We’re sticklers: NBC officially retired the Must See TV name in 2006. That means you won’t see some of our favorite sitcoms from NBC’s Thursday night schedules on this list. No Parks & Recreation, no 30 Rock, nothing that aired under the Comedy Night Done Right banner that succeeded Must See TV in the fall of 2006. Yes, we know Wikipedia lumps the two together in a single entry, but we’re going with the words NBC themselves used to market their shows. We’ll be doing a separate Comedy Night Done Right ranking later this week, anyway.
Must See TV, of course, was the home to the biggest shows on television for two decades. NBC’s started to use the term “Must See TV” to promote their Thursday night block of comedies and dramas in 1982, and it became TV’s main event throughout the 1980s and 90s. The concept quickly collapsed after Friends left the air in 2004. The network stopped using the term in 2006, when even marketing spin couldn’t bridge the gap between the name and the plummeting ratings, and again, that year is where we’ll cap these rankings.
The craziest thing about Must See TV is how the entire run was basically propped up by four or five shows. The vast majority of sitcoms on Must See TV were subpar and short-lived. If you remember every one of these shows without having to hit Wikipedia, then you must be Washington Post television critic Tom Shales. Or maybe Kenneth Parcell (although, again, his show isn’t being considered for these rankings. We’re telling you again because we know at least half the comments will be asking where those Comedy Night Done Right shows are.)
If you’re of a certain age, Thursday nights without an NBC sitcom feels weird. From Must See TV into Comedy Night Done Right, there was a seamless thread of top-notch comedy that ran for over 30 years. Any honest list of the ten most successful and influential sitcoms since 1982 would have at least five Must See TV shows on the list, and that kind of cultural dominance from any other night on any other network is unparalleled in television history. We’re unlikely to ever see it again, with cable and the internet splitting the television audience into ever smaller pieces.
Enough set-up, though. Let’s hit the rankings. We’ve only considered shows that were regularly scheduled on NBC’s Thursday night comedy block between 1982 and 2006. So no shows that had special one-time airings. We apologize in advance to all you diehard We Got it Made fans.