Last week's shocking news that Garry Shandling died at 66 got us all thinking about The Larry Sanders Show. The HBO program about a fictional late night talk show never got a ton of press or attention, but it was one of the funniest shows of the decades and it paved the way for The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm and countless others. We may be living in a Golden Age of Television now, but The Larry Sanders Show was just one of many amazing comedy programs of the 1990s. We asked our readers to vote for their favorites. Here are the results.
If the Larry Sanders Show had come around in the age of Twitter and Facebook, it would have been an instant sensation with blogs devoted to the show and in-depth recaps publishing hours after each new episode aired. But it arrived in 1992 and never became anything more than a huge cult favorite. It stuck around for six seasons and advanced the careers of Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, Jeremy Piven and many others, but it truly deserved to be as massively popular as Seinfeld or any other show of the era.
Five years after Beavis and Butt-head became cultural sensations, Mike Judge proved he had a little more depth to him when he co-created King of the Hill. It's the story of a mild-mannered propane salesmen in small-town Texas dealing with his young family and assorted oddball neighbors. That might not sound like the most enticing premise in the world, but Judge and former Simpsons writer Greg Daniels populated the landscape of King of the Hill with amazing characters and managed to stretch it out for 13 seasons.
There's a reason that Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson was able to rack up well over $6 million via Kickstarter campaign last year when he decided to bring the show back. It's been 17 years since Comedy Central (in 1997) and then the Sci-Fi Channel (in 1999) cancelled the long-running series about a guy and two robots that mock bad movies from a satellite in space. But the world is hungry for more. It began on a local Minnesota television station in 1988 and spread to Comedy Central the following year, even though many households didn't get the station and were forced to trade bootleg VHS tapes with friends. Some fans are dismayed that none of the original cast members besides Hodgson are involved in the reboot. Many former cast members vented via Twitter about the situation and are now working on their own Kickstarter, so this isn't exactly the complete reunion we all hoped we'd see – but we'll take what we can get.
It began in 1992 with an animated short called Frog Baseball that featured little more than two moronic teenagers brutally killing a frog with a baseball bat. Nobody who watched that could have predicted they were witnessing the birth of one of the great satirical shows of the decade. Once Beavis and Butt-head became an MTV series, many conservative groups were horrified, seeing it as yet another sign that society was going to hell. Nearly a quarter century later, no less than the Weekly Standard is praising Judge as "one of America's visionary comic intelligences over the previous 15 years." The John Podhoretz-penned article went on to name Beavis and Butt-head a "landmark act of pop culture self-criticism about the banality of music videos and the stunted sensibilities of their teenage male audience." He's absolutely right, even if that revival a couple of years ago where they watched new shows like Jersey Shore didn't quite pan out.
Currently, most people probably know Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and David Cross as the goofy dude from Arrested Development and the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. But back in the mid-1990s they worked together on the the groundbreaking HBO sketch comedy program Mr. Show with Bob and David. It was an amazing time for sketch comedy, with MTV's The State churning out brilliant work alongside the Uprights Citizens Brigade and Kids in the Hall. Odenkirk and Cross moved onto other projects after Mr. Show ended, but they recently got back together on the Netflix show W/ Bob & David.
Phil Hartman and Dave Foley were both unbelievably brilliant as cast members on Saturday Night Live and Kids In The Hall, respectively, and in 1995 they teamed up for the NBC workplace comedy NewsRadio. The show – which also featured Andy Dick, Joe Rogan and Maura Tierney – took place at an AM radio station in New York City. It was going strong until Phil Hartman's sudden death after the fourth season. He was replaced by Jon Lovitz, but it didn't quite work out, and the show quickly folded. The whole thing was painful for Lovitz, and he doesn't even want to talk about it these days, saying in 2010 when asked: "Ah, I don’t want to talk about that."
On September 22nd, 1994 a new sitcom began airing on NBC about six young New Yorkers who spent most of their time hanging out in a coffee shop or an incredibly large apartment in Manhattan. Most of them were relative unknowns, though Courteney Cox was familiar for a stint on Family Ties and Jennifer Aniston had been on the short-lived Ferris Bueller show and the original Leprechaun movie. Within a few months, they were six of the most famous people in America. The show lasted for a decade, earning the cast insane amounts of money. Friends has been off the air for 12 years by now, but it remains wildly popular due to syndication and Netflix binge-watching.
Cheers was still an incredibly popular show when it went off the air in 1993. NBC, desperate to keep the money train moving along, went ahead with a spinoff about psychologist Frasier Crane. Few people involved probably imagined it would last 11 seasons and prove to be one of the most popular sitcoms of the entire decade. The creators had the wisdom to move the action from Boston to Seattle, limiting the references to Cheers and letting Frasier establish his own universe. The show ran out of gas near the very end, but it had an incredible run and allowed Kelsey Grammer to play the same character for two decades, nearly a TV record.
The Simpsons first hit the air in the late 1980s, and it continues to this day, but it clearly reached a creative peak in the 1990s. It was a time when creative geniuses like Conan O'Brien, James L. Brooks, John Swartzwelder, Greg Daniels and many, many others came together to flesh out the vision of creator Matt Groening and make it one of the most brilliant shows in the history of television. Fans will forever dispute when exactly the quality began to dip, but it's hard to find a bad episode in seasons three through six. As time goes by, they only get funnier and funnier. One day Fox will finally pull the plug on the show and many will claim it as an act of mercy, but we'll be living in a worse world once new episodes of The Simpsons stop airing.
Could any other show have possibly topped this list? Seinfeld is the defining show of the entire decade. The sitcom format had grown quite stale and creaky when it came around, and Seinfeld breathed much-needed life back into it. The characters never learned a life lesson. They never grew. They never really cared about anything but themselves, even shrugging their shoulders when George's fiancée died. For nine nearly perfect seasons, they inhabited a universe that viewers wanted to revisit time and time again. Jerry Seinfeld was offered a huge fortune to do a tenth season, but he wisely declined. Shows diminish their legacy when they stick around too long. He knew just when it was time to bow out, and he hasn't gone near another sitcom in years since. What would be the point?