The 10 Best Sitcoms of the 1970s

Comedy Lists sitcoms
The 10 Best Sitcoms of the 1970s

Sitcoms were king in the 1970s. It was a golden age for the genre, both creatively and commercially, with shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Jeffersons pushing the boundaries of what a situational comedy could be and do, while drawing tens of millions of viewers every week. (All in the Family is still one of only three shows to ever finish as #1 in the ratings for five straight seasons.) Creators like Norman Lear and production companies like MTM Enterprises elevated the form past the goofy, high concept hits of the ‘60s, dealing with serious social and political issues without losing sight of the comedy. Meanwhile, in the UK, John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers ran for two seasons and is considered by some to be the most perfect sitcom ever made. The list of great ‘70s sitcoms is long, and so we had to leave a number of great shows off of this list. And at least two classics, Taxi and WKRP in Cincinnati, didn’t make the cut solely because most of their runs came in the ‘80s. We easily could’ve made this a top 20, but we decided to keep it brief. Here are the top 10 sitcoms of the ‘70s—perhaps the greatest decade for sitcoms of all time.

10. Good Timesbest-sitcoms-good-times.jpgYears: 1974-1979
Creators: Eric Monte, Mike Evans, Norman Lear
Stars: Esther Rolle, John Amos, Ja’net Dubois, Ralph Carter, Jimmie Walker, Bern Nadette Stanis, Johnny Brown, Janet Jackson, Ben Powers
Network: CBS

Watch on Peacock

Good Times is a tale of two shows. The first is a socially conscious sitcom about a poor but proud Black family living in public housing in Chicago, with Esther Rolle and John Amos playing the parents who struggle with underemployment or demeaning jobs while preserving their dignity. The second is a catchphrase comedy based around their oldest son, Jimmie Walker’s J.J., who, with his slogan “Dy-no-mite!” and exaggerated indolence, was essentially a stereotype. He was the show’s breakout character, though, its Fonz or Urkel, and came to dominate it after the first season—to the point that both Rolle and Amos left the show at different points, the latter permanently after the third season. There was still some sharp commentary and smart comedy in later seasons, but the first year is a classic Norman Lear sitcom with progressive politics and a strong viewpoint, while the rest of the show is basically just a goofy network sitcom. —Garrett Martin


9. Barney Millerbest-sitcoms-barneymiller.jpgYears: 1974-1982
Creators: Danny Arnold, Theodore J. Flicker
Stars: Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, Abe Vigoda, Max Gail, Ron Glass, Jack Soo, Gregory Sierra
Network: ABC

Watch on Crackle

Barney Miller had all the witty banter and shaggy charm of your typical workplace comedy. It just so happened that this one took place within the dingy, paper-strewn squad room of the 12th Precinct. Along the way, Capt. Miller and his crew of hangdog detectives dealt with all manner of crimes, squabbles, and broke open the occasional social issue like drugs and gay rights for examination. What it never got was too preachy, too dark, or too scary, even though all the cops on the scene were carrying pieces. Instead, the crew took everything in stride, washed down with a mug of lukewarm coffee. —Robert Ham


8. Fawlty Towersbest-sitcoms-fawlty.jpgYears: 1975-1979
Creator: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth
Network: BBC2

While we can’t say we’d ever want to stay at the titular hotel, run by the hapless Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), we sure do enjoy watching him struggle to maintain it. Cleese has said the show was inspired by his stay at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay and his encounters with its owner, Donald Sinclair, whom he’s described as “the most marvelously rude man I’ve ever met.”—Bonnie Stiernberg


7. Sanford and Sonbest-sitcoms-sanford-son.jpgYears: 1972-1977
Creators: Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, Bud Yorkin, Norman Lear
Stars: Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson
Network: NBC

Watch on Peacock

Although Sanford and Son was developed by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin as an adaptation of a British sit-com, there’s a bitterness and nihilism to the show that don’t appear in Lear’s other works, let alone other sitcoms from the ‘70s. Much of this comes from the brilliant Redd Foxx, who delivered an iconic performance as the titular Sanford, co-owner of a junk store. Really, though, the show was a two-hander, relying just as much on the underrated Demond Wilson, who played the progressive straight man to Foxx’s childish firebrand with perfect comedic timing. Yes, the laugh track is there, and Foxx’s language is disarmed so as to make it past network censorship, but despite the genre trappings, there was a realism to Sanford and Son that made it like nothing else on television at the time, and very little since.—Sean Gandert


6. Happy Dayshappy-days.jpgYears: 1974-1984
Creator: Garry Marshall
Stars: Ron Howard, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Tom Bosley, Henry Winkler, Donny Most, Erin Moran
Network: ABC

Watch on Paramount+

Happy Days had already literally jumped the shark before the Reagan era began. But the show endures—in our hearts and on our late-night TV blocks—all these years because of its endearing innocence, whether from Marion Cunningham or her kids Richie and Joanie. When Ron Howard left after seven seasons (gone off to the army), Fonzie carried the series on his leather-jacket-clad shoulders.—Josh Jackson


5. The Jeffersonsbest-sitcoms-jeffersons.jpgYears: 1975-1985
Creator: Norman Lear, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, Bernie West
Stars: Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, Maria Gibbs, Roxie Roker
Networks: CBS

