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Welcome back, kids, to part two of The Scoop’s t Two Part Very Special Episode. When we last saw our heroes, we covered the decade-by-decade history of the sitcom, and ended on a dramatic cliffhanger of the metrics we were going to use to determine the best ever out of a sea of contenders. Now let’s pick back up where we left off with the thrilling conclusion…The Sitcom GOAT Metrics.
My goal while combing through years and years and even more years of sitcoms was always to determine if there was a way to remove as much subjectivity as possible surrounding how we judge the best one ever. After careful consideration, I landed on a list of 5 things we can use as our metrics to determine the top spot. Disclaimer: Filling out these 5 things requires some forms of subjective thought, but this gets us closer to making the strongest case possible.
Just to revisit what the five categories in the GOAT Metrics, they are as follows.
A show gets points for filling the most out of the following categories –
- Best lead character
- Best supporting cast
- Best theme song
- How many seasons it aired
- Was there such a high demand when it ended that there was a spinoff?
All of these things are very solid in principle, but after more research, I would like to amend number 5 to say “Were the characters so loveable that they inspired a spinoff?” because that is a more accurate measure of where the show was. Sure, some shows took characters at the end of their run and started the spinoff once the show ended, but that discounts others that were so popular that they coexisted at the same time as the original. We are going to call this the Laverne and Shirley effect.
Of course, there were other spinoffs prior to Laverne and Shirley, but theirs was the first show to spin off and become much more popular than the original. Laverne and Shirley debuted on its own in 1975, and by its second season was the most watched American television show, far surpassing Happy Days in the ratings. That means more in the big picture than a show being spawned after a show ends its original run.
I would also like to add here, before we get started, that there are 5 total shows that we are covering below, but one show is being purposely left off, being replaced by another. By all of the metrics we have established, The Cosby Show should rank on this list, but you will not find it here. I have written and rewritten and eventually deleted my thoughts on Bill Cosby because this is supposed to be fun, but nothing is less fun than reading 500 words of anger expressed solely at one person. The short version is that I feel terribly for these women, and I hope that Cosby gets each and every thing he deserves for what he allegedly did to them. His show isn’t on this list because I cannot and will not separate what he allegedly did to those poor women from what he did on television. In my opinion, he is a disgusting human being who will not be mentioned here going forward.
So now that we have established the rules that we are following, let us celebrate the situation comedies that rank among the best ever, and name The Sitcom GOAT.
Friends (NBC, 1994 – 2004)
Best Lead Character – The best thing about Friends is that the ensemble was always bigger than individual success, and as such it never truly had one lead character. All six main characters carried major individual storylines; the cast negotiated their contracts together so no one person made more money, and all ended on a bright note.
Best Supporting Cast – Again, this is about the group, so the supporting cast acted as the main character. That is also what took away from the show in the later years. Joey was a strong character the first few seasons, one of the best on the show even, but without someone to pair him with, the writers eventually just played a terrible game with America about how dumb they could make him before Italians started setting cars on fire. As for the rest, the show went in the natural direction of pairing them off, but quickly ran out of steam and fresh storylines towards the end of the run. That is bound to happen after 10 years, but no other show on this list went from excellent the first few years to limping to the finish line.
Best Theme Song – You may very well be tired of “I’ll Be There for You,” but that is only because you heard the song so much outside of the show. This is the only song on our list that actually reached #1 on the Billboard Top 40 and stayed there for multiple weeks. It took the nation by storm, when nobody told us it was going to be this way (clap, clap, clap, clap). I’d like to immediately apologize for that last joke; it may be the dumbest thing you read all week.
How Many Seasons It Aired – Friends was on the air for 10 years, but it is very easy to forget how excellent this show was the first few seasons. Haircuts were being copied, “How you doin’?” could be heard everywhere, and the show was a cultural phenomenon. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing something about the show, and even though I have no proof, I think Starbucks owes part of its success to Friends because everyone wanted to have their own version of Central Perk with their friends. You can’t prove me wrong. In the end, Friends was nominated for 62 Emmy Awards, but only won 6 during its entire 10 year run. Part of the lack of wins is the way the cast submitted themselves, but part of that is that it was always more of a show for the people than the critics. Friends holds up very, very well which is further proven by its recent boom on Netflix. Watch the first season again sometime soon and remember just how good and funny that show is.
