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