A lot of noses were knocked out of joint this winter when NBC President Jeff Zucker declared Friends the best comedy of all time. The cast and crew of Frasier, which also is leaving NBC this month, were the most vocal of those miffed. However, champions of other classic sitcoms also accused Zucker of hyperbolic promotion of one of his own series.
Neither Friends nor Frasier has any right to claim the top spot, according to a professor at the University of Miami.
Mitch Shapiro, associate dean of the School of Communications, says he has developed an objective spin on what is essentially a subjective exercise. Shapiro, who serves as a consultant for TV stations nationwide, devised rankings to measure programs of different eras as a gauge in advising clients which shows to buy in syndication. By his standards, All in the Family is clearly the No. 1 comedy of all time. Frasier ranks a distant second. Friends is No. 18, a position that might improve when all the final season data is included.
Even an exercise such as the one undertaken by Shapiro has a subjective element: the criteria selected for ranking programs. He says he selected traits most experts agree help define a hit: critical acclaim, longevity and ratings.
Critical acclaim was measured by Emmys, which Shapiro said is important because it represents peer recognition. Only major categories -- best series, actors, supporting actors, writing, directing -- were considered. Shapiro weighted a best series Emmy as worth three times as much as any of the others.
Longevity and ratings are interdependent -- a series doesn't last long without solid ratings. Shapiro assigned extra points for number of seasons in the Top 5 and Top 10.
Friends did well in the latter two categories but slid down the rankings because of its shortage of Emmys. The series won only once, in 2002, and its cast took home only two Emmys (Jennifer Aniston as best actress in 2002 and Lisa Kudrow as best supporting actress in 1998).
Frasier didn't have the number of Top 5 and Top 10 rankings Friends did, because it spent most of its 11-season run outside Must See Thursday. However, it cleaned up at the Emmys. It is the only series to win the best comedy Emmy in its first five seasons. Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce also won three Emmys apiece as best lead actor and supporting actor, respectively.
All in the Family was the leader, or close to it, in all three categories used by Shapiro. It is the only other comedy to win five program Emmys; it garnered 16 total Emmys in the most important categories and it lasted nine seasons. What's more, All in the Family is No. 1 among all programs, including dramas, variety and newsmagazines.
Cheers, the show from which Frasier was spun, is No. 3 on Shapiro's list of comedies. The Mary Tyler Moore Show ranks No. 4, with MASH at No. 5. Shapiro's Top 10 is filled out by The Dick Van Dyke Show, Murphy Brown, The Golden Girls, I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.