Best TV casts ever: 'Full House,' 'The Cosby Show,' more

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Chemistry: It's a big part of what makes a TV show great. The ways in which our beloved characters interact make us laugh, cry and tune in for episode after episode. Here, critic Verne Gay ranks the most memorable casts in television history, from No. 75 to 1.

"Shameless"

With a father like Frank, this supporting cast
(Credit: Showtime)

With a father like Frank, this supporting cast had better be good. It is.

"The Jeffersons"

Norman Lear figured out the neighbors could be
(Credit: CBS)

Norman Lear figured out the neighbors could be funnier than the headline stars -- or someone long ago figured it out (see: "The Honeymooners," et al.). Hence the importance of the Willis' to this cast.

"The Beverly Hillbillies"

For those who actually remember, this cast totally
(Credit: Everett Collection)

For those who actually remember, this cast totally belongs in the top 75; all funny and all great together. Irene Ryan (starred in Bob Fosse's "Pippin") may have been the most inspired addition here.

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"Nurse Jackie"

Another all-star cast that has figured out a
(Credit: AP)

Another all-star cast that has figured out a way to make each member indispensable.

"Full House"

Come on! What would any greatest cast list
(Credit: Handout)

Come on! What would any greatest cast list be without this one breaking in? Besides, the Olsen twins were pretty cute back then.

"My Three Sons"

Though largely forgotten now,
(Credit: UPI Telephoto)

Though largely forgotten now, "Sons" had real magic and a remarkable cast, led by the great Fred MacMurray.

"The Vampire Diaries"

Go ahead: You fall in love with a
(Credit: The CW Network)

Go ahead: You fall in love with a hundredsomething-year-old vampire, then his brother, then deal with all the other werewolves, witches, ghosts and Originals in quaint old Mystic Falls and still make millions of teens care each week. Not as easy as it looks, unless the cast makes it look easy. This one has.

"Soap"

This was the story of two sisters --
(Credit: ABC)

This was the story of two sisters -- Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell -- and it was a controversial one, too. One of the most controversial series in TV history -- before it even aired. Now, it's regarded as a TV classic, and the reason has to be this cast: Richard Mulligan would win an Emmy and eventually Robert Guillaume, too, as Benson on "Benson" -- the character he originated here.

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"Dynasty"

Primetime's soapiest soap had 42 leads and 60
(Credit: ABC)

Primetime's soapiest soap had 42 leads and 60 recurring roles over nine seasons, but the five that quite literally kept the bubbles in business could be counted on one hand.

"Saved by the Bell"

Time out!

Time out! "SBTB" was a beloved Gen X viewing staple, and featured many Before They Were Famous stars who kept this going right on through "The College Years;" but we're not including "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" here. Time in!

"Glee"

Certainly a few had considerable careers on stage
(Credit: Fox)

Certainly a few had considerable careers on stage and TV before they arrived here, like Jessalyn Gilsig, Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch and Mike O'Malley, but for the most part this cast was comprised of newcomers who could sing, dance and act. The first couple of seasons were most memorable.

"Malcolm in the Middle"

A signature Fox comedy made so by this
(Credit: Fox / Larry Watson)

A signature Fox comedy made so by this cast, led not just by Frankie Muniz but by Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston.

"Scrubs"

The cast of
(Credit: NBC / Paul Drinkwater)

The cast of "Scrubs" executed creator Bill Lawrence's lunacy to perfection.

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"Family Ties"

Alex Keaton was one of TV's pre-eminent characters,
(Credit: AP)

Alex Keaton was one of TV's pre-eminent characters, but he needed a little help from his friends, and they were good friends to have.

"The Big Bang Theory"

Any measure of a good cast is to
(Credit: Michael Yarish / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Any measure of a good cast is to try the "subtraction method" -- subtract just one from the whole and see how the rest stand up. In this instance, the whole cannot be reduced.

"Thirtysomething"

Yuppie angst woven through culture fissures related to
(Credit: ABC)

Yuppie angst woven through culture fissures related to marriage, careers and sex, and all of it nailed by this group that included Patricia Wettig, Timothy Busfield and Mel Harris.

