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.
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49. We Got It Made: This Three's Company knock-off from 1983 is considered one of the worst sitcoms of all time. It lasted one season during the early days of Must See TV. An inexplicable syndicated revival in 1987 also only lasted for a year.
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48. Coupling: Probably the most notorious show on this list, the 2003 remake of a British Friends knock-off was immediately rejected by American audiences as, well, a transparent Friends knock-off.
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47. Nothing in Common: Here's a sitcom nobody asked for based on a movie nobody liked. The film is only remembered as an early Tom Hanks picture and Jackie Gleason's last movie; 1987's short-lived TV adaptation isn't remembered at all.
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46. Daddio: In the year 2000, stuck in that dark period between The Commish and The Shield, Michael Chiklis played a stay-at-home dad in one of the most hackneyed sitcoms of the 21st century.
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45. Rhythm & Blues: Here's a real ad for a real sitcom that aired on NBC for like a month in 1992. This ad is funnier than anything that happened in the show itself.
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44. The Single Guy: This might be the most perfect representation of what Must See TV became after the success of Friends: a seemingly endless series of anonymous hang-out sitcoms about attractive white people living in a major city. Despite Ernest Borgnine's incomparable presence, The Single Guy was as bland and forgettable as comedy gets.
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43. Inside Schwartz: This tiresome sports-themed mess from 2001 makes the awful Arli$$ look like the 7th game of the 1992 National League Championship Series.
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37. Battery Park: Here's the one show on this list that even we didn't remember at first. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it cop show from Gary David Goldberg starred Elizabeth Perkins and disappeared after four episodes and two weeks.
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42. Union Square: Another generic late '90s show whose ratings, while good for television in general, were a disappointment in the cushy time slot between Friends and Seinfeld. Cast member Jonathan Slavin would go on to the appear on other networks in the far better Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Better Off Ted.
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41. Four Kings: One of the last shows to air under the Must See TV banner in 2006, Four Kings was a bad multi-camera sitcom that looked even worse in comparison to My Name is Earl and The Office, the single-camera shows that aired immediately after it.