The 1990's brought us many breakthrough television shows with story lines that reflected important issues like multiculturalism, sexuality and other social issues. Sitcoms during this time also showcased a more gritty view of the typical "middle-class" American family compared to the idealized versions previously seen in decades past. Shows like Roseanne, Married... With Children and Family Matters were big hits that connected with audiences nationwide. There were many other comedic smash hits including Seinfeld, Friends, Home Improvement. Dramas like ER and police procedurals such as NYPD Blue and Law & Order also broke new ground and were among the most popular shows of the final decade of the 20th century.
Surf through our catalog of some of the best 1990s TV shows that aired in primetime television from 1990 to 1999.
21 Jump Street is an American police procedural crime drama television series that aired on the Fox Network and in first run syndication from 1987, to 1991, with a total of 103 episodes. The series focused on a squad of youthful-looking undercover police officers investigating crimes in high schools, colleges, and other teenage venues.
3rd Rock from the Sun is an American sitcom that aired from 1996 to 2001 on NBC. The show is about four extraterrestrials who are on an expedition to Earth, which they consider to be a very insignificant planet. The extraterrestrials pose as a human family in order to observe the behavior of human beings.
ALF is an American science fiction sitcom that originally aired on NBC from 1986 to 1990, created by Paul Fusco. The title character was Gordon Shumway, a friendly extraterrestrial nicknamed ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form), who crash lands in the garage of the suburban middle-class Tanner family.
Beverly Hills, 90210 is a drama series that originally aired from 1990 to 2000 on FOX. The show followed the lives of a group of teenagers living in the upscale, star-studded community of Beverly Hills, California and attending the fictitious West Beverly High School and, subsequently, the fictitious California University after graduation.
Cheers is a sitom that ran for 11 seasons on NBC from 1982 to 1993. The show is set in the Cheers bar (named for the toast "Cheers") in Boston, Massachusetts, where a group of locals meet to drink, relax, chat and have fun. The show's theme song, written and performed by Gary Portnoy, and co-written with Judy Hart Angelo, lent its famous refrain, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", as the show's tagline.
The Cosby Show is a sitcom starring Bill Cosby that aired for eight seasons on NBC from 1984 until 1992. The show focuses on the Huxtable family, an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.
Dallas is a drama that revolves around the Ewings, a wealthy Texas family in the oil and cattle-ranching industries. The series won four Emmy Awards, including a 1980 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series win for Barbara Bel Geddes. Throughout the series, Larry Hagman stars as greedy, scheming oil baron J. R. Ewing. The show also starred stage/screen actress Barbara Bel Geddes as family matriarch Miss Ellie, and movie Western actor Jim Davis in his last role as Ewing patriarch Jock Ewing before his death in 1981.
Dear John is a sitcom that aired on NBC from 1988 to 1992. The series was originally based on the British sitcom of the same name. Dear John starred Judd Hirsch as easy going high school teacher John Lacey who is dumped by his wife, Wendy, via a Dear John letter. Wendy ends up with everything in the divorce settlement, including custody of the couple's son, forcing John to move into an apartment in Queens.
Doogie Howser, M.D. is an comedy-drama starring Neil Patrick Harris as a 16-year-old doctor who also faces the problems of being a normal teenager. Created by Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley, ABC aired the show from 1989 to 1993 for four seasons totaling 97 episodes.
The Drew Carey Show is a sitcom that aired on ABC from 1995 to 2004 set in Cleveland, Ohio, and revolved around the retail office and home life of "everyman" Drew Carey, a fictionalized version of the actor.
ER is a medical drama that aired on NBC from 1994 to 2009 . Created by best-selling author Michael Crichton, the Emmy Award-winning series has completed fourteen seasons as one of television's highest-rated dramas. The doctors and nurses of County's ER confront the daily challenges of a busy urban hospital, including overcrowded waiting rooms, staffing shortages, and the impact of life-and-death decisions. While they teach the next generation of doctors, each must tackle the demands of their personal lives, at times unsuccessfully.
