The 2021 Holiday Contest RESULTS: My Favorite Sitcom Seasons of the 1970s

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m announcing the answers to our annual holiday contest — my top five favorite sitcom seasons from every TV year of the 1970s! I’m so grateful to everyone who played and happy to report that all of you cleared 40/300 points and will be receiving (at the email address with which you are subscribed to this blog) access to five of my favorite episodes from the first season of The Tony Randall Show (1976-1977, ABC / 1977-1978, CBS), a heretofore unreleased MTM sitcom that was one of my picks from ’76-’77. (I think its first season is better designed and more gem-filled than even The Bob Newhart Show’s — and you all know how much I appreciate Bob Newhart: it’s the second best MTM sitcom after the flagship entry. So, I don’t say this lightly!) You all deserve a prize — yes, there were a few off-the-wall answers that didn’t seem rooted in what I’d written here, but most of you were able to get on the same page. Additionally, most of you also cleared 150/300 and will be sent the entire first season of Tony Randall — I know you’ll enjoy it… Meanwhile, a special congratulations must also go out to our first-place finisher, Toby Griffith, who, with an impressive 210/300 points, won our grand prize: the first season of Tony Randall AND the 1979 Soap retrospective!

So, thanks again to all who played — I hope you had fun! Now, as promised, here are the answers — my top five favorite sitcom seasons per TV year from the 1970s…

 

1970-1971

  1. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S1)

  2. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S1)

  3. BEWITCHED (S7)

  4. THE ODD COUPLE (S1)

  5. THAT GIRL (S5)

1971-1972

  1. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S2)

  2. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S2)

  3. THE ODD COUPLE (S2)

  4. SANFORD AND SON (S1)

  5. THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (S1)

1972-1973

  1. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S3)

  2. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S3)

  3. SANFORD AND SON (S2)

  4. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (S1)

  5. THE ODD COUPLE (S3)

1973-1974

  1. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S4)

  2. SANFORD AND SON (S3)

  3. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S4)

  4. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (S2)

  5. MAUDE (S2)

1974-1975

  1. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S5)

  2. MAUDE (S3)

  3. RHODA (S1)

  4. THE JEFFERSONS (S1)

  5. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (S3)

1975-1976

  1. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S6)

  2. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (S4)

  3. THE JEFFERSONS (S2)

  4. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S6)

  5. HAPPY DAYS (S3)

1976-1977

  1. BARNEY MILLER (S3)

  2. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (S7)

  3. MAUDE (S5)

  4. ALL IN THE FAMILY (S7)

  5. THE TONY RANDALL SHOW (S1)

1977-1978

  1. SOAP (S1)

  2. BARNEY MILLER (S4)

  3. THREE’S COMPANY (S2)

  4. THE JEFFERSONS (S4)

  5. MAUDE (S6)

1978-1979

  1. SOAP (S2)

  2. TAXI (S1)

  3. WKRP IN CINCINNATI (S1)

  4. THREE’S COMPANY (S3)

  5. BARNEY MILLER (S5)

1979-1980

  1. TAXI (S2)

  2. SOAP (S3)

  3. THREE’S COMPANY (S4)

  4. WKRP IN CINCINNATI (S2)

  5. BARNEY MILLER (S6)

 

Some notes on my picks… I went back and revisited every show above to ensure that my rankings reflected my genuine thoughts (as of today) about where each season stands in relation to the others. I was most surprised by how strong All In The Family remained, compared to the rest, even well past its second season peak. That is, I didn’t expect it to be in my top five sitcoms AT ALL after say, 1973-’74, but its foundation of character, despite not being character-driven (and suffering for it almost every week after Season Three in its storytelling), seemed to keep it of a relatively elevated quality for longer than I would have anticipated — and the one pre-1977 year I didn’t include it (1974-’75), it was in sixth place and heavily considered. Naturally, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had a stellar showing too (every season appeared), while these series also performed well: The Odd Couple, Sanford And Son, The Bob Newhart Show, Maude, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, Three’s Company, Soap, and Taxi. (I wasn’t expecting Barney Miller to be so prevalent either; only the third season is truly great, but it’s basically consistent in the latter half of the decade, when others are erratic.) As for big omissions, Here’s Lucy, Good Times, and Laverne & Shirley were each in the sixth-place spot at least once. I can’t say the same for Phyllis, even though I do enjoy its first season. That’s a testament to the fact that not all TV years are created equally — that is, some were more competitive than others.

