The Top 16 Television Shows of my Childhood

This morning, stemming from my seeing the first-released photos of the "Boy Meets World" spinoff "Girl Meets World," I took to Twitter about my excitement upon see Cory and Topanga on screen, together again, at last. This incited a fairly lengthy discussion amongst four people about "Boy Meets World," and some of our favorite childhood television shows. When the idea to submit our Top Five Favorite Kids Shows came up, I realized limiting the list to five simply wouldn't cut it for me.

Much in the way Jim Carrey's character in the Cable Guy attests, I grew up in front of the television ("I learned the facts of life from 'The Facts of Life'!"). I have been a TV lover since I could toddle, and as such, I've got buckets of fond memories of some fantastic (and not-so fantastic) kid television shows airing from the late '80s to mid '90s. In fact, there's a story I've been reminded of (that I cannot claim I remember actually taking place) when a friend called me up one Friday to ask if I wanted to hang out, and I politely declined, saying I had to stay home and watch "T.G.I.F." To some people, this is sad. But television didn't rot my brain out, it didn't make me fat and lazy and it didn't stand in the way of making friends throughout my formative years. I had a damn happy childhood and great parents who also made sure I read a lot, stayed active, kept creative and had nice manners. 

I've just always loved TV. I'm always going to. 

And so, in honor of my childhood's beloved pastime (which, admittedly, sounds a little depressing), I've conjured up a list of the favorite television shows from my youth. To create this list (and to keep it from spiraling out of control), I gave myself a few ground rules:

  • All television shows must have been produced for and centered around children. It kills me that I had to leave off "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" from this list... seriously, it hurts. But, I believe that show was made for families, but not aimