25 Best Family TV Shows That Have Ever Aired
If the essence of humor is making us look at ourselves, there’s no better vehicle than the family sitcom. Regardless of your family experience, no matter what corner of the country you called home, the best of the genre prompts laughter and the realization, “We did that, too!”
While the template is simple — lovable-but-flawed characters, unintended consequences, life lessons, happy endings — the creative variations contained in 30 minutes are infinite. The shows in this collection of comedic excellence helped define the eras they occupied. They’re a window into what tickled our collective funny bone through seven decades of TV.
But they’re more than time-capsule entries or cultural touchstones. Gazing through the prism of history, the 25 best family TV shows illustrate the challenges we faced — and overcame — as families and as a nation.
25. The Partridge Family
Seasons: 4 (Sept. 25, 1970 - Aug. 24, 1974)
Awards: 2 Golden Globes
Theme song: “Come On Get Happy” by Wes Farrell and Danny Janssen, performed by The Partridge Family actors
Characters: Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones), Keith Partridge (David Cassidy), Laurie Partridge (Susan Dey), Danny Partridge (Danny Bonaduce), Chris Partridge (Jeremy Gelbwaks/Brian Forster), Tracy Partridge (Suzanne Crough), Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden)
Why ‘The Partridge Family’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The tale of a widowed mother and her pop group brood lasted just four seasons, but its impact dwarfs the short run. For the first time, the concept of “cool” was palpable in a TV family, and it provided a window into a changing America. Kids grew their hair long, didn’t always respect their elders and aspired to play the electric guitar, not the piano.
Instead of a station wagon, the Partridges rolled a multi-colored, Mondrian-inspired school bus. Shirley Partridge was among the first single mothers featured on network TV. She played keyboards and sang, and her five kids filled out the band. The show launched the music career of teen idol David Cassidy, propelled in large part by the group’s No. 1 hit, “I Think I Love You.”
24. Leave It to Beaver
Seasons: 7 (Oct. 4, 1957 – June 20, 1963)
Network: CBS (1957-’58), ABC (1958-’63)
Awards: 2 Emmy nominations
Theme song: “The Toy Parade” by David Kahn, Melvyn Leonard and Mort Greene
The characters: Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver (Jerry Mathers), Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow), Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont), June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley), Larry Mondello (Rusty Stevens), Hubert “Whitey” Whitney (Stanley Fafara), Judy Hensler (Jeri Weil), Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond), Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford (Frank Bank)
Why ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
In addition to wholesome humor, there was a meaningful morality play woven into each plot, nearly always shepherded to conclusion by the wise Ward Cleaver, father of “The Beaver.” The stereotypical depiction of the 1950s was generally as feel-good and aspirational as you’ll find. June Cleaver wore pearls, with never a hair out of place. The boys’ misadventures were solved with ease, and the life lessons were lasting.
The only hint of malice came in the form of Eddie Haskell, the wise-cracking friend of Beaver’s older brother, Wally. One aspect of the show that made it unique was the storytelling style, which was anchored in the kids’ point of view. Topics considered controversial at the time were thoughtfully addressed through this lens. The episode “Beaver and Andy” dealt with alcoholism, and the focus of “Beaver’s House Guest” was divorce.
23. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Seasons: 6 (Sept. 10, 1990 – May 20, 1996)
Awards: 1 Emmy nomination, 2 Golden Globe nominations
Theme song: “Yo Home to Bel-Air” written by Quincy Jones and Will Smith, performed by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Characters: Will Smith (Will Smith), Philip Banks (James Avery) Vivian Banks (Janet Hubert/Daphne Maxell Reid), Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro), Hilary Banks (Karyn Parsons), Ashley Banks (Tayana M. Ali), Geoffrey Butler (Joseph Marcell), Nicky Banks (Ross Bagley)
Why ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
It’s hard to believe, given the decorated career Will Smith has fashioned, that his breakout role was that of an inner-city Philadelphia rapper sent to live with rich L.A. relatives. The contrast between the streetwise Smith and the well-to-do Banks family revealed the stark difference between poverty and affluence. It also led to some hilarious misunderstandings.