For instance, 1970-’71 really only has two great seasons (the rest are middling); 1971-’72 has three; then from 1972-1977, there are more than five terrific sitcoms every year (although 1975-’76 was the toughest to rank, as I had to parse the hierarchy from great to good). Things start to fall off in 1977-’78; Soap was the only decent choice for favorite, and the rest on my list are good-to-middling. 1978-’79 is an improvement, with four great samples (and I must tell you that Soap barely beat out Taxi that year, just like Maude’s third season narrowly eked out on top of Rhoda’s first in 1974-’75) but then it nosedives more aggressively thereafter, while 1979-’80, again, really only has two greats at the top. As for the two Wildcard options that made my list, these honors went to Happy Days’ third season — the best collection of a Garry Marshall sitcom produced by Miller-Milkis during this decade — and The Tony Randall Show’s first. To those of you who got this right, and even those who didn’t, you all did a TERRIFIC job, and I hope this quick postscript has provided more of a window into my thoughts. If you have questions about my choices, let me know. As always, I aim to be communicating my ideas clearly and with evident passion, supported by an intellectually rigorous study that only grows by the year. In fact, 2022 is going to be one of our best yet — stay tuned and Happy Holidays!

 

 

Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Family Ties!

10 thoughts on “The 2021 Holiday Contest RESULTS: My Favorite Sitcom Seasons of the 1970s

  1. This is a great list! I had guessed “Lotsa Luck” and “The Practice” as two of the Wildcard shows you might put on your list. Were they or any other of the short-lived shows close (besides obviously “The Tony Randall Show” (which I’m so excited to see.)

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I genuinely considered the second season of THE GOVERNOR AND J.J. for a spot in 1970-’71 but it ultimately wasn’t a close contender. I also studied both the first season of CPO SHARKEY and the second season of THE PRACTICE for 1976-’77, but while I like them both, they weren’t close either. (That’s a very competitive TV year.) Lastly, I also thought about possibly including THE ASSOCIATES in 1979-’80 but I was quickly reminded why that wouldn’t make much sense. So, no, while I thought about some other potential Wildcard picks, none of them were seriously close to being selected.

  2. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Happy Days made your top five for ‘75-‘76. I wasn’t expecting Barney Miller to be so prevalent either, and I was surprised to see it be your top pick for ‘76-‘77, even over TMTMS!

    • Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I can understand how my perhaps negative depiction of both BARNEY MILLER and HAPPY DAYS in relation to other series might obscure the heightened praise I specifically (and recently) heaped upon two of their individual seasons, insisting that the former’s third year was “filled with entries that are competitive with what other contemporaneous sitcoms would posit as their best… [for] this is the only year where… BARNEY MILLER is actually a contender for the best sitcom on the air, representing its own standards and the genre’s standards at a remarkably high level… [as] the episodes… make a better case for this year’s superiority than I ever could,” while also saying that HAPPY DAYS was “the most classic of the big three Miller-Milkis hits, with the most iconic episodes to brag about in a study,” and that its third season (from which I went on to cite 16 out of 24 episodes as recommendable!) is the series’ unrivaled “best era… the fertile ground from which LAVERNE & SHIRLEY sprung.”

      But, to expand, I think the freshness of the Garry Marshall sitcom style at its strongest and most reliable during the first two-thirds of HAPPY DAYS’ third season is able to outshine non-chosen selections like hit-and-miss RHODA, the inherently flawed PHYLLIS, and a year of MAUDE in which that show is matching inconsistency with self-importance. As for BARNEY MILLER, I don’t think THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW’s final season — which is still great, but a comedown by that series’ own standards — has highs as deliberately funny or well-crafted as the former’s top-line hits, nor an overall baseline that’s as steady. (That last point is also why, ultimately, BARNEY MILLER found itself staying in my Top Five during 1978-’79 and 1979-’80 — it’s just so agreeably constant while other shows are not.)

    • Hi, Lee! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Probably not. I won’t be covering as many ‘80s sitcoms, so a list like this wouldn’t be as varied or interesting.

      However, I have flagged this post for possible use in the next entry in our Q&A series, where I can reveal some picks for the first few years of the decade.

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