The 15 Most Memorable TV Shows Celebrating Their 25th Anniversaries in 2021
The TV shows that are turning 25 in 2021 are a great cross section of what pop culture looked like back then. And yes, it’s very weird to realize that 1996 was basically 25 years ago – it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long! Debuts that year included new star vehicles for existing celebs, a surprisingly high number of children’s shows that would become cultural mainstays, and a handful of sitcoms that changed the comedy game. As we get ready for all these anniversaries in 2021, we’re looking back at the shows that have remained in our lives for one reason or another – including classics like Arthur, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and more. Keep reading for our complete ranking of the 15 most memorable shows that debuted in 1996, leading all the way up to our top pick!
The Steve Harvey Show
Steve Harvey’s sitcom wasn’t necessarily a big deal in and of itself, fitting in seamlessly along similar comedies of the era. For the most part, it’s most memorable for helping Harvey transition from stand-up comic to TV comic, which has led him to his frequent TV hosting gigs today.
Chances are, even people who watched Suddenly Susan don’t remember a ton about the show, even though it stayed on the air for four years. The workplace comedy focused on a single magazine writer and her colleagues, which sounds like a similar setup to plenty of shows. What this one is most notable for is giving Brooke Shields her first regular leading role on TV.
Was Clueless the TV series ever going to be as iconic as Clueless the movie? As if! Although the TV show was supposed to be in the same universe as the movie, several recasts and storyline retcons turned it into something else entirely. Still, taken on its own, it’s a cute enough ’90s teen comedy.
Superman: The Animated Series
Before the dark-and-gritty reboots of Superman, there was this animated series, which was part of the DC animated universe long before the live-action DCEU. It’s not the most famous Superman iteration, nor the most influential, but it’s the kind of show that bridged the gap between superheroes as “kid” entertainment and superheroes in the mainstream.
It had a shorter run than some of the other kids’ shows on this list, but Hey Arnold! became a staple for late-90’s kids. The story of a boy living with his grandparents in the city boarding house they own involved everything from wacky adventures to more poignant episodes dealing with real-life issues. Although attempts to reboot or revive the series have flopped in recent years, it’s still a memorable part of ’90s Nickelodeon.
PBS’s children’s series has become the longest-running children’s animated series in American history, and it has definitely earned it. The show may be made for kids, but it never talks down to them, instead using its colorful and creative cast of characters to teach kids (and maybe their parents too) about important issues of everyday modern life. It’s a show with a big heart and an equally big brain, and that’s just what kids of every generation need.
What millennial kid didn’t grow up watching episodes of Blue’s Clues? The beloved show kicked off a kids’-show renaissance, using innovative animation and production techniques to create a show that entertained and educated, teaching kids to follow clues and learn something new every episode. It genuinely helped change the game for kids’ programming, offering up proof that high-quality, educational shows could get high ratings and be entertaining, too.
It’s hard to imagine daytime TV without Judge Judy at this point! Her famous, no-nonsense approach to the cases in her courtroom has earned her a following for 25 years and counting, and she’s outlasted many of the talk-show hosts who shared daytime TV with her back in 1996. In more recent years, more criticisms of Judy and the show’s setup have come out, but there’s no denying that it’s been a huge influence on the mini industry of “crime and justice” shows.
The Crocodile Hunter
Steve Irwin and his family gave the world a huge gift with the launch of the original The Crocodile Hunter: a joyful and educational show that was as much about the wonder of exploration as it was about teaching viewers about places and creatures they might not have known much about. There have been dozens of wildlife “reality” shows in the decades since, but very few have managed to capture Irwin’s particular brand of unfiltered enthusiasm and knowledge.
We definitely all still talk about this particularly sentimental WB drama about the large family of a pastor, but not always for good reasons. On the one hand, it definitely influenced the development of a similar subgenre of weepy dramas with heavily religious overtones (today mostly found on smaller cable networks), but on the other hand, its melodrama and “very special episodes” have made it something of a punchline these days. Still, it’s impossible to ignore how long it stayed on the air, not to mention launching several careers, including Jessica Biel‘s!
Before there was Veep, there was Spin City, a satirical comedy about the day-to-day work of the deputy mayor of New York City and his staff. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show, you can see bits of its influence in the political shows that came later: the focus on the comedy of local government in Parks and Recreation, Veep’s skewering of overambitious politicians, and The West Wing‘s interest in the niche moments of government.
3rd Rock From the Sun
The John Lithgow-led comedy about a quartet of aliens living in disguise on Earth in order to observe human life is definitely one of the most memorable comedies of the ’90s. The tongue-in-cheek humor and blending of sci-fi with classic sitcom tropes made it a critical success, even if its ratings were typically more middling. While it hasn’t always aged gracefully – like most ’90s sitcoms – it’s still a memorable and hilarious show that’s worth a rewatch. Plus: young Joseph Gordon-Levitt!
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
It may have been one of the last of the old TGIF comedy block, but Sabrina was also one of the greats. Cheesy in a hilariously self-aware way (and packed with the best one-liners on TV, courtesy of snarky cat Salem), the story of a teenager learning to be a witch with the help of her quirky aunts was a staple for a generation of tweens and teens growing up. It functioned almost as a sort of counterculture to things like Charmed or The Craft, which had a much darker take on witchcraft. As much as we love Netflix’s goth-horror reboot, the sweetly goofy original will always have a special place in our hearts.
Everybody Loves Raymond
Out of all the shows that debuted in 1996, this domestic comedy about an overwhelmed sports journalist and his family is definitely the most famous and the most award winning. It’s full of unforgettable characters and, in the grand tradition of sitcoms, lets its colorful supporting cast steal the spotlight on a regular basis. The only reason it’s not on top of the list? Some of its tropes – especially with regards to its female characters and gender dynamics in general – have aged very badly.
Of all the shows from 1996, Moesha just may have had the biggest impact on pop culture of them all. The setup fit right into the typical style of a family sitcom: a teenage girl deals with high school drama, while also trying to adjust to her widowed father marrying her school’s vice principal. Although it was absolutely a comedy, the show never tried to avoid tough topics, from “normal” high school topics like drugs and sex to issues of race, gender, and inequality. Moesha‘s legacy also lives on in two other shows that take place in the same universe: Girlfriends and The Game.