The show explored the day-to-day experiences of Black Americans humorously but honestly, deftly weaving in laughs amid topics like racial profiling by police (“Mistaken Identity”), teen sex (“Not With My Cousin, You Don’t”), drugs (“Just Say Yo”), absent fathers (“Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse”) and police shootings of young Black men (“Cased Up”).
Note: If you’ve never seen “The Carlton Dance,” then it’s time to visit YouTube.
22. The Facts of Life
Seasons: 9 (Aug. 24, 1979 – May 7, 1988)
Awards: 3 Emmy nominations
Theme song: “The Facts of Life Theme Song” by Al Burton, Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring, performed by Gloria Loring
The characters: Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Steven Bradley (John Lawlor), Emily Mahoney (Jenny O’Hara), Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), Nancy Olsen (Felice Schachter), Sue Ann Weaver (Julie Piekarski), Tootie Ramsey (Kim Fields), Molly Parker (Molly Ringwald), Cindy Webster (Julie Anne Haddock), Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), Kelly Affinado (Pamela Segall), Andy Moffett (Mackenzie Astin), George Burnett (George Clooney), Beverly Ann Stickle (Cloris Leachman), Pippa McKenna (Sherrie Krenn)
Why ‘The Facts of Life’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The spin-off of “Diff’rent Strokes” (more on it later) traces the adolescent ups and downs of a group of girls at a New York boarding school. The storylines focused on typical teen challenges, but they were presented with a witty twist. The beloved Charlotte Rae starred as Mrs. Edna Garrett. First a house mother, then the cafeteria dietician, her real role was serving as the moral compass.
Many episodes possess a right versus wrong theme, but the writers avoided a lecturing tone. Issues such as eating disorders, drug use, teen sex, relationships and peer pressure are pursued. An important recurring role was that of Geri Tyler, cousin to one of the primary characters. She has cerebral palsy, and her casting was unprecedented. She’s the first actress with cerebral palsy to have a prominent role on a TV series.
21. Family Matters
Seasons: 9 (Sept. 22, 1989 – July 17, 1998)
Network: ABC (1989-’97), CBS (1997-’98)
Awards: 1 Emmy nomination
Theme song: “As Days Go By” Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay, performed by Jesse Frederick
The characters: Carl Otis Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson), Harriette Baines Winslow (Jo Marie Payton/Judyann Elder), Estelle “Mother” Winslow (Rosetta LeNoire), Eddie Winslow (Darius McCrary), Laura Lee Winslow (Kellie Shanygne Williams), Judy Winslow (Valerie Jones/Jaimee Foxworth), Richie Crawford (Joseph Wright, Julius Wright, Bryton McClure), Rachel Baines Crawford (Telma Hopkins), Steve Quincy Urkel (Jaleel White), Waldo Geraldo Faldo (Shawn Harrison), Myra Monkhouse (Michelle Thomas), Jerry Jamal “3J” Jameson (Orlando Brown)
Why ‘Family Matters’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
With 215 episodes, the spin-off of “Perfect Strangers” is TV’s second longest-running live sitcom with a predominantly African American cast (“The Jeffersons” is No. 1). And to think that its most memorable character, Steve Urkel, the nerdy and charming neighbor to the Winslow family (“Did I do that?”), was initially cast as a one-episode guest. He’d go on to play eight different characters, most notably the suave Stefan Urquelle.
Police officer Carl Winslow and wife Harriette oversee a multi-generational suburban Chicago household that includes Carl’s feisty mother, Harriette’s widowed sister and her son. It possessed an abundance of heartwarming moments, and its cleverly complicated family dynamics had Friday night audiences smiling broadly in between bouts of laughter.
20. Full House
Seasons: 8 (Sept. 22, 1987 – May 23, 1995)
Awards: 1 Kids Choice
Theme song: “Everywhere You Look” by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay, performed by Jesse Frederick
The characters: Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos), Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier), D.J. Tanner (Candace Cameron), Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Sweetin), Michelle Tanner (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), Rebecca Donaldson Katsopolis (Lori Loughlin), Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), Steve Hale (Scott Weinger), Nicky Katsopolis (Blake Tuomy-Wilhoit), Alex Katsopolis (Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit)
Why ‘Full House’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
Dubbed “The Brady Bunch of the 1990s” by one of the producers, “Full House” featured a widowed father who enlists his comedian best friend and rock ‘n’ roll brother-in-law to help raise three precocious daughters in San Francisco. The Tanner household exuded family values and heart.