"Six Feet Under"

A funeral parlor never felt so alive or
(Credit: AP / HBO)

A funeral parlor never felt so alive or interesting. Many excellent performances here, all adding up to compulsive viewing for fans over five seasons.

"Community"

This comical cast brought Dan Harmon's insane vision
(Credit: AP / Justin Lubin)

This comical cast brought Dan Harmon's insane vision of community college life to ... umm ... life.

"The Good Wife"

Any show has its first-among-equals cast member, and
(Credit: AP / CBS)

Any show has its first-among-equals cast member, and by title alone, Julianna Margulies would logically seem to be that person here -- except the core cast is so strong that a case can be made more for Josh Charles, Alan Cumming or Christine Baranski.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation"

A cast with an impossible mission: to somehow
(Credit: CBS Home Entertainment)

A cast with an impossible mission: to somehow match or exceed the original crew of the Enterprise. They crushed it, if you'll excuse the pun. (But the original will always will be untouchable.)

"Oz"

You almost never need to have seen a
(Credit: HBO / Eric Liebowitz)

You almost never need to have seen a single episode to establish that this belongs on any best-cast-in-history list (with names like Rita Moreno, Dean Winters, Eamonn Walker and Terry Kinney), but "Oziacs" know it belongs.

"Desperate Housewives"

Each new season cycled through new and memorable
(Credit: AP)

Each new season cycled through new and memorable additions to Wisteria Lane -- alas, only for one season before they were trotted off to jail. But "DH's" core five (Nicollette Sheridan, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria and Teri Hatcher) remain one of the most memorable and fun casts in TV history.

"Happy Days"

Fans loved this cast, and cast members seemed

Fans loved this cast, and cast members seemed to love each other -- Joanie and Chachi, especially. Hard to believe that this generous TV slice of nostalgia lasted 10 seasons, but with a few notable exceptions, not everyone was even here for the full ride, including Ron Howard. But they all remain memorable.

"How I Met Your Mother"

The long-suffering, off-screen kids who are hearing this
(Credit: Fox / Ron P. Jaffe)

The long-suffering, off-screen kids who are hearing this long-winded story wouldn't have cared so much (nor would the audience) if they didn't care about the supporting characters who made it so amusing in the first place. This cast gelled from the opening moments nine seasons ago, and kept it chugging along until the end.

"The Golden Girls"

Each worked off the others' characters, or foibles,
(Credit: NBC)

Each worked off the others' characters, or foibles, or flaws and, in the process, made the quartet funnier.

"The Shield"

Great show, and greater (if possible) cast. What
(Credit: AP)

Great show, and greater (if possible) cast. What an amazing ride, and all of it brutal, relentless and memorable.

"Leave it to Beaver"

A cast that made the Cleaver family as
(Credit: AP)

A cast that made the Cleaver family as real as that one that lives next door to you, but the secret to this alchemy was Barbara Billingsley, as June.

"Frasier"

A cast with as much charm as any
(Credit: NBC / Justin Lubin)

A cast with as much charm as any in TV history, and so much of it felt effortless.

"Bonanza"

The four horsemen, along with a rich supporting
(Credit: AP / NBC)

The four horsemen, along with a rich supporting cast and a vast number of guest actor roles, made this one of TV's most beloved westerns, back when they were actually beloved by viewers.

"L.A. Law"

David E. Kelley's all-star cast managed to achieve
(Credit: NBC)

David E. Kelley's all-star cast managed to achieve some significant Emmy record tallies before "Mad Men" came along. Its roster of excellent, seasoned actors (who could adapt to Kelley's highly idiosyncratic voice) begins to explain why.

"The Brady Bunch"

Debate among yourselves who the Best Brady was;
(Credit: Nick at Nite / ABC)

Debate among yourselves who the Best Brady was; mine will always be Florence Henderson, who made the chemistry work so well and for so long.

"Battlestar Galactica"

Even -- in fact, especially -- the Cylons
(Credit: AP)

Even -- in fact, especially -- the Cylons made this cast so special. It's good versus evil, and best of luck telling them apart.

