The Longest-Running Sitcom: Animated and Live-Action
You know what you’ll get with a sitcom: a 20-minute story with a happy ending. But that doesn’t mean the format isn’t challenging to write and produce. Sitcom writers constantly have to find new ways to tell the same stories over and over again. Sometimes they succeed brilliantly, and other times… not so much. We will, however, focus only on the good stuff and talk about the longest-running sitcom, both animated and live-action. Let’s go!
What Is a Sitcom?
A sitcom, short for “situation comedy,” is a genre of television that typically features a group of characters in a recurring setting. Sitcoms usually air weekly and are often recorded in front of a live audience.
In recent years, the genre has been expanded to include shows that are not necessarily recorded in front of a live audience. These shows often employ a single-camera setup and don’t have any real or canned laughter (pre-recorded laugh tracks). Some of the top sitcoms of all time — e.g., The Office and Parks and Recreation — belong to this category.
History of the Term Sitcom
According to Merriam-Webster, “sitcom” was first mentioned in 1956. Though it was first used to describe the new wave of comedy shows appearing on radio at the time, the term “sitcom” quickly caught on and was soon used to describe television comedies. In the 1960s, the word became firmly established in the television industry.
What Was the First Sitcom?
The first sitcom appeared on television in 1946. It was a British show, Pinwright’s Progress. It aired on the BBC, but no episodes survived because it was broadcast live. According to the history of sitcoms, the first American sitcom was Mary Kay and Johnny, which aired in 1947.
What Is the Longest-Running Animated Sitcom by Seasons?
Animated sitcoms typically offer a unique blend of humor and social commentary, with characters that are both relatable and larger-than-life. These shows also tend to be more forgiving of controversial topics than live-action shows, which can add an extra layer to the jokes. That said, let’s get on with the list of the longest-running animated sitcoms in the history of American television!
1. The Simpsons (1989–) — 33 Seasons
The title of the longest animated sitcom belongs to The Simpsons. It is an American animated sitcom that has been airing on FOX since 1989. The show is set in the made-up town of Springfield and follows the lives of the Simpson family.
The Simpsons is not only the longest-running American animated sitcom, but it’s also the longest-running primetime TV show and the show with the most seasons in the history of American scripted television. Plus, it’s also first among the longest-running sitcoms by episodes.
Over the years, this show has been a ratings juggernaut for FOX and has helped launch the careers of many voice actors, including Nancy Cartwright and Hank Azaria.
2. South Park (1997–) — 25 Seasons
Few television shows are as iconic or influential as South Park. Envisioned and brought to life by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show launched on Comedy Central and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. South Park is known for its harsh humor, political satire, and outlandish plotlines. It’s one of the most controversial current sitcoms, and people love it.
South Park revolves around the lives of its four main characters: Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick.
In addition to its critical acclaim, South Park has also been a commercial success, ranking as one of the highest-rated cable TV shows. And with 25 seasons under the belt, it’s one of the longest-running TV shows in the US, in addition to being one of the longest American sitcoms.
3. Family Guy (1999–) — 20 Seasons
Family Guy is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane. It follows the (mis)adventures of the Griffins, a somewhat dysfunctional family living in the fictional town of Quahog, Rhode Island. The family’s patriarch is Peter Griffin, a bumbling but well-meaning blue-collar worker. His wife Lois is a stay-at-home mom who constantly finds herself exasperated by her husband’s antics.
Griffins have two teenage children, Meg and Chris, who are often the butts of their father’s jokes. The family includes Brian, the talking dog, and Stewie, the diabolical psycho baby. Family Guy has been known for its edgy humor and irreverent take on pop culture and has rightfully earned its place among the longest-running sitcoms on US television.
4. American Dad! (2005–) — 19 Seasons
American Dad! is a satirical animated adult comedy that follows the exploits of Stan Smith, a conservative CIA agent, and his family. The Smith family includes Stan’s wife Francine, their teenage daughter Hayley, and their young son Steve.
Also living in the house are two alien life forms — Roger, an extraterrestrial who takes on numerous jobs (and personas) throughout the series, and Klaus, a goldfish with the brain of an East German man. Together, this unlikely group navigates the ups and downs of everyday life in American suburbs.
While it does have its share of adult humor, American Dad! also features plenty of heart and is often praised for its positive portrayal of family values. American Dad! is a hilarious show that provides a unique take on traditional American family sitcoms.
5. King of the Hill (1997–2010) — 13 Seasons
This animated sitcom shows the life of the Hills, a middle-class family in the made-up town of Arlen, Texas. The paterfamilias is Hank Hill, an introverted long-time propane salesman devoted to his job, hobbies, and family. Hank’s wife Peggy is a substitute teacher passionate about environmentalism and organic food. And we mustn’t forget their son Bobby, a somewhat awkward teen struggling to find his place.
