Thursday, January 14, 2016

American TV Sitcom Eras

[Last updated 2/11/16]

It’s been said that we’re living in an era of “Peak TV.” That’s probably not the case for sit-coms. As long as we have TV, though, we’ll always have them. How have they changed over the decades? This list attempts to answer that question by dividing the most popular American sitcoms into different defining eras.

This list is a work in progress. If anyone has ideas about changes, omissions, etc. I’m more than happy to hear them. Just leave them in the comments.

For this list, I used shows that aired for at least three seasons, or new shows that are currently on the air.

The “Traditional” or “Orthodox” Era (can also be referred to as the “Pre-Seinfeld” era) [Birth of TV - present].  From the invention of television in the 1950s, the overwhelming number of situation comedies were based around "traditional" two-parent families. These shows emphasize the family as the goal and moral center of storytelling. The maintenance of marriage or long-term relationships are seen as a primary goal for the main characters, along with teaching moral lessons to characters, especially younger ones. The plots have a strong inclination to sameness, maintaining the status quo, and resolving conflicts by the time a given episode ends. These shows have been produced throughout the history of television.

The Life of Riley (1949-1958)
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950-1958)
I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
Our Miss Brooks (1952-1956)
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966)
Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (1953-1964)
Father Knows Best (1954-1960)
The Honeymooners (1955-1956)
The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959)
The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959)
Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963)
The Real McCoys (1957-1963)
The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966)
Dennis the Menace (1959-1963)
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963)
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
The Dick van Dyke Show (1961-1966)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1964-1971)
Bewitched (1964-1972)
Green Acres (1965-1971)
Family Affair (1966-1971)
All in the Family (1970-1979)
Good Times (1974-1979)
Happy Days (1974-1984)
Rhoda (1974-1978)
One Day at a Time (1975-1984)
Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1986)
Gimme a Break! (1981-1987)
Cheers (1982-1993)
Family Ties (1982-1989)
The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Married...With Children (1987-1997)
Family Matters (1989-1998)
Major Dad (1989-1993)
The Simpsons (1989-present)
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990-1996)
Home Improvement (1991-1999)
Mad About You (1992-1999)
Frasier (1993-2004)
Malcom in the Middle (2000-2006)
Yes, Dear (2000-2006)
American Dad! (2005-present)
The Big-Bang Theory (2007-present)
Modern Family (2009-present)
Mike & Molly (2010-2016)
Mom (2013-present)

Workplace/Friends Sitcom: Starting in the 1970s, sitoms were produced that moved the story telling center from the traditional family to the workplace, or a main character's small circle friends who act as a surrogate family. These shows tend to be more ensemble in nature, with a larger cast of recurring characters.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-1969)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)
Barney Miller (1975-1982)
Alice (1976-1985)
Three's Company (1977-1984)
Taxi (1978-1983)
WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982)
Newhart (1982-1990)
Martin (1992-1997)
The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
The John Laroquette Show (1993-1996)
Living Single (1993-1998)
Friends (1994-2004)
The Drew Carey Show (1995-2004)
Just Shoot Me! (1997-2003)
Sex and the City (1998-2004)
Will & Grace (1998-2006)
Scrubs (2001-2010)
Entourage (2004-2011)
Archer (2010-present)
Brooklyn 99 (2013-present)
Superstore (2015-present)
Telenovela (2015-present)

The Seinfeld Era [1989-2000]: A comedic philosophy of “No hugging, no learning.” Contrasted with sitcoms from previous decades that emphasized qualities like politeness, work ethic, and learning lessons, these sitcoms are based on a darker and harder-edged kind of comedy rooted in sarcasm, pessimism, and farce. There's a de-emphasis on the blood-relative family as a positive or sacred focal point of life; In these shows, family is far more often a source of criticism or derision than admiration or respect.

Seinfeld (1989-1998)
The King of Queens (1998-2007)
Family Guy (1999-present)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-present)
‘Til Death (2006-2010)
Rules of Engagement (2007-2013)

Post-Seinfeld Era [2001-2009]: Taking the Seinfeld Era aesthetic even further, sitcoms from this time period are based on humor that's heavily influenced by sarcasm, nihilism, anarchism, irony, “cringe humor," and non-sequiturs. These shows also rely heavily on references to other media, including other TV shows.

The Daily Show (1996 [1999 in current form]-present)
South Park (1997-present)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2014)
Adult Swim (Comedy Central) (2001-present)
Reno 911! (2003-2009)
Two and a Half Men (2003-2015)
My Name Is Earl (2005-2009)
The Colbert Report (2005-2014)
The Comeback (2005; 2014-present)
The Office (2005-2013)
30 Rock (2006-2013)

Post-Post-Seinfeld Era [2009 - present]: This era features the re-establishment of the traditional family or a consistent family substitute (workplace, circle of friends) as the central agent of storytelling. Relationships and marriage are once again among the main goals of characters who are single. There is a strong level of absurdity in the plots that the characters take at face value - to an extent, they “know” they’re in a sitcom and behave accordingly. Many (but not all) of the shows use voice-overs or narration as a story framing device.

How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
Community (2009-2015)
Cougar Town (2009-2015)
The League (2009-2015)
Parks & Recreation (2009-2015)
Louie (2010-present)
Happy Endings (2011-2013)
Don’t Trust the B---- In Apartment 23 (2012-2013)
Arrested Development (2013-present)
Black-ish (2014-present)
Fresh Off the Boat (2015-present)
The Grinder (2015-present)
Man Seeking Woman (2015-present)

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