The Ultimate Sitcom

  • TV factual
  • Channel 4
  • 2006
  • 1 episode

Alexander Armstrong presents the results of a poll of those in the comedy industry to name the best sitcoms ever made. Features Pauline McLynn, Jon Plowman, Simon Pegg, Robin Ince, Paul Jackson and more.

About The Ultimate Sitcom

The Ultimate Sitcom was a poll held by Channel 4 in 2006 to see what the greatest sitcom of all time was. However, unlike most television polls, this was not voted for by the public. This was voted for by people who actually work within sitcoms, both in the UK and from abroad. Sitcoms from both sides of the Atlantic are included in this poll, including some that you may not expect.

The List

Fawlty Towers. Image shows from L to R: Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales), Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), Polly (Connie Booth), Manuel (Andrew Sachs). Copyright: BBC

Below is the final list of the 20 greatest sitcoms ever made, as voted for by the people who make them:

1) Frasier (US: 1993 - 2004)

A spin-off to Cheers (see below), snobbish and anal Dr. Frasier Crane returns to native Seattle after the break-up of his marriage. His attempt at bachelorhood is hampered by his retired father Martin, his English physical therapist Daphne, and his even more pompous brother Niles.

2) Fawlty Towers (UK: 1975 - 1979)

Basil Fawlty, the owner of a Torquay hotel, is a man of infinite rudeness with a rabid dislike of guests. Voted as the greatest British sitcom ever, it is one of the best farces. It is also, at least in one way, one of the most disturbing sitcoms on the list, in that the dreadful Basil was based on actual hotelier in Torquay.

3) Seinfeld (US: 1989 - 1998)

Stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld plays himself, as his best friend George, ex-girlfriend Elaine and neighbour Kramer appear in the sitcom with one of most unusual situations of all. Seinfeld is a show about nothing. "The Contest" episode, in which the characters bet so who is "master of their domain", is often seen as the best episode in US sitcom history.

4) Porridge (UK: 1973 - 1977)

Ronnie Barker stars as Norman Stanley Fletcher, trying to keep his nose clean, and guiding his young 'roomie' Godber, whilst residing in HMP Slade. Not only did it deal with something which is widely considered not to be funny, it also followed one of the great sitcom rules in the best possible way by ensuring the characters could never escape from each other.

5) The Larry Sanders Show (US: 1992 - 1998)

Larry Sanders is the host of one of the biggest late-night talk shows in America. However, while Sanders may be a star on screen, he is in fact utterly vain and neurotic. The series was notable for combining both the usual tape style of shooting, while using film for the 'behind-the-scenes' segments.

6) The Phil Silvers Show (Sergeant Bilko) (US: 1955 - 1959)

Phil Silvers stars as Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko, a man whose main ambition in life is to make a quick buck using various 'get rich quick' schemes. Interestingly, the programme notes that this series is more popular in Britain that it was in its native America.

7) Dad's Army (UK: 1968 - 1977)

The Walmington-On-Sea Home Guard, led by Captain Mainwaring, are totally ill-prepared for an attack from the Nazis and none are fit to fight. This show is still respected today because it contains nothing offensive.

8) Blackadder (UK: 1983 - 1989)

The four series of this sitcom focus on different eras in the Blackadder family dynasty. The series followed the Blackadder's (all called Edmund) from Richard III to the trenches of The Great War. It is also notable for being able to produce laughs on a tight budget, after it was required to work on a reduced budget in order to secure a second series.

9) Spaced (UK: 1999 - 2001)

Tim is a comic book artist who has just split up with Sarah, the love of his life. Daisy is an aspiring writer-journalist desperate to leave the squat where she lives. The two decide to pose as a professional couple in order to find a decent flat to rent.

10) The Office (UK: 2001 - 2003)

David Brent is the manager from hell, he is tactless, talentless, egotistical, prejudiced, cowardly and conniving yet somehow thinks everyone loves him. A BBC documentary team film him going about his daily business. This sitcom is regarded as the best of recent times, having won a huge number of awards.

11) Father Ted (UK/Eire: 1995 - 1998)

Fathers Ted Crilly, Dougal Maguire and Jack Hackett are Craggy Island's priests, having been banished from the mainland. This show is regarded as Channel 4's best sitcom. Its style made it stand out from the American shows the channel was broadcasting at the time.