King of the Hill went on for 13 seasons, becoming known for the true-to-life portrayal of middle-class small-town American life. Its humor appealed to both adults and kids, which placed it among the top animated sitcoms of all time. Despite its success, King of the Hill was canceled by Fox in 2010 due to declining ratings. However, the show still lives on in syndication.
6. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–) — 13 Seasons
SpongeBob SquarePants is not only one of the longest-running TV series, but it’s also one of the most iconic characters of the past twenty-something years. The absorbent and yellow sponge has appeared in over 270 episodes of the popular Nickelodeon show, and his adventures have captivated audiences of all ages.
SpongeBob lives in a pineapple under the sea, and he works as a fry cook at the local fast-food restaurant, The Krusty Krab. He is best friends with a starfish named Patrick, and he has a pet snail named Gary. SpongeBob’s naivete often gets him into trouble, but his goodhearted nature always manages to see him through. SpongeBob is always ready to meet the challenge, whether facing down an evil pirate or simply trying to pass his driving test.
7. Archer (2009–) — 12 Seasons
Archer is an adult animated action-comedy that follows the exploits of Sterling Archer, a suave and self-centered spy, and a colorful cast of characters, including the acerbic Lana Kane and mild-mannered Cyril Figgis.
Throughout the series, Archer and his colleagues at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) find themselves embroiled in various espionage capers, often involving KGB agents, South American drug cartels, and ruthless business rivals.
8. Bob’s Burgers (2011–) — 12 Seasons
If you’re a fan of American sitcoms with endearing characters (and plenty of burger puns), you need to check out Bob’s Burgers. The show follows the Belcher family, who own and operate a burger restaurant. The family includes Bob, his wife Linda, and their three children: Tina, Gene, and Louise.
Each episode follows the family as they navigate the challenges of running a successful business while also dealing with the ups and downs of family life.
9. Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000–2015) — 11 Seasons
Aqua Teen Hunger Force is an American adult animated sitcom that aired on Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block, Adult Swim. The show follows the adventures of three fast food items: Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad (and their neighbor Carl, a human being), who frequently find themselves involved in various hijinks and shenanigans.
Aside from its super-weird name, the show is known for its surreal humor, pop culture references, and offbeat storytelling. It is definitely one of the most influential adult animated comedy shows of the 21st century.
10. Beavis and Butt-Head (1993–1997, 2011, 2022–) — 8 Seasons
Beavis and Butt-Head originally aired on MTV from 1993 to 1997 and is centered on the misadventures of two teenage boys, Beavis and Butt-Head, in the fictional Highland in Texas.
After the show ended, it continued to air in syndication and on DVD, and in 2011, it was revived for the first time. Later that year, it got canceled again, but the year 2022 brought the second coming of Beavis and Butt-Head.
Despite its crude humor and sometimes juvenile themes, Beavis and Butt-Head is a sharp satire of American society that has resonated with viewers for over two decades and made a lasting mark on the history of sitcoms.
What Is the Longest-Running Non-Animated Sitcom by Seasons?
While watching live-action sitcoms, you see people living in apartments that are too big for their budget, working jobs they hate, and spending most of their time with their friends instead of their family. In other words, you see a reflection of your own life — exaggerated for the sake of laughs.
And that’s why we keep tuning in, week after week, decade after decade. Okay, enough blabbering; let’s see what the longest-running live-action sitcom is!
1. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005–) — 15 Seasons
The longest-running sitcom is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It follows “The Gang,” a group of five self-centered friends who run Paddy’s Pub, a bar in Philly. The Gang comprises twins Dennis and Dee Reynolds, their friends Charlie Kelly and Ronald McDonald, and Frank Reynolds (legal father of the twins).
This merry bunch is notorious for their endless string of antics, which often get them into trouble with the law. Despite their many flaws, they always manage to stick together, making for a hilarious and entertaining show.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s cast includes Charlie Day, Danny DeVito, Kaitlin Olson, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton.
When it got renewed for season 15, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia became the longest-running non-animated sitcom of all time by the number of seasons.
2. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952–1966) — 14 Seasons
This show starred Ozzie Nelson and his wife, Harriet, as themselves, along with their two sons, Ricky and David. It was one of the first American sitcoms to feature a working mother. For many years, the show was successful, but it began to lose its audience in the early 1960s.
While The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may not be as well-known as some other classic sitcoms, it still holds a special place in the hearts of those who grew up watching it. And even though it’s the second-longest-running sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet remains the longest-running sitcom show by episode count (435).
