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April 23, 2014

Best '50s TV Shows (20-11)

by Kim Potts, posted Oct 27th 2009 6:00AM
The Red Skelton Show20. 'The Red Skelton Show' (1951-71)
Skelton was a beloved radio star whose audience followed him to this Emmy-winning series on NBC and CBS. The sketch-comedy series opened with Skelton's monologue, and included celeb guests and his regular lineup of characters (like Freddie the Freeloader), with sketches penned by show writers like Johnny Carson and 'Brady Bunch' creator Sherwood Schwartz.

What's My Line?19. 'What's My Line?' (1950-67)
It's the longest-running game show in prime0time history, and its winning premise was simple -- a panel asked yes or no questions to determine contestants' occupations. Among the panelists: humorist Bennett Cerf and Steve Allen, who coined the phrase "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" for the show. One of 'Line''s most memorable contestants: a breadbox maker, whose job Allen guessed.

'77 Sunset Strip18. ''77 Sunset Strip' (1958-64)
The detective series, set on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, became a TV phenomenon thanks to the hair-combin', slang-talkin' presence of secondary character Kookie, the parking attendant played by Edd Byrnes. Sales of combs went up, as did Byrnes' paycheck when he quit the show and was enticed back with a role that promoted Kookie to detective alongside P.I.s Stu and Jeff.

You Met Your Life17. 'You Bet Your Life' (1950-61)
There were prizes, but the real point of this game show was host Groucho Marx, whose chatter with contestants and unflappable announcer George Fenneman led to classic Groucho wisecracks. Contestants also tried to guess the "secret word" of the day, which would earn them $100 and a visit from the stuffed duck (and, once, Harpo Marx) that dropped down from the ceiling.

The Untouchables16. 'The Untouchables' (1959-63)
The drama was inspired by real-life Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), who, with his brave "untouchable" team, battled Chicago crime baddies like Al Capone. Critics dinged the show for its violent shootouts and Italian-Americans disliked that villains often had Italian names, but viewers embraced the unique, action-packed series, making it one of ABC's first hits.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents15. 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (1955-62)
Featuring one of the most famous TV openings in history as Hitchcock walks into a caricature of himself, the anthology series brought the Oscar-nominated director to the tube with top stars (Bette Davis and Walter Matthau among them) and suspenseful tales, including one story -- involving a woman being sawed in half -- that NBC originally deemed too gruesome for TV.

Dragnet14. 'Dragnet' (1951-59)
Until actor/producer Jack Webb (who starred as Sgt. Joe Friday) brought 'Dragnet' from radio to TV, the tube had been dominated by variety shows and comedies. 'Dragnet' was the first series to realistically portray gritty Los Angeles cop life, focusing episodes on actual LAPD robbery and homicide cases and challenging his set designers to copy details from real police offices.

The Jack Benny Program13. 'The Jack Benny Program' (1950-65)
Benny's TV hit was an almost exact transfer of his long-running radio show to the tube, with his money-hoarding, bad-violin-player persona also prevalent on the TV series. Benny's subtle humor was also bolstered by co-stars Dennis Day, Don Wilson and voiceover legend Mel Blanc, and the show also featured one of Marilyn Monroe's only TV appearances, in a 1953 skit.

Perry Mason12. 'Perry Mason' (1957-66)
A talented sleuth and attorney, Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) always got his culprit. Perry's specialty was representing clients who seemed overwhelmingly guilty, but by the time he and associates Della and Paul rearranged the facts, and Perry hounded witnesses in the courtroom, the real wrongdoers were always unmasked and TV's first star legal eagle was born.

The Jackie Gleason Show11. 'The Jackie Gleason Show' (1952-59)
Gleason's variety show was popular on its own, but its biggest contribution to '50s TV was as the birthplace of 'The Honeymooners' sketches, which Gleason spun off into its own series. In fact, the comedian halted production on 'Jackie Gleason' for a year to film 'The Honeymooners,' resuming the variety show in 1956 and eventually adding Buddy Hackett as a sidekick.

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