The 10 Longest-Running Sitcoms of All Time


The success of long-running sitcoms can be attributed to their timelessness and adaptability. Historically, situational comedies have come a long way in their varied premises and their unique relationships with their audience. The format was popular among families in the mid-20th century, as television became a medium to propagate nuclear family values in America. Though sitcoms have retained their significance, their characters, themes, and overall presentation have evolved drastically.



Today, you can find situational comedies in a variety of shapes and forms, with some being highly politicized, and others being brought to life through animation. The nuclear family has been replaced by friends, colleagues, or flatmates as sitcoms adapt to cultural changes. Some sitcoms have even become self-aware of their own history, purposefully throwing references to classic titles while parodying their own genre conventions. With that in mind, here are 10 longest-running sitcoms that have left a lasting legacy on American television, as well as why they lasted as long as they did.

Updated Jan. 17, 2024: Curious about what the longest-running sitcoms of all time are? Don’t worry, as this article has been updated with additional content and useful features.


10 Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 – 2024)

120 Episodes Over 12 Seasons

The dead-pan phenomenon, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is a reel-meets-real take on Larry David’s career and public persona. The show stars Larry David as a fictionalized version of himself, being a cranky, semi-retired television writer meandering through the mundane absurdities of everyday life. The show’s sense of humor bares a number of similarities to Larry David’s popular series, Seinfeld, albeit with a plethora of creative freedoms granted by HBO. Several plotlines follow a simple misunderstanding or inconvenience being taken to a ludicrous extreme, with Larry easily losing his temper and doing the clumsiest things at the most inappropriate times.

The show is heavily improvised and is known for featuring several celebrity guests, including Ricky Gervais, John Hamm, Salman Rushdie, and Wanda Sykes. Several seasons also feature light serialization elements, such as an ongoing attempt at a Seinfeld reunion, Larry’s appropriately-named “spite store,” or the production of The Producers on Broadway. The show first aired in 1999 and had a six-year hiatus from 2011 to 2017, concluding its eleventh season in 2021. Season 12 will double as Curb Your Enthuasiam‘s final season, officially debuting on Feb. 4, 2024.

A Quarter Century of Comedy

The show is critically acclaimed, achieving cult status for David’s self-aware style of writing about his public perception and his industry, keeping audiences guessing where fiction ends and reality begins. After more than 50 separate Emmy nominations, the series eventually won two Emmys — Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series — for the episodes “Krazee-Eyez Killa” and “Palestinian Chicken,” respectively. Outside critical awards, however, the series’ numerous catchphrases, meme-worthy scenes, and irreverent sense of humor allowed it to persist in the public eye despite a scattered production schedule across 25 years.

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9 The Big Bang Theory (2007 – 2019)

279 Episodes Over 12 Seasons

The Big Bang Theory

Release Date
September 24, 2007

Seasons
12

The Big Bang Theory combines common tropes of a sitcom with a fresh perspective of science geek-ism, making it a highly watched and admired show post-F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The five main characters from the show — Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) — are friends who reside within the same apartment complex in sunny California. The show follows the group’s quirky lifestyle, mostly involving science, comic book fandom, and poor luck with romantic relationships. As the series continues, neuroscientist Amy (Mayim Bialik) and microbiologist Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) are promoted from recurring roles into the main cast. The show first aired in 2007 and completed its final season in 2019.

The Big Bang Theory Made Geekdom Cool

Sheldon’s hyper-obsessive behavior and socially awkward mannerisms quickly became the highlight of this long-running show, prompting thousands of fans to exclaim “bazinga” alongside Jim Parsons throughout its 279 episodes. ​Parson’s character was so popular, he even received a prequel spinoff series in the form of Young Sheldon, with its final season set to air on Feb. 15, 2024.

Though some may hold a negative opinion of this series, The Big Bang Theory rightfully earned a dedicated following that persists to this day. Its impressive viewership made it a frequent face at the annual Emmy Awards, with Jim Parsons in particular securing the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series on four separate occasions. The series’ emphasis on scientific topics and nerd culture reflected the growing popularity of both in pop culture at the time as well, with several prominent guest stars like the late Stephen Hawking and Wil Wheaton making multiple appearances throughout.