3. My Three Sons (1960–1970) — 12 Seasons
My Three Sons focused on the lives of three sons — Mike, Robbie, and Chip — raised by their father, Steven Douglas. The show was unique at the time because it depicted a widowed father raising his children without the help of a wife or mother figure.
This was not often seen on television, and it allowed the show to tackle some important topics, such as single parenting and blended families.
My Three Sons was also notable for its use of laugh tracks, which were relatively new at the time. Also, it was first shown on ABC in black-and-white. In 1965, it moved to CBS and switched to color, soon becoming one of the best-rated CBS sitcoms.
4. Two and a Half Men (2003–2015) — 12 Seasons
The series follows the lives of two brothers, Charlie and Alan, who are forced to live together after Alan’s wife divorces him and takes their son with her. Charlie is a successful bachelor who enjoys drinking and gambling, while Alan is a more uptight family man.
The pair are often joined by Alan’s young son, Jake (half a man), who provides some comic relief. Over 12 seasons, the three men go through good and not-so-good times, but they always end up back where they started — living together in Charlie’s house.
Two and a Half Men was immensely popular during its run, but it was also embroiled in controversy due to Sheen’s personal life. Nevertheless, the series is still one of the top live-action sitcoms of all time.
5. The Big Bang Theory (2007–2019) — 12 Seasons
The Big Bang Theory focuses on four brilliant but socially inept, nerdy friends. Because of its humor, often coming from the characters’ awkward interactions with other people, the show has been a favorite of many an awkward kid. And, of course, it’s noted for its accurate portrayal of science, and universal themes, such as friendship, work, and love.
One of the very few successful shows to launch just ahead of the 2007–08 writers’ strike, The Big Bang Theory aired on Mondays before helping launch CBS’s Thursday night comedy block. And although the show is no longer on air, its spin-off, Young Sheldon, is renewed through at least season 7.
6. The Danny Thomas Show (1953–1964) — 11 Seasons
For the first three seasons, this show was known as Make Room for Daddy. It starred Danny Thomas as a successful comedian and father of three girls in New York City. The Danny Thomas Show focused on family life’s everyday trials and tribulations, including a busy father and a neglected wife.
The series has since become a cult classic among American sitcoms, thanks to its clever writing and Thomas’s undeniable charisma. Although the show was set in New York City, it was filmed in Hollywood.
7. Married… With Children (1987–1997) — 11 Seasons
Married… With Children is one of those live-action comedy shows known for its crude humor and sexual innuendo, often the source of controversy. The Bundy family is in the spotlight, and some family members like it more than others.
The head of this dysfunctional family is Al Bundy, a middle-aged shoe salesman. He’s married to Peggy, an anti-housewife. Together they have two (not-so-nice) kids — Kelly and Bud. A dog named Buck is also a part of this fun family.
Unlike many shows from this list that focus on praising traditional family values, Married… With Children heavily satirized them. Some critics even argued that it was misogynistic and offensive. But, like it or not, you can’t deny it deserves to sit (like Al Bundy, with his hand in his belt) with the other longest-running sitcoms.
8. M.A.S.H. (1972–1983) — 11 Seasons
M.A.S.H. told the stories of a group of army doctors stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. While the war provided the backdrop for the show, M.A.S.H. was primarily a comedy, with each episode featuring plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
The show also addressed serious topics like racism, sexism, and the horror of war, making it one of the most groundbreaking shows of its time.
9. Happy Days (1974–1984) — 11 Seasons
Anyone who was a teenager in the 1970s probably watched the sitcom Happy Days. The show idealized the 1950s and followed the lives of teenager Richie Cunningham, his family, and friends.
The adventures of Richie, his sister Joanie, and his friends Potsie Weber, Fonzie, and Ralph Malph were funny and relatable to teenage viewers of the time, which helped Happy Days become one of the longest-running TV shows of that period.
10. The Jeffersons (1975–1985) — 11 Seasons
The Jeffersons was created by Norman Lear and was a spin-off of All in the Family. The series starred Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford as George and Louise Jefferson, a successful African-American couple who moved from Queens to Manhattan.
The show was groundbreaking in its depiction of interracial marriage, and it also tackled other controversial topics such as racism, sexism, and classism.
Although it went off the air over three decades ago, The Jeffersons remains one of the most beloved CBS sitcoms and is still enjoyed by fans today. In addition to that, it’s also the second-longest-running sitcom with a mainly African American cast, the first being the House of Payne.
There’s nothing like kicking back on the comfy couch and watching a good sitcom. That’s why we’ve compiled two lists of marathon-worthy sitcoms and found the longest-running sitcom in both animated and live-action categories. But not only two! Whether you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud comedy or a heartwarming story, our lists include a sitcom for everyone. And while some may argue that sitcoms are formulaic and predictable, that’s part of their appeal.