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Hyperion October 16, 2001

#66 The Great Sitcom Debate

Author's Note: I've tried to fix the formatting on this column for over an hour, but the truth is I wrote it when I didn't have a computer, at the library, and it's been permanently ruined. So, forgive the messiness, but you should figure it out. Also, I feel compelled to point out that when Koz and I made this list, Will and Grace was a good show.

I’m something of a list-maker, and I got the notion to start ranking sitcoms. I started out trying to find the best (of which I found 4), but eventually I rating all sitcoms, with the help of my friend Koz, as we moved a freezer for his mom (we multi-task). We eventually agreed on 5 tiers, besides the best four. The 1st Tier is for the top shows, bona fide hits that you’d never want to miss, consistent quality throughout the series, and re-runs are entertaining as well. The 2nd Tier is reserved for good shows that you watch every week, very few glitches, very entertaining. The 3rd Tier is for shows that are very solid, you watch them regularly, but it’s not going to kill you if you miss an episode. The 4th Tier is for programs that you’ll watch if there is nothing better on but are instantly forgettable, no big deal. Lastly, the 5th Tier is for God-awful shows that never should have been made. First Koz tossed out The Cosby Show, Cheers, Taxi, and All in the Family—all of which go in the 1st Tier. I would put All in the Family in the best category, but the show does date a bit with time, and that kind of racism couldn’t be put in a program now.

As we continued, we gave Hogan’s Heroes a solid 2 (2nd Tier), waiting in line to bump up to 1 if any of the 1st Tier shows fails to live up to its reputation by making a reunion show--sort of like the Miss America contest. We argued over Family Ties, which Koz wanted to give a 1, but I ruled a 2. Then we went into duplicate shows, and I brought up my Poor Man Theory. We decided I Dream of Jeannie (4) is a Poor Man’s Bewitched (2), which was a much better show; never mind the Darren swapping (Dick Sargent replaced Dick York, and I was going to say Dick Swapping, but then I read it and it didn’t seem right). The Munsters (4) was a Poor Man’s Addams Family (3), while Webster (4) was a Poor Man’s Different Strokes (2), and Partridge Family (2) was a Poor Man’s Brady Bunch (3, going on 2).

Then Koz’s mom got involved, and soon I had sitcoms I’d never heard of. I couldn’t take her word for ratings (she wanted to give Car 54, Where Are You? a 2 instead of a 5). I’ve included my Incomplete list below with my 5 Tiers and my 4 best, and feel free to write and tell me where they belong. We had a string of 3s as My Favorite Martian, Petticoat Junction, and Alice came up before we hit more snags. Happy Days earned a 3, which would have been 2, but the show went downhill at the end. The pivotal moment was when Fonzi jumped a shark tank with his motorcycle. I’m not alone in thinking this. There’s actually a web site called, which is named after Happy Days, and seeks to find out where good shows go bad. Check it out.

The Muppet Show would have gotten a 1, but there repeated use of John Denver penalized them a grade. Gilligan’s Island would have gotten a 2 as well, but I have some serious objections that lowered the score to a 3. One, why did the Howell’s bring so much stuff (including millions of dollars) on a 3 hour tour, and how did they fit it all into the boat? Second, how did the radio continue to work for years? And Last, the professor was good looking, athletic, and a genius; HOW COME HE WASN’T GETTING SOME, ON A DESERTED ISLAND WITH A GEEZER, A WHALE, AND A DORK AS COMPETITION? [Incidentally, since I’ll probably never have a chance again, let me tell my Gilligan story. One late night coming home from work on the company bus, I asked two girls who was better—Ginger or Mary Ann? (I’ve found this is a great icebreaker with women) Soon, an impassioned debate sprung up as more than 20 people argued the merits of the starlet vs. the girl-next-door. Suddenly, the bus hit a bump and we are were momentarily silent except this guy who had been trying in vain to be heard over the melee. The entire silent bus heard the guy scream out “Mrs. Howell! Mrs. Howell!” (she, as you may recall, was the very old millionaire’s wife) We all stared at the poor guy in shock as he looked extremely uncomfortable, until he finally mumbled “She had all the money. I could be a gigolo.” and we all burst out laughing. Okay, back to the sitcoms. We were doing well with our ratings—with few arguments—when Koz brought up the painful subject of Hee-Haw. How tearfully I remember Saturday nights, when my poor brother and I were forced to watch Lawrence Welk, then the abominable Hee-Haw. The 5th Tier was too good for these people, and I relegated the entire cast and crew to the 9th Circle of Hell. I quickly warmed to the subject, and sent Phyllis from Mary Tyler Moore, and the Great Gazoo from the Flinstones (The Flinstones, by the way, was the first program to show a husband and a wife in bed together). I relegated Mama from Mama’s Family, the mother-in-law from I Dream of Jeanie, Irkel from Family Matters, and anyone who acted on, worked for, or even watched Full House to the 9th Circle of Hell. I have my standards.