12) Cheers (US: 1982 - 1993)

Best described by the show's title song, Cheers is a bar in Boston in which everybody knows your name, run by Sam 'Mayday' Malone, a former baseball star who is both a recovering alcoholic and an womaniser. The slick style of the show made a dramatic change when it was shown in the UK, as it made many UK sitcoms suddenly look dated.

13) I'm Alan Partridge (UK: 1997 - 2002)

Alan Partridge is an insincere and skill-less chat show host. After being fired he tries to rebuild his career by hosting a local radio show. Alan is one of the greatest characters in comedy, in that he is utterly tactless and almost always says the wrong thing in any situation.

14) Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister (UK: 1980 - 1988)

Jim Hacker, Member of Parliament, is appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Administrative Affairs. There he is introduced to Bernard Wooley, his Private Secretary and Civil Servant boss Sir Humphrey Appleby. This sitcom gave most people their first glance at what really goes on in Whitehall, and it also won several BAFTAs.

15) Curb Your Enthusiasm (US: 2000 - Present)

Larry David is best known as the co-creator of Seinfeld. Now semi-retired, he spends his time just trying to get through the day without anything bad happening to him. This sitcom is known for its improvisational style and for being one of the rudest sitcoms around.

16) The Good Life (UK: 1975 - 1978)

Tom and Barbara Good attempt to live completely self-sufficient lives in the suburbs whilst their very conservative neighbours, Jerry and Margo Ledbetter, look on, horrified at their bold experiment. The show is admired in Britain, in particularly by Queen Elizabeth II, who once attended a recording.

17) The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (UK: 1976 - 1979)

Bored, middle-aged executive Reginald Perrin fakes his own suicide and returns as 'Martin Wellbourne' his non-existent best friend. Under the new identity he has a relationship with his wife and returns to work at the factory. One of the darkest sitcoms made, it is unsettling to know that you laughing at a man slowly going insane.

18) Hancock's Half Hour (UK: 1956 - 1961)

Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock is a loser whose plans and aspirations are continually ruined by bad luck, Sidney Balmoral James or, more often than not, by his own pomposity and ambition. There is one thing that this sitcom can lay claim to - it was, as we see it today, the first modern sitcom.

19) Rising Damp (UK: 1974 - 1978)

The landlord from hell, Rupert Rigsby, doesn't have any friends. He spends his time annoying his tenants, Miss Jones (who he repeatedly tries to seduce), student Alan (who he moans at) and the black Philip (who he is prejudiced against). This show is widely regarded as being the best sitcom ever produced for ITV.

20) The Young Ones (UK: 1982 - 1984)

Hippy Neil, nerdy Cliff Richard-obsessed Rick, psychopathic punk Vyvyan and smooth Mike share a squalid and collapsing student house together. The show was the first successful sitcom from the new wave of alternative comedians, and featured a wide range of ideas and stunts.

Differences between 'The Ultimate Sitcom' and 'Britain's Best Sitcom'

In 2004, another poll was held by the BBC to find best British sitcom. As a result, there are many major differences between the two polls. Only one show appeared in the same position in both lists - Father Ted.

The winner of the Britain's Best Sitcom poll, Only Fools And Horses, was not included anywhere in The Ultimate Sitcom. Other entries left out included The Vicar of Dibley (3rd in the BBC poll), Open All Hours (8th) and One Foot in the Grave (10th).

Some British shows suffered from a poorer listing on The Ultimate Sitcom compared to Britain's Best Sitcom. These include Blackadder (2nd in the BBC poll), Dad's Army (4th), Yes Minister (6th), Porridge (7th) and The Good Life (9th).

Meanwhile, British shows did better on The Ultimate Sitcom. On the Britain's Best Sitcom list, Fawlty Towers was 5th, The Office came 25th, Rising Damp was 27th, Hancock's Half Hour was 30th, The Young Ones was 31st and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was 35th and I'm Alan Partridge was 42nd. Spaced was the 66th best British sitcom as voted for by the public, which resulted in it not even being talked about on Britain's Best Sitcom.

While the Americans may have come top of the list, only six of the sitcoms in The Ultimate Sitcom were from the USA.

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