13 Classic TV Shows the Whole Family Will Love

From The Honeymooners to The Brady Bunch, these old wholesome classics are ideal family viewing.

TV has certainly come a long way in the past 70 years. But just because Game of Thrones and Westworld blow your mind today, that doesn't mean that some of the classics don't withstand the test of time. From the incredibly groovy Brady Bunch to the altogether ooky Addams Family, these old TV shows sill have the ability to bring families together. So if you're stuck in quarantine and running out of new shows to watch on Netflix or you're wanting to show your kids or grandkids your childhood favorites, check out these classic TV shows that are available to stream during your next TV night. And for more streaming suggestions worth your while, check out these 2020 Movies Streaming Right Now and Where to Find Them.

I Love Lucy

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

Who doesn't love Lucy? This show, featuring the grande dame of comedy, Lucille Ball, still draws millions of American viewers in syndication. This pioneering show from the dawn of the television era—it aired from 1951 to 1957—was hugely influential for breakthrough innovations like filming before a live audience to capture and feed off of genuine laughter. I Love Lucy's skits remain timeless fun, still prompting hearty laughs seven decades later. (However, if you choose to watch this old TV show with your little ones, be prepared to explain the prevalence of smoking in so many scenes!) And to see what other shows you could spend hours streaming, check out The 20 TV Shows Streaming on Netflix That Have the Most Episodes.

Available to stream on Hulu, CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime

The Dick Van Dyke Show

Rob and Laura

The Dick Van Dyke Show was based on comic legend Carl Reiner's experience as head writer for a TV variety show. He had intended to play himself before he was persuaded to cast the jovial mirth-maker Dick Van Dyke as the lead. The premise here revolves around Rob and Laura Petrie, an aspirational couple in the entertainment business—but in place of an apartment setting, like Ricky and Lucy, the show depicts the burgeoning suburban commuter lifestyle that was becoming fashionable at the time.

The success of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired from 1961 to 1966, is owed entirely to Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore's considerable gifts and charm, placing this superb sitcom among America's all-time favorites. It's perfectly-crafted, family-friendly TV from a simpler time. (Fun fact: CBS nearly pulled the plug on The Dick Van Dyke Show after poor first season ratings, but the show endured to collect 14 Emmys over its five-year run!)

Available to stream on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Tubi

The Honeymooners

The Honeymooners

Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners had several incarnations, but the best are the segments that aired in primetime on CBS during the 1955-56 season, better known as the Classic 39. The show centers around a struggling, bickering couple, resigned to their plight. In contrast to other sitcoms of the era that portrayed an idyllic account of the American middle class, The Honeymooners recalls Gleason's own gritty experience growing up poor in Brooklyn. (He painstakingly modeled the set on the tenement kitchen of his impoverished youth.)

Downtrodden everyman Ralph Kramden is a short-tempered but lovable loser. His acerbic, long-suffering wife (played by Audrey Meadows) remains stoically unimpressed by his madcap get-rich schemes and other nonsense. But it always reconciles with a chagrined Ralph expressing his appreciation for her. The brilliance lies in the comedic relief mined from such an outwardly bleak existence. The chemistry between Norton (Art Carney) and Ralph is legendary, and it was Gleason's dislike of rehearsals that always provided fresh spontaneity. As Ralph would say, "Baby, you're the greatest!"

Some episodes available to stream on Amazon Prime

The Flintstones

The Flintstones
Warner Bros.

"A Pen and Ink Disaster" was Variety's headline following the TV premiere of the modern stone age family in 1960. The animation mimicked live-action sitcoms of the era with two writers sourced from the very show that inspired it: the much-admired Honeymooners.

Despite many critical reviews at first, The Flintstones was soon a smash hit, destined to become a television classic, rerun continuously for five decades after its final season in 1966. Although made in color, its first two seasons were broadcast in black and white due to ABC's technological shortcomings. And though it was originally geared toward adults, as the show developed, the narrative slowly shifted away from grown-up sitcom material, which increased its appeal to younger viewers. And for more classics that weren't received well initially, check out 33 Hilariously Bad Reviews of Classic Movies.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Vudu


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Bewitched was the ultimate male fantasy of an enchanting, intelligent, and independent woman prepared to give it all up for the role of a '60s suburban housewife. Beautiful sorceress Samantha attempts to play the good wife while undoing the damage inflicted by her devious mother, Edora, upon her hapless hubby, Darrin, a bland advertising executive. Darrin is tormented by his mysterious assorted in-laws who are convinced Samantha married beneath her station.