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Young Sheldon’s Biggest Continuity Errors with The Big Bang Theory

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8 Two and a Half Men (2003 – 2015)

262 Episodes Over 12 Seasons

The cult classic Two and a Half Men has had a tumultuous history throughout its 12 seasons. Originally, the show starred Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper, a free-spirited jingle writer who reluctantly lives with his brother, Alan Harper (Jon Cryer), and his naughty son, Jake Harper (Angus T. Jones), after his brother’s marriage falls apart. It’s a series whose popularity and cultural endurance was largely attributed to its syndication status and the popularity of Charlie Sheen, even leading to one of the most bizarre crossover events in television history: “Fish in a Drawer” and “Two and a Half Deaths,” which saw the worlds of Two and a Half Men and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation crossing over.

However, after Sheen’s controversial career downfall and comments made towards series creator Chuck Lorre, he was replaced by Ashton Kutcher as Walden Schmidt, an internet billionaire who owns Charlie’s house following his death. Kutcher would remain on the series for the last four seasons, with Sheen returning for the fourth-wall-breaking finale “Of Course He’s Dead.”

Two and a Half Men Paved the Way for Greater Success

The series enjoyed large viewership numbers despite its somewhat questionable content, made more impressive due to its status as a multi-camera sitcom. Considering that Two and a Half Men endured into the age of The Office, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, it’s even more impressive. The series also launched Chuck Lorre’s career as a producer, who went on to produce The Big Bang Theory after the success of the series.

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7 King of the Hill (1997 – 2009)

259 Episodes Over 13 Seasons

Greg Daniels and Mike Judge created King of the Hill, an animated series centered around a family in Texas. It follows Hank Hill (Mike Judge), a propane sales agent living with his wife, Peggy Hill (Kathy Najimy); his son, Bobby Hill (Pamela Adlon); and his niece, Luanne Platter (Brittany Murphy). Hank Hill is an everyday blue-collar type who has a normal life, living in a ranch-style house while dealing with the eccentricities that suburban life in Texas can bring with it.

Despite its current cult status, King of the Hill would see near-universal acclaim as it aired between 1997 and 2009, eventually finding new life as a frequent fixture of Adult Swim’s late-night programming. Its enduring popularity has even led to the development of a series reboot, currently slated for release on Hulu. The reboot will feature a time skip that takes place after the original series finale.

One of Mike Judge’s Finest Productions

The show is known for its realistic portrayal of a Texas neighborhood, including the characters’ politics and blue-collar occupations. For example, Peggy Hill is a lovably narcissistic substitute teacher, Bill is an affable military barber, and Dale is a pro-gun, anti-government pest exterminator. Owing to its roots in Texas, the series also featured a plethora of celebrity guest stars, including the late Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, and Vince Gill.

Though conservative values are a prominent fixture throughout, the series rarely ever punched down on the topics it tackled. Hank Hill in particular saw acclaim for being a flawed, yet malleable character, maintaining a clear set of values that don’t necessarily align with a specific political spectrum. The series as a whole was considered to be a great representation of southern America, finding humor in its characters and the realistic problems they solve compared to other animated sitcoms.

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6 The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952 – 1966)

435 Episodes Over 14 Seasons

Before It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the 1950s sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet once held the record for the longest-running live-action American sitcom. The series aired on ABC and starred the Nelson family, who were real-life celebrities in the 1950s and ‘60s. The show was based on the radio show of the same name, and expressed the values of the nuclear family through its popular figures. The Nelson family included the parental couple, Ozzie and Harriet, and their sons, David and Ricky. Each episode focused on family-based issues pertaining to the decade, with the series eventually becoming synonymous with ’50s across 435 episodes and 14 seasons.

An Important Series for Rick Nelson’s Career

Though it may not hold the distinction of being the longest-running live-action sitcom anymore, the series does have the highest number of episodes produced for a live-action sitcom. The show was the partial reason behind Rick Nelson’s successful musical career, as it featured the singer’s musical talents before he would later pursue a solo career in music. It takes one back to when sitcoms were a social tool for family integration, and though its content would feel somewhat dated by the advent of the 1960s, it remains an effective time capsule of its respective era.

