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50 Best TV Shows of the 1990s

Fresh Prince, Friends, Seinfeld: We're naming names. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Joal Ryan
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1 of 51 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (right); Warner Home Video (center-left)

50 Best TV Shows of the 1990s

Put on your best baggy clothes, and turn that baseball cap around because we're about to time-travel to the 1990s. Our editors have selected the 50 TV shows from the slammin' decade. We're talking The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, Seinfeld, and more.

PHOTOS: See the 50 best TV shows of the 1990s

Our list includes scripted shows and reality shows, and features shout-outs to signature '90s stars such as Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and the whole weird and wonderful gang of Twin Peaks.

Will we give you some binge-watch ideas? We hope so.

What show is No. 1? We're not telling. You'll have to click ahead to get the list, and find out.

Totally.

2 of 51 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

50. The Nanny

This 1993-1999 favorite gave us the fine whine of Fran Fine, the cosmetics saleswoman from New York City who lands an unlikely gig with a British widower and father of three. Fran Drescher earned two Primetime Emmy nominations for being a more-than-fine Fine in The Nanny.

3 of 51 Vivendi Entertainment

49. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Launched on a local TV station in 1988, MST3K became a national treasure a year later when it debuted on The Comedy Channel (later to be known as Comedy Central). For all of the 1990s, the Peabody Award-winning show, set in a darkened theater aboard the Satellite of Love, taught us how to snark back at Teenage Cave Man, Attack of the Giant Leeches, and other non-movie classics. Netflix revived the series in 2017.

4 of 51 Image Entertainment

48. Stargate SG-1

A spinoff of the film Stargate, this reliable, Emmy-nominated sci-fi series, which ran from 1997-2007, followed the adventures of a special-ops force that sought to protect Earth from hostile space aliens. MacGyver alum Richard Dean Anderson anchored the cast as Lt. Gen. Jack O'Neill.

5 of 51 Shout! Factory

47. Mr. Bean

Rowan Atkinson has made a lot of noise with his mostly silent alter-ego. Mr. Bean has been featured in two big-screen movies, an animated series, and even London's 2012 Olympic Summer Games. All this sprang from the original Mr. Bean, a kid-friendly, sight-gag-driven British series that produced just 15 episodes from 1990-1995.

6 of 51 Paramount Home Entertainment

46. Beverly Hills, 90210

From Brandon's sideburns to Dylan's sideburns to the whole gang's mom jeans, this 1990-2000 primetime soap, which helped define the then-fledgling Fox, is a time capsule of the decade's teen culture. That's probably why the 2019 revival BH90210 had to go meta to even attempt to work.

7 of 51 Paramount Television

45. Melrose Place

The slightly older cousin (and spin-off) of 90210, this 1992-1999, apartment-set series captured twentysomethings' then-fondness for pool, season-ending cliffhangers and Heather Locklear, whose arrival at the end of Season 1 as boss-from-hell Amanda Woodward provided a needed jolt. Like 90210, Melrose Place was revived by The CW.

8 of 51 Shout! Factory

44. Blossom

If you grew up watching this 1990-1995 family sitcom, then you probably appreciated that Mayim Bialik's title character was spunkier -- and smarter -- than most TV teens of the era. But, let's be real, you really appreciated Blossom Russo's hat collection, not to mention her brother Joey, played by '90s heartthrob Joey Lawrence.

9 of 51 Disney-ABC Domestic Television

43. Ellen

What began in 1994 as an alleged-Seinfeld knock-off (known in Season 1 as These Friends of Mine) ended in 1998 as having established itself as an LGBTQ ground-breaker. The series' big moment came in 1997 via "The Puppy Episode," in which star Ellen DeGeneres' character, Ellen Morgan, develops a crush on a woman, and comes out as a lesbian. The storyline followed DeGeneres' own headline-making "Yep, I'm gay," interview.

10 of 51 NBC/Getty Images

42. Mad About You

This 1992-1999 series about Manhattanites Paul and Jamie Buchman elevated the domestic sitcom, and won star Helen Hunt four Primetime Emmys. The Buchmans eventually returned to our screens for Spectrum Originals' revival in 2019.

11 of 51 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

41. Dawson's Creek

James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams, and Joshua Jackson formed the appealing core cast of this era-defining 1998-2003 drama from Scream's Kevin Williamson and the much-missed WB network.