Everybody Loves Raymond is a sitcom that ran on CBS from 1996 to 2005. Many of the situations from the show are based on the real-life experiences of lead actor Ray Romano, creator/producer Phil Rosenthal and the show's writing staff. The main characters on the show are also loosely based on Romano's and Rosenthal's real-life family members.
Family Matters is a sitcom about a middle-class African-American family living in Chicago, Illinois, which aired for nine seasons. The series was a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, but revolves around the Winslow family. Midway through the first season, the show introduced the Winslows' nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White), who quickly became its breakout character and eventually a main character. Family Matters aired from 1989 to 1997 on ABC and on CBS from September 1997 to July 1998.
Frasier is a sitcom that aired on NBC for eleven seasons from 1993 to 2004. A spin-off of Cheers, Frasier stars Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin. It is one of the most successful spin-off series in television history, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed comedy series of all time.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a sitcom that aired on NBC from 1990 to 1996 that stars Will Smith as a fictionalized version of himself, a street-smart teenager from West Philadelphia who is sent to move in with his aunt and uncle in their wealthy Bel Air mansion, where his lifestyle often clashes with that of his relatives.
Friends is a sitcom created that aired on NBC for ten seasons from 1994 to 2004. The series revolves around a group of friends in Manhattan going trough the humorous trials and tribulations of relationships, work and personal life.
Set in San Francisco, family-friendly sitcom Full House centers around the adventures of a widowed father, his three children, and his two best friends. Danny (Bob Saget) is a straight-laced local television personality, Joey (David Coulier) is a fun-loving stand-up comedian, and brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) is an Elvis-obsessed rocker. Danny's children include 11-year-old D.J. (Candace Cameron), five-year-old Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and baby Michelle (big-eyed future superstars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). Created by Jeff Franklin (Laverne and Shirley), the show ran on ABC for eight seasons.
Growing Pains is sitcom starring Alan Thicke about an upper middle class family, residing in Huntington, New York, with a working mother and a stay-at-home psychiatrist father raising three children together, that aired on ABC from 1985 to 1992. For those who grew up with the Seavers, and in need of a retro blast of '80s nostalgia, Growing Pains will still, to quote the theme song, show you that smile again.
Head of the Class is a sitcom aired on ABC from 1986 to 1991 that follows a group of gifted students in the Individualized Honors Program (IHP) at the fictional Monroe High School (later Millard Fillmore High School) in Manhattan, and their history teacher Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman). The program was ostensibly a vehicle for Hesseman, best known for his role as radio DJ Dr. Johnny Fever in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Hesseman left Head of the Class in 1990 and was replaced by Billy Connolly as teacher Billy MacGregor for the final season.
Herman's Head is a sitcom that aired on the FOX from 1991 to 1994. The series stars William Ragsdale as Herman Brooks an aspiring writer working as a fact-checker for a magazine publisher. While dealing with life in the big city, his inner thoughts are played out by four characters representing: his intellect, his fear, his sensitivity, and his lust. His "outer world" consists of a trivia-trove of a boss, two female co-workers, one mouse-ish and the other a snobbish social-climbing bombshell, and a best friend whose both a successful writer, a sexist pig, and an all-around fun guy.
Home Improvement is a sitcom starring Tim Allen that aired on ABC from 1991 to 1999. In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms winning many awards. The show's title refers to physical improvement of houses, as well as to improving life with family, friends, work, and school.
Doug Heffernan is just your ordinary deliveryman for the International Parcel Service, but his family is anything but normal. Along with his wife Carrie, Doug lives with Carrie's father Arthur (Seinfeld regular Jerry Stiller), who is a few cards short of a full deck. Arthur is known for his incoherent outbursts and misplaced anger.