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5 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005 – Present)

170 Episodes Over 16 Seasons

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia became the longest-running live-action American sitcom, with its latest season airing in 2023. The memorable cult-favorite sitcom follows a gang of erratic friends – Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) – who run Paddy’s Pub, an Irish dive bar in Pennsylvania. The show focuses on their heavy drinking, dysfunctional activities, constant arguments, and self-serving backstabs. Most of their actions are driven by boredom, revenge, selfishness, and financial envy.

The series originally debuted in 2005, with its second season surprising many viewers by incorporating Danny Devito as a central cast member. As it continued over the course of 170 episodes, It’s Always Sunny would gradually morph and change from a typical grungy sitcom into something more self-aware, with each character’s negative traits being exaggerated to a hilarious degree. Miraculously, this gradual shift resulted in the series’ best episodes, with the gang’s self-serving nature often putting their own harebrained schemes in jeopardy.

It’s Always Sunny Is an FX Classic

The sitcom’s title is satirical, as the tone of the show is mainly dark, sardonic, and self-deprecating. There is a lingering social commentary in the show, but it holds on to its nihilist charm and, at times, even delivers heartfelt moments. This is especially true in the show’s later seasons, as a desire to experiment with the established formula of the series becomes more visibly apparent. Despite this, the experimentation works: the strength of the show’s characters and their cohesive personalities allow them to make morbid comedy out of anything.

Part of the series’ longevity can also be attributed to its unique presentation. In lieu of licensed or original compositions, the series utilizes royalty-free classical music to punctuate its introduction sequence and scene transitions. Its setting of Pennsylvania makes for a unique atmosphere as well, complementing the cast and their morally ambiguous antics.

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Related

10 Short-Lived Sitcoms That Were Actually Pretty Funny

Unlike the titans of the genre, there have been several comedies that proved to be quite hilarious but were prematurely unplugged.

4 American Dad! (2005 – Present)

360 Episodes Over 20 Seasons

American Dad! was co-created by Seth MacFarlane with a similar premise as Family Guy, but primarily derives comedy from its hilarious characters instead of cutaway gags. The main characters belong to an upper-middle-class family from Virginia, led by the Republican CIA agent, Stan (Seth MacFarlane), who is married to his supportive wife, Francine (Wendy Schaal). Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane) is their liberal daughter, and Steve (Scott Grimes) is their socially awkward son. Other supporting characters in the show include: Hailey’s partner, Jeff (Jeff Fischer); the family’s pet goldfish, Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker); an alien named Roger (Seth MacFarlane); and Roger’s son, Rogu (Dee Bradley Baker). The series first aired in 2005 and completed its 20th season in 2023.

American Dad Has Grown and Evolved

Though the series was originally created as a political satire, highlighting issues surrounding the Bush administration amid other cultural turmoils of the mid-2000s, the series would later drop this idea in favor of pursuing a mix of surrealist farce and conventional sitcom plots. Not only would this serve to differentiate the series from MacFarlane’s other animated shows at the time, but it would also showcase the alternative direction helmed by Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman.

American Dad‘s appeal lies less within its ability to tackle contemporary topics and more within its impeccably memorable characters. Though they may only resemble their earliest incarnations on the surface, their current selves lend themselves well to an incredible number of memorable gags and engaging episode plots. This is most evident with Roger, whose penchant for disguising himself in a variety of “personas” has blessed the series with some of its funniest moments.

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3 Family Guy (1999 – Present)

418 Episodes Over 22 Seasons

Family Guy is another American series from the late ‘90s that mocks American culture, spanning over 22 seasons. The series was created by Seth MacFarlane in 1999 and follows an unusual family, the Griffins, living in Quahog, Rhode Island. Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is modeled after the typical American dad trope, living with his wife Lois (Alex Borstein), their three children, and their talking dog named Brian. Meg (Mila Kunis) is the misfit eldest daughter, Chris (Seth Green) is awkward around girls, and Stewie (Seth MacFarlane) is the youngest, filled with dangerous ideas. Brian (Seth MacFarlane) originally served as the voice of reason for Peter’s antics, now making a living writing essays, novels, screenplays, and articles. He and Stewie have been the main focus of some of Family Guy‘s most captivating episodes.

