Entertainment

30 TV shows that changed American comedy

Updated 9:46 AM ET, Wed December 19, 2018
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Since its debut in 1975, "Saturday Night Live" has been the birthplace for many of our favorite comedians. From John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray to Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey, "SNL" has left its mark on American humor. And now, with 22 Emmy nominations for the 2017 ceremony, the sketch comedy show is also the most Emmy-nominated series of all time. Here are 29 other classic TV shows that changed American comedy: NBC
In 1948, Americans were still getting used to the idea of owning a small screen that beamed entertainment directly into their homes -- not to mention of watching a TV comedy. That's where "Texaco Star Theater" broke the mold. Adapted from a popular radio show, the program turned Milton Berle, right, into "Mr. Television" and became the forefather of the sketch shows and sitcoms we know today. NBC
With Phil Silvers, center, as the scheming Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko, "The Phil Silvers Show" influenced latter-day comedians such as Robin Williams and Larry David. "My favorite show of all time was Bilko," David once told The New Yorker. "I just thought that was head and shoulders above any other show I had seen." Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty Images
Before NBC had "Saturday Night Live," the network was home to the original groundbreaking sketch comedy series "Your Show of Shows." The 1950s program starred comic legends Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and had a wealth of talent in the writers' room, including Carl Reiner, also a performer. With its devotion to superb writing and detailed performances, "Your Show of Shows" became a comedy series that "would redefine television," the entertainment website A.V. Club said. Max Liebman Productions
One way "Your Show of Shows" was influential was through the inspiration it gave writer and performer Carl Reiner. He went on to create "The Dick Van Dyke Show" based on his experiences at "Your Show of Shows." With "Dick Van Dyke," Reiner changed what an American sitcom looked like as it introduced audiences to the life of TV writer Rob Petrie at work and at home. Calvada Productions
Thanks to "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Americans fell in love with another comedic star: Mary Tyler Moore, who played Van Dyke's wife from 1961 to 1966. By 1970, Moore had a groundbreaking comedy of her own with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," credited as the first program featuring an independent, single, professional woman. MTM Enterprises
"I Love Lucy" can claim plenty of firsts, including the pioneering use of filming a sitcom with three cameras before a live audience. Star Lucille Ball often found herself in wacky situations as the unpredictable wife of a Cuban bandleader, played by Ball's real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. Not only did "I Love Lucy" showcase Ball as a great physical comedian, it also offered a master class in television comedy, from its writing to its performances. Desilu Productions
Born out of a recurring skit on Jackie Gleason's variety show, "The Honeymooners" reflected a slice of America that viewers recognized from their own lives. The Hollywood Reporter called the "classic sitcom ... one of the first US TV series to portray working-class married couples in a gritty setting." Jackie Gleason Enterprises
During a time of immense change, writer-producer Norman Lear emerged as the man who could help viewers talk about and process what was happening in the country while keeping a sense of humor. It started with "All in the Family" in 1970, addressing difficult subject matter such as race, US military action and class. Lear kept reinventing the sitcom, from "All in the Family" spinoffs "The Jeffersons" and "Maude" to other socially aware comedy hits such as "Good Times." Bud Yorkin Productions
This Emmy-winning comedy revolved around a group of New York taxi drivers employed by the Sunshine Cab Co. -- which in and of itself was hilarious since there was nothing sunny about their gig. Yes, "Taxi" had the performances -- including a memorable one from comic maverick Andy Kaufman, left -- but it was the sarcastic, witty and heartfelt writing that made this show one of the all-time best. ABC
Carol Burnett didn't think her iconic sketch series would last for a few weeks, let alone 11 seasons. As the first woman to host a variety show, Burnett recalled to CNN that she didn't think she could do it. Viewers, she explained, "had an image of a fellow in a tuxedo coming out and doing a monologue. ... Will they take a woman doing this?" They did, and "it worked," Burnett said. CBS
When it debuted in 1989, animated family comedy "The Simpsons" was "one of the most inventive shows ever broadcast," CNN's Todd Leopold noted on the show's 20th anniversary. With its ability to tackle "high and low culture" and become "engrained within the culture at large," the show "was revolutionary," he said. Today, you can see the long-running series' influence on everything from "SpongeBob Squarepants" to "The Daily Show." 20th Centurty Fox
In its four years on the air, "In Living Color" was groundbreaking, both in the subjects it skewered and in the diversity of its cast. As a result, "In Living Color" left an unmistakable mark on culture, from launching the careers of Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx to laying the groundwork for future comedy series such as "MADTv," "Chapelle's Show" and "Key and Peele." Ivory Way Productions
Many comedy fans will say it doesn't get any better than "Cheers." Amy Poehler told GQ she considers it to be "the best TV show ever" and hopes "every good comedy writer, no matter the age, has a moment where they discover how great 'Cheers' is." Paramount Television
The genius of "Seinfeld" was in its simplicity. The running joke was that it was a "show about nothing," but in reality it was a show about everything -- all the weird little quirks that we encounter in everyday life. Turns out those small, conversational details make for classic comedy -- so much so that Entertainment Weekly ranked "Seinfeld" as one of the 10 best shows of all time. NBC
