In honor of Labor Day, Variety assembled a list of TV’s all-time greatest workplace comedies. Like any other job, the key to a classic comedy in a work setting is the ensemble of characters who punch the clock together every week. From “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “Veep,” from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to “The Larry Sanders Show,” from “Taxi” to “Party Down,” here’s a look at TV’s favorite working stiffs.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
In tumultuous times, it may feel weird to laugh at the antics of those who are tasked with protecting and serving. Thankfully, Andy Samberg and the squad at the 9-9 know how to have fun (epic Halloween bets) but can also be serious when they need to be (going undercover in the mob). And perhaps most importantly, they always have each other’s back. This tonal successor to “Barney Miller” has flourished on the strength of an ensemble that includes Andre Braugher, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, and Joe Lo Truglio.
There may be no higher octane workplace than an international secret intelligence service, and that immediately lent itself to unique locations and situations in which the characters found themselves week after week – from dodging hit men to fighting with cartels. Those characters often screamed at or sabotaged each other on missions, yet their unconventional approaches made them more fun to watch. The seventh season saw a reboot of the workplace itself, with the characters blacklisted by the government and opening a detective agency instead, but all of the show’s quintessential traits (from running jokes to quick cuts and those character dynamics) remained as strong as ever.
Scrubs (NBC, ABC)
A precursor to “The Office” and “30 Rock,” Bill Lawrence’s “Scrubs” was one of the first comedies to apply the absurdity of “The Simpsons” to a live-action, single-camera workplace series. Though it indulged in occasional excess schmaltz, the show excelled when it focused on Zach Braff’s young doctor J.D. Dorian as he struggles to navigate a hospital populated by nincompoops, blowhards, and weirdos.
Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)
Saving the world isn’t your average job description, but “Steven Universe” — in which a group of alien heroes protect Earth while raising a half-alien boy — isn’t your average workplace comedy. Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl all live together, but their house is also their staging area for their missions (and the entrance to the Crystal Temple). In a supernatural, fantastical way, “Steven Universe” is about the team finding their strengths and getting along with each other — with a lot of laughter along the way.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)
Some people may go out to happy hour with their co-workers to blow off steam, but the gang at Paddy’s Pub makes happy hour all of the time. As bar owners, they know how to kill hours with clever and original games like “Chardee MacDennis” or simply ripping on each other (Dee’s bird-like similarities, Mac’s karate “skills,” Charlie and Frank’s weird living arrangement). They may not have time to actually serve customers with all of their side adventures and cons, but that’s okay because you’d rather watch from afar than sit on that stool Charlie broke when the inspector was in the bar anyway.
Police Squad (ABC)
Before the “Naked Gun” movies, Leslie Nielsen and the creative team behind the hit 1980 film “Airplane” assembled for a TV series in the same farcical vein. “Police Squad,” set in “a large American city,” relentlessly skewered the tropes of cop shows with the help of sight gags, puns, and of course, a no-winking performance by Nielsen as the dogged Det. Frank Drebin.
Get Smart (NBC, CBS)
Comedy legends Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created this biting satire of the spy genre with Don Adams playing the lead role of bumbling superspy Maxwell Smart. Barbara Feldon co-starred as his more-than-capable partner, Agent 99. The series won multiple Emmys, including best lead actor in a comedy series for Adams and best comedy series.
The IT Crowd (U.K.)
A British sitcom that served as an early starting vehicle for Chris O’Dowd offered a hilarious look at life in the IT department in a fictional massive corporation. Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and Matt Berry rounded out the cast, with Ayoade also appearing in the failed American remake that starred Joel McHale.
Better Off Ted (ABC)
Conniving corporation Veridian Dynamics experimented on its employees (even going so far as to want to freeze one of them in a cryonics chamber), tried to pair off its employees based on genetic compatibility, and often introduced items to the general public that came with known hazards. The true beauty of the show toplined by Jay Harrington lies in its quirky characters, some of whom were sarcastic, some of whom were humorously earnest, but all of whom knew what the company was doing and tried to manipulate the system in their own way.