The stories were pure slice-of-life — with a healthy dash of catchphrases, from Joey’s “Cut it out,” to Stephanie’s “How rude,’ to the memorable “You got it, dude” from little Michelle and, of course, Uncle Jesse’s “Have mercy!” It was at its best during the first four seasons, when America was captivated by three Mr. Moms embracing their maternal side to overcome the loss of the girls’ mother and build a new family.
19. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
Seasons: 14 (Oct. 3, 1952 – April 23, 1966)
Awards: 3 Emmy nominations
Theme song: “Mary (I’m In Love With You)” by J. Fred Coots and Ozzie Nelson
The characters: Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Nelson, David Nelson, Ricky Nelson as themselves
Why ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
More than any other show, the Nelson family provided the blueprint by which all other family sitcoms would be constructed. The humor was notably softer than other popular shows of the era, such as “I Love Lucy” or “The Honeymooners.” But the idealized depiction of a middle-class family and the misadventures they encountered in suburbia captivated America.
This wasn’t a made-for-TV family, this was the real thing, right down to the sets, which were designed to duplicate the family’s actual five-bedroom Hollywood home. Youngest son Ricky launched a music career and was transformed into a teen idol after singing on an episode. The combined run of the radio and TV versions of the show was a remarkable 22 seasons.
18. That ’70s Show
Seasons: 8 (August 23, 1998 – May 18, 2006)
Awards: 1 Emmy
Theme song: “In The Street” by Todd Griffin, performed by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell of the band Big Star; performed by Cheap Trick beginning in Season 2
The characters: Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith), Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp), Eric Forman (Topher Grace), Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis), Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson), Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon), Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), Randy Pearson (Josh Meyers), Laurie Forman (Lisa Robin Kelly/Christina Moore), Midge Pinciotti (Tanya Roberts), Bob Pinciotti (Don Stark), Leo (Tommy Chong)
Why ‘That ’70s Show’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll (and disco) are cleverly intertwined with six teenagers coming of age in suburban Wisconsin. Much of the interplay occurs in the Forman family basement, a classic 1970s hangout, replete with music posters, a wagon-wheel table, decorative Packers helmet, TV with antenna, plastic lawn chairs and a battered couch. The show has a time-portal quality to it.
From clothing to catchphrases, few period details are overlooked. Topics like generational conflict (Red Forman is an arch-conservative), the decade-defining Recession, evolving sexual attitudes, marijuana use, and divorce are authentically addressed. The most recurring plotline revolves around a tender romance between Eric Forman and Donna Pinciotti, who lives next door. They date for seven of the show’s eight seasons (including a memorable breakup).
17. Growing Pains
Seasons: 7 (Sept. 24, 1985 – April 25, 1992)
Awards: 2 Emmys, 2 Golden Globe nominations
Theme song: “As Long As We Got Each Other” by Steve Dorff and John Bettis, performed by BJ Thomas, Jennifer Warnes, Dusty Springfield, Joe Chemay, Jim Haas, John Joyce and George Merrill
The characters: Dr. Roland Seaver (Alan Thicke), Margaret Katherine “Maggie” Seaver (Joanna Kerns), Michael Aaron “Mike” Seaver (Kirk Cameron), Carol Anne Seaver (Tracey Gold), Benjamin Hubert Horatio Humphrey “Ben” Seaver, Christine Ellen “Chrissy” Seaver (Ashley Johnson), Luke Brower (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Why ‘Growing Pains’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The show’s odd arrangement depicted a father who was a psychiatrist and worked from home, a mother who was a reporter working in the field and four very different kids in various stages of adolescence. Alan Thicke played Dr. Roland Seaver, and although the Canadian was essentially unknown to American audiences, he became one of the great TV dads of all time. He and wife Maggie, played by Joanna Kerns, oozed chemistry and their vibe permeated the entire show.
