Next to sport fans, lovers of primetime television can be some of the most dedicated and argumentative fans. As a result, any time a poll comes out claiming a show to be “best” or “worse,” you can expect some heated arguments.
Vanity Fair and the CBS’s 60 Minutes recently conducted a poll that asked Americans a series of questions pertaining to comedy. One such question asked respondents to name the funniest TV comedy of all-time and that list was topped by the long-running NBC comedy Seinfeld. Keep in mind that the respondents were asked to choose a favorite off a list and not pick their own. Which might explain the lack of quirkier comedies or even ones written by Tyler Perry.
Here’s a rundown of the tops comedies on the list and a couple we think the voters might have missed:
Seinfeld (22% of votes)
This “show about nothing” tops the list and I’m sure that part of the reason is that it seems to be airing in reruns about 40 times a day in syndication. If there’s an iconic NBC “Must See TV” comedy it’s this one, that centered on the lives of four self-obsessed New Yorkers. The show also might have one of the most controversial finales of any comedy, when the four are thrown into jail after being convicted of being jerks to everyone they know. I loved the finale but it also ruined my enjoyment of the show. Watching the episodes it’s difficult to ignore the fact that this show isn’t about “nothing.” It’s a show about four jerks whining about everything in their lives. As much as I loved it the first time around, I’m kind of over Seinfeld.
The Honeymooners (20% of votes)
This is the show that made Jackie Gleason a star and if Seinfeld was a touchstone for anyone watching television in the 1980s and 90s, The Honeymooners filled the same role for TV viewers in the 1950s. Jackie Gleason played bus driver Ralph Cramden, a “pie-in-the-sky” dreamer who was constantly coming up with schemes to better his life. Wife Alice Kramden was played by Audrey Meadows, best friend Ed Norton was played by Art Carney and Ed’s wife Trixie was played by Joyce Randolph. Despite its place in TV history the show was only a modest hit and ended up being driven off the air by the strong ratings of The Perry Como Show. But the chemistry of these four actors and their ability to create stories that are timeless and heart-felt keeps the show in syndication nearly 60 years after the show went off the air.
Friends (16% of votes)
It’s easy to blame this NBC comedy for inspiring a score of really bad comedies in the 1990s as other producers tried to replicate its success. But watching the reruns it’s clear that it wasn’t the urban setting or the coffee shop that made Friends a success. The six members of the core cast are all uniformly excellent comedians and the show was able to create effective and distinctive niches for each of them. While not every cast member of “Friends” has met the same level of post-show success, just being part of this classic would be enough for most people.
Cheers (14% of votes)
In most situations Cheers wouldn’t have had a second season. The first season was a creative struggle to find the right mood for the show and the ratings were terrible. So bad that at one point this NBC comedy was the lowest-rated show still on the air. But NBC gave it a second chance and it went on to air 11 seasons. And watching nearly any episode of the show illustrates why it was a success. Even though there were serious cast changes the show’s chemistry was always spot-on. It had one of the best ensembles in the history of television–so much so that one of the ensemble spun-off into a show that also lasted 11 seasons (Frasier). Like The Honeymooners this comedy set in a Boston sports bar dealt with the best and worst of the human condition. It’s what made the show a success during its run and its what draws viewers back to watch the episodes again and again.
Arrested Development (7% of votes)
I think it’s fair to say that this series is an acquired taste. A one-camera comedy that centers on the formerly wealthy and horribly dysfunctional Bluth family, it aired on FOX for three years (2003-2006). The style of the show was very distinctive and the no-audience, long periods without jokes approach was difficult to watch at times. But the show developed such a strong fan base that when Netflix was searching around for a show to bring back with new episodes last year, it picked Arrested Development.
Mary Tyler Moore (6% of votes)
What is wrong with you people! Only six percent of Americans think this classic Mary Tyler Moore comedy is the best sitcom in TV history? Forget the fact that it was a huge success and had an ensemble so strong it made a number of people stars while it aired. MTM also includes many of the more memorable phrases and scenes ever to be on TV. How can anyone forget the funeral for Chuckles the Clown? And when it comes to ground-breaking this show was the first TV series to feature a woman who was not just single and sexually active but also independent and very happy.
And speaking of being wrong, there are a few other shows that really should be on this list. What about the classic Korean War comedy M*A*S*H? How did the voters forget the entire body of work from Norman Lear, ranging from All In the Family and Maude to Sanford and Son? You could also make an argument for some newer sitcoms like the incredibly well-acted Big Bang Theory or Everybody Loves Raymond. You could easily double this list and still not cover a small portion of the comedies that could view for the funniest TV ever.