These timeless shows have been silently ticking away on our television screens for more than 50 years, bringing joy and enjoyment to countless viewers. In a time when children only saw content from their parents, these shows helped them escape into exciting worlds filled with action, adventure, fantasy, and humor. From detective stories to science fiction, from westerns to comedy sitcoms, this list could go on forever of all the great shows that have entertained generations.
The 1950s were a fantastic time for television. The advent of color television and the rise of the TV rating system brought some pretty amazing shows to the air. Here are 22 great dramas, comedies, and kids’ programming that were hits during this decade.
1. I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy is the first great sitcom of the 1950s. The brainchild of stars Lucille and Desi Arnaz, they convinced CBS to produce an hour-long series of their famous “Luce At The Tropicana” radio show. Starring Lucille Ball as the scheming Lucy Ricardo and Desi Arnaz as her Cuban bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo, the hilarious stories of their home life in a New York apartment and their attempts to avoid Lucy’s interfering mother are some of the most memorable and beloved moments in television history.
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2. Leave It To Beaver
Leave It to Beaver, the story of a simple boy and his dorky parents has been a favorite since its debut in 1957. The sitcom follows the lives and adventures of Ward Cleaver (Art Carney) and his family, who live in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
3. Father Knows Best
Father Knows Best was the first sitcom to make star Robert Young, who played the uptight father, Jim Anderson, on the series. The show followed the Anderson family as they tried to live a decent life and avoid a messy divorce from their long-suffering husband.
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4. Make Room For Daddy
Make Room For Daddy was the story of a single mother and her three rambunctious children, all played by Dick Van Dyke. The show aired from 1953 to 1957 on ABC, 1957 to 1964 on CBS, and became the longest-running sitcom in television history.
5. The Honeymooners
Ed Norton and Jackie Gleason were two of the most popular stars of the 1950s. The two played bumbling but faithful Ralph Kramden and his wisecracking pal, Sam, on The Honeymooners. With the popularity of Sputnik and McCarthyism, Ralph Kramden’s timid attempts to cope with the world around him would become a symbol for Americans in an era of growing fear.
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6. The Gracie Allen And George Burns Show
The Gracie Allen and George Burns Show were one of the most well-known sitcoms of the 1950s. The show featured Burns and Allen as a married couple, who owned a restaurant, lived in New York City, had three children, and were friends with other famous comedians throughout New York City.
7. The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet
The Nelson family from real life appeared in the American television sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran on ABC from October 1952 to April 1966. Ozzie and Harriet (Ozzie Nelson and his wife, Harriet Hilliard), played by the dynamic duo of Ozzie Nelson and Margaret “Patsy” Page, first hit the airwaves in a 1949 episode of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. The show soon became a favorite among television viewers, who became enamored with its lighthearted approach to life.
8. The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone was a television anthology series created by Rod Serling. From 1959 through 1964, it was broadcast on CBS and included many of the biggest stars of the time. A gothic drama set in a small town, each story has a distinct tone, and many feature sudden twists ending with horror, sci-fi, or psychological themes.
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9. The Lone Ranger
One of the most successful television westerns of the 1950s was The Lone Ranger, starring Clayton Moore as the masked hero. In this early TV show, Moore played an Indian who was forced to wear a mask by his corrupt white brother (Jay Silverheels), who was a Texas Ranger. With his adopted brother and sidekick Tonto by his side, he fought injustice wherever it occurred.
10. The Roy Rogers Show
An American western television program called The Roy Rogers Show features Roy Rogers. One hundred episodes were broadcast on NBC for six seasons between December 1951 and June 1957. The Roy Rogers Show was the third installment in a long-running series of television Westerns starring the famous singing cowboy. The show featured his wife, Dale Evans, who had her spin-off series in 1961.
11. Adventures Of Superman
The Adventures of Superman was an American television series based on comic book characters and storylines from DC Comics. It aired from 1952 to 1958 on the DuMont Television Network and then on ABC until 1958, for a total of 163 episodes
The Lassie TV series is an American drama about a boy and his faithful collie, Lassie. The show originated on radio in the 1940s with a significantly different premise. The television episodes have been broadcast in many countries and still have a worldwide audience today through early evening reruns.
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Director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston are the minds behind the American radio and television Western drama series Gunsmoke. The tales are set during the American West’s colonization in and around Dodge City, Kansas. Lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, portrayed by James Arness on television and then by Milburn Stone on radio, is the main character.