The oldest son, Mike, played by Kirk Cameron, exuded teen sex appeal, even though he became a born-again Christian midway through the series’ run. In one episode, he goes to the prom with three dates, one of whom is an unknown Heather Graham.
16. Malcolm in the Middle
Seasons: 7 (Jan. 9, 2000 – May 14, 2006)
Awards: 7 Emmys
Theme song: “Boss Of Me” by They Might Be Giants
The characters: Malcom (Frankie Muniz), Lois (Jane Kaczmarek), Hal (Bryan Cranston), Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), Reese (Justin Berfield), Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), Caroline Miller (Catherine Lloyd Burns)
Why ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The seven-time Emmy Award winner spotlights an eccentric (read: dysfunctional) family through the eyes of the middle child, Malcolm. He happens to possess a genius IQ and a photographic memory. Malcom’s direct dialogue with the audience was groundbreaking, as was the lack of a laugh track or a studio audience to amplify the humor.
Also notable, Malcolm's best friend Stevie Kenarban is asthmatic and uses a wheelchair. In a pivotal episode, a bully knocks him to the ground, which results in the entire student body rallying to support their disabled classmate. The mood surrounding the working-class family was quirky and irreverent. And while the humor they traffic in sometimes strayed toward the crude, the writing and dialogue produced consistent laugh-out-loud moments. Plus, we had Bryan Cranston playing the role of the father before hitting it big with “Breaking Bad.”
15. Good Times
Seasons: 6 (Feb. 8, 1974 – Aug. 1, 1979)
Awards: 2 Golden Globe nominees
Theme song: “Good Times” by Dave Grusin and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams with a gospel choir
Characters: Florida Evans (Esther Rolle), James Evans (John Amos), Willona Woods (Ja’net Dubois), Michael Evans (Ralph Carter), James “J.J.” Evans Jr., (Jimmie Walker), Thelma Evans Anderson (Bernnadette Stanis), Nathan Bookman (Johnny Brown), Millicent “Penny” Gordon Woods (Janet Jackson), Keith Anderson (Ben Powers)
Why ‘Good Times’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
As the first show to make a two-parent Black family its centerpiece, it represents an important chapter in TV history. Launched as a midseason replacement in early 1974, it quickly broke into the ratings, assuring its fall renewal. Much of the credit for the surge belonged to Jimmy Walker and his outrageous character of “J.J.” His repeated use of the term “dy-no-mite!” established it as a genuine American catchphrase.
The family lived in Chicago public housing, and there was no attempt to sugarcoat that reality. The father, James, worked two jobs and was unemployed at other times. His wife, Florida, was the heart and soul of the show. She’s one of TV’s great mothers, a mix of compassion, wisdom, tough love and memorable one-liners.
Seasons: 10 (Oct. 18, 1988 – May 20, 1997)
Awards: 4 Emmys, 1 Golden Globe
Theme song: “Roseanne Theme Song” by Dan Follart and Howard Pearl, harmonica performed by John Juke Logan
The characters: Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr), Dan Conner (John Goodman), Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf), D.J. Conner (Michael Fishman), Darlene Conner-Healy (Sara Gilbert), Becky Conner-Healy (Lecy Goranson)
Why ‘Roseanne’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
Rather than the typical stylized, idealized portrayal of American family, the Conners were unvarnished working class. (Roseanne at various times toiled as a fast-food cashier, a bartender, a telemarketer and a waitress.) They portrayed blue collar America without apology. The challenges that everyone faces — marriage, family, finances, health, among others — were front and center each week, and it made the show highly relatable.
Suddenly, America had a new way of looking at itself. If it was less than fully flattering, that was OK. The show shot to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings in its second season, making the star’s signature blend of stinging sarcasm and fierce feminism a permanent part of pop culture.
