The Top 25 TV Shows From the 1990s
As shows on television have become less popular, overtaken by the likes of Netflix and other streaming services, we will look back at one of the greatest eras of television, the 1990s. From sitcoms and comedies to dramas to teen shows, view top television series of the 90s.
Top 10 90s Sitcoms/Comedies
Seinfeld is an iconic comedy sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld that premiered in 1989 and gained a massive following throughout the 1990s, eventually concluding in 1998 after nine seasons. Initially pitched as a “show about nothing”, the show follows Jerry Seinfeld as he lives a somewhat normal life in New York City.
Along with his friends George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards), Jerry contends with everyday hassles like dating, unruly bosses, and even getting a bad smell out of the car. Thanks to its relatable humor and laid-back storytelling, Seinfeld is regarded as one of the most influential sitcoms ever made, as well as one of the best tv shows of the 1990s.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a sitcom that helped birth the career of Will Smith, featuring one of the catchiest theme songs of all time. The show debuted in late-1990 and was a smash-hit for six seasons, wrapping up in 1996. Based on Will Smith’s life experiences, the show was packed with memorable characters, moments of drama, and flashy 90s fashion.
After moving from the rough streets of West Philadelphia to an upscale mansion in Los Angeles, Will struggles to acclimate with the rich suburb, all while dealing with his spoiled family. By exploring the differences between the rich and the impoverished while keeping things lighthearted, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air struck a chord with audiences, becoming one of the most popular shows of the 1990s.
Martin was a comedy sitcom that aired from 1992 to 1997 and starred comedian Martin Lawrence as Martin Payne, a radio DJ from Detroit, Michigan. Over the show’s five seasons, Martin grows from a lowly radio station employee to a small-time talk show host, all while his relationship with girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell) blossoms.
For added comedy, Lawrence also plays several other characters in the show, including Martin’s mother, Edna Payne, the pimp and Playa from the Himalayas Jerome, a snot-nosed child, Roscoe, and many more. While the show never reached the heights of popularity seen by other sitcoms, it was still a success with audiences, garnering several awards and nominations during its run.
There’s no denying the influence of Friends, one of the most popular sitcoms to ever grace television sets around the country. Kicking off in 1994 and ending in 2004 after a highly successful ten-season run, Friends follows a group of six friends living in Manhattan, New York City.
With an all-star cast including Jennifer Aniston, Matt Leblanc, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, and more, the show was full of camaraderie, comedy, and emotions aplenty. Friends was a hit with both viewers and critics, earning over 60 Emmy Award nominations and raking in over 50 million viewers for the series finale.
5. Married… with Children
Married… with Children started in 1987 and ran for 11 seasons and over 250 episodes until it finished in 1997. Standing as one of the longest-running sitcoms of all time, the show follows the morose shoe salesman Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) and his family living in the suburbs of Chicago.
Like other popular sitcoms of the time, episodes often detailed the family’s everyday life, including the exploits of Al’s wife Peggy (Katey Sagal) and his two children, Bud (David Faustino) and Kelly (Christina Applegate). While the show was incredibly popular during the 1990s, it never reached high levels of critical acclaim, ending up as one of the most underrated sitcoms of the decade.
6. In Living Color
Airing on the FOX network from 1990 and 1994, In Living Color was a sketch comedy show that rivaled programs like Saturday Night Live with its eccentric cast and hilarious concepts. Created and written by the Wayans siblings, it was one of the first comedy shows with a mostly African-American cast, offering groundbreaking humor along the way.
Running for five seasons, the show was controversial but well-received by critics, earning an Emmy Award nomination along the way. Not only was In Living Color hilarious, but it also helped launch the careers of comedians like Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, and Jamie Foxx.
7. Home Improvement
Starring Tim Allen and lasting for almost the entirety of the 1990s, this hit show was based around the life of television show host and often blundering handy man Tim “the Tool Time” Taylor. From his at home life with his wife Jill, played by Patricia Richardson, their three sons Mark, Randy, and Brad, and their half-seen neighbor Wilson to his work life of Tool Time with co-host Al and a set of “Tool Girls.”
One of the top-rated shows of the 90s with dozens of award nominations, Home Improvement made household names out of a number of actors, Tim Allen, Jonathan Taylor, Patricia Richardson, and even Pamela Anderson, who starred as one of the Tool Girls.
A spinoff of one of the most memorable characters of Cheers, Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammer, Frasier was one of the biggest sitcoms of the 90s. Even though a limited audience and fanbase, which is like most sitcoms, Frasier was an instant hit.