The series—launched the year after JFK's assassination—put a new spin on the concept of mixed race marriage, a volatile topic uncoiling during the peak of the civil rights movement. This cleverly crafted sitcom, which ran for eight seasons between 1964 and 1972, featured some of the sharpest writing ever on television, riffing on the cultural stereotypes and allusions of a calamitous decade.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime

The Beverly Hillbillies

The Beverly Hillbillies

At first blush, these Ozark country folk would appear to be an easy mark for the city slickers of tony Beverly Hills. But in The Beverly Hillbillies' satirical world of The Haves and the formerly Have-Nots, the Clampetts often turn the tables on their witless new neighbors with home-spun wisdom borne of moral compasses.

Double entendres and culture clashes crackle and snap. In one of the many running gags, the superbly spinsterish Miss Jane barely suppresses her libido whenever in the presence of hunky, but simple-minded Jethro. Then there's his pinup model of a cousin, Elly May Clampett, the sweet Southern tomboy. The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran from 1964 to 1971, is actually an unapologetic mashup of typecasting, the currency of '60s-era sitcoms. Judging by the show's continuing popularity, it's a guilty pleasure with no sign of abating.

Available to stream on Tubi and Hulu

Hogan's Heroes

Hogan's Heroes

With World War II a recent and vivid memory, military-themed films and TV series were a staple of the '60s. But like everything in the decade, it was fair game to parody. Hogan's Heroes, which aired from 1965 to 1971, is an elaborately staged ruse on hapless, bumbling Nazis, set in a German prisoner war camp. The show's precocious snark is perhaps best appreciated by the theme song's secret lyrics, performed by a quartet of cast members: Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, Ivan Dixon, and Larry Hovis.

Available to stream on YouTube TV

The Brady Bunch

The Brady Bunch

For reasons not fully understood, a common theme of television in the 1950s and '60s was the prevalence of widowed, single fathers. Shows from Bonanza, Flipper, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, to My Three Sons, and, of course, The Andy Griffith Show featured a benevolent father going it alone. By 1969, The Brady Bunch took the conceit to its ultimate conclusion by fusing a widowed dad with a widowed mom (divorce was still a taboo subject). Their families were perfectly symmetrical too, with three dark-haired boys opposite three blonde girls, all exact parallels in age. What could go wrong? Well, nothing.

The Brady Bunch, one of the last old-school family sitcoms, was a huge hit. And while never critically acclaimed, its impact on popular culture is immeasurable. Americans have connected with the show since its inception through an array of reunion films and spin-offs. The opening title sequence with each Brady arranged in a nine-panel grid, the cast members gazing lovingly at one another, remains a cultural touchpoint, lasting long after the final episode aired in 1974.

Available to stream on Hulu, CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime

Get Smart

Get Smart
CBS/Warner Bros.

By the mid-1960s, the popular oh-so-serious Cold War spy genre required a response—and Get Smart was ready to answer the call. It was the product of devious duo Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, with comedic savant Don Adams as Maxwell Smart. Brooks described the genesis of Get Smart to Time in 1965 like this: "I was sick of looking at all those nice, sensible situation comedies. They were such distortions of life. … I wanted to do a crazy, unreal, comic-strip kind of thing about something besides a family. No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first."

It turned out to be a tough sell. ABC network executives said it was "un-American," helpfully suggesting a "lovable dog to give the show more heart." And why not include Maxwell Smart's mother, they asked? "They wanted to put a print housecoat on the show," Brooks recalled. "Max was to come home to his mother and explain everything. I hate mothers on shows. Max has no mother. He never had one."

Once it got the green light, Get Smart had an enormous influence on comedy for years to come. The show, which debuted in 1965 and ran until 1970, will forever be remembered for its Bond-like gadgets (the shoe phone!) and doltish catchphrases ("Would you believe…!") delivered in Smart's characteristic nasal sneer.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Vudu

The Addams Family

Addams Family
MGM Television

This deliciously twisted farce was based on a long-running series of single-panel New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams dating back to 1937. The ABC series, with its infectious harpsichord and finger-snapping theme song, premiered in 1964 in black and white, starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia Addams. Other characters include their children, Wednesday and Pugsley; Uncle Fester and Grandmama; the butler, Lurch; and Pugsley's pet octopus, Aristotle. Rounding out the cast is Thing, a disembodied hand that lives in a small wooden box. and cameos by relatives including Cousin Itt; Morticia's older sister, Ophelia (also portrayed by Jones); and Morticia's mother, Grandma Frump, played by none other than the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton.