13. Diff’rent Strokes
Seasons: 8 (Nov. 3, 1978 – May 4, 1985)
Awards: 2 Young Artist
Theme song: “It Takes Diff’rent Strokes” by Al Burton, Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring
The characters: Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman), Willis Jackson (Todd Bridges), Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato), Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Adelaide Brubaker (Nedra Volz), Pearl Gallagher (Mary Jo Catlett), Maggie McKinney Drummond (Dixie Carter/Mary Ann Mobley), Sam McKinney (Danny Cooksey)
Why ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
A widowed millionaire (Conrad Bain) promises his African American housekeeper, before she dies, that he’ll care for her boys — played by Todd Bridges and the iconic Gary Coleman. The biracial family mined one-of-a-kind humor from the stark cultural contrast. Dana Plato was clever as the millionaire’s daughter Kimberly, and Bridges was ultra-cool as Willis Jackson, but Coleman (Arnold Jackson) was the show’s centerpiece.
As the quintessential little brother, he launched the catchphrase, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Lewis?” and became one of TV’s most memorable sitcom characters. The show displayed a serious side, too. It devoted special episodes to drug and alcohol abuse, underage smoking, bullying, racism and sexual abuse of children. First Lady Nancy Reagan even appeared in an episode to promote her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.
12. Schitt’s Creek
Seasons: 6 (Jan. 13, 2015 – April 7, 2020)
Network: CBC and Netflix
Awards: 7 Emmy Awards, 18 Canadian Screen Awards
Theme song: The “Schitt’s Creek Soundtrack” by Maribeth Solomon
Characters: Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara), David Rose (Dan Levy), Alexis Rose (Annie Murphy), Jocelyn Schitt (Jennifer Robertson), Mutt Schitt (Tim Rozon), Stevie Budd (Emily Hampshire), Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), Veronica “Ronnie” Lee (Karen Robinson), Twyla Sands (Sarah Levy), Robert “Bob” Currie (John Hemphill), Theodore “Ted” Mullens (Dustin Milligan), Patrick Brewer (Noah Reid)
Why ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The saga of a wealthy family that goes from riches to rags owns the mark for most Emmy wins by a comedy series in a single season. Its creators are the real-life Levy father-son duo who occupy starring roles. After bankruptcy, the Roses move to a desolate outpost with an inelegant name. Fittingly, they purchased the town as a joke years before. Now they’re the punch line, living in two rooms of a low-budget motel.
In outlining the family’s evolution from self-centered to inclusive, we witness the characters deepen but retain their outrageous, defining qualities. The show’s legacy is, truly, love and acceptance. It starts with the town’s reception to the outsiders, but the theme is illustrated most poignantly in an episode titled “Meet the Parents” when Patrick comes out to his family.
11. Home Improvement
Seasons: 8 (Sept. 17, 1991 – May 25, 1999)
Awards: 7 Emmys, 1 Golden Globe
Theme song: “Iron John’s Rock” by Dan Foliart
The characters: Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), Jill Taylor (Patricia Richardson), Wilson W. Wilson, Jr. (Earl Hindman), Mark Taylor (Taran Noah Smith), Randy Taylor (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), Brad Taylor (Zachery Ty Bryan), Al Borland (Richard Karn), Heidi Keppert (Debbe Dunning)
Why ‘Home Improvement’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
Based on the standup comedy of Tim Allen, the show documents the accident-prone exploits of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, a married father of three who hosts a home improvement TV show (“Tool Time”) with sidekick Al Borland. Parenting and marriage, sibling dynamics and the fragility of the aging male ego are recurring themes. There also are lessons in judgment and personal responsibility, often buttressed by Wilson, a next-door neighbor who provided perspective from over the back fence.
Special cameos were an entertaining staple, ranging from Zsa Zsa Gabor, Queen Latifah and Isabel Sanford of “The Jeffersons” fame to B.B. King, Milton Berle and Jaleel White, formerly of “Family Matters.” More than 40 guest stars appeared across 148 episodes.
