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If classic TV is your comfort food, feast on this: Best TV show to debut every year from 1950-2000

  • 10 min to read

Here’s a reason you may find yourself digging nostalgia more than usual: Years past — pick a year, any year — seem less stressful in comparison to the year we’re slogging through right now.

Going back in time, whether it’s listening to retro music or watching classic television, can be comfort food. Feast on this:

If you could recommend one TV series that was “born” every year from 1950 until 2000, which series would that be? The entire run of each TV series is taken into account, but here’s a list of acclaimed shows sorted by way of their “rookie” seasons. (We stopped at the year 2000 instead of going all the way to 2020 because shows from the past 20 years may still need historical context.)

1950: A variety program featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, “Your Show of Shows” was named one of the top 50 series of all time by TV Guide (37) and Entertainment Weekly (10).

Runner-up: “What’s My Line” debuted in 1950 and became the longest-running prime time game show in U.S. history.

1951: One of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history, “I Love Lucy” showcased Lucille Ball’s comedic talents opposite real-life and TV husband Desi Arnaz. It was the No. 1 show in America for four of its six seasons and never finished below third in the ratings.

Runner-up: “The Red Skelton Show” featuring Skelton and his array of characters was broadcast from 1951 until 1971. The book “TV’s Greatest Hits” ranked this series No. 3 on its top 100 list.

1952: “Today,” the longest-running morning news/talk show in history premiered Jan. 14, 1952. A chimp, J. Fred Muggs, was part of the crew from 1953-57.

Runner-up: “The Abbott and Costello Show,” selected as one of the top 100 shows of all time by Time and Entertainment Weekly, was an inspiration decades later for “Seinfeld.”

1953: “The Danny Thomas Show” (originally titled “Make Room for Daddy”) aired from 1953-64, ranks No. 25 on the “TV’s Greatest Hits” list of the top 100 series and launched a spin-off: “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Runner-up: “General Electric Theater” was a top-30 program in its first eight seasons. The host was Ronald Reagan.

1954: “Walt Disney,” which aired for 34 seasons, is one of the longest-running series in history. It had many names over the decades, including “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

Runner-up: “Face the Nation” is one of the longest-running news programs in history. Joseph McCarthy was a guest on the first show.

1955: “Gunsmoke” was the longest-running prime-time live-action series in history until September, when “Law & Order: SVU” began a 21st season.

Runner-up: “The Honeymooners” spun out of sketches on “The Jackie Gleason Show” and is lauded as one of the best sitcoms of all time.

1956: “The Price is Right” pre-dates Bob Barker. Hosted by Bill Cullen, it debuted in 1956 as a daytime show, then moved to prime time. The original run lasted until 1965, and the show was revived in 1972.

Runner-up: “Playhouse 90” was recognized by Time as one of the top 100 shows of all time. Rod Serling wrote “Requiem for a Heavyweight” for the anthology series.

1957: “Perry Mason” was a top-30 show in six of its nine seasons and was chosen as favorite series in TV Guide’s inaugural readers’ poll in 1960.

Runner-up: “Wagon Train” never ranked below No. 2 in the season-ending Nielsen ratings from 1959-62. Influential? A few years later, Gene Roddenberry pitched “Star Trek” as wagon train to the stars.

1958: Chuck Connors played for the Chicago Cubs, played for the Boston Celtics and played “The Rifleman” in a TV series Entertainment Weekly ranked No. 58 all-time.

Runner-up: The longest-running prime time series introduced in 1958 was “The Donna Reed Show,” a slice of Americana from that era.

1959: TV Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly have ranked “The Twilight Zone” among the top 15 shows of all time. All those twist endings led to a happy ending.

Runner-up: The first weekly TV series broadcast completely in color was “Bonanza.”

1960: “The Andy Griffith Show” never finished out of the top seven in any of its eight seasons and is one of only three series to rank No. 1 in its farewell season.

Runner-up: “The Bugs Bunny Show” spent two seasons in prime time before finding a home for nearly 40 years on Saturday mornings.

1961: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” won 15 Emmys in its five seasons. TV Guide ranked the series No. 20 on its best all-time list in 2013.

Runner-up: If you’re familiar with the words “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” it’s because ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” aired from 1961 until 2006.

1962: “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” set the standard for late-night TV talk shows. Carson held court from behind his desk until 1992.

Runner-up: Lucille Ball’s second series, “The Lucy Show,” ranked in the top eight during all six of its seasons.

1963: Dr. Richard Kimble was wrongly accused of his wife’s murder in “The Fugitive,” ranked by Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly as one of the best series of all time. The season finale was the fourth most-watched episode of any series.

Runner-up: “Doctor Who” pre-dates “Star Trek” as a sci-fi show with a following that extends to present day.

1964: “Jeopardy!” The original version of the long-running game show debuted in ’64 with Art Fleming as host.