The eccentric, gothic family is set on a collision course with everyone they come in contact with. Unassumingly, they are puzzled by the horrified reactions to their own good-natured manner since they live under the illusion of being a typical, privileged family. Without fail, visitors to the Addamses' mansion suffer irreversible trauma. The innovative series, a binge-worthy specimen of the flourishing creativity that defined much of 1960s television, aired for only two seasons, beginning in 1964. Sweet and petite, the show's continuing influence belies its brief duration. And for more TV recommendations, check out These Are the Best Amazon Prime Shows to Stream While in Quarantine.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Vudu

Home Improvement

tim allen and richard karn on home improvement
Buena Vista TV/Touchstone TV USA Television

A juggernaut of the 1990s, Home Improvement was one of the most loved and awarded shows of its generation. Borne out of Tim Allen's comedy club routine, the series centers on Allen's discombobulated machismo of a handyman Tim Taylor. He's the host of a fix-it show called Tool Time, which kicks off each episode with a homemade video of Tim and his sidekick DIYer Al Borland (Richard Karn). Allen is especially adept at physical comedy, and watching the Tool Man spectacularly misfire at whatever tool-related undertaking he attempts is classic slapstick.

The central narrative of Home Improvement relies heavily on time-tested conflicts between the sexes. And despite the sexist tropes (Tim's wife, Jill, wants a romantic dinner, he'd rather watch sports), Allen's fumbling, average guy persona connects with men who identify with him and with wives who recognize their own husbands in him. Their husbands too probably tuck their flannel shirts into their dad jeans. They grunt. They grill. They use power tools. You know, guy stuff. (Fun fact: Ashley Judd was Allen's first choice for the role of Lisa, Tim's Tool Girl in the opening videos. He settled on a then-unknown, Pamela Anderson, who starred in the cameo role for the first two seasons before Baywatch snatched her up.)

Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Vudu

Family Matters

family matters
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Spun-off from Perfect Strangers in 1989, Family Matters initially focused on the domestic life of a middle-class African-American family, the Winslows of Chicago. Things are upended when a nerdy neighbor kid named Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) makes an appearance. Intended as a one-time character, the quirky Urkel—wickedly smart but out of touch with social norms—became the heart of the show. Steve enjoys polka dancing and accordion playing and has a knack for showing up unannounced at the Winslow home at precisely the wrong time.

Despite Steve's best intentions, his efforts always blow up and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Winslows. But ultimately, it doesn't matter that Urkel gets on their nerves—the Winslows come to appreciate his good motives and his compassion. Family Matters is packed with funny bits and insights on moral questions involving family, friends, and friends who become family. The program aired from 1989 to 1998 with 215 episodes, making it one of the longest-running U.S. sitcoms with a predominately African-American cast. Even more than 30 years later, it makes for timeless family viewing.

Available to stream on Hulu and YouTube TV

The Andy Griffith Show

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts in The Andy Griffith Show
CBS Television Distribution

It would be impossible to create a show like Andy Griffith's today—one based in a sleepy, mythical town where nothing much happens, where the center of the action is at the barbershop, and where Aunt Bee's fresh-baked apple pie is the high point of the day. The show's aw-shucks, straight-laced law-enforcement lead character doesn't pack heat, nor is he capable of poor judgment or ever losing his cool. He exists only to intervene as needed to resolve petty skirmishes among affable townsfolk, aided by his bumbling, trigger-happy sidekick (Don Knotts). Who would watch a show like that? Evidently, millions would, even 52 years after its final episode aired in 1968.

The Andy Griffith Show represents the mythical America everyone wants to believe exists—or at least once did. The show's warmth and subtle humor connected with viewers from the start, staying in the top 10 most-watched series in its entire eight-year run. The characters felt like family—the family we wished for. Plot twists were relatively minor, no big surprises ever—just reliably comforting like a tall glass of lemonade on a hot North Carolina summer day. Because in mythical Mayberry, it never snowed. And bad things never happened.

Available to stream on Tubi and Netflix

Filed Under