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Best Classic TV Sitcoms of the Past (and why they still hold up!)

Updated on October 25, 2013

Ever since I was a child, I had a fascination with nostalgia. While most kids were only about the latest craze (and yes, I did take some interest in that, too!) I would actually sit still to listen to the stories my older relatives told about their childhood, actually took interest in history class, and didn't run away screaming when old photographs of my ancestors were taken out. (In fact, every once in awhile, I'd actually ask to see them again!)

It's no surprise, then, that I always loved watching both old movies and old television shows. And what I mean by old is anything made before me.

Today, though, I want to talk specifically about TV shows of the past. And most specifically, classic situation comedies,

Now, I realize that these days, shows I remember watching are now considered old. Because frankly, time keeps passing - now I can go find my old toys in the antique shop, clothes trends I wore in 8th grade are now back in fashion and shows I watched in college are now deemed "classic".

But as I said, we're going back a little further with my definition of "classic" and so here are some of my favorite early television sitcoms of all time...

Father Knows Best

This family situation comedy premiered during the pioneering days of television and ran from 1954-1960. I first discovered this gem when I was a kid and they were showing a special reunion with the cast and characters. Watching with my parents, I was drawn in, even know I hadn't even seen the TV show before! Needless to say, when they began airing the reruns not long after, I was excited and it quickly became one of my favorite shows.

This series revolved around The Andersons, a busy family of five and contrary to popular belief, it didn't always present a picture of a "perfect" family. In actuality, the teens were sometimes rude and irritable and very real! But underneath the flaws were love and respect for each other. It was many times hilarious, other times quite touching.

Many times, even as a teen, I'd be reduced to tears from one of the story lines. It always reminded me of a mini-movie, rather than a typical sitcom. The scripts, acting and directing were superb. This was due in part to the star, Robert Young, who had emerged from Hollywood a seasoned movie actor, and the rest of the cast: Jane Wyman, Elinor Donihue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin...not to mention a whole crew of talented writers and directors.

Beaver Cleaver and Friends

Source

Leave it to Beaver

Another 1950's gem involving an American family is "Leave it to Beaver" which ran from 1957-1963. Having first saw the reruns decades ago, I have recently re-discovered it and then had the joy of introducing it my family. It has definitely a staple around here!

What I especially love about this show is that the kids in the series all talk and act fairly authentic. There are no sarcastic one-liners here!

Starring Jerry Mathers as Theodore (Beaver) Cleaver, along with Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsly and Tony Dow, it is supplemented with a talented array of writers, directors and supporting actors. (And one of the favorite supporting characters at our house is Beaver's friend, Larry Mondello!)

One episode in particular, "Fun Weekend", really brought home the adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The father, Ward, arranges for the whole family to go up to a cabin in the woods for the weekend and really "rough it". But at first, the boys are more interested in seeing the latest movie playing downtown, as well as just hanging out at home with their comic books. Ward wants them to experience what he did as a child, and have fun "without all that ready-made entertainment". Fast forward 50-plus years and despite all the high tech gadgets, the sentiment behind it sounds amazingly familiar, doesn't it?

Not only is this show a fun, nostalgic peek into another era, it also has a timeless quality to it. Which is why my own kids love it so much!

"At the Fishin' Hole"

The Andy Griffith Show

Ever since I could remember, I wanted to live in Mayberry. And I suspect I'm not the only one.

This landmark series, set in the fictitious small North Carolina town (based on Andy Griffith's real hometown) ran from 1960-1968 and featured a widowed sheriff (Andy Taylor) and his young son, Opie, their loving Aunt Bee and a whole slew of characters (in every sense of the word!). Of all the characters in the town, probably everyone's favorite is the irrepressible Deputy Barney Fife. Always vigilant, yet most of the time a bit bumbling, he "helps" Andy keep the town safe from crime.

Not many shows from the early 1960's can boast such a current fan following...there are online fan clubs, chapters in various regions, website and board where fans can "set a spell" and simply chat about various episodes and characters. In fact, when I was a young Navy wife alone in a strange city and had just obtained our first computer, I found a whole virtual "town" of new friends in fans of this show.
What is it about this simple series that can arouse such a following? Even though I count myself as one of the fans, I'm still not quite sure....Perhaps, it has something to do with reaching that part inside many of us that longs for a less complicated reprieve from our hectic, modern world... a place where everyone knows and accepts us, and a place where there is joy and humor in the simple things of life.