Bob Newhart’s second successful primetime series revolved around his work life as a Vermont innkeeper and TV show host. “Newhart” had a long run thanks to the able assistance of supporting players including Mary Frann, Tom Poston, Julia Duffy, Peter Scolari, and the local yokels Larry, Darryl, and Other Brother Darryl played by William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad. The show’s famously clever final episode was good enough to make the entire series an evergreen classic.
Community (NBC, Yahoo)
Arguing that any work got done at all at Greendale Community College may be a bit of a stretch, but the study group-turned-teachers-and-other-administrators always had so much fun it really made true the old cliche of “it’s not work when you do what you love.” From campus-wide (and campus-destroying) paintball games to fighting to keep the school from being sold to a corporate sponsor to setting up a secret speakeasy to get the administration off their backs, the Greendale Seven knew how to make the most of being stuck in a small town in Colorado.
The “Frasier” A-story usually took place at home. But most episodes also featured a workplace storyline set at the radio station where Kelsey Grammer’s endearingly pompous shrink hosted a call-in show. The two worlds would occasionally merge — such as in 2002’s “Star Mitzvah,” in which Frasier, fooled by a vengeful co-worker, reads a blessing at his son’s Bar Mitzvah in what he believes to be Hebrew but is actually Klingon.
Are You Being Served? (U.K.)
This British series set in a department store had a long run in the U.K. and then became a U.S. staple through airings on PBS. It’s hard not to fall for the broad comedy delivered by the motley collection of staffers at Grace Brothers as they do battle with cantankerous customers, a geriatric owner, and one another on the floor of the ladies and menswear section. The characters played by John Inman (Mr. Humphries), Mollie Sugden (Mrs. Slocum), and Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) are particular standouts.
This sharp NBC comedy about the employees of a talk radio station was bouyed by a great ensemble cast that included Phil Hartman, Joe Rogan, Maura Tierney, Dave Foley, and Stephen Root. Jon Lovitz also appeared in several guest roles before joining the show as a regular following Hartman’s death. Sadly, it never found a substantial audience and was canceled after five seasons.
Party Down (Starz)
Filed under “gone too soon.” Co-created by Rob Thomas, “Party Down” follows a Hollywood catering crew of aspiring actors and writers. Each episode was set at a different party staffed by the Party Down team — a comedy all-star roster of Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Jane Lynch, Ryan Hansen, Martin Starr, Lizzy Caplan, and, in the second and final season, Megan Mullally.
The long-running show that turned “Kiss my grits” into a catchphrase revolved around the blue-collar workers at a greasy-spoon diner in Phoenix. Linda Lavin played a recently widowed aspiring singer who moves across the country from New Jersey with her son to start a new life. Polly Holliday was a sassy fan fave as waitress Flo – she who flung the “grits” line. Vic Tayback was well cast as the owner and head chef of Mel’s Diner.
Silicon Valley (HBO)
A sharp-knived send-up of tech-industry culture, “Silicon Valley” follows Thomas Middleditch’s painfully awkward programmer Richard Hendricks as his company Pied Piper again and again nears unicorn-level success, only to fall short every time. Next season will be the first without breakout T.J. Miller.
Fawlty Towers (U.K.)
Explosive doesn’t begin to describe John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. The surly British innkeeper in the seaside town of Torquay consistently flounders in his efforts to climb the social ladder and class up his establishment. He’s a horrendously bad boss to the hotel staffers and equally hostile to his wife. And it all adds up to one of Britain’s most enduring comedy exports.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS)
Carl Reiner’s autobiographical creation manages to at once reflect the New Frontier era in which it was born and a timelessness all its own. The show’s storylines blend Rob Petrie’s suburban home life as a husband and father with his work adventures as the head writer of “The Alan Brady Show,” a hit primetime comedy with an explosive star. In both worlds, star Dick Van Dyke was backed up by a stellar supporting cast and great writing. Times and fashions may change but the neurosis experienced by young parents, the strains of maintaining a young marriage, and the pressures to please a demanding boss are universal and evergreen. Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon, Jerry Paris, and Ann Morgan Guilbert were able partners for Van Dyke, as was Reiner in his occasional appearances as the vituperative Brady.