Featuring Dr. Frasier Crane as a radio talk show host who lives and has to deal with his obnoxious father Martin Crane and his younger brother Niles Crane, along with other characters like Daphne Moon, Niles’ lover and Martin’s caretaker and Roz, Frasier’s radio producer. Over the course of the series, which lasted for 11 seasons, Frasier went on to win over one hundred awards, easily making it one of the all-time most successful sitcoms during its run.
9. Living Single
Created by Yvette Lee Bowser and running from 1993 to 1998, Living Single was a comedy sitcom that focused on six friends living in Brooklyn, New York. Often regarded as the inspiration for NBC’s Friends, the show was positively received during its first season, pulling in a noteworthy viewership week after week.
By balancing multiple plot threads, relationships, and struggles between the six distinct characters, Living Single kept the attention of audiences for five fantastic seasons. While the show might not be as well-remembered as other 90s sitcoms, Living Single helped lay the groundwork for decades of quality shows to come.
10. 3rd Rock from the Sun
With a wacky premise that allowed for some sufficiently hilarious situations, 3rd Rock from the Sun was a breakout hit in the 1990s, starring John Lithgow, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more. Focusing on a group of four aliens sent to investigate human life on Earth, this goofy comedy offered a unique take on the family-sitcom formula.
As leader Dick Solomon (John Lithgow) and his crew of alien researchers take up normal lives as humans, they become far more fascinated by the mission than they expected. Thanks to its inventive concept and great cast, 3rd Rock from the Sun was a massive success with critics, running for six seasons between 1996 and 2000 and earning dozens of awards during its lifetime.
Top 5 90s Dramas
1. The X-Files
The X-Files first debuted in 1993 and followed two FBI agents, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), as they investigate paranormal cases ranging from alien abductions to government conspiracies. Although this supernatural drama ended its initial run in 2002 after nine seasons, it was popular enough to warrant two feature films, as well as a handful of modern reboot seasons.
Thanks to the chemistry between the lead characters and the intriguing stories told in each episode, The X-Files was easily one of the best tv shows of the 1990s and helped popularize the paranormal for mainstream audiences.
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation
By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, the franchise was already a household name, as the original series gained popularity throughout the 60s and 70s. Like the original show, The Next Generation follows a group of space explorers on the USS Enterprise starship, led by Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).
Across seven seasons, the team investigates anomalies around the Milky Way galaxy, encountering new cultures and alien civilizations. The show eventually ended in 1994, but the main cast returned for four feature films, as well as the modern reboot, Star Trek: Picard.
3. Homicide: Life on the Street
Premiering in 1993 and running until 1999, Homicide: Life on the Street was a police procedural drama series that follows the Baltimore police’s homicide division as they investigate grisly crimes around the city. Taking a more realistic approach to criminal investigation, Homicide was applauded for its rich characters and grounded tone, earning it a slew of award nominations and acclaim.
Although it’s not as prolific as other crime dramas like Law & Order, Homicide: Life on the Street is still one of the best tv shows of the 1990s.
Short for “emergency room”, ER is a quintessential American drama and one of the longest-running shows on our list. Over 15 seasons, starting in 1994 and wrapping in 2009, the show tells the story of the fictional County General Hospital and its staff of nurses, doctors, and patients.
The show was written by the esteemed author Michael Crichton, best known for his work on movies like Jurassic Park. With a blockbuster cast including the likes of George Clooney, this medical drama grasped the attention of viewers for over two decades, earning it a place on our list of the best tv shows of the 1990s.
5. Xena: Warrior Princess
A woman by the name of Xena, the warrior princess, going around kicking ass was one of the most iconic things of the 1990s. Starring Lucy Lawless as Xena alongside her companion Gabrielle, played by Renée O’Connor, these two adventurous fighters travel displaying their combat skills to help the powerless against evildoers as Xena tries to remove the stain of her past.
While previously there have been strong prominent leading woman roles in television, Xena was truly the first of her kind and easily grew a core following of diehard fans.
Top 10 90s Teen Shows
1. Boy Meets World
Boy Meets World is a heartfelt coming-of-age sitcom that started in 1993 and focuses on Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), an everyday teenager living in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his family. As he attends school with his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong), he butts heads with teacher Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) and falls for his crush, Topanga (Danielle Fishel).
Across the show’s seven seasons, we get to watch the cast grow from middle school to college, learning important lessons along the way. For legions of fans in the 1990s, Boy Meets World was a perfect representation of life in the middle-class.