Below is my list of tiers, and also my best four. There are a few abbreviations, so I have provided a key.

GTS = Great Theme Song
PM = Poor Man’s Version
SP = Spin-off
**-character relegated to the 9th Circle of Hell

The Donna Reed Show
Dr. Kildare
Have Gun Will Travel
Dobie Gillis
Father Knows Best
Our Miss Brooks
The Danny Thomas Show
That Girl
GradyLove, American Style
A Family Affair
The Bill Dana Show

Tier 5
Car 54, Where Are You?
What’s Happening**
Mama’s Family**
Charles in Charge
Joanie Loves Chachi
Small Wonder**
Full House**

Tier 4
Green Acres
Chico And The Man
Good Times
-SPSgt. Bilko-SP
The Lou Grant Show-SPP
Addams Family
Mork and Mindy
Partridge Family-PM’s
Brady Bunch
Laverne and Shirly-GTS, SP
Different Strokes
Dharma and Greg
Lost in Space
Step By Step
I Dream of Jeannie**-PM’s
Family Matters**

Tier 3
My Favorite Martian
The Patty Duke Show
Petticoat Junction-GTS
Leave It To Beaver
Gilligan’s Island-GTS
Ozzie and Harriet
Gomer Pyle-SP
Addams Family-GTS
Brady Bunch
Happy Days-GTS, SP
Beverlly Hillbillies-GTS
Newhart (Inn)
Facts Of Life-GTS, SP
Mr. Ed-GTS
AliceDennis The Menace
The Flinstones**
Batman (‘60s)
Barney Miller
Empty Nest-SP
Third Rock From The Sun
The Drew Carey Show
The Red Fox Show
Married With Children-GTS
Growing Pains-PM’s
Family Ties
Malcolm In the Middle
Who’s The Boss?
Get Smart
One Day At A Time-GTS
Three’s Company-GTS
Real World
Gross Pointe
Cosby (New One)
Spin City

Tier 2
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-GTS
Hogan’s Heroes
The Muppet Show-GTS
The Odd Couple
Family Ties-GTS
Sanford and Son
Golden Girls
Jeffersons-GTS, SP
Little Rascals
Will and Grace
My Three Sons
Mr. Belvedere
Bob (Newhart as Comic Strip Artist)
Different Strokes-GTS
Valerie’s Family
Saved By the Bell-GTS
Dr. Who
Three Stooges
Welcome Back Kotter-GTS

Tier 1
The Cosby Show-GTS
I Love Lucy
The Honeymooners
Mary Tyler Moore**-GTS
All In The Family
The Andy Griffith Show-GTS
The Bob Newhart Show (Psychiartrist)

Relegated To The 9th Circle Of Hell
Mama from Mama’s Family
The Great Gazoo (Flinstones)
Phyllis (from MTM)
Mother-in-law on I Dream of Jeanie
Hillary on Small Wonder
Ethel on I Love Lucy
John Denver on anything
The entire cast of Hee-Haw
Irkel on Family Matters
Anyone who acted on, worked for, or even watched Full House

The Top 4 Sitcoms Of All Time

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Stellar Cast; great physical comedy with accident prone Rob; first post-modern show (Rob played a writer on a comedy show); original hilarious role players; great use of farce; great occasional music/dance numbers; great two-pronged approach of home life and work; sexual tension without being vulgar; repeated viewings get better; the ideal American Family.

All-Star cast; cast changes improved show; started as anti-war show (based on movie) ended up great human drama; tackled tough social issues like racism, death, war, enemies, suffering; very topical (about Korean War but about Vietnam); only sitcom that could make you laugh and cry in the same episode; social voice of a generation, repeated viewings outstanding; the American Family, brought about by war.

Show about all the little things that make up life, the things that people don’t talk about but make up much of our existence; original “water-cooler” show; gave us national phraseology like “yada yada yada,” “Mulva,” “double-dipping,” “master of your domain”; Incredible chemistry of four characters; great physical comedy; precision of the absurd; poked fun at society’s phobias, fetishes, politically correct dogma, the American Family as Thirty-something singles.

The Simpsons
The absolute ultimate in social satire and parody; always multiple levels going on; outstanding physical comedy; first show with mainstream gay character; smashed social conventions; gave us national phraseology like “Doh!”, “Don’t have a cow, man!”, “Eat my shorts!”; inovative Halloween shows; the ultimate in post-modern (self-aware) programming; not afraid to try new things; invented and perfected comedy of randomness; numerous references to literature, movies, TV, popular culture, mythology, religion; first mainstream Evangelical Christian as character; this generation’s “Everyman”-Homer; comic sense of blue-collar chic, small-town chic; the American family as satirical farce while still holding on to traditional values.


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