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9. Will & Grace: Will & Grace fit the template of NBC's post-Friends sitcoms by starring a group of good looking singles in New York. Of course two of those singles are gay, which made this one of the first big network sitcoms to feature homosexual lead characters. Although it eventually became known for gratuitous guest stars, it had a tremendous cast. All four leads won Emmys, putting it in very select company.
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8. Friends: Depending on your age, Friends might be the definitive Must See TV show. It definitely influenced what NBC was looking for more than any other show, as a raft of Friends lookalikes floated onto the network's schedule throughout the '90s and '00s. Friends had its problems, but a strong cast and a distinctive voice helped turn it into a generational touchstone.
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7. A Different World: The Cosby spin-off grew into its own under the guidance of Debbie Allen, who turned it into a socially conscious look at African-American life in the late 1980s and early '90s. Although it was still a fairly traditional sitcom at heart, A Different World addressed issues that most TV shows avoided, and was set in an environment that remains unique in the annals of network TV a quarter of a century later.
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6. Frasier: Less than a third of Frasier's 11 seasons aired on Thursdays, bumping it down our list a couple of slots. Most sitcoms that try to come off as sophisticated wind up embarrassing themselves, but Frasier pulled it off without looking like it was even trying.
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5. Family Ties: An early hit and one of the four shows that helped define the original Must See TV, Family Ties started off strong before gradually fading away into sitcom irrelevance. The clash between liberal parents and conservative children during the Reagan Revolution was a smart, timely hook for a comedy, but as it grew more interested in its teen characters' romantic relationships and added an additional child it lost a bit of its intelligence. It's still an all-time classic, though, with an amazing cast and valuable insight into the time period.
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4. Night Court: Sometimes being funny is enough. That's a sitcom's job, after all. Night Court was reliably hilarious for nine seasons, four of which aired on Thursdays. Harry Anderson, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Charles Robinson, Marsha Warfield and especially John Larroquette made up one of the classic sitcom casts. Somehow the show was both goofy and gritty, its depressing, dead-end setting contrasting nicely with the show's tone.
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3. The Cosby Show: Bill Cosby's horrible alleged crimes make The Cosby Show hard to watch today. Before we knew anything about that, though, it was a genuine phenomenon, as crucial to the pop culture landscape of the 1980s as Michael Jackson and Super Mario Bros. It doesn't fit easily into any sitcom sub-genre; sure, it's a family sitcom, but it's not as cloying or wisecracking as that tag denotes. It's actually a pretty weird show, despite its massive success, and it's the rare network show that feels like the undiluted work of its creator, with its focus on education, positive role models and African-American history and culture.
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2. Cheers: Seinfeld might have recast the sitcom in its image, but Cheers perfected the form, running through 11 seasons without ever running out of charm or laughs. Cheers is rightly lauded as one of the deepest and best sitcom casts ever, but its writing might be unparalleled. Never bound by genre convention, and often willing to experiment with its storytelling rhythms, Cheers never grew old despite rarely leaving the bar for over a decade.
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1. Seinfeld: Seinfeld vs. Cheers is a closer fight than it seems, if only because Seinfeld started slowly and eventually ran out of steam. At its peak though few shows have had a bigger impact on the sitcom than Seinfeld. As we argued earlier this week, Seinfeld basically invented an entire new kind of sitcom, one where characters could be awful without learning any lessons or being humanized. Factor in the perfect cast and the dense, self-referencing scripts, and you have one of the greatest TV shows of all time.