2. Saved by the Bell
Almost like a precursor to Boy Meets World, Saved by the Bell was a comedy sitcom that aired from 1989 to 1993 and followed a group of students at the fictional Bayside High School in Los Angeles, California. With iconic characters like Screech (Dustin Diamond) A.C Slater (Mario Lopez), and Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), the show covered controversial societal issues in addition to its playful schoolyard comedy.
By tackling important topics in a way that was easy for kids and teens to understand, Saved by the Bell left an impression on the youth of the 1990s. Although the original show ended in the early-90s, its legacy lives on within modern reboots and spin-offs.
3. Full House
Part family drama and part fish-out-of-water story, Full House is a comedy sitcom that aired from 1987 to 1995. Focused on the dysfunctional Tanner family, composed of widower Danny (Bob Saget) and his three daughters, the show details the efforts of Danny and his friends as they try to raise the young girls in San Francisco.
With memorable characters like Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) and Jesse (John Stamos), the show was full of both laughs and heartfelt moments, providing both family-friendly humor and important lessons. Episode after episode, Full House was a fantastic tv show from the 1990s that everyone could enjoy.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Although he’s most well known for his work on sci-fi and superhero films like Alien Resurrection and The Avengers, writer/director Joss Whedon first found success with this supernatural tv show. Premiering in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer tells the story of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a teenage warrior who is destined to fight against dark entities like demons and vampires. Despite this, she attempts to live a normal life, resulting in plenty of drama and action.
Although the show was a success with critics and viewers, it struggled to reach high ratings and ended after seven seasons in 2003. While the show hasn’t been around for over a decade, its characters and stories live on in other adaptations, ranging from video games to comics.
5. The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years is an aloof comedy sitcom that ran for six seasons between 1988 and 1993, containing one of the most controversial series finales of all time. Partially responsible for kicking off the career of the young actor Fred Savage, the show followed teenager Kevin Arnold as he grows up in the suburbs during the 1960s. Told from the perspective of an adult Kevin reflecting on his childhood, the show was a major hit in the 1980s and reached peak popularity by the early 1990s.
Like other sitcoms at the time, the show focused on Kevin’s school and personal life, covering expected coming-of-age topics and examining the life of a standard middle-class family. Simply put, The Wonder Years goes down in history as one of the most beloved tv shows of the 1990s with an ending you won’t soon forget.
6. Family Matters
Family Matters had a wonderfully successful nine-season run, airing from 1989 to 1997, and told the story of the Chicago-based Winslow family. Although initially intended as a one-off joke character, the Winslows’ nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) was a huge hit with audiences, becoming one of the most iconic characters of the 1990s.
With endlessly quotable dialogue, uproarious moments of comedy, and some surprisingly emotional scenes, Family Matters is a classic 1990s sitcom that produced one of the funniest television characters of all time.
7. Dawson’s Creek
Dawson’s Creek is easily one of the most recognizable shows from the 1990s, with its iconic cast of moody teens going through adolescence in the small town of Capeside, Massachusetts. Starring James Van Der Beek in the eponymous role of Dawson, the show follows Dawson and his small group of friends as they make their way through high school and college.
Unlike sitcoms like Saved by the Bell and Boy Meets World, Dawson’s Creek was full of romance and drama, taking a more serious approach on the unruly world of young adults. Although the show was the subject of controversy for its risque themes, both audiences and critics enjoyed it, resulting in a six-season run from 1998 to 2003.
8. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Starring Melissa Joan Hart as a teenager from Massachusetts who learns she has magical powers on her 16th birthday, Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a lighthearted sitcom based on the comic series from the 1970s. Living with her century-old aunts and their talking cat Salem, Sabrina deals with the normal ups and downs of teenage life in the suburbs while dealing with her newfound magic powers.
Running from 1996 to 2003, the show was a hit with young audiences, thanks to its affable main character, a slew of pop culture references, and whimsical humor.
9. Step by Step
Airing on ABC for 6 seasons, then on CBS for the final season, Step by Step was an iconic teen show throughout the 1990s and part of ABC’s memorable TGIF lineup. Starring Suzanne Somers as Carol and the mother of the Fosters and Patrick Duffy as Frank and the father of the Lamberts, these two single parents would eventually engage in a romantic relationship that would bring their families together.
10. Kenan and Kel
One of Nickelodeon’s premiere shows of the 90s featured the legendary duo of Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchel. With an already successful career through Nickelodeon’s hit sketch show All That and Kenan’s appearances in movies like The Mighty Ducks, it was only right for the two of them to get their own television show. Lasting for four seasons, the two would always find themselves in the middle of some type of scheme. The success of the show led to arguably Nickelodeon Movies’ all-time greatest film, Good Burger.