Barney's "Preamble to the Constitution"

The Dick Van Dyke Show

This classic television show (about...well, writers of...a television show) ran from 1961-1966. It starred, of course, Dick Van Dyke as Robert Petrie, Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, Laura, Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam as Rob's fellow TV show writers, Sally and Buddy.

Created by Carl Reiner (who also played the boss and star, Alan Brady) this series is considered to be one of the best in it's class, with superb, sharp writing that still holds up incredibly to this day.

The main character, Rob Petrie, is the head writer for a variety show and along with his co-writers, Buddy and Sally, tries to write entertaining scripts for their demanding boss and star, Alan Brady. Richard Deacon played Mel Cooley as the frustrated producer and yes-man to Alan.

Home life consists of his lovely wife, Laura and their young son, Ritchie. And of course, their best friends and neighbors, Jerry and Millie Helper. (Millie, played by Anne Morgan Guilbert, is one of my personal favorites!) Jerry Paris played fun-loving Jerry Helper and actually directed many of the episodes.)

The Dick Van Dyke show used the unique style of occasionally integrating musical entertainment into the storyline and comedy, and the cast was able to use their wide range of talents. If there was a show to put on or a party to entertain, you could count on Rose Marie (Sally) to be able to belt out a song in her special style. Morey Amsterdam (Buddy) was either on the cello or doing funny gags while Rob was either performing his great pantomime or better yet, singing and dancing with his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) who together had incredible chemistry.

But no matter what, you could always count on a laugh.

This show has not only been a favorite of mine, but has become a favorite of my whole family, as well. Proof that it is truly timeless.

My Three Sons

Running from 1960-1972, My Three Sons was the second longest running situation comedy of all time (Ozzie and Harriet was the longest).

This is the most recently aired of all the series in my list, and yes, I remember watching those last years when they were new!

It starred veteran movie star, Fred MacMurray, as a widowed father with three sons to raise. His father in law, Bub, helped out (played by "I Love Lucy's William Frawley).


Many changes took place over the twelve year period....William Frawley's character was replaced (due to health reasons) by William Demarest's "Uncle Charley"...Oldest son, Mike (Tim Constadine) got married and moved away, never to be seen again....the third son they needed to fit the title was replaced when they adopted Ernie, played by Barry Livingstone...Rob (Don Grady) gets married to Katie (Tina Cole) and later have triplets....the father, Steve, re-marries a widow named Barbara (Beverly Garland) who has a little girl named Dodie (Dawn Lynn)....

Among all the character and storyline developments, the series also went from black and white to color and moved from ABC to CBS.

The series is basically about a household of men that makes due without a woman's touch...that is, until Katie finally marries into the family. (Sweet and gentle Katie happens to be one of my favorites on this show, who I longed to have as a big sister when I use to watch it as a little girl.)

But in spite of all the many changes, it remained a heartfelt light comedy that could be both funny or touching and it definitely one of my favorites.

Of the five sitcoms mentioned, which one is your favorite?

See results

But What About....?

I know, I know... I didn't specifically list the icon, "I Love Lucy" in my top five, but it goes without saying that this early pioneer television show is a classic and in fact, basically a house-hold word. And I really do personally "love Lucy" along with most everyone!

I also left out other ground-breaking situations comedies, such as Ozzie and Harriet, which actually starred their own family, and was the longest running sitcom ever.

And there were countless others, but today I decided to limit my focus to just five, note-worthy favorites and just why they hold a special place on my list.


Classic Trivia!

  • Carl Reiner was originally going to play the lead in his show, which piloted as "Head of the Family". It didn't do well in the ratings, but instead of scrapping the whole idea, decided find a whole new cast, and the rest is history!
  • Leave it to Beaver's father, played by Hugh Beaumont, went to seminary and was an ordained minister
  • Don Grady and Tina Cole, who played Robbie and Katie on My Three Sons, actually got close to marrying in real life
  • Rose Marie (Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show) actually started in show business at the tender age of three, belting out tunes like a grownup and billed as "Baby Rose Marie".