10. The Cosby Show
Seasons: 8 (Sept. 20, 1984 – April 30, 1992)
Awards: 6 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes
Theme song: “Kiss Me” written by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby
Characters: Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby), Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet), Theodore Huxtable (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa Huxtable (Tempestt Bledsoe), Rudy Huxtable (Keshia Knight Pulliam), Sondra Huxtable (Sabrina Le Beauf), Elvin Tibideaux (Geoffrey Owens), Lt. Martin Kendall (Joseph C. Phillips), Olivia Kendall (Raven-Symoné), Pam Tucker (Erika Alexander)
Why ‘The Cosby Show’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
Yes, we know that the truth behind Bill Cosby’s behavior in Hollywood has maybe tainted your views of this show, but let’s try to put that aside for now. In terms of typecasting, the Huxtables were not the African American family we’d come to know on TV. They were distinctly upper-middle class — the father was a doctor and the mother, a lawyer — and had a mixed-race peer group. This was not “Good Times.” Rather, it reflected a reinvention of the African American TV family and, in many ways, a reinvention of the sitcom itself.
As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, Cosby’s relationship with his children and the show’s observations about family life were positive. Challenges were faced and overcome, and everyone was a bit closer after navigating the humor-tinged hurdles. It holds the distinction of being one of three shows to top the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive seasons.
9. The Brady Bunch
Seasons: 5 (Sept. 26, 1969 – March 8, 1974)
Awards: Film & Television Association Hall of Fame
Theme song: “The Brady Bunch” by Sherwood Schwartz and Frank De Vol, sung by the child actors starting in Season 2
Characters: Mike Brady (Robert Reed), Carol Brady (Florence Henderson), Alice Nelson (Ann B. Davis), Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick), Jan Brady (Eve Plumb), Cindy Brady (Susan Olsen), Greg Brady (Barry Williams), Peter Brady (Christopher Knight), Bobby Brady (Mike Lookinland)
Why ‘The Brady Bunch’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
“Here’s a story, of a lovely lady…” one of the most beloved theme songs in TV annals set the mood for one of the most beloved shows in history. The story of two widowed parents, each with three kids, creating a new family, had a resonance that no one expected. The cast possessed a distinct charm, with nine magnetic characters (two parents, six kids and one maid), who were delightfully prone to comical foibles.
It generally steered clear of social issues, but still captured the early 1970s vibe. The age range of the cast allowed everyone to have “a favorite Brady,” and the themes spoke to viewers on a personal level. Despite lasting just five seasons in primetime, the show became a staple of Americana through decades of syndication reruns.
8. My Three Sons
Seasons: 12 (Sept. 29, 1960 – April 13, 1972)
Network: ABC (1960-’65), CBS (1966-’72)
Awards: 3 Emmy nominations
Theme song: “Theme from My Three Sons” by Frank De Vol, performed by Bob Moore
The characters: Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray), William Michael Francis Aloysius “Bub” O’Casey (William Frawley), Charles Leslie “Uncle Charley” O’Casey (Wiliam Demarest), Mike Douglas (Tim Considine), Robbie Douglas (Don Grady), Richard “Chip” Douglas (Stanley Livingston), Ernie Thompson/Douglas (Barry Livingston), Sally Ann Morrison Douglas (Meredith McRae), Katie Miller Douglas (Tina Cole), Barbara Harper Douglas (Beverly Garland), Dorothy “Doie” Harper Douglas (Dawn Lyn), Polly Williams Douglas (Ronne Troup)
Why ‘My Three Sons’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
There was a joyful simplicity to the long-running hit. Each episode was, essentially, the boys have a problem, their father lets them work it out, accompanied by his wisdom and paternal love. The role was expertly helmed by Fred MacMurray, a longtime favorite of American audiences. He played a widower, and the concept of a single dad was a fairly bold one in that era.
To balance out the cast, and the responsibilities of raising three rambunctious boys, writers created the part of Bub, the gruff father-in-law played by “I Love Lucy” legend William Frawley. The show deserves credit for a less-sanitized version of family life. Bedrooms were strewn with clothes. The boys jumped all over the furniture. Tramp, the family dog, even occasionally ate off the table!
