For fans of short-lived sitcoms, networks can be too quick to pull the plug.
On the other hand, some promising series actually suffered from staying on the air too long. The longest running sitcoms in TV history stayed popular for a reason. But in retrospect, even die-hard fans say some of them ended with a whimper and not a bang. Even worse, some of them ended without a laugh.
We’ve taken a look at some of the longest running sitcoms in the history of the medium. That actually wasn’t for this list. It’s just kind of how we spend our Thursdays. But while we were at it, we found out that some of them were able to avoid “jumping the shark.” And that phrase itself shows just how easy it can be for a sitcom to aim for gimmick rather than guffaw.
No sitcom is immune from stale, lazy or desperate writing.
The difference between the longest running sitcoms on this list, though, is that they all emerged. In any industry, even the best will find themselves in a slump from time to time. The greats figure out a way to fight their way back into the good graces of fans. And here are our picks for the best of the bunch. Our list is in no particular order, but we just might have a tendency to save our favorites for the end.
1. Murphy Brown
Love it or hate it, Murphy Brown maintained a loyal audience for 10 years. And it was enough to fuel demand for a reboot. That proves people loved these characters and cements its spot on our list. Sure, you could say the casting changes in later seasons disrupted the flow. But later plot lines like the lead character’s single motherhood kept audiences gripped. The show was called “Murphy Brown,” so Candice Bergen’s character was always center stage. That’s probably why supporting cast shakeups had a minimal impact. Writing remained smart and sharp to the end. It might not be one of our all time favorites, but among the longest running sitcoms it’s an icon.
2. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
Okay, we’re going back a long way for this one. You’re excused if you’ve never seen this show. Maybe even if you’ve never heard of it. But Americans in the 1950s were tuning in weekly to follow this serial comedy. Of course, this was the early days of television. And many of the jokes don’t translate to modern audiences well at all. It is almost absurdly inoffensive. But that’s what the times demanded. And for a whopping 14 seasons, audiences continued to follow the show. For its time, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” was the king of the longest running sitcoms.
3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Loyal fans just won’t let this show end, making it one of the longest running sitcoms ever. It’s always been a niche hit, but a resounding hit nonetheless. Like “Seinfeld” to the power of 100, the gang can continue their wild experiences season after season. Since they never really grow as characters, it can be nearly as timeless as an animated series. We’re not the kind of viewers to keep the pressure on for new episodes. We will admit we’ve seen all of the episodes, though. And with season 13 coming up, it’s clear we’re not alone.
The ’90s was the sitcom decade. And “Friends” was arguably the king of them all. It was built on the simple premise of six friends growing together in New York City. But it became the standard for being single in that decade. Of course, the characters matured throughout the 10 seasons. Unlike some shows that ran that long, though, the cast remained the same. This show was built on an ensemble of well developed characters. They remained friends through all that change, which makes the show timeless. Some of the fashion and technology? Not so much.
5. King of Queens
Maybe “The King of Queens” didn’t air as many episodes as the longest running sitcoms. You might not even like the show. But guess what? It’s our list. We’ve mentioned before how much we like this show. And we still appreciate each of its nine seasons. Even with some weighty marital issues toward the end, Doug and Carrie worked it out. And their unique love story was a common strain through a frenzied and hilarious series.
“Frasier” gets special consideration in part because the writing remained so smart until the end. But it’s also a spin-off that ran for 11 seasons. That alone qualifies it for one of the longest running sitcoms of all time. Plus, the title character grew for 11 prior season on “Cheers.” So for more than two decades audiences welcomed Kelsey Grammer into their homes. And when viewers met the new supporting cast in 1993, “Frasier” was an surefire hit.
The longest running sitcoms: Honorable mentions
We know that we’ll never satisfy all of the weirdo sitcom superfans out there. Some of you are going to wonder why “Blossom” or whatever isn’t on the list. Well, it’s not. But we do want to mention at least a couple that easily could have been included.
One is “The Simpsons.” Is it a true sitcom? We suppose we could have that debate. But after three decades, it’s definitely got the long running part down.
The other is “Seinfeld.” Maybe it didn’t make it to that elusive 10th season. But it did go out on its own terms. And we like that in our longest running sitcoms.