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Top 10 Decade Defining TV Shows: 1950s

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Max Bledstein Even when the medium was just starting out, it had some amazing series. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 decade defining TV shows of the 1950s. For our series on the Top Decade Defining Shows Per Era, we picked series that spoke to the period in which they were made, and set the standard for television during that time. These shows were chosen for how important they were in the 1950s, regardless of when they started or finished. Special thanks to our users akt, Ceione Pafford, Norris Vaughn, hyprmania52 and Cameronshank, Mariogamefreak1 for submitting the idea through our Suggest Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Max Bledstein

Top 10 Decade Defining Shows of the 1950s


Even when the medium was just starting out, it had some amazing series. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we`re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining TV shows of the 1950s.

For our series on the Top Decade Defining Shows Per Era, we picked series that spoke to the period in which they were made, and set the standard for television during that time. These shows were chosen for how important they were in the 1950s, regardless of when they started or finished.

#10: “Father Knows Best” (1954-60)

Those who really know best can’t get enough of this show. The hilarious sitcom portrays middle class Midwestern life by focusing on the Andersons, a lovable family who are the ideal American clan. As children Betty and Bud grew up and graduated from high school, their parents tried to give them advice. The show was so ingrained in U.S. pop culture that the Treasury Department commissioned a propaganda episode, which never aired. As with many ‘50s shows, it started out on radio. But it made the transition well and gained even more fans.

#9: “Lassie” (1954-73)

This drama ran for a whopping nineteen seasons, but its best years were the early ones, when it was still in black and white. The plots were often similar – one of the boys would get in trouble, and the titular collie would save him. The stories were fairly simple, but they were entertaining and provided valuable moral lessons for their young viewers. Winning two Emmy Awards in its early years and consistently winning its time slot, this series is a feel-good classic from the early days of television.

#8: “The Ed Sullivan Show” (1948-71)

There was a lot of incredible music in the 1950s, and much of the public got their first exposure to artists through their appearances on this variety show. The series showcased performers ranging from Itzhak Perlman to Elvis Presley, and it became appointment viewing for families across the U.S. No matter who was on, Sullivan was a gracious and charismatic host, and that’s how his show lasted a spectacular 24-seasons, remaining relevant all the way through.

#7: “The Lone Ranger” (1949-57)

Long before Jerry Bruckheimer adapted it into a big budget misfire of a film, this series was showing the thrilling adventures of the titular masked man and his Native American sidekick, Tonto. After getting its start in radio, “The Lone Ranger” capitalized on the introduction of visuals to its storytelling when it became one of the first westerns on TV. And it sure got the genre off to an exciting start. The protagonist’s strict morality code made him a role model to ‘50s children across the U.S.

#6: “Perry Mason” (1957-66)

This courtroom drama paved the way for legal shows like “Law & Order,” but it had plenty of merit itself. The formats for the episodes were fairly similar – a future murder victim would show why he deserved to be killed, Mason’s client would appear guilty of killing him, and the lawyer would prove that someone else was the killer. But even though it used a formula, the show was a must-watch thanks Raymond Burr’s performance as the fictional attorney.

#5: “Leave it to Beaver” (1957-63)

The Cleavers, the family featured in this sitcom, are one of the most beloved clans in TV history, and it’s easy to see why when you watch the show. Like a modern-day Tom Sawyer, Theo (aka “The Beaver”) would often get into hysterical spats of trouble, but his parents Ward and June would always be there to give him advice. Beave and his brother Wally don’t usually understand their lessons, but the viewers can still enjoy the heartwarming moments.


#4: “Gunsmoke” (1955-75)

There were lots of Westerns during these years, but none of them was quite like this show. Marshal Matt Dillon’s adventures through the streets of Dodge City were realistic and mature in a way that was unprecedented for TV at the time. The tone is established early in the pilot, when Matt gets wounded by a gunslinger. Thankfully, as often happened, Doc Adams was there to heal him. With enough adventure to keep anyone entertained, “Gunsmoke” became the longest-running show of the 20th century, and a #1 on ‘50s television.

#3: “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1955-62)

As much as we love this director’s movies, many of his finest moments came on this show. Hitchcock hosted, executive produced, and sometimes directed the mystery anthology series, which featured tales of murder, romance, robbery, and more. And bringing these tales creepy tales to life were some of the best actors from the era. This was some of the finest film noir ever to be presented on the small screen, and it allowed one talented filmmaker into America’s homes.

#2: “The Honeymooners” (1955-56)

This sitcom ended after just 39 episodes, but it sure made a strong impression during its short time on the air. Even though Ralph Cramden often verbally abused his friend Ed Norton, he was happy to use him in his crazy but entertaining schemes. Meanwhile, their wives Trixie and Alice had to deal with the boys’ nonsense, and the women often responded with snarky attitudes. These four characters became some of the most beloved figures in TV history, spawning imitators, adaptations and remakes and going down as some of the greats.

Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Show of the 1950s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “The Milton Berle Show” (1948-56)
- “Dennis the Menace” (1959-63)
- “The Donna Reed Show” (1958-66)
- “Have Gun - Will Travel” (1957-63)
- “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (1952-66)

#1: “I Love Lucy” (1951-57)

This was one of TV’s first multicam shows, and its innovations don’t stop there. “I Love Lucy” was one of the first successful series with a female lead, and it set the bar high for comedies with leads of both genders. The real-life couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made for one of the funniest and most endearing TV husband-and-wife teams, and their adventures made for some hilarious physical comedy. Tackling taboo issues as well as silly ones, this series set the standard for all sitcoms that followed.

Do you agree with our list? What TV show do you think best defined the 1950s? For more memorable top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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