Were The Characters So Loveable That They Inspired a
Spinoff? – One spinoff, immediately after the final season. That show was Joey and that show was bad. No need to waste time talking about it.
Seinfeld (NBC, 1989 – 1998)
Best Lead Character – Jerry Seinfeld was terrific on Seinfeld and the main reason is that it is so uniquely written in his voice. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have two of the strangest comedy minds of all time, and Seinfeld’s delivery was honed over years and years of being a hall of fame stand-up comedian. The only way that the show ends up on our Mount Rushmore here is because Jerry was always such a strong driving force on the show. With that supporting cast, anyone who wasn’t comfortable in their own skin would have been absolutely steam-rolled.
Best Supporting Cast – This is where Seinfeld separates itself from the competition from the 90s, and frankly, Friends can’t compare at all. Elaine, Kramer, and George alone would be enough, but with so many other supporting characters like George’s parents (which include the always hilarious Jerry Stiller), Newman, and even Soup Nazi, who are all perfect in their roles, but it helps that the writing for them always put them in the best position to succeed. That makes all the difference because you would never have a storyline of one of them having an identical twin and using the lazy filming style where it’s clear they aren’t really talking to each other.
Best Theme Song – It may not be a theme song in the sense that you know every word and sing along, but shouldn’t the purpose of a TV them song to be instantly recognizable, much like a sort of branding? Few other themes are more strongly tied to one show the way Seinfeld’s is to it. That counts for something in my opinion.
How Many Seasons It Aired – 9 full seasons and all of them are very, very strong, but it is also unique in the way that its popularity and critical acclaim grew towards the end of its run. 68 Emmy nominations and 10 Emmy wins, but during the 90s it came down to Seinfeld and Friends, and Seinfeld dominates heads up. Seinfeld had everything from the ratings to the awards to the street cred.
Were The Characters So Loveable That They Inspired a Spinoff? – The closest the show came to a spinoff was the brief rumors that slick-talking Jackie Chiles had a show in the works with Jerry and Larry, but that was quickly debunked and outside of a reunion type show on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Nothing else has ever happened, which is not surprising since those characters started and ended together. Separately none of them would have had the same impact.
Happy Days (ABC, 1974 – 1984)
Best Lead Character – Arthur Herbert “Fonzie” Fonzarelli is the most recognizable sitcom character of all time. Yes, of all effing time. He drove this show and made a generation of young adult men dream of snapping their fingers to get a woman. The Fonz popularity juggernaut went from a small character during season one, to being listed as the sole lead by the end of the series, and his leather jacket currently sits in the Smithsonian. If you think another character is more well-known than him, then you can sit on it.
Best Supporting Cast – The cast from top to bottom is very, very solid, but what puts them in the top three is that they have sitcom legend Ron Howard populating their program. Ronny Howard was on two legendary television sitcoms for a total of 14 years, and through the early 80s you could not name a more recognizable sitcom face, not to mention how he helped shape the medium into what it turned into. He is in the television hall of fame (that’s not hyperbole, he is in the real TV HOF), and just to run up the score he was in Harrison Ford’s first major movie (American Graffiti) and John Wayne’s last movie prior to his death (The Shootist). What did you ever do?
Best Theme Song – Just click play below and let the overwhelming need to grease back your hair and go to a sock hop wash over you.
How Many Seasons It Aired – 11 full seasons on the air, but the last few were pretty rough. That won’t deduct from the total points though because even after Happy Days “jumped the shark,” it still got credit because it invented the phrase “jumping the shark.” I’m sure there are kids who say that phrase and don’t even know where it came from or what it means. I didn’t believe it could be that bad, and went back to watch the episode for myself, but little did I know that Fonzie wore shorts and a leather jacket while attempting this feat and looked ridiculous the whole way. I’m here to tell you,”jumping the shark” is legit.
