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Top 10 Decade Defining TV Shows: 1960s

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Max Bledstein Forget the Beatles; it’s television that really made these years what they were. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 decade defining TV shows of the 1960s. 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 1960s, regardless of when they started or finished. Special thanks to our users akt, Ceione Pafford, Cameronshank and Ismailnaser72 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 1960s


Forget the Beatles; it’s television that really made these years what they were. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we`re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining TV shows of the 1960s.

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 1960s, regardless of when they started or finished.

#10: “The Flintstones” (1960-66)

This animated Hanna-Barbera sitcom may have been set in the prehistoric era, but its clever riffs on domestic issues continue to resonate with modern viewers to this day. Fred and Barney are two best friends who struggle to balance their enjoyment of bowling and each other with the responsibilities of family and adulthood. Much of the show’s humor was derived from the hilarious prehistoric versions of modern technology. But, perhaps most importantly, “The Flintstones”’ success set the stage for more adult-oriented cartoons in the future.

#9: “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962-71)

Much of this sitcom wouldn’t be P.C. by today’s standards, but it seemed hysterical in the ‘60s. It portrays the Clampett family, a rural clan who relocates to a mansion in Beverly Hills after patriarch Jed strikes oil. The show pioneered the “fish-out-of-water” genre that later became popular. And it’s not hard to understand why it took off when you see the hilarious cultural misconceptions that made up much of the humor. Though many critics weren’t impressed, “The Beverly Hillbillies” was a smash with viewers – and isn’t that all that matters?

#8: “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-67)

What do you get when you stick a clumsy, not-so-bright First Mate with six other castaways who couldn’t be more different from each other on an uncharted island “somewhere” in the Pacific Ocean? If that First Mate is this sitcom’s titular Gilligan, then it’s most likely comedy gold! Running for a total of three seasons, “Gilligan’s Island” was popular during the mid-‘60s but grew even more beloved in later years thanks to the show’s running gags, recurring themes, slapstick comedy, and of course, the now-iconic Gilligan character.


#7: “Batman” (1966-68)

Boy, campy superhero shows really did prevail this decade, as evidenced not only by “Batman” but also by the similar show “The Green Hornet.” Long before Christopher Nolan’s moody “Dark Knight” trilogy, Adam West portrayed a lighter version of the Caped Crusader. The show used upbeat music, campy visuals, and lovably corny moral lessons to show a more cheery version of the hero than we’re used to today. We can’t imagine taking any show with something like Robin’s trademark exclamations too seriously, but we sure enjoyed it.

#6: “Bonanza” (1959-73)

Westerns aren’t too popular currently, but they were once among Hollywood’s biggest genres. As many as there were, this show stood out from the pack by focusing on a family’s drama rather than the giant ranch on which they lived. The Cartwright clan was made up of Ben and his three sons, each of whom came from a mother of a different ethnicity. The show’s tone ranged from serious to lighthearted, but it was always entertaining – even as it tackled social issues like racism, which was uncommon for the time.

#5: “Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-69)

This sci-fi series went on to spawn one of history’s most beloved franchises, but it all started here. The show followed the exploits of the crew aboard the Starship Enterprise, and it depicted their thrilling encounters as they travelled through the Milky Way. It used its futuristic setting to tackle taboo topics like racism and war, but actors like William Shatner and George Takei made it more than just a morality play. Though it only lasted three seasons, Gene Roddenberry’s series was iconic enough to span time and space.

#4: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66)

Life as a TV writer isn’t quite as glamorous as it sounds, as viewers found out in this sitcom. It centers around the personal and private life of Rob Petrie, a comedy scribe played by the titular actor. Though he’s smart and dedicated to his career, Rob saves time for his wife, Laura, and his son, Richie. The show successfully bridged the gap between ‘50s slapstick and the more realistic situations seen in the ‘70s, which helped the show take home 15 Emmy Awards over its five-seasons.

#3: “Doctor Who” (1963-89; 2005-)

This show is the longest running sci-fi series in the world, and it’s easy to understand why when you see its early episodes. William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton made for excellent early incarnations of the Doctor, and they were surrounded by awesome companions. In its early years, the show was more educational in focus, which made for great family viewing. After its debut at the beginning of the ‘60s, “Doctor Who” became a mainstay of British culture and a massive cult hit.

#2: “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-68)

Ron Howard became a star on “Happy Days,” but he was in this hilarious family sitcom first. He plays the young son of the titular star’s character, a common sense-spewing local sheriff named Andy. Though he tries to be professional, he’s often undermined by his bumbling deputy, Barney. The show’s lighthearted tone struck a chord with viewers, and it ended its last season at number one in the ratings. The series may’ve felt like a relic of days gone by, but “The Andy Griffith Show” was definitely an icon of the ‘60s.

Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Show of the 1960s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” (1968-73)
- “Lost in Space” (1965-68)
- “Bewitched” (1964-72)
- The Carol Burnett Show” (1967-78)
- “The Addams Family” (1964-66)
- “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-70)

#1: “The Twilight Zone” (1959-64)

The ‘60s saw no show greater than this sci-fi anthology series. Creator Rod Serling, who also hosted the show, often used his unrelated stories as vehicles for social commentary. But “The Twilight Zone” was far from a drab civics lesson: with many soon-to-be stars in early roles, the compelling tales were some of the darkest and most gripping hours that had ever been on TV, and they blazed the trail for the medium’s future. We’re still creeped out.

Do you agree with our list? What TV show do you think best defined the 1960s? For more memorable top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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