Like "The Honeymooners" and "All In the Family," '90s sitcom "Roseanne" put America's working class front and center -- but this time led by a woman. With comedian Roseanne Barr as the wise-cracking matriarch of the blue-collar Conner household, "Roseanne" gave humor and insight into America's class struggle through a feminist's voice. It also upended the concept of what a TV mom should look and act like, opening the door for far more imperfect parents than sitcoms had reflected before. ABC
"The Cosby Show" earned its place in comedy history for its distinct portrayal of a black American family, for the way it captivated TV viewers of all backgrounds and for the doors it opened for more diverse storytelling on television. More recently, it's become difficult for fans to view the 1980s comedy hit in the same cherished light after sexual misconduct accusations emerged against its creator and star, Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby/Carsey-Werner Company
It's not that TV fans had never seen an ensemble cast before -- the year before "Friends" entered the comedy landscape, the quirky crew over at Boston bar "Cheers" had raised a last glass with 80 million viewers watching. But "Friends" wasn't an ensemble comedy about grown-ups or an obvious family. It was about 20-somethings trying -- and amusingly failing -- to figure out what this "adulting" thing was, and that even when you make your worst mistakes, you could still rely on your "Friends." Warner Brothers
"The Office" was often so funny it hurt -- in a cringeworthy kind of way. An office-based mockumentary originally developed in the UK, "The Office" came stateside in 2005 and provided us with proof that the most awkward, uncomfortable situations can also be the most hilarious (especially if there's a reaction shot involved). NBC
"30 Rock" tapped into what was in vogue in the 2000s -- a mockumentary-style production, a nose-crinkling amount of awkwardness in the workplace -- and raised the stakes by transferring the storytelling power from lead male characters to a leading woman. Tina Fey's Liz Lemon became a comedic character for the ages. NBC
This Paul Feig-created, Judd Apatow-produced comedy proved that the class outcasts weren't people to laugh at but to laugh with. "Freaks and Geeks" survived only one season, but its influence as an emotionally rich comedy is so long-lasting even the creators of Netflix hit "Stranger Things" cite it as inspiration. Apatow Productions
It's hard to overstate how crucial Larry David has been to everything we know and love about American TV comedy. Not only did he help bring us one of the greatest comedies of all time, "Seinfeld," but he did us one better by delivering the uncomfortable but endlessly watchable "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in 2000. David's antisocial, awkward characterizations changed what we look for in comic leading men. Production Partners
Television has never seen a family quite like the Bluths. This hilariously dysfunctional clan redefined what a family situational comedy looked and sounded like with its running gags and love for wordplay. 20th Century Fox
Louis C.K.'s award-winning series could just as easily be a drama; aside from the moments when C.K. takes the stage for standup, there's nothing obviously funny about the half-hour show. But therein lies its genius: By stripping away the hallmarks of the traditional TV comedy and replacing them with darker and more difficult emotions, C.K. has stretched the definition of what a sitcom looks and sounds like. 3 Arts Entertainment
Comedians weighing in on politics are a dime a dozen, but no one turned it into an art like Jon Stewart. During his reign on "The Daily Show," Stewart could have simply parodied modern cable news shows and called it a day, but he raised the bar much higher. He and his team provided comedic insight on the news of the day that was so sharp, their fictional newscast actually began to influence real policy. Comedy Central
By the time "Chappelle's Show" debuted on Comedy Central in 2003, Americans already had several stalwart sketch comedy shows. But Dave Chappelle took the format and elevated it into something that felt completely new. Yet it wasn't just his creativity with sketch comedy that won legions of fans -- it was his ability to innovate while also dropping incisive commentary on issues of the day. Comedy Central
At first glance, "Parks and Recreation" was the natural follow-up to "The Office" and "30 Rock": It had the reality TV-camera style and the smiling-through-gritted-teeth workplace awkwardness. But "Parks and Rec" ditched the sourness of those shows and went straight for the sweet, proving that a comedy filled with warmth and optimism could be just as inventive and funny as those with more teeth. 3 Arts Entertainment
The success of NBC's "Will & Grace" was remarkable on two levels: One, it was undeniably funny. And two, it was so funny that it actually changed America. There were gay characters on TV before "Will & Grace," but with this sitcom sexuality was no longer the heavy-handed "special topic"; it just was. NBC
George Carlin had "seven dirty words"; the foul-mouthed kids of "South Park" seemingly have a limitless supply of them. With their intentionally crude animated series, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker show that no topic is off-limits if the jokes are on point. Comedy Central
If only Mary and Rhoda could've grabbed Cosmopolitans with Carrie Bradshaw and company -- we bet they'd have plenty to talk about. That's because HBO's iconic comedy series built on the "single woman in the city" trope and broke through a new barrier: having women talk about -- and eagerly engage in -- sex, just as we'd seen men do so. And as with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Sex and the City" was never truly about a woman's relationship status; it was about ownership over her life, and her bonds with her friends. HBO