Runner-up: In 2002, TV Guide included “Bewitched” on a list of the 50 greatest shows of all time. Did window-watcher Gladyd Kravitz notice that Darrin looked different in season six?

1965: The book “TV’s Greatest Hits” rated “The Dean Martin Show” No. 84 all-time. The variety show led to a series of star-studded celebrity roasts.

Runner-up: The prisoners on “Hogan’s Heroes” befuddled the Germans for six seasons, earning three Emmy nominations for best comedy series.

1966: “Star Trek” proved you could make “smart” sci-fi for TV viewers. The original series lasted only three seasons, but it’s a consensus pick on best all-time lists.

Runner-up: If you’re into up-all-night entertainment, Jerry Lewis hosted the MDA Labor Day Telethon from 1966 until 2010.

1967: Ranked in the top 30 in each of its first eight seasons, “The Carol Burnett Show” became the measuring stick for variety shows.

Runner-up: The British series “The Prisoner made top 100 lists compiled by Time and Entertainment Weekly.

1968: “60 Minutes” is eight years away from lasting 60 years. That’s overachieving.

Runner-up: “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” was unlike anything viewers had ever seen. Without it, we never would have gotten the long-running country alternative, “Hee Haw.”

1969: And now for something completely different. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is a consensus top-100 pick on lists of best TV shows of all-time.

Runner-up: “Sesame Street” was ranked 30th all-time by TV Guide and 31st by Rolling Stone. The Count would approve.

1970: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” won 29 Emmys, the hearts of viewers and spin-off shows for Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.

Runner-up: “Monday Night Football” kicked off for the first time in 1970 with a Browns victory over the Jets. Cross your fingers that we get a football season this year.

1971: “All in the Family,” which tackled societal issues by way of sitcom, is a consensus top-10 pick on lists of best TV shows of all time.

Runner-up: The “Columbo” format was addictive. You know who did the deed. But how will Columbo outwit the bad guy?

1972: “M*A*S*H” lost cast members, plugged in replacements and lasted eight years longer than the Korean War. TV Guide ranked it as the eighth-best series of all time. Of the 10 most-watched TV broadcasts in U.S. history, the only one that isn’t a Super Bowl is the series finale of “M*A*S*H.”

Runner-up: “Sanford and Son,” featuring Redd Foxx as a dad/junk dealer, was rated in the top 10 for five of its six seasons.

1973: Hosted by Tom Snyder, “The Tomorrow Show” followed “The Tonight Show” and had an identity all its own. Al Yankovic made his first TV appearance and John Lennon made his last TV appearance on the show.

Runner-up: Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? “Schoolhouse Rock!” made everyone a little smarter from 1973 through 1996. Additional episodes went direct to video in 2009.

1974: James Garner’s charm and his interesting friendships with Angel Martin and Dennis Becker helped make “The Rockford Files” one of the 50 best shows in TV history, per Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.

Runner-up: “Happy Days” was a cultural phenomenon and it was a top-20 show in eight of its 12 seasons.

1975: “Saturday Night Live” has won more Emmys than any show in history. ‘Nuff said.

Runner-up: “The Jeffersons” was a top-20 series for eight of its 11 seasons and was named one of the top 100 shows in history by Rolling Stone.

1976: “The Muppet Show” was an Emmy-winning series with big-time guests who were liked by probably everyone except the grumpy duo in the balcony.

Runner-up: “SCTV” (Second City Television) gave us talents like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis and Martin Short.

1977: Based on Alex Haley’s source material, “Roots” was a must-watch TV miniseries. It was nominated for 37 Emmys and won nine.

Runner-up: “Soap” pushed the envelope for what was permissible on TV in the 1970s. It made top 100 lists compiled by Time and Entertainment Weekly.

1978: “Taxi,” a consensus top-100 show, introduced viewers to a colorful crew of cabbies. Reverend Jim’s driving test is one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in TV history.

Runner-up: “Dallas,” a consensus top 100 show, was bigger than Dallas, peaking when the world wanted to know who shot J.R. Ewing.

1979: “SportsCenter” is ESPN’s flagship program and debuted when the network launched. Who will watch a sports-only newscast? Millions.

Runner-up: NBC’s “Real People” was a precursor to reality TV. A ratings hit, it inspired an ABC imitator (“That’s Incredible”) the following year.

1980: “Magnum, P.I.” was a top-20 show in each of its first five seasons and was rated No. 80 all-time in the book “TV’s Greatest Hits.” Tom Selleck earlier test-drove a P.I. character on “The Rockford Files.”

Runner-up: “Fridays” was ABC’s attempt to jump on the SNL train. Cast members included Michael Richards and Larry David.

1981: “Hill Street Blues,” a consensus top-100 show, was a four-time Emmy winner in the category of best drama series.

Runner-up: “Dynasty” was a ratings monster, finishing in the top seven of the Nielsens four consecutive years in the 1980s.