12 of 51 Buena Vista Television

40. Felicity

Before Keri Russell was spying in The Americans, and before J.J. Abrams was directing both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises (not to mention co-creating Lost), they were teaming for this first-class 1998-2002 collegiate drama that sent the WB universe reeling when Russell and her TV alter-ego cut their hair after Season 1.

13 of 51 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

39. Ally McBeal

You can draw a direct line from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's 2018 comedy-series Emmy win to this Calista Flockhart-led lawyer series that, with its 1998 victory in the same category, made the awards world safe for hour-long shows that were rich in quirks -- and lacking in laugh tracks.

14 of 51 Shout! Factory

38. Spin City

On this reliable, 1996-2002 workplace sitcom co-created by Family Ties' Gary David Goldberg, Michael J. Fox won an Emmy for playing a Big Apple politico working under a daffy major. Fox, who'd announced he was living with Parkinson's disease in 1998, departed the series in 2000. Heather Locklear, who joined the cast during Fox's final year, worked alongside Charlie Sheen in the final two seasons.

15 of 51 Home Box Office Home Video

37. Everybody Loves Raymond

After a slow start in the ratings race, this 1996-2005 sitcom about the extended -- and crazy -- Barone clan became a Top 10 mainstay. An Emmy favorite, too, the show was named Outstanding Comedy Series at the 2005 Primetime Emmys. Of the show's original core cast, only Peter Boyle, as family patriarch Frank Barone, was denied an acting Emmy win.

16 of 51 ABC Studios

36. Home Improvement

There were a lot of 1990s sitcoms that were based on or informed by the comedy routines of their stand-up stars. But only Tim Allen's 1991-1999 Home Improvement introduced us to Pamela Anderson, and made a Teen Beat legend of JTT (that's Jonathan Taylor Thomas, natch).

17 of 51 Mill Creek Entertainment

35. Wings

Compared to other NBC sitcoms of the era, 1990-1997's Wings flew low and avoided most radar. But regardless of whether it won Emmys (it didn't), or captivated the nation with a tortured Ross-Rachel romance (though its own Joe-Helen saga had its fans), the series was an efficient comedy machine.

18 of 51 Home Box Office Home Video

34. Martin

En route to becoming a box-office star, Martin Lawrence mined his comic persona for this 1992-1997 Fox hit about the misadventures of a radio (and later TV) host. The show came to an ugly end when Tisha Campbell, the Gina of the series' iconic, "Damn, Gina!," filed a lawsuit accusing Lawrence of sexual harassment.

19 of 51 Shout! Factory

33. Doug

This gentle, Emmy-nominated animated series about awkward adolescence helped define early Nickelodeon, before concluding its production run on ABC in 1999.

The '90s Are Back: Nickelodeon May Reboot Your Favorite Childhood Shows

20 of 51 Shout! Factory

32. Rugrats

This influential, irreverent Emmy-winning 1991-2004 series, about Tommy, Angelica and other assorted Pickles, spawned a mass-media empire of films, comics, video games, and more.

21 of 51 Walt Disney Television

31. Dinosaurs

The brainchild of Muppets mogul Jim Henson, who died a year before its debut, this 1991-1994 show was a clever domestic sitcom in the vein of The Honeymooners and The Flintstones -- except with megalosaurs and a baby who knew the difference between Mama and "Not-the-Mama."

22 of 51 Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

30. Beavis and Butt-Head

This 1993-1997 MTV animated series (revived for 22 new episodes in 2011) was the breakthrough act for future Silicon Valley and King of the Hill co-creator Mike Judge. It was also one of the most controversial shows of the decade -- a frequent target for its snickering, fire-obsessed, monosyllabic (and really funny) protagonists.

23 of 51 NBC/Getty Images

29. Law & Order

This influential, 1990-2010 Emmy-winning procedural spawned the Law & Order franchise, paved the way for all the CSI and NCIS shows that would follow, and established that you could make a primetime drama where the concept was the biggest star of them all. Indeed, not one actor endured for the length of the series' Gunsmoke-tying 20-season run -- a feat which has since been surpassed by spin-off Law & Order: SVU, with Mariska Hargitay earning the distinction of TV's longest-running primetime drama character.

24 of 51 Warner Home Video

28. ER

Another series where cast members came and went but the show endured, this medical drama, which debuted in 1994, was TV's No. 1-watched program from 1996-1997, and again in 1999. The Emmy-winner finished its run in 2009 having gushed a lot of fake blood, and having made George Clooney an international star.

25 of 51 Mill Creek Entertainment

27. 3rd Rock from the Sun

John Lithgow won a boat-load of Primetime Emmys (six, to be precise) for heading the cast of this quirky 1996-2001 favorite about space aliens that land in Ohio, and try to pass for a suburban American family.

