In the chaotic world of television, it’s hard to create a scripted show that would even get beyond a pilot. Somehow, a few gifted writers and trusting television networks were able to produce some of the most influential shows that aired for decades, and others that continue to draw viewers of all generations. The magic of television can be seen when watching cartoons in your pajamas on Saturday mornings or falling asleep next to the person you love with a late-night talk show quietly flashing on the tube. Let’s take a look at the longest running scripted shows that we all know and love.
1. The Simpsons
Where does one begin? The Simpsons started as 30-second shorts created by Matt Groening in 1987 on The Tracey Ullman Show. Fox then began to produce half-hour episodes in 1990, and the series immediately won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program in ’90 and ’91. Somewhat lifelike portraits of the middle class American family quickly captured the hearts of viewers. The Simpsons still continues to be the most popular animated show with 567 episodes spanning 26 seasons. Homer’s catchphrase “D’oh” was even recently added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary! (D’oh: used to comment on a foolish or stupid action, especially one’s own)
Leafing a bit farther back in the history books, Gunsmoke first aired in 1955, depicting Marshal Matt Dillon keeping the peace in the rough and tumble town of Dodge City, Kansas. This radio and television series depicted the settlement of the American West and became the longest-running prime time, live-action drama. It ran for 20 seasons and produced 635 episodes! (They must have been doing something right) TV Westerns have come and gone over the years, but Gunsmoke will go down in the history books as the most highly acclaimed Western that continued to play on the radio and later the television of every dedicated American fan.
3. Law & Order
Hands down, one of the best shows on TV (thank you NBC), Law & Order follows a crime from two separate vantage points over an hour in length. The first half shows the police investigation, while the second focuses on the court prosecution. Set in New York City, plots are typically based on cases that made real-life headlines and pursued by homicide detectives. The series ran from 1990 to 2010 but continues to live on in the franchise Dick Wolf has created in shows such as Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The show’s 20 season run actually tied with Gunsmoke, but fell short with “only” 456 episodes. It is known for its nail-biting balance between innocence and guilt, and lets not forget the sound effect of a judge’s mallet between scenes — duh duh.
The oldest show on our list, Lassie began production in 1954, a year before Gunsmoke, and ended its reign in 1973 with 19 seasons and 591 episodes! Orignally filmed in black and white, Lassie followed the adventures of a Collie dog and her companions in a small farming community, alongside US Forest Service Rangers, and later settling down in a children’s home for the last two seasons. Lassie won two Emmy Awards on CBS and the show’s merchandise, whether toys, lunchboxes, or clothes, flew off the shelves. This television show’s success just goes to show how Americans will always have a soft spot in their hearts for man’s best friend.
5. South Park
On the crude and relevant humor side of the TV spectrum, South Park began on Comedy Central in 1997 with 257 episodes and 18 seasons to date. This controversial comedy hit follows the every day lives of four irreverent fourth graders in the small, quirky town of South Park, Colorado. Their adventures usually indirectly mirror current controversial topics as the show is famous for its insensitive language and dark humor. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker originally had to produce the show using cardboard cutouts in the first season, but have come a long way after developing a large, adult fan base.