The Most Important Sitcoms with the Fewest Number of Episodes

Six sitcom episodes inspired an all-time comedy movie franchise
The Most Important Sitcoms with the Fewest Number of Episodes

Sitcoms come and go — mostly go, when you think about it. Most are canceled after a single season, with only the genre’s heaviest hitters lasting for multiple years. But there are a handful of sitcoms that, despite their meager number of episodes, influenced TV laughs long after suffering an early demise. Here are four sitcoms that made their mark with a minimum of screen time… 

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The Honeymooners

Jackie Gleason still had seven million bucks on his contract when he decided to pull the plug on The Honeymooners after only one season. Back in the day, that still meant he'd produced a fair number of episodes — 39 aired in less than a year — but the total could have easily hit 100 and beyond if Gleason was up for the task of coming up with new stories. “The excellence of the material could not be maintained,” said the Great One, “and I had too much fondness for the show to cheapen it.”

One season was all it took to create memorable catchphrases (“One of these days…”, “Baby, you’re the greatest”), cartoon homages (The Flintstoneswhich managed 166 episodes in its original run), international versions, movie adaptations and dozens of spoofs and parodies. 

Police Squad! (1982)

The Airplane! creators followed up their monster movie hit with another parody, this time a TV spoof of old cop shows. Despite glowing reviews, Police Squad! only lasted six episodes before ABC gave it the ax. (And just four of those aired in their original time slot, with the remaining two dumped at random times the following summer.)

The show that couldn’t make it on TV became the unlikeliest source for a hit movie franchise — the Naked Gun series once again starring Leslie Nielsen as detective Frank Drebin. The three smash comedies grossed nearly half a billion dollars at the box office.

Freaks and Geeks (1999)


Want to argue that Freaks and Geeks wasn’t a sitcom? Whatever, but it was the comedy that launched a bunch of careers, including creators Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, and set a template for the first decade of 2000s movie comedies. “Everything I’ve done,” said Apatow in 2014 after years of reeling off hit comedies, “is revenge for the people who canceled Freaks and Geeks."

At least Apatow could see the handwriting on the wall (and in the Nielsen ratings), ordering up a series finale for the 13th episode in case the show got an early cancellation, which it did after 18. “To do the last episode in the middle felt rebellious,” said Linda Cardellini in Vanity Fair’s oral history of the show, “like we were part of dictating our own fate.” 

The Office (U.K.) (1999)


Twelve episodes and a Christmas special were all it took for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to establish the template for television comedy in the 21st century — single camera, no laugh track, interviews straight to an invisible director. Sure, the American Office ran longer, but the U.K. version’s brevity saved us from the British equivalent of Robert California. At least in this case, less was definitively more. 

In addition to perfecting the mockumentary style for television, the original Office spawned 11 international versions, including worker drones doing the job in Australia, Poland and Saudi Arabia.


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