7. Married… With Children
Seasons: 11 (April 5, 1987 – June 9, 1997)
Awards: 7 Emmy nominations, 7 Golden Globe nominations
Theme song: “Love and Marriage” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, performed by Frank Sinatra
The characters: Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal), Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate), Bud Bundy (David Faustino), Marcy Rhoades/D’Arcy (Amanda Bearse), Steve Rhoades (David Garrison), Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley)
Why ‘Married… With Children’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
There was a time when the FOX network was a curiosity, not a mainstay presence in entertainment. The long-running series about a delightfully dysfunctional foursome helped it rival “the Big Three” of ABC, CBS and NBC while also carving out a place among the greats. There was nothing subtle or apologetic about the crass, cynical humor.
Family patriarch Al Bundy was a lovable lout, a women’s shoe salesman with no ambition beyond sitting on the couch with his hand partially tucked into his pants. Wife Peggy, with her comically huge red bouffant, played the role of bad mom to perfection. The kids, Kelly and Bud, were nobody’s valedictorians. Yet we loved them all! The show’s wild card was Marcy, the next-door-neighbor who occupied the parallel roles of Al’s tormentor and Peggy’s BFF.
6. Happy Days
Seasons: 11 (Jan. 15, 1974 – Sept. 24, 1984)
Awards: 1 Emmy, 2 Golden Globes
Theme song: “Happy Days” by Pratt and McClain
Characters: Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran), Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley), Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross), Warren “Potsie” Webber (Anson Williams), Ralph Malph (Donnie Most), Mitsumo “Arnold” Takahashi (Pat Morita), Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro), Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio)
Why ‘Happy Days’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
They say that nostalgia sells, and it was never more true than this depiction of family life and high school hijinks in the 1950s. From its debut in 1974, fans were crazy for it. Initially focused on Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his family’s day-to-day reality, the show pivoted to feature the previously minor character of Arthur Fonzarelli, a charismatic leather-jacketed biker. Known as “The Fonz” or “Fonzie,” the role catapulted little-known Henry Winkler into TV’s biggest star.
He delivered a catchphrase (“Sit on it!”) that penetrated popular culture — a measure for any show’s popularity. He was a tough guy with a soft side and a ladies’ man. His rebel profile stood in contrast to the wholesome, all-American teens who occupied “Arnold’s” drive-in hamburger stand.
5. Everybody Loves Raymond
Seasons: 9 (Sept. 13, 1996 – May 16, 2005)
Awards: 12 Emmys
Theme song: “Everybody Loves Raymond Theme” by Rick Marotta
The characters: Ray Barone (Ray Romano), Debra Barone (Patricia Heaton), Robert Barone (Brad Garrett), Marie Barone (Doris Roberts), Frank Barone (Peter Boyle), Amy McDougall-Barone (Monica Horan)
Why ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The creation of comedian Ray Romano, who tapped into themes from his standup routine, delivered a steady stream of laughs for nearly a decade. A New York sportswriter, Raymond is sarcastic, lazy, indecisive and emotionally shallow. But he loves his family deeply, which is not always the easiest task.
The ensemble cast showcases the minutiae of family life. There’s a somewhat jealous younger brother, the deep-voiced, towering Brad Garrett. The parents, charmingly played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle, are overbearing and just happen to live across the street. The show’s fulcrum point, however, is Raymond’s relationship with his whip-smart wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton). Their emotional tug-of-war produces scores of laughs, with Raymond typically on the wrong end of the joke.
4. Family Ties
Seasons: 7 (Sept. 22, 1982 – May 14, 1989)
Awards: 5 Emmys, 1 Golden Globe
Theme song: “Without Us” by Jeff Barry and Tom Scott
Characters: Elyse Donnelly Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney), Steven Keaton (Michael Gross), Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox), Mallory Keaton (Justine Bateman), Jennifer Keaton (Tina Yothers), Andy Keaton (Brian Bonsall)
Why ‘Family Ties’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
What happens when two liberal ex-hippies raise a family in the conservative clean-cut era of President Reagan? Hilarity ensues, as the old saying goes. The winner of five Emmys thrived on conflict, but the issues were largely ideological. This was a tight-knit family. Not perfect, but unified. You know comfort food; this was comfort TV.
Michael J. Fox, as Alex P. Keaton, was the quintessential 1980s “Young Republican” — “greed with the face of an angel” was one critic’s take. Young female viewers were smitten by his slightly nerdish charm. His younger sister, Mallory, kept the show’s young male viewers engaged with her confident, airhead-ish presence. The writing was sharp and the acting was stellar. Its laugh-lines stand the test of time.