26 of 51 Warner Home Video

25. Animaniacs

Like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in Warner Bros. cartoon shorts of an earlier era, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot helped define comedy for a generation in this Daytime Emmy-winning, 1993-1998 series.

27 of 51 Nelvana Communications

26. The Magic School Bus

Based on the same-titled book series, and part of a far-flung media empire, which includes the present-day revival, The Magic School Bus Rides Again, this 1994-1997 animated favorite welcomed young viewers to ride along for science lessons from the Lily Tomlin-voiced Ms. Frizzle.

28 of 51 Paramount Home Entertainment

24. Frasier

A contender for best sitcom of all-time, this 1993-2004 series saw Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer) vacate his Cheers Boston bar stool in favor of a Seattle radio station. At the Primetime Emmys, Frasier regularly prevailed over Seinfeld and Friends, and emerged with five wins in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, more than any other series in the '90s.

29 of 51 Home Box Office Home Video

23. Oz

This acclaimed, pull-no-punches 1997-2003 HBO drama took viewers into the maximum-security bowels of the Oswald State Correctional Facility -- Oz, for short. It's considered one of the best TV series to never win an Emmy.

30 of 51 Paramount Home Entertainment

22. Daria

Like its clear-eyed, sardonic title character, this series kept it real for MTV audiences from 1997-2002, and gave teen girls a rare animated role model.

31 of 51 Michael Grecco/Getty Images

21. Quantum Leap

Before Forrest Gump walked baby boomers back through their oft-examined lives, there was Dr. Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula). The scientist zigzagged through the latter half of the 20th century in this likable 1989-1993 sci-fi drama.

32 of 51 Mill Creek Entertainment

20. Married ... With Children

Part of Fox's original primetime-series slate, this 1987-1997 comedy endured for 11 seasons of Bundy antics. The show's refusal to play by the rules broke new ground, and incited boycotts. Amanda Bearse, who played the Bundys' neighbor Marcy, and Katey Sagal, who starred as matriarch Peg Bundy, have remembered Married as, respectively, a "mean-spirited and misogynist show" that "completely exploited" its women characters.

33 of 51 Paramount Home Entertainment

19. The Adventures of Pete & Pete

This beloved 1993-1996 Nickelodeon comedy show, which got its start via a series of shorts and specials dating back to the late '80s, introduced us to Big Pete Wrigley (played by Michael C. Maronna), and his younger brother, Little Pete (played by Danny Tamberelli). The show was set in the leafy town of Wellsville, and featured just the right amount of quirk.

34 of 51 Mill Creek Entertainment

18. Kids in the Hall

This inventive 1989-1995 series, featuring future sitcom fixture Dave Foley (NewsRadio, The Middle), and originally broadcast on HBO (Seasons 1-3) and CBS (Seasons 4-5), took its name from the Canadian comedy troupe brought to U.S. audiences by Saturday Night Live impresario (and fellow Canuck) Lorne Michaels.

35 of 51 FilmRise

17. Unsolved Mysteries

With America's Most Wanted, Rescue 911, and more, the '90s did not lack for reenactment true-crime shows. Maybe it was Robert Stack, maybe it was Robert Stack's trench coat, but Unsolved Mysteries was the classiest of them all. It was produced from 1987 until Stack took ill in 2002, and was revived in 2008 (mostly featuring the same old cases, but with new intros from new host Dennis Farina).

36 of 51 Home Box Office Home Video

16. Mr. Show With Bob and David

If this 1995-1998 HBO show did no more than produce some of the best sketch comedy of its decade, then that would be enough to land it a spot here. But it also provided an early platform for Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub, SpongeBob SquarePants's Tom Kenny, and, of course, its stars, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and David Cross (Arrested Development).

37 of 51 CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

15. Murphy Brown

In this Emmy-winning TV-news comedy's first iteration, from 1988-1998, it tackled alcoholism, single parenthood, breast cancer, and then-Vice President Dan Quayle. Befitting a show that was both a lightning rod and a fan favorite, the title character's pregnancy was a national event, with 38 million people tuning in Murphy's delivery.

38 of 51 ABC/Getty Images

14. Full House

To viewers of a certain age, TGIF will always mean ABC family sitcoms of a certain era, including this iconic 1987-1995 sitcom that introduced us to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (aka, the Olsen twins), and spawned the (Olsen-free) Netflix revival, Fuller House.