Were The Characters So Loveable That They Inspired a Spinoff? – Only the top spot can claim more well-known spinoffs than Happy Days. Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy alone are more than enough to rival most any other competitor, but there was also Joanie Loves Chachie, Biansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue, which brings the total to a staggering five, and that doesn’t include the early 80s animated The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. Sure, not all of them were hits, but the top two alone top every other spinoff from our top 5, with the exception of the top spot.
Cheers (NBC, 1982 – 1993)
Best Lead Character – Sam “Mayday” Malone was one of the best written and acted characters in the history of the situation comedy. It was perfect timing to cast Ted Danson before he went on to making movies and before he was a household name, because I’m not sure anyone else could have made that character as loveable. He had such a presence, but some very underrated comedic timing that he has never gotten enough credit for.
Best Supporting Cast – When you replace Coach, one of the most likeable characters on the show who passed away prior to season four, with Woody “I put the Hunger in Games” Harrelson, then you know that you are dealing with producers who have a lucky horseshoe crammed right up their ass. Throw in Carla, Cliff, and NORM!!! and you have yourself some of the most memorable characters you will encounter.
Best Theme Song – Fun fact, I enjoy the occasional adult beverage, and in many a watering hole I’ve heard regulars burst into an unprompted performance of this song. This has happened several times and none of them are related circumstances. Cheers has not only one of the best theme songs ever, it is secretly the alcoholic National Anthem.
How many seasons it aired – 11 full seasons, top 10 in ratings 8 out of 11 of those seasons, a record 111 Emmy nominations, and 28 Emmy wins. This show was an absolute beast when it aired.
Were The Characters So Loveable That They Inspired a Spinoff? – Forget about the short lived show about Carla’s deadbeat Italian ex-husband, have you ever heard of a little show called Fraiser? Cheers aired for 11 full seasons, with the Fraiser character debuting in the 1984 season. Fraiser aired for 11 full seasons ending in 2003-2004, which by my public school math means that Kelsey Grammer played the same character for a record 20 full years.
All of those televised situation comedies are legendary, stand the test of time, and all pale in comparison to the top spot. Ladies and Gentleman, without further ado, I present to you The Sitcom GOAT!
All in the Family (CBS, 1971 – 1979)
Best Lead Character – Archie Bunker changed the game when it comes to what Americans expected from their TV characters. His voice was so different, and so popular, that there was even a phrase coined called “The Archie Bunker vote” during a presidential campaign, which referred to the urban, working class vote. He was controversial and loveable all at the same time, which is all due to Carroll O’Conner giving a weekly nuanced performance that literally nobody else could have pulled off.
Best Supporting Cast – The main cast of Edith, Gloria, and Michael were all outstanding, but throw in George Jefferson who is a beast in his own right, and good luck finding a better top to bottom cast. They combined to form the struggle between the Greatest Generation vs. Baby Boomer and white America vs. black America, and everyone had an equal opportunity to shine.
Best Theme Song – I have searched high and low through the bowels of the interwebs and I cannot find an earlier example of a sitcom theme song being performed by its main characters. There is a simplicity and perfection between the two of them singing this song just warms my heart, but it would not have held up if you did not believe the love between Archie and Edith.
How Many Seasons It Aired – Airing for 9 seasons and setting records the entire time, All in the Family set the standard of what to expect from a sitcom. It was number one in the ratings from 1971 – 1976, which made it the first to be ranked at the top spot for 5 consecutive years, and also was the first show to feature all 4 main characters winning an Emmy. All together, the show accounted for 22 Emmys and nine full years of greatness that holds up to this day.
Were The Characters So Loveable That They Inspired a Spinoff? – All in the Family is directly responsible for The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude, Archie Bunker’s Place, Gloria, 704 Hauser, and Checking In. Holy mother of sitcom legends, are you kidding me?! Not only is this list unbeatable, but if we were expanding this list from 5 to 10, then a couple of those shows make the list. Game, set, and match…bitches.
Stephen Balding is the Entertainment Badass for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenB_41.