Knots Landing is a primetime drama series that aired from 1979 to 1993 on CBS. Set in a fictitious coastal suburb of Los Angeles in California, the show centered on the lives of four married couples living in a cul-de-sac, Seaview Circle. Initially intended to be a Scenes From a Marriage-type drama series, storylines also included rape, murder, kidnapping, assassinations, drug smuggling, corporate intrigue and criminal investigations. By the time of its conclusion, Knots Landing had become one of the longest-running primetime dramas on U.S. television after Gunsmoke and Law & Order, and tied for third place with Bonanza.
L.A. Law is legal drama series that ran for eight seasons on NBC from 1986 to 1994 created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher. This critically acclaimed ensemble drama reflected the social and cultural ideologies of the 1980s and early 1990s as many of the cases featured on the show dealt with hot-topic issues of the day. The series often also reflected tensions between the wealthy senior lawyers and their less well-paid junior staff.
MacGyver is an action-adventure series that ran for seven seasons on ABC and follows secret agent Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. MacGyver prefers non-violent resolutions where possible, and refuses to handle a gun. He works as a troubleshooter for the fictional Phoenix Foundation in Los Angeles. He is a resourceful agent with an encyclopedic knowledge of science, able to solve complex problems with everyday materials he finds at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife.
Mad About You is sitcom that aired on NBC from 1992 to 1999 that stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as a newly married couple in New York City. Reiser played Paul Buchman, a documentary film maker. Hunt played Jamie Stemple Buchman, a public relations specialist. Near the end of the show's run, the couple had a baby daughter, whom they named Mabel.
Mr. Belvedere is a sitcom that aired on ABC 1985 until 1990 that is based on the Lynn Aloysius Belvedere character created by Gwen Davenport for her 1947 novel Belvedere, which was later adapted into the 1948 film Sitting Pretty. The sitcom stars Christopher Hewett in the title role, who takes a job with an American family headed by George Owens, played by Bob Uecker.
Murphy Brown is a sitcom that aired on CBS from 1988 until 1998 that starred Candice Bergen as the eponymous Murphy Brown, a famous investigative journalist and news anchor for FYI, a fictional CBS television newsmagazine.
Night Court is an sitcom that aired on NBC from 1984 to 1992 about night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone (Harry Anderson). It was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on Barney Miller in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Perfect Strangers is a sitcom that aired on ABC from 1986 to 1993 that chronicled the rocky coexistence of midwestern American Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and his distant cousin from eastern Mediterranean Europe, Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot).
Quantum Leap is a drama series that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993 that starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist from six years in the future who becomes lost in time following a time travel experiment, temporarily taking the places of other people to "put right what once went wrong".
Roseanne is a sitcom that aired on ABC 1988 until 1997 that revolved around the Conners, an Illinois working class family. The series reached #1 in the Nielsen ratings becoming the most watched television show in the United States from 1989 to 1990, and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons, and in the top twenty for eight.
Saved by the Bell is a popular 1990s sitcom that aired between 1989 and 1993. The series is a retooled version of the 1988 series Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which was itself later folded into the history of Saved by the Bell. The series followed the exploits of several students along with their principal at fictional Bayside High School.
Seinfeld is a sitcom that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1998 set predominantly in an apartment block on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the show features a host of Jerry Seinfeld's stories with his best friend George Costanza, former girlfriend Elaine Benes, and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer.
That '70s Show is a period sitcom that aired on FOX from 1998 until 2006 and centered on the lives of a group of teenage friends living in the fictional suburban town of Point Place, Wisconsin in the 1970s.
Who's the Boss? is a sitcom that aired on ABC 1984 until 1992 and starred Tony Danza as a retired major league baseball player who relocates to Fairfield, Connecticut to work as a live-in housekeeper for a divorced advertising executive, played by Judith Light. Also featured were Alyssa Milano, Danny Pintauro, and Katherine Helmond.
Wings is a sitcom that ran for eight seasons from 1990 to 1997 on NBC and that starred Tim Daly and Steven Weber as brothers Joe and Brian Hackett. The show is set at the fictional “Tom Nevers Field” airport, a small two-airline airport in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where the Hackett brothers operate Sandpiper Air.