranded on an island doesn’t necessarily sound like the makings of a sitcom, however the stellar casting, particularly in the case of Bob Denver as Gilligan, made sure the cast had instant comedic chemistry, and audiences ate up the goofy humor for 3 seasons back in the mid 1960s.
12 – Happy Days – If there is another sitcom that produced more spin-offs than Happy Days I don’t know what it is. Ron Howard stars as Richie Cunningham, a teenager growing up in Milwaukee. The action shifts between his home life with parents Howard and Marion and his sister Joannie and his time hanging out at local restaurant Arnolds with Potsie, Ralph and The Fonz. Filled with some of TV’s most iconic characters the show was one of the most popular on television until that fated episode when Fonzie jumped the shark in his leather jacket.
11 – Blackadder – This unique show stars Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame and is actually a set of several series and sketches that follow the Blackadder family through several centuries of their history. Uproariously funny the show is one of the best British shows of all time in any genre.
10 – Cheers – Well, here we are now in the top 10 sitcoms of all time, and this cornerstone of NBC’s vaunted must-see-TV lineup is well deserving of its high spot on the list. Set in a Boston bar it is hard to believe the writers were creative enough to milk enough content for 11 seasons. However, it was the characters – some of the most iconic in television history – that really made the show. Sam, Diane, Norm, Cliff, Carla, Coach, Woody and Frasier were just so well-acted and so well-written that they kept audiences coming back for more. A true sitcom classic that holds up today, despite the fact that it has been 16 years since the final episode aired.
9 – The Andy Griffith Show – Set in the idyllic town of Mayberry, Andy Griffith stars in the lead role as Sheriff Andy Taylor. Don Knotts is his well-meaning, but ridiculously inept deputy, Barney Fife, and a young Ron Howard stars as his son Opie. One of the most wholesome shows in television history, the sitcom preaches family values and Mayberry is about as far to the other end of the spectrum from South Park as one can get.
8 – Arrested Development – Another show that sadly lasted only 3 seasons, Arrested Development was one of the smartest, funniest shows to come along in years, and only poor promotion by Fox kept it from being a huge mainstream hit. With comedic actors like Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor all among the cast it is easy to see why the show was so funny. Thankfully for the many fans we haven’t seen the last of the show. Arrested Development has been revived with a fourth season set to go live on Netflix before the end of this May!
7 – Fawlty Towers – You know that a sitcom with legendary Monty Python funnyman John Cleese is going to be hysterical. Though it only lasted 12 episodes in total it is the absolute pinnacle of television humor and is, in my opinion, the best British sitcom ever made.
6 – Frasier – Hard to deny the most decorated comedy show in television history a high spot on the list of the funniest sitcoms of all time. Spun off from the hit show Cheers, Frasier following Dr. Frasier Crane’s life after moving from Boston to Seattle, looked to be nothing more than a cash grab for NBC at first. However the spectacular casting of David Hyde Pierce as Frasier’s brother Niles really gave the show some added comedic punch, and helped the show succeed where most spin-offs fail, raking in 37 Emmy awards over its 11 seasons.
5 – M*A*S*H – Based on the hit 1970 movie of the same name, M*A*S*H, a sitcom about a group of surgeons, nurses and clerks operating a mobile surgical hospital during the Korean War showed that humor can be found in any situation. The show, starring Alan Alda in the lead role as Hawkeye Pierce was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 70s and 80s, and the 105 million viewers that tuned in for the final episode in 1983 were the most ever for a television episode.
4 – The Simpsons – The longest running sitcom and the longest running animated show in television history The Simpsons has been on the air for 24 seasons, with over 500 episodes broadcast in that span. The yellow cartoon family has influenced popular culture as much as any show in TV history, has spawned a movie, and has millions of fans worldwide. Some of Hollywood’s biggest names have made cameos on the show, lending their voices to guest characters, and the show is not only popular with fans but with critics too, earning 27 Emmys during its run to date. Easily the best animated show of all time.
3 – All in the Family – Though Homer Simpson might be the most iconic character on a sitcom today, back in the 70s that title belonged to one Archie Bunker. Carol O’Connor starred in the lead role as the grouchy Archie Bunker, and might have been one of the least likeable but most genuine main characters to ever appear on television. The show dominated the Nielsen ratings for most of its run, staying at #1 from 1971 to 1976, and was one of the most socially conscious shows of its era, tackling many topics from homosexuality to racism that were previously deemed unsuitable for prime time television.
2 – I Love Lucy – Some old-timers are likely aghast at the notion that I could put any show ahead of their beloved Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy. Co-starring Desi Arnaz as Lucy’s husband Ricky Ricardo the show was a massive hit in the 1950s, and was the most watched program in the United States in 4 of its seasons. The show obviously ended too soon as it was the first show in any genre to end its run #1 in the ratings.
1 – Seinfeld – Though this show has its detractors I don’t think there is any question it belongs at in the #1 spot on the list of the top 50 best sitcoms ever. The best TV show of the 90s, Seinfeld was pure comedic genius. Popular stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David co-created the show about a stand-up comic named Jerry Seinfeld and his goofy, neurotic, often downright mean group of friends, George, Kramer and Elaine. The show followed the group as they turned ordinary humdrum situations into extraordinary events. The show dominated the Nielsen ratings during the bulk of its run, and to this day is arguably the most quotable show in television history.