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"

The key members made this such a huge
(Credit: CBS)

The key members made this such a huge show for so long, and like all great casts, each added their own special something Paul Guilfoyle, that arch cynicism; Eric Szmanda, that earnest nerdiness; and so on.

"St. Elsewhere"

Another one of those Casts So Perfect You
(Credit: L.I. News Daily / Newsday file)

Another one of those Casts So Perfect You Couldn't Duplicate. Notable for so many things, but especially this: "Elsewhere" launched Denzel Washington into the stratosphere.

"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"

TV's most famous and beloved cast in which
(Credit: AP / A&E)

TV's most famous and beloved cast in which each member played ... him or herself.

"Lost"

Everyone here was memorable and crucial to the
(Credit: AP)

Everyone here was memorable and crucial to the whole, including the polar bear and Smoke Monster, but we never quite caught their names.

"Dallas"

Another extremely wonderful cast, which made this the
(Credit: AP )

Another extremely wonderful cast, which made this the daddy (and mommy) of prime-time soaps.

"Roseanne"

John Goodman was the straw that stirred this
(Credit: ABC / Edie Baskin)

John Goodman was the straw that stirred this particular drink.

"The Waltons"

Ellen Corby and Will Geer would almost be
(Credit: AP)

Ellen Corby and Will Geer would almost be enough to make this a great cast, but then you add all the others (Richard Thomas, especially) and you get one of TV's best.

"Hill Street Blues"

Gold-plated cast that formed the core of possibly
(Credit: NBC)

Gold-plated cast that formed the core of possibly the best cop show ever.

"The Office"

What you have here is a cast so

What you have here is a cast so perfect to the tone and structure of the show that finding another as good as this is technically impossible -- though someone will try. Plus, how many shows actually deploy writers like Paul Lieberstein, Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak as crucial cast members?

"The West Wing"

This core cast mastered the verbal acrobatics of
(Credit: NBC)

This core cast mastered the verbal acrobatics of Aaron Sorkin immediately and never wavered.

"Friday Night Lights"

They brought Dillon, Texas, to life, but what
(Credit: NBC)

They brought Dillon, Texas, to life, but what was so special was how they did it ? with written dialogue that was sometimes supplemented with their own, and without the blocking of scenes, giving the series (and cast) a natural flowing rhythm.

"Parks and Recreation"

Well, this is an easy call, no?
(Credit: NBC)

Well, this is an easy call, no?

"General Hospital" and "The Bold and the Beautiful"

We call this a tie in part because

We call this a tie in part because both have survived so well the trials and tribulations of soap opera survival, in part by refreshing their casts so consistently over the years. The few real vets (pushing or exceeding 30-year tenures) at "GH" are Anthony Geary, Finola Hughes and Jane Elliot; at "B&B," they are but Katherine Kelly Lang and John McCook. All are soap legends, and many of the other cast members of yore continue to return in recurring roles, but the fact is, these shows have mastered the difficult art of juggling casts over the decades.

"House"

Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) was the sun around
(Credit: Fox)

Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) was the sun around which all the planets revolved, but they often shone as bright a light.

"Little House on the Prairie"

A cast of dozens, and the answer to
(Credit: AP)

A cast of dozens, and the answer to many "Jeopardy" (or at least reasonably obscure) trivia questions, such as, "Which TV series essentially launched the careers of both Jason Bateman and Shannen Doherty?" But the big names were Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon, and from this, they achieved TV immortality.

"Barney Miller"

The funniest squad room in TV history, thanks
(Credit: ABC)

The funniest squad room in TV history, thanks to this crew, which included Capt. Barney Miller (Hal Linden), Det. Stan "Wojo" Wojciehowicz (Max Gail) and Det. Ron Harris (Ron Glass).

"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"

Like so many great casts, the members of
(Credit: The WB)

Like so many great casts, the members of this one started off this run as one-dimensional characters who grew in complexity and depth as the seasons flew by. Each brought something special, and many went on to other hit series.

"The Wire"

A stunning array of actors who brought what
(Credit: AP)

A stunning array of actors who brought what may well have been (and remains) TV's best series, or certainly one of 'em.

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