Family Guy Survived Two Separate Cancelations

Though the series is more than inspired by a certain other animated American sitcom, Family Guy quickly differentiated itself through its utilization of metafictional cutaway gags, often pulling directly away from an episode’s narrative in favor of telling a quick joke. Though the series has been criticized for its reliance on this particular storytelling device, it nonetheless allowed the series to flourish in the age of short-form content.

The series was famously canceled two times during its first three seasons due to low ratings, and was subsequently revived following the show’s surprising success on Adult Swim, along with its incredible home media sales. It has since become a staple of Fox’s animated programming, and though creator Seth MacFarlane has distanced himself from the series creatively, he still provides a plethora of the series’ voice performances.

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2 South Park (1997 – Present)

327 Episodes Over 26 Seasons

The headline-favorite show, South Park, is an animated sitcom that started in 1997 and celebrated its 26th anniversary in 2023. The main characters of the show include Stan Marsh (Trey Parker), Kyle Broflovski (Matt Stone), Eric Cartman (Trey Parker), and Kenny McCormick (Matt Stone), who fool around in the quiet mountain town of South Park, Colorado. The series was originally known for its outrageous humor, often involving profanity and violence, which contrasted against its colorful presentation and child-friendly character designs. However, as the series continued, it would become associated with an impressive ability to shine a light on contemporary issues, due to the series’ incredibly quick production schedule.

South Park Has Lampooned Everything Under the Sun

South Park comments on topical issues similarly to The Simpsons, but holds no reservation in mocking either political side of America. In fact, the show takes it up as a challenge to mock every institution, political ideology, public figure, and controversial personality in popular culture, as it positions itself as a product of free speech rather than an ideology. Aside from its political inclinations, however, the series also relishes its absurdist humor and compelling musical numbers.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker are the show’s creators, whose creative vision for the series has largely contributed to its consistent success over the past few decades. This extends beyond simply voicing the show’s extensive cast, as the two regularly contribute to the writing room in addition to drafting concepts for individual episodes. The duo also created the musical comedy The Book of Mormon, the 13th longest-running Broadway show, which takes several cues from their extensive work on South Park.

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1 The Simpsons (1989 – Present)

760 Episodes Over 35 Seasons

The Simpsons premiered in December 1989, making it the longest-running American sitcom to date. Created by Matt Groening, the show satirizes the stereotypical American family through the Simpson family, who live in the fictional, nebulous town of Springfield. Homer (Dan Castellaneta) is the father, who works at a nuclear plant and is outsmarted by the rest of the family. Marge (Julie Kavner) is the nurturing matriarch who tolerates her husband’s antics. Among their children, Bart (Nancy Cartwright) is the rebellious son, while Lisa (Yeardley Smith) is a child prodigy. Maggie is the youngest, and is mostly seen sucking on her pacifier and falling whenever she attempts to walk.

Though the series initially focused on the Simpson family, the show has since grown to encompass a full-on ensemble cast, with each of Springfield’s residents having a lengthy history, layered personalities, and memorable catchphrases. Several episodes don’t even feature the main Simpson family, instead opting to tell stories focused on the colorful world of Springfield as a whole.

The Simpsons Is a Staple of American Culture

The sitcom has several running gags and recurring characters, as each episode deals with a topical issue in America from the perspective of the Simpson family. The show remains relevant as it stays in tune with every zeitgeist it enters, with its numerous characters evolving with time. The show is deliberately self-aware, comically adapting to changing times while holding a mirror to the respective eras each episode was produced in. This may throw a wrench into its own continuity, but it’s a byproduct of being one of the most iconic American properties to date.

The series has been a staple of prime-time television for decades by this point, earning a feature-length film adaptation in 2007 and a total of 35 seasons. Every season up to the latest can be streamed on Disney+, with a handful of exclusive specials being featured on the service as well. With no end in sight, The Simpsons will likely be one of the most enduring pieces of American pop culture in the modern era.

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There are more than a handful of animated series featured in this list. But did you know that some of the longest running Japanese anime TV shows completely eclipse some of the shows featured here? Check out our video on the longest-running anime series ever made for some examples.



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