14. Perry Mason
Perry Mason is a made-up defense lawyer first featured in mystery stories by Erle Stanley Gardner. More than 80 books and short tales contain Perry Mason as a central character; most of these have been turned into hugely popular television drama series beginning in the 1950s. Members of the Perry Mason cast are shown here in 1958, from left: William Hopper (Paul Drake), Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), and William Talman (Perry’s nemesis, Hamilton Burger).
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Maverick is an American Western TV series with comedic overtones created by Roy Huggins. The show ran on ABC from September 1957 to July 1962. It starred James Garner as Bret Maverick, an adroitly articulate card player and con artist. Mavericks were considered “desperados” who often lived by their moral code.
16. Wyatt Earp’s Life And Legend
An American Western TV series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, is based on the life of lawman Wyatt Earp. Hugh O’Brian portrayed the lead role for the six seasons (229 episodes) of the half-hour, black-and-white show that ran on ABC from 1955 to 1961.
Cheyenne is a 108-episode American Western television series aired on ABC from 1955 through 1962. It was also the first hour-long drama series of any genre to air on a regular network schedule. The show was also the first hour-long Western.
“Cheyenne” is notable for being the first hour-long Western to air on a regular schedule and the first series of any length filmed in color.
18. The Donna Reed Show
The Donna Reed Show is a sitcom starring Donna Reed as the middle-class housewife Donna Stone. It aired from September 1958 to March 1966 on ABC. The series debuted as a midseason replacement for “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”. It ranked in the Top 20 in four of its six seasons, with some episodes that are considered classics.
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19. Our Miss Brooks
In the original version of the situation comedy Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden played a sarcastic high school English teacher. It first debuted as a radio program that ran from 1948 to 1957. The program became one of television’s first hits medium (1952–1956). The same-named movie from 1956 was an adaptation of the sitcom for the big screen. Star Eve Arden reprised her role as an English teacher.
20. The Amos ‘n Andy Show
Amos ‘n’ Andy, an American radio sitcom with black protagonists, is initially set in Chicago before shifting to New York City’s Harlem district. Two white actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll created, wrote, and narrated the radio program from 1928 to 1960. They portrayed Amos Jones (Gosden) and Andrew Hogg Brown (Correll), as well as several supporting roles. The show had a brief run on 1950s television with black actors.
21. Adventures Of Ozzie & Harriet
Ozzie Nelson and his wife, the singer/actress Harriet Hilliard, are the main characters of the sitcom on American television Ozzie and Harriet’s Animated Adventures. Airing from 1952 to 1966 on ABC, the show depicted the day-to-day life of a middle-class family in Salt Lake City, Utah, until the end of season twelve. Throughout its run, the show is in the “ABC Friday Night Movie” slot with only minimal variation depending on the season and time slot during which it was airing.
Bonanza is an NBC television western that aired from 1959 to 1973. Lasting 14 seasons and 430 episodes, it ranks as the second-longest-running western series (behind “The Virginian”) and the longest-running primetime series of any genre on American television. The show continues to air in syndication. The series stars Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts, and later David Canary and Mitch Vogel.
For fans of classic Western TV shows, Bonanza is an iconic show that achieved incredible popularity during its original run on TV from 1959 to 1973. The show featured legendary actors such as Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, and its blend of drama, action, and adventure captivated audiences across America.
The American television program Dragnet, later syndicated as Badge 714, is a television adaptation of the Jack Webb-starring radio program of the same name. Police initially referred to the shows as dragnets, a system of coordinated efforts to apprehend suspects or offenders. Sergeant Joe Friday, a Los Angeles police detective, was played by Webb once more on the radio. Officer Frank Smith, Friday’s partner, was played by Ben Alexander.
24. Have Gun – Will Travel
Richard Boone is the star of the American western TV series Have Gun – Will Travel, about a travel writer and gunfighter who various patrons hire to protect them from various villains. The show aired from 1957 to 1966 on CBS and NBC. A total of 129 episodes were produced, with the last new episode airing in May 1966.
25. I Married Joan
I Married Joan s an American situation comedy aired on NBC from 1952 to 1955. The series starred Joan Davis as Joan Harrison; a middle-class housewife married to a career Army sergeant (John Larkin).