The Larry Sanders Show (HBO)
Garry Shandling held nothing back in his masterwork set behind the scenes of a late-night talk show. The unvarnished neurosis, insecurity, and insincerity of almost everyone who toiled on the show was portrayed in often painful detail by a crack team of writers (Judd Apatow, Peter Tolan, and Paul Simms among them) and key supporting players Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn, Wallace Langham, and Penny Johnson Jerald.
The world of politics is full of self-aggrandizing egotists, many of whom also happen to be utterly inept. That’s unfortunate for the state of the real world but very fortunate for the state of the reel world because it provided a wealth of big personalities for this White House-set laffer. Former-VEEP-turned-former-POTUS-Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) surrounded herself with yes men so she’d look better and the result has been poor for her public image at times but a huge success for the show. And honestly, isn’t it refreshing to be around a group of people who can let the expletives fly at work? It releases so much tension and is very wish-fulfilling.
Buffalo Bill (NBC)
More than 30 years after its debut, “Buffalo Bill” endures as a brilliant-but-canceled favorite. Dabney Coleman played a caustic, egotistical, womanizing local talk show host in Buffalo, N.Y., who was desperate to break into the network big leagues. Much has changed in TV over the past four decades, but the personality types skewered in this show are timeless. Coleman’s tour de force performance during the show’s abbreviated two-season run was enhanced by a strong supporting cast that included Joanna Cassidy, Geena Davis, Max Wright, John Fielder, and Meshach Taylor.
Night Court (NBC)
Harry Anderson presided over this Must-See TV era NBC comedy revolving around the workings of a Manhanttan night court. Anderson’s Judge Harry Stone brought a goofy touch to adjudicating offbeat cases with a colorful cast of supporting players that included John Larroquette, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Marsha Warfield, Charles Robinson, and early on, the great Selma Diamond. Much like “Barney Miller,” the courtroom setting was a natural story engine. The writers infused Judge Stone with memorable qualities such as his super-fan worship of Mel Torme and love of 1940s fashion.
30 Rock (NBC)
The very specific world of television production became relatable and downright hilarious because of the characters that inhabited both the fictional version of NBC and the show-within-the-show, “TGS With Tracy Jordan,” on Tina Fey’s comedy. Needy or narcissistic co-workers Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) may have made audiences feel better about those they worked with in the real world, but who wouldn’t want the self-made Jack (Alec Baldwin) as a mentor or someone like Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) to answer phones with his relentlessly cheerful attitude? He really did embody all viewers when he declared “I just love television so much!”
Courtesy of NBC
Taxi (NBC, ABC)
No series ever celebrated the aspirations of working stiffs better than this ensembler revolving around a group of New York City cab drivers. Most of the core characters had their eyes on bigger dreams as they drove cabs to pay the rent. Tony Danza’s Tony Banta was a boxer, Jeff Conaway’s Bobby Wheeler was an actor, Marilu Henner’s Elaine Nardo worked at an art gallery. Judd Hirsch’s Alex Reiger was the world-weary former corporate executive who unfailingly cheered them on while Danny De Vito’s dispatcher Louie De Palma hurled insults from the sanctity of his cage. And then there was mechanic Latka Gravas, the bizarro character that launched Andy Kaufman to stardom, and Jim Ignatowski, the aging hippie waste-case limned to stoner perfection by Christopher Lloyd.
WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS)
This show set at a run-down FM radio station ran only four seasons but yielded more than its fair share of classic moments. The casting of the core characters was pitch-perfect: Gordon Jump as neurotic station owner Arthur Carlson, Gary Sandy as weathered program director Andy Travis, Howard Hesseman as rock jock Johnny Fever, Tim Reid as the soulful Venus Flytrap, Loni Anderson as sexpot secretary Jennifer Marlowe, Richard Sanders as earnest newsman Les Nessman, Jan Smithers as aspiring executive Bailey Quarters, and Frank Bonner as craven salesman Herb Tarlek. “WKRP” found its rock ‘n’ roll heart in the pilot, and only got better from there. No true fan of the show has ever doubted Mr. Carlson’s declaration from the Season 1 classic “Turkeys Away”: “As god as my witness I thought turkeys could fly.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS)
Mary Tyler Moore’s spunky Mary Richards became a cultural icon precisely because she chose to pursue a career rather than a husband. The motley group that enlivened the action around Richards’ desk in the WJM-TV newsroom rank as some of TV’s most indelible characters: Ed Asner’s Lou Grant, Gavin MacLeod’s Murray Slaughter, Ted Knight’s Ted Baxter, and Betty White’s Sue Ann Nivens, not to mention Mary’s friend Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) and landlord Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). With Moore as the anchor, there was no chance that “Mary Tyler Moore” could do anything but make it – big – after all.
Barney Miller (ABC)
The characters in this beloved police comedy were so finely drawn by the writers and well executed by the stars that the show rarely had to leave the dingy New York station house set to generate laughs. Instead, the situations came to them as the detectives under Captain Barney Miller’s command hustled in perps and tried to console victims. Hal Linden anchored an ensemble of actors who remain synonymous with their characters: Wojciehowicz (Max Gail), Fish (Abe Vigoda), Yemana (Jack Soo), Dietrich (Steve Landesberg), Harris (Ron Glass), and Chano (Gregory Sierra). The Season 3 episode “Werewolf” is simply one of the funniest half-hours in primetime history.
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Small town governmental bureaucracy never looked as fun as with the gang at the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was always positive and could instantly inspire others with her “go get ’em” attitude, even when it was taking years to get the local pit filled in, let alone turned into something beautiful. She may have prioritized work behind waffles and friends, but the way she worked actually combined all three of those things. The ensemble — from stoic Ron (Nick Offerman) to sarcastic April (Aubrey Plaza) — shined at their desks, in town hall meetings, and when throwing special town events like the Harvest Festival or an all-night telethon.
The Office (NBC)
The bar was certainly high for the American version of “The Office,” given that Ricky Gervais had already set a high (or is it low?) standard for the mockumentary format in the British original. But Steve Carell brought his own bumbling charm as the head of the Dunder-Mifflin outpost, while John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer infused the classic will-they-or-won’t-they trope with eye-rolling hilarity as lovebirds Jim and Pam. Over the course of its nine seasons, the cast and creative team turned workplace drudgery into sitcom gold, making it an office everyone wanted to work in.
“Cheers” is a Hall of Fame sitcom by any objective measure. But as a workplace comedy, it has few peers for quality, longevity, and timelessness. The series’ mettle was tested by major cast changes over its 11-season run. The anchor, of course, was Ted Danson in his signature role as former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone, a recovering alcoholic who nonetheless runs a Boston watering hole. Shelley Long as Diane Chambers provided the romantic tension for the first five seasons, but “Cheers” became so much more than the Sam & Diane story, thanks to a rich cast of supporting characters: Rhea Perlman (Carla), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) Nicholas Colasanto (Coach), Woody Harrelson (Woody), Bebe Neuwirth (Lillith), Kirstie Alley (Rebecca), John Ratzenberger (Cliff), and George Wendt (Norm). As the theme song promises, a half-hour spent with “Cheers” is a visit to a joyful place where we’re all on a first-name basis.