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Top 100 TV shows of the ’60s

  • Top 100 TV shows of the ’60s

    On May 9, 1961, the newly elected chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow, gave his first speech at a meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington D.C. After praising the professionals in the broadcasting industry and laying out his belief that television should uphold the public interest, he infamously slammed the state of the medium as a “vast wasteland,” declaring that “when television is bad, nothing is worse.” His speech, unsurprisingly, was not universally appreciated.

    The point Minow was trying to make was that good television should go beyond entertainment—and that it should be used particularly to further America’s Cold War-era ideals, such as the battle for democracy to defeat communism. Political grandstanding or not, attendees at the meeting took Minow’s speech as a threat, understanding that if they didn’t begin to produce better programming, their network licenses might be revoked. So they stepped up: Throughout the ’60s, networks began offering more educational and informational programming, as well as a wider variety of shows. In time, Minow would grudgingly approve the changes, saying in 2011 that “television had become less of a wasteland.”

    The 1960s were one of the most interesting times in American history for a handful of sociopolitical reasons. The culmination of a hard-fought battle in the form of the Civil Rights Movement saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. iconized for his contributions to the marked betterment of the quality of life of African Americans in this country—and a handful in international conflicts, most notably the Vietnam War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, helped shape the decade as one of turmoil and general unease. While these are topics which of course do not intrinsically evoke laughter, there has been a consistent history in Hollywood of television and politics influencing each other heavily, and it goes without saying that some of the greatest comic relief and more thought-provoking takes on screen would not have been made possible without serious things happening around the world.

    In celebration of some of the great television that came from this turbulent decade in American history, Stacker referenced IMDb to compile a list of the top 100 TV shows of the 1960s. For the purposes of this story, we only considered shows in English that received a minimum of 500 votes on IMDb, then ranked them according to their viewer ratings.

    Read on to see which iconic programs, Minnow-approved or otherwise, from “The Andy Griffith Show” to “Hogan’s Heroes” to “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” have stood the test of time and have proven to be classics more than half a century later.

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  • #100. Family Affair (1966–1971)

    - IMDb user rating: 6.9
    - Votes: 2,168

    Veteran actor Brian Keith stars as Bill Davis, a wealthy engineer and bachelor residing in New York City, in the late-’60s hit “Family Affair.” The family-centric sitcom follows Davis and his “gentleman’s gentleman,” or butler, Mr. Giles French (Sebastian Cabot), inherited his teenage niece and her twin siblings after the death of their parents. While individual episodes weren’t all that original or inspired, the show stood apart for the frank, direct way it dealt with death and grief.

  • #99. The Likely Lads (1964–1966)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 663

    The Likely Lads” is a black-and-white BBC sitcom about two working-class friends: Terry, cynical and content with his lot in life, and Bob, aspirational and intent on moving into the middle class. There were 20 episodes of the original series, which ran for three seasons, but only 10 are thought to survive (including two which were just found in 2019). After a brief hiatus, the BBC brought Bob and Terry back in “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?” which ran for two seasons and was far more popular than the initial iteration of the show.

  • #98. Kimba the White Lion (1965–1967)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 904

    Kimba the White Lion,” a Japanese anime series that ran on NBC for several seasons, is perhaps best known for the controversy that surrounds it. When Disney released its animated film “The Lion King” in the ’90s, anime fans were quick to point out that several scenes, as well as many plot points, appeared to be directly stolen from the ’60s cartoon. Still, creator Osamu Tezuka and his company, Tezuka Productions Co., never pursued litigation against the entertainment giant, saying, “There may not be as strong of a notion of stealing and plagiarism in Japan when it comes to borrowing or parodying characters from pop culture texts.”

  • #97. On the Buses (1969–1973)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 1,955

    Long before “The Office” became the world’s favorite workplace comedy, “On the Buses” was making fans laugh on ITV. The series, which was rejected by the BBC, revolves around the #11 bus, its driver Stan Butler, its conductor Jack Harper, and their nemesis, inspector Cyril Blake. The series was so popular that its first spinoff film, released in 1971, outperformed the James Bond flick “Diamonds are Forever” and was the top film in the U.K. for that year.

  • #96. Petticoat Junction (1963–1970)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 2,493

    Paul Henning, one of the most successful television producers of the ’60s, began work on “Petticoat Junction” a year after the premiere of his most popular series, “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Set in the same universe as its predecessor, “Petticoat Junction” tells the story of the Bradly family (mother Kate and her three daughters, Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Betty Jo) who run the Shady Rest Hotel. Many of the series’ storylines came from the real-life experiences of Henning’s wife’s family, who owned a similar hotel in Eldon, Missouri.

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  • #95. Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964–1969)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 2,879

    A spinoff of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle: USMC” featured Mayberry’s bumbling, guileless gas station attendant, played by Jim Nabors, who joins the Marines, bungles his way through basic training, and, by way of his frequent misadventures, redeems the modern world. Despite its military storylines, the show never touched on the Vietnam War, instead choosing to exist in a wholesome universe where peace was never threatened. The series launched Nabors into the stratosphere, making him a bona fide star, which he remained until his death in 2017.

  • #94. My Three Sons (1960–1972)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 3,073

    One of the longest-running shows of the ’60s, “My Three Sons” had not one but two network homes, ABC and CBS. The sitcom stars Fred MacMurray as a single father who’s raising his three sons with the help of his father-in-law (William Frawley) after the death of his wife. The show is notable for the fact that it was filmed entirely out of sequence using a method known as the MacMurray Method, in which all the scenes in one location would be completed before moving on to the next one.

  • #93. The Jetsons (1962–1963)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 18,651

    It will likely come as a surprise to many that despite its continued cultural relevance, “The Jetsons,” a cartoon about a family living in the future, only ran for a single season before being canceled (and then revived in the ’80s). The series was the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC and is considered, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, the “single most important piece of 20th-century futurism.” In spite of the fact that it’s an animated comedy, the show sincerely affected how Americans thought—and continue to think—about the future.

  • #92. Tarzan (1966–1968)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Votes: 775

    A slight spin on the classic story, this ’60s TV show saw Lord Greystoke (Ron Ely), tired of civilization and the upper-class lifestyle he’d been pushed into, return to the jungle to live freely. Chock-full of fighting and action sequences, the show features plenty of exotic animals like Cheetah the Chimp, as well as storylines about a young orphan boy named Jai Tarzan who is essentially adopted by Greystoke. What’s conspicuously missing, however, is any mention of Jane, as the sexual connotations she would have inspired were deemed “unsuitable.”

  • #91. Daktari (1966–1969)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Votes: 869

    Inspired by the real-life work of animal conservationist couple Dr. A.M. and Sue Harthoon, “Dakarti” chronicles the fictional adventures of a veterinarian, Dr. Marsh Tracy, and his daughter, Paula, who work together to save animals from poachers at the Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behavior in East Africa. The children’s show began as a movie called “Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion” before being spun off into a four-season show for CBS.

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