Norman Lear created a run of hit shows in the 1970s, beginning with All in the Family, Sanford and Son (and its British predecessor Steptoe and Son), The Jeffersons, Maude, One Day at a Time and Good Times. It could be argued that no one had a bigger audience for interracial dialogue than Lear. The Jeffersons was his longest running series, lasting well into the ’80s, and in it, he gave the world an affluent African American family dealing with new surroundings. George Jefferson might not have been a model for race relations (referring to Louise’s interracial couple friends as “zebras”), but as with Archie Bunker, bigotry in the show was revealed for what it was. —Josh Jackson


4. The Bob Newhart Showbest-sitcoms-bob-newhart-show.jpgYears: 1972-1978
Creator: David Davis, Lorenzo Music
Stars: Bob Newhart, Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Bonerz, Bill Daily, Marcia Wallace
Network: CBS

Watch on Hulu

Bob Newhart might be the greatest comedian of all time—who else could build such a legendary career almost entirely off of reactions? He recorded one of the best-selling stand-up albums of all time as a straight man with no partner. He’s brilliant, is what I’m saying. It’d be tough to do a weekly sitcom all by yourself (although I’m sure Newhart could’ve found a way to make it work), so MTM Enterprises (in this case, show creators David Davis and Lorenzo Music) devised a set-up that made perfect use of Newhart’s skills. He played a psychologist who had to patiently tolerate the various idiosyncrasies of his patients and his staff. As great as the 1980s Newhart was, this show was Newhart at his best, his deadpan stammer constantly deflating what could’ve turned into stereotypical sitcom shenanigans on lesser shows. It’s also a little different than the typical MTM show: although it had an amazing cast, including Marcia Wallace, Bill Daily, Peter Bonerz and recurring appearances from Jack Riley and John Fiedler, it feels like more of a star-driven vehicle than an ensemble show. Yes, even when surrounded by great comedic performers playing unforgettable characters, even though he’s still basically a straight man, Bob Newhart and his sensibility dominate this show. Only his on-screen wife Suzanne Pleshette is his equal, both as a performer and as a character—theirs is the rare TV marriage between mature adults who treat each other as equals and don’t care about starting a family. —Garrett Martin


3. M*A*S*Hmash-tv.jpgYears: 1972-1983
Creator: Larry Gelbart
Stars: Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr
Network: CBS

Watch on Hulu

The best part of M*A*S*H’s run was in the 1970s—by the time Reagan rolled into office, we’d already lost Henry Blake, Trapper McIntyre, Frank Burns and even Radar O’Reilly. But with replacements for all but Radar firmly in place, there was still enough momentum in the end to make the season finale the most-watched TV episode up to that point in history with 125 million viewers. Alda, as both star and executive producer, steered the show into more serious waters with episodes like “Follies of the Living” and “Where There’s Will, There’s a War,” without ever losing the sharp wit at its heart. —Josh Jackson


2. All in the Familybest-sitcoms-all-in-the-family.jpgYears: 1971-1979
Creator: Norman Lear
Stars: Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, Rob Reiner, Danielle Brisebois
Network: CBS

Watch on Amazon Prime

When it comes to creative reigns, few in Hollywood can claim to have a more consistent, high-quality streak than writer/producer Norman Lear did in the 1970s. Debuting in 1971, All the Family, a remake of the British sitcom ’Til Death Us Do Part, served as the maiden voyage for Lear’s brand of comedy—namely, delivering gut-busting comedy that aimed to Trojan Horse controversial, yet topical social issues of race, sex and class into the American living room. Spearheading the series was Archie Bunker, the cantankerous, crusty and altogether racist working man who, in the hands of actor Carroll O’ Connor, became one of TV comedy’s greatest creations and a beacon for both liberals and conservatives alike (those on the right were convinced he was espousing their values, while those on the left viewed him as a caricature of old world sentiments). Each week, Archie would find his limited worldview challenged by the likes of his counter-culture-friendly son-in-law, thus opening the doors to discussions that were as illuminating as they were humorous. Though not all of the show’s 200-plus episodes were home runs, All in the Family remains one of the most influential and powerful programs of all time. Today, much of the abundance of great television on display can be traced back to Lear’s insistence that the medium could be an instrument of social change, rather than simply the “vast wasteland” it has been dubbed.—Mark Rozeman


1. The Mary Tyler Moore Showbest-sitcoms-mary-tyler-moore.jpgYears: 1970-1977
Created by: James L. Brooks, Allan Burns
Stars: Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Betty White, Cloris Leachman
Network: CBS

Watch on Hulu

Even if you were born long after the show premiered, you probably are familiar with its most iconic moments—Mary triumphantly tossing her hat in the air, the death of Chuckles the clown, or the traveling group hug that ended the series. Mary Richards (Moore) remains iconic as the first single, career woman to ever be the subject of a television show. She lived by herself! Made her own decisions! And wasn’t worried about getting married! Can you believe it? Set in the newsroom of WJM in Minneapolis, Mary’s co-workers included her irascible boss Lou Grant (Asner), affable news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and goofy anchorman Ted Baxter (Knight). This was an office-based comedy at a time when family comedies were all the rage. The groundbreaking series paved the way for shows as varied as Murphy Brown, 30 Rock and The Mindy Project. Plus Mary had spunk, and we love spunk. —Amy Amatangelo

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