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The Best TV Sitcoms of All Time (So Far)

The final episode of M*A*S*H had the most viewers of any show in history
The final episode of M*A*S*H had the most viewers of any show in history

Few things are more subjective than comedy. Slapstick or satire, parody or punchlines, it’s difficult to find humor that will please all the people all the time.

Situation comedies are an enduring staple of the American television diet and out of the hundreds that have been produced it’s not easy to point out the funniest sitcoms ever made. Not that that stops anyone from making the attempt.

For example, there’s an article on The Best Sitcoms of All Time, on a website I’d never heard of, that has a list. You may argue with placement, and I certainly do, but the sitcoms that make the list are excellent examples of the genre:

  • Seinfeld
  • Happy Days
  • Gilligan’s Island
  • Cheers
  • M*A*S*H
  • Married With Children
  • I Love Lucy
  • The Simpsons
  • Good Times
  • All in the Family

So, what makes a great sitcom? An article by Sheree Zielke points out that the best “have three things in common: relevance to the issues of society, great snappy writing and impeccable delivery of comedic lines.”

The 50 Best TV Comedies — Ever over on AOL Television certainly have all three, even if, once again, you disagree with placement. The top 20 from their list:

  • The Simpsons
  • Seinfeld
  • All in the Family
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Cheers
  • M*A*S*H
  • The Cosby Show
  • Roseanne
  • I Love Lucy
  • Friends
  • The Honeymooners
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • The Bob Newhart Show
  • The Office
  • Frasier
  • South Park
  • Get Smart
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Odd Couple
  • 30 Rock

Of course, if you look at the Nielsen ratings (not that they necessarily mean that much) from 1950 to the present for the absolute highest rated show for each season you’ll see that viewers love comedies. Or used to love comedies. American Idol has dominated the ratings for the last six years. You also won’t see some of the best comedies.

The highest Nielsen rated show for each year:

I Love Lucy – 1952-1955, 1956-1957
The Beverly Hillbillies – 1962-1964
All in the Family – 1971-1976
Happy Days – 1976-1977
Laverne & Shirley – 1977-1978
The Cosby Show – 1985-1990
Roseanne – 1989-1990
Cheers – 1990-1991
Home Improvement – 1993-1994
Seinfeld – 1994-1995, 1997-1998
Friends – 2001-2002

If nothing else, you should come away convinced that there really is no definitive list of the best sitcoms of all time. Sorry. It’s not hard to find a list of 50 great sitcoms. It’s impossible to list them in an order that everyone will agree with. But that’s okay. One person’s funny is another person’s funnier. Variety is the spice of life. Yada yada…