1982: Cheers to “Cheers,” ranked one of the top-20 shows of all time by TV Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.

Runner-up: “Late Night With David Letterman” had a different vibe than its lead-in, “The Tonight Show.” Late night TV was never the same.

1983: Music videos, back in the day, were a big deal. Kids flocked to TV sets to watch “Friday Night Videos” on NBC. Guest hosts included Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Tyson and Stevie Wonder.

1984: Ranked 16th all time by Entertainment Weekly, “The Cosby Show” is one of two shows (“All in the Family” is the other) to be ranked No. 1 for five consecutive years.

Runner-up: “Murder, She Wrote” never finished out of the top 13 in any of its first 11 seasons. Ratings, she got.

1985: “The Golden Girls” took silver-haired friends and spun them into TV gold. The show finished in the top 10 each of its first six seasons and was ranked No. 32 all-time by Entertainment Weekly.

Runner-up: “Moonlighting” capitalized on the love-hate dynamic between Cybill Shepherd and newcomer Bruce Willis. Time included this on a top 100 list.

1986: TV Guide once rated “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in its all-time top 20. Oprah’s 1993 chat with Michael Jackson is described as the most-watched interview in TV history.

Runner-up: “L.A. Law” ran for eight seasons and won Emmys for best drama series in half of those seasons.

1987: Some will tell you “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is superior to the original series. This series pushed the right buttons and kept the franchise alive.

Runner-up: TV Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly all ranked “Thirtysomething” as a top 100 series.

1988: “Roseanne” brought blue collar into living rooms. The sitcom ranked in the top four each of its first six seasons.

Runner-up: Kevin grew up right in front of your eyes in “The Wonder Years,” ranked No. 63 all-time by Rolling Stone.

1989: “Seinfeld,” the show about nothing, ended up being something. TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone rank it as a top-five show in history. Soup for everyone.

Runner-up: “The Simpsons” was ranked by Paste as the No. 1 sitcom of all time.

1990: “Law & Order” (ranked No. 14 all-time by TV Guide) ran for 20 years and was the launching pad for a franchise.

Runner-up: “In Living Color” introduced us to Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey and David Alan Grier. Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly call it a top-100 show.

1991: The book “TV’s Greatest Hits” ranked “Home Improvement” No. 19 all time.

Runner-up: “Prime Suspect” was Emmy-nominated (category: outstanding miniseries) five times in its seven seasons, winning three times.

1992: “The Larry Sanders Show” starring Garry Shandling made viewers wonder if things were this dysfunctional behind the scenes at real talk shows. It’s a consensus top-100 show.

Runner-up: Reality TV officially arrived. “The Real World” is the longest-running program in MTV history.

1993: This truth is out there: “The X-Files” was ranked a top-30 show all-time by TV Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Creator Chris Carter was inspired by the one-season series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” in 1974-75.

Runner-up: “NYPD Blue” was nominated for 84 Emmys and won 20 in its 12 seasons. It was ABC’s longest-running primetime one-hour drama until being dethroned by “Grey’s Anatomy.”

1994: “Friends,” considered a top-30 show all time by TV Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, was part of NBC’s must-see TV lineup. It finished in the top eight of the Nielsen ratings all 10 seasons.

Runner-up: “ER” operated well enough to secure 23 Emmys in 15 seasons and top 30 all-time recognition from TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly.

1995: HBO’s “Mr. Show” was ranked 71 all-time by Rolling Stone and featured contributions from the likes of Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn and Tom Kenny, now the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Runner-up: “Xena: Warrior Princess” was a top-20 syndicated show in each of its six seasons.

1996: The faux news show “The Daily Show” is the longest-running series in Comedy Central history. Hosts have been Craig Kilborn, Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 10 all time.

Runner-up: The Hollywood Reporter asked 2,800 people in the industry to choose their favorite series of all time. “Everybody Loves Raymond” got enough love to rank 96th.

1997: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a consensus top-100 show on best all-time lists. Like “M*A*S*H,” it evolved into something bigger than the movie.

Runner-up: “South Park” has been nominated for best animated program 16 times in 23 seasons.

1998: “Sex and the City” is a consensus top-100 show with 54 Emmy nominations.

Runner-up: “Will & Grace” was a top 20 show for four of its eight seasons, then returned for a three-season encore.

1999: “The Sopranos” was selected by TV Guide and Rolling Stone as the No. 1 series in history.

Runner-up: “Law & Order: SVU” is the longest-running live-action series in TV history and has been renewed for three more seasons.

2000: “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave Seinfeld’s Larry David a playground all his own. Rolling Stone ranked this No. 20 all-time.

Runner-up: “Survivor” is a reality show beast that still has fangs nearly 600 episodes later.

What the Ale: Beer of the Week, Fat Toad Brewing’s ‘These Hops Don’t Lie’ a New England style IPA

Scene Writer

Jimmie is a pop culture and feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, he has written books about former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State football coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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