A Simpler Time...

The faster this world changes all around us, the further television tests its boundaries and morality, the more appealing it can seem to take a break and peek into a time and place when things seemed a bit simpler, kinder and perhaps in a few ways where it really counts, just a little bit better off.



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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Schoolmom24,

      "Bringing Up Father"?

      I loved this hub--every syllable. You just mention these shows and I am your friend forever.

      And as for your writing . . .This is an excellent piece of writing. Honestly, I can easily describe it as amazing.

      I loved every word. Graphics were superb. This hub was helpful, informative and I found it very interesting.

      Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it.

      You have such a gift for writing. Keep writing no matter what.

      Sincerely,

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
      Author

      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      YES, CraftytotheCore....that was "Family Affair" and I loved that one, too! That actually started in the late 60's and ended in the very early 70's. They show that now early mornings on MeTV, along with My Three Sons and many other great classics. I currently watch Leave it to Beaver, Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith on Netflix- (they use to have Father Knows Best, too, but are no longer showing it.) I love that so many shows I watched either when I was little or shows that were even before my time are now being enjoyed by kids and young people generations later, thanks to DVDs and nostalgia channels!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      I remember these shows, and some of them are still on the channel tvland. There was one I used to watch, but can't remember the name. It was about a little girl and boy. I think they lived with their wealthy uncle. It was late 1970s or early 80s.

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
      Author

      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      Hi, Alastar Packer- thank you so much for the kind words! How fun that you lived for awhile in Mt. Airy. My husband and I stopped there on a road trip and spent a few hours- loved it!

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      Thank you, Rebecca! So glad you enjoyed that clip...it's one of my favs! :)

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I've always liked by LITBeaver. Maybe it was the fascination with June's pearls as she went about her daily housework. My father's fave show was the Andy Griffith show. Used to live in Mayberry (Mt Airy) for a while; they finally wised up and decided to promote the fact of the show's popularity more heavily than heretofore. Nice hub on those shows, School mom.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is great! I loved all those shows, and thanks for the laugh with Barney and the Preamble.

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      Sheilamyers, thanks so much! Yes, I totally am with you on that...I always prefer old classics anytime, too, over most of the current shows! And yes, it's a misconception sometimes that these early sitcoms only presented perfect families. Andy Griffith and My Three Sons showed one parent families, and even the nuclear families portrayed in the other shows definitely faced issues and I agree, it's how they handled them. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      Hi Joel, thanks for stopping by! I hope you do check out the ones you haven't seen yet. And yes, I use to watch Frasier...but remember, this was my own definition of classics. Frasier is waaaaay too modern. :)

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Awesome hub! Like you said, the families portrayed weren't perfect. There could be some level of dysfunction (single fathers etc), the kids got into trouble, and the adults faced the realities of life in general. What I think separates the classics from those today is the way they taught people to handle those situations. I'd rather watch a rerun of any classic a million times then to ever watch some of the ones today even once.

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      wetnosedogs (love that name!) :D thanks so much for sharing my hub! Yes, I agree, having to pick just one is hard. Mine alternates depending on my mood! :)

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      CyberShelley, yes LOVE that show, thanks for your comment!

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 3 years ago from Alabama

      Those were all fun shows to watch. I voted for Dick Van Dyke show, but it was all a hard choice. They are all terrific.Sharing this.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      As you said a simpler time - loved Dick van Dyke!

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      I am actually watching Dick Van Dyke right now, adecoury!! :)

    • adecourv profile image

      Alex deCourville 3 years ago

      Of these, Dick Van Dyke is my favorite. It was actually the first classic sitcom I got into.

    • Joel Okimoto profile image

      Kai Morris 3 years ago from London

      Good list, I haven't seen all of them. I'll check them out. I know it's not as old as some of the shows mentioned but I think Frasier deserves a shout-out.

    • Schoolmom24 profile image
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      Schoolmom24 3 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks, billybuc! (And great choice!) :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love these lists....and I voted for the Beaver! :)