American sitcom firsts, real and perceived.

TV history, like all history, is full of received wisdom that isn’t always accurate. This wisdom may be explicit or implied and, if implied, it may never really be stated outright, making it very difficult to rebut if it is false. I’ll begin with some of the things I happen to think I know about the subject of American sitcom firsts:
[li]The first standalone sitcom was I Love Lucy, which was spun off from Gleason’s variety show on the DuMont Network. It was successful in its own time and is the primary reason Gleason and Carney are remembered today, despite their respective movie careers.[/li][li]The first dramatic sitcom was MASH*, which was also the first sitcom to turn off the laugh track for at least part of most episodes. (The OR scenes never had a laugh track but the rest of the episode did.)[/li][li]The first sitcom to thrive on controversy (that is, to draw ratings mainly from being argued about in the mass media) was All in the Family, initially due in no small part to being the first American TV show ever to feature the sound of a toilet flushing.[/li][li]The first successful primetime animated sitcom was The Flintstones. The second was The Simpsons. There hasn’t been a third.[/li][/ul]

How do you define “successful”? Although arguably not as ingrained in the national consciousness as the other two, King of the Hill has been running in prime time for 13 seasons. And Family Guy is in its seventh season, despite a cancellation and revival, and is contracted to run until at least 2012. Both of those seem pretty successful to me.

I think you mean The Honeymooners, not I Love Lucy.

The first sitcom to handle the subject of abortion was Maude (another Norman Lear show).

The first sitcom to feature an openly gay man (though it was played down after the pilot) was the Swoosie Kurtz/Tony Randall vehicle Love, Sidney.

The first sitcom to treat a transgender character seriously was, again, All In The Family.

Damn. Now how many people are going to jump on that?

Soap has this one beat by a few years with Billy Crystal’s openly gay character Jodie Dallas.

There may be others.


Of course you’re right! My experience is deficient here because we weren’t allowed to watch Soap…it was “dirty”. So the show doesn’t spring to mind when I’m thinking of these things.

How about The Jetsons? Futurama? Family Guy?

I define success purely in terms of the number of episodes, and I recall discussion about how it was a big deal when The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones. I didn’t hear about The Jetsons in those discussions and a certainly didn’t hear about KotH, Family Guy, or Futurama.

Remember, this thread is about real and perceived firsts (and seconds, and so on).

Like The Hot L Baltimore, which had a gay couple two years before Soap.

Not exactly the first (there was a sitcom in the very early days that had one), but Green Acres was the first since then that showed a married couple sharing the same bed.

I don’t know about number of episodes, but The Flintstones ran for six seasons. King of the Hill has been on for 13, and South Park for 12.

You ever hear of a little show? Called South Park?

The first sitcom to actually have a laugh track was The Hank McCune Show in 1950.

I Love Lucy is usually credited as the first sitcom recorded on film instead of broadcast live.

Julia was the first comedy with a black woman as the lead in a non-stereotypical role. (Beulah was much earlier, but she was a maid).

Wasn’t that the reason that the show was able to be endlessly syndicated? And I thought I remember reading that Desi Arnaz invented the three-camera setup for the show.

Most people haven’t, no, judging by ratings.

Then your perceptions are wrong, it’s that simple. Because I guarantee that any discussion of famous primetime cartoon sitcoms would include South Park, Family Guy (and likely) King of the Hill.

If you’re talking about perceptions, many people nowadays have no idea The Flintstones was a primetime show. They think it was always a Saturday morning/after school kind of thing.

People get so much wrong about The Honeymooners that it deserves a thread of its own.

The short version is that The Honeymooners as a TV show didn’t debut until as late as 1955. Calling it first is like calling Lincoln the first president.

Gleason had starred in the first television version of *The Life of Riley *as early as 1949. Even that’s not the first sitcom, although 1949 is the first season to have successful long-running sitcoms debut, like The Goldbergs (five seasons) and *Mama *(seven seasons). The successful version of The Life of Riley, the one with William Bendix, debuted in 1953 so it’s also earlier than The Honeymooners.

The Honeymooners began as a skit of the DuMont show *The Cavalcade of Stars *in 1951. But that’s not where it got famous. That didn’t happen until the next year when Gleason went to CBS for his own Jackie Gleason Show.

The spin-off - that might be a true first - lasted just a season. If The Honeymooners was successful, then so was The Jetsons.

There were lots of military sitcoms before MASH*. Were any of them “dramatic sitcoms”? Depends on your definition. McHale’s Navy was normally farcical, but had serious military scenes. *“Mister Roberts” *complete with quotes was a one-season (1965-66) adaptation of the more successful novel, play, and movie. I’ve never seen it but from descriptions it seems to be a transition to the 70s-style more serious sitcom.

Some other true firsts.

The first sitcom to have a child as the featured star was Leave it to Beaver in 1957. The first to have a “teenager” as star was The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in 1959. The first to dispense with adults altogether as continuing cast members was The Monkees in 1966.

The first to star black performers is… a tie. Both Amos ‘n’ Andy and Beulah, with Ethel Waters as a maid, debuted in 1950. She was replaced by Hattie McDaniel and then by Louise Beavers over its two season run. 1950. Why 1950? Why wasn’t there another until *Julia *in 1968? A mystery. But I guarantee you that if you’re looking for a sitcom that thrived on controversy Amos ‘n’ Andy beat All in the Family by a mile.

The first starring a women in a serious job was the completely forgotten Boss Lady. In 1951 Lynn Bari played the owner and operator of the Hillendale Homes Construction Company. It lasted three seasons and was never heard from again.

Perceptions? Isn’t that like defending ignorance? :dubious:

The first sitcom spinoffs were Pete and Gladys from December Bride and The Andy Griffith Show from the Danny Thomas Show. Both premiered in 1960.

Don’t make any bets on this one, someone will probably show come up with a clip of something. In addition to the 1948-era Mary Kay and Johnny (the first sitcom; also the first one to move from one network to another) Harriet Nelson has always insisted (although I’ve never seen a clip) that she and Ozzie slept in the same bed in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. There was also an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Laura were shown in the same bed. Buddy and Sally were also sharing the bed, but bar bets are won and lost on such nitpicks.

Annie X-Mas:

This will surprise you as much as it surprised me when I learned it: The Jetsons only ran one season (1962-1963) on prime time. They are well-remembered because those 24 prime time episodes were then re-run over and over for years as kiddie-time cartoons. New episodes of the Jetsons weren’t made until a brief revival in the 1980’s, and those weren’t in prime time. But the Jetsons are definitely not what you’d consider a successful prime-time animated show.

The first sitcom to have the child star’s name (as opposed to the character’s name) in the title was The Patty Duke Show