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.
With a father like Frank, this supporting cast had better be good. It is.
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 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.
Another all-star cast that has figured out a way to make each member indispensable.
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, "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 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.
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.
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! "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!
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 cast, led not just by Frankie Muniz but by Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston.
The cast of "Scrubs" executed creator Bill Lawrence's lunacy to perfection.
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 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.
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 interesting. Many excellent performances here, all adding up to compulsive viewing for fans over five seasons.
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 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 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.)
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.
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.
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 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, or flaws and, in the process, made the quartet funnier.
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 real as that one that lives next door to you, but the secret to this alchemy was Barbara Billingsley, as June.
A cast with as much charm as any in TV history, and so much of it felt effortless.
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.
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; mine will always be Florence Henderson, who made the chemistry work so well and for so long.
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 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.
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 each member played ... him or herself.
Everyone here was memorable and crucial to the whole, including the polar bear and Smoke Monster, but we never quite caught their names.
Another extremely wonderful cast, which made this the daddy (and mommy) of prime-time soaps.
John Goodman was the straw that stirred this particular drink.
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 the best cop show ever.
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 Aaron Sorkin immediately and never wavered.
"Friday Night Lights"
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?
"General Hospital" and "The Bold and the Beautiful"
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.
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 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.
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 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.
A stunning array of actors who brought what may well have been (and remains) TV's best series, or certainly one of 'em.
Ian McShane was the fire-breathing, expletive-spewing leader of this amazing orchestra -- one of the finest casts ever assembled for any show.
Viewers had never quite seen a show or cast like this: Veterans of stage and screen whose skills were as effortlessly comedic as dramatic.
"Everybody Loves Raymond"
Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts very nearly stole the show -- and would have, had the rest of the cast not been so perfect.
"Sex and the City"
They changed culture, fashion and, come to think of it, sex, too. Plus had an expansive and ever expanding supporting cast to make this one even better, including James Remar, Kyle MacLachlan, Frances Sternhagen, Evan Handler, Bridget Moynahan, Ron Livingston and even Mikhail Baryshnikov. These are just the tip of a casting iceberg, so to speak. Dozens of New York stars appeared over the years.
"The Cosby Show"
Bill Cosby may have been the big star going in, but by series' end, they all were. A pretty near flawless blend of TV family chemistry.
Someone had and has to do the voices, and they have over the last 45 years. They are all peerless, the characters mostly immortal, and there were and are many other voice actors and puppeteers who contributed to this legendary series.
Incandescent cast that brought Matthew Weiner's masterpiece three best drama Emmys in a row.
The "Three Musketeers" of great casts -- as in, All for One, and One for All. Rarely has any show mastered so many moving parts over so many seasons, most of them good to occasionally very good.
Classic comedy that gets better with age, if that's even possible, because this cast so utterly captured the twisted, wacky, whimsical vision that Mitch Hurwitz put on the page. There must be a little bit of Bluth and Fünke in all of 'em. (Proof of that: the Netflix version recaptured some of the lunacy.)
Ensemble headed by TV's greatest character, Tony Soprano.
Chicken and egg question: Which came first here? Great cast or great show? Or did it all come together at once?
All-star cast headed by TV classic Ed O'Neill, and all contribute, seemingly effortlessly, to the whole.
"All in the Family"
Don't forget the neighbors -- can never forget the neighbors or other family members. The show wasn't just about Archie but everyone he insulted as well over the years.
Right up there with "Seinfeld" and "Lucy" in the quartet category.
Gene Roddenberry launched one of pop culture's most enduring forces, thanks to this crew including Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig and William Shatner.
Robert Carlock et al.'s dazzling writing for this classic made the group even funnier, and better.
Only five seasons long, this creation of James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed Weinberger proved what great comedy writing and perfect casting can yield.
"Law and Order"
A pretty remarkable cast -- or rather, casts, as Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski adroitly added (then dropped) some reasonably renowned New York-based actors without missing a beat. "L&O" was one of the great casting achievements in TV history, and not just with core members, but with recurring roles and guest stars: Hundreds, indeed many thousands of actors came through here. In retrospect, it seems every actor in New York must've appeared at least once.
Great core cast overshadowed an almost-as-good supporting cast over the years.
Everybody knows their names -- still do, always will.
"I Love Lucy"
TV and viewers would wait half a century for "Seinfeld" to match this front four, but in essence, "Seinfeld" and "Lucy" are evenly matched.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Not only did they make "MTM" funnier, but together as a group enriched the whole.
Not enough that "Seinfeld" would have four core cast members (the most famous, beloved foursome in TV history) but a crazy-good support system, too.
The most iconic voices in TV history -- and most of them do not merely voice one iconic character, but several.
"Saturday Night Live"
No series in TV history has turned out more stars, more careers and more memorable moments (with those stars) than "SNL." This wasn't simply a star factory, but, during golden stretches, a peerless collection of cast members whose component parts made the whole even better. There have been 142 cast members over 39 seasons.