39 of 51 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

13. In Living Color

It's taken Saturday Night Live decades and a public shaming to move toward what Keenen Ivory Wayans built with this landmark 1990-1994 show: sketch comedy that wasn't just for white guys. In addition to history, In Living Color helped make Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Ann Inaba, and all the other Wayans, including Damon, Marlon, and Shawn.

40 of 51 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Led by Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), the so-called Scooby Gang of Sunnydale battled supernatural forces and high-school pressures in Joss Whedon's smart, funny 1997-2003 series that eclipsed his same-titled 1992 movie, and gave rise to the spin-off Angel.

41 of 51 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

11. Boy Meets World

Parents might not have understood the importance of this 1993-2000 sitcom about the travails of Corey Matthews (played by Ben Savage), friend Shawn (Rider Strong) and future wife, Topanga (Danielle Fishel), but their children did. That's why when the kids grew up, and became TV executives, they greenlit Girl Meets World.

42 of 51 Fox

10. The Simpsons

What can you say an Emmy-winner that became a pop-culture phenomenon nearly 30 years ago, that's in the history books as TV's longest-running sitcom of all-time, and that's still producing new episodes? Maybe there's nothing to say except a big, hardy: D'oh!

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9. Saved by the Bell

As Funny or Die has taught us, the ostensive hero of this 1989-1993 Saturday-morning sitcom is "trash." But we even though we know that Bayside High schemer Zach Morris (played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar) was wrong, and that Saved By the Bell itself was frequently sexist and, per its star, occasionally "racist," we just can't quit it. It's a part of us. Probably a side-effect of the giant cell phones. Good thing there's a revival on the way.

44 of 51 ABC/Getty Images

8. The Wonder Years

It's a testament to the storytelling power of this 1988-1993, Stand By Me-channeling dramedy that children of the 1990s connected with the material in The Wonder Years as much as baby boomers. It's also a testament to the Savage family that this is the second series on our list to feature a Savage -- in this case, Fred Savage.

45 of 51 Shout! Factory

7. Freaks and Geeks

The 1990s didn't deserve Freaks and Geeks, a one-and-done comedy-drama about 1980s teen life from executive producer Judd Apatow and creator Paul Feig (Bridesmaids). At least its 18 episodes, originally aired from 1999-2000, were enough to introduce pretty much everyone we'd need to hear from in the 2000s: Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley (director of Game Night), Busy Philipps, and James Franco.

46 of 51 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

6. The X-Files

Once upon a time, the world was not quite as obsessed with conspiracy theories, and grownups behaved more like skeptical FBI agent Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) rather than her UFO-chasing partner, Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny). The X-Files, an Emmy-winning, film-spawning series, originally produced from 1993-2002, and revived in 2016 and 2018, used to be about the only thing that the tinfoil-hat crowd had to hang its tinfoil hat on.

47 of 51 NBC/Getty Images

5. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Though already a hip-hop star, Will Smith burst into the big-time via this 1990-1996, fish-out-of-water sitcom that not only gave us a new Hollywood leading man, but The Carlton dance.

48 of 51 Shout! Factory

4. My So-Called Life

Like Freaks and Geeks, this was a show that was too good for the 1990s. My So-Called Life blazed a trail for LGBTQ characters (via Wilson Cruz's Rickie Vasquez), shined a spotlight on the talents of Claire Danes and Jared Leto, and left behind 19 heartfelt episodes, originally aired from 1994-1995.

49 of 51 George Lange/NBC/Getty Images

3. Seinfeld

Larry David and titular star Jerry Seinfeld's 1989-1998 creation, the 1993 Emmy-winner for Outstanding Comedy Series, all-around cultural touchstone, and yada yada yada, was definitely not about about nothing: Seinfeld was about the little things that make life annoying, and, when expertly observed, really, really funny.

50 of 51 CBS Television Distribution

2. Twin Peaks

Primetime TV audiences of 1990 had never seen anything like the wrapped-in-plastic body of Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee) on Twin Peaks. They'd also never before responded with such enthusiasm to something so idiosyncratic and occasionally gruesome. David Lynch's atmospheric drama fizzed a year later, but it made its mark (and lived on via a feature film and 2017 revival series).

51 of 51 NBC/Getty Images

1. Friends

In 2019, Friends turned 25 -- older than some of the Manhattanite characters were supposed to be at the start of the series' 1994-2004 run. Despite its advancing age, TV's most-watched show of 2001-2002 (and 2002's Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series) is still snappy. As the theme song says, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe will always be there for us.