3. The Jeffersons
Seasons: 11 (Jan. 18, 1975 – July 2, 1985)
Awards: 2 Emmys
Theme song: “Movin’ On Up” by Ja’Net DuBois and Jeff Barry, performed by DuBois with a gospel choir
Characters: George Jefferson (Sherman Helmsley), Louise “Weezy” Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans/Damon Evans), Helen Willis (Roxie Roker), Tom Willis (Franklin Cover), Olivia “Mother” Jefferson (Zara Cully), Jenny Willis Jefferson (Berlinda Tolbert), Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict), Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs), Allan Willis (Jay Hammer)
Why ‘The Jeffersons’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The spinoff from “All in the Family” is recognized for being both the longest-running show starring an African American cast and for featuring the first interracial couple on American TV. The star, George Jefferson, moves his family from Queens to Manhattan following the success of his dry-cleaning business. Their arrival in a white neighborhood produces hilarious dynamics, but the best dialogue is between George and wife Louise, known as “Weezy,” along with George’s exchanges with Florence, the family’s sharp-tongued housekeeper.
The prospect of discrimination was constant, but George combatted it by flaunting his money and arrogance. The show was a popular platform for other Black stars of the era, with appearances by Sammy Davis Jr., Glady Knight, Sister Sledge and Billy Dee Williams, among others.
2. Modern Family
Seasons: 11 (Sept. 23, 2009 – April 8, 2020)
Awards: 22 Emmys, 1 Golden Globe
Theme song: “Modern Family Theme Song” by Gabriel Mann
The characters: Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), Gloria Maria Ramirez Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara), Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet), Haley Dunphy (Sarah Hyland), Alex Dunphy (Ariel Winter), Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould), Manny Delgado (Rico Rodriguez), Lily Tucker-Pritchett (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons/Jaden Hiller/Ella Hiller), Fulgencio “Joe” Pritchett (Jeremy Maguire), Dylan Marshall (Reid Ewing)
Why ‘Modern Family’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The comically complex spoof documentary won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its first five seasons. It challenged familial stereotypes and ranks as ABC’s longest running comedy. Family patriarch Jay Pritchett (played by Ed O’Neill who also happened to play Al Bundy in “Married… With Children”) provides the linkage to three somewhat-chaotic clans in L.A.
He’s remarried to a much younger woman, an intense and passionate Colombian played brilliantly by Sofia Vergara. There’s a son by their marriage, another by her previous union, a daughter and son from his first marriage, and that’s just the tip of the family tree. Birthday parties, family travels, gay marriage, adoption and many other traditional and contemporary family features propel the plots and allow viewers to hilariously relate them to their own lives.
1. All in the Family
Seasons: 9 (Jan. 12, 1971 – April 8, 1979)
Awards: 22 Emmys, 5 Golden Globes
Theme song: “Those Were the Days” by Gene Raskin, performed by Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton
Characters: Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Sally Struthers (Gloria Stivic), Rob Reiner (Mike Stivic), Stephanie Mills (Danielle Brisebois)
Why ‘All in the Family’ Is One of the Best Family TV Shows
The brusque brilliance of lead character Archie Bunker guaranteed that “All in the Family” was much bigger than its humor. It drew a weekly audience of 60 million viewers, eager to see the abrasive and opinionated star. The character’s ignorance (and, yes, bigotry) contained an odd charm. An avowed conservative, he clashed routinely with his live-in, liberal son-in-law, known to Archie as “Meathead.” His only soft side was reserved for daughter, Gloria.
Archie didn’t treat his wife with kindness, but you could also see the love. The weekly opening scene, when he and Edith sit at the piano and sing “Those Were The Days” is a wonderful TV moment, as heartwarming as you’ll find. More skillfully than other sitcoms of its era, and arguably any era, it found humor in the issues the country was grappling with — race, religion, politics, equality for women, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Energy Crisis, among others. It was the first show to top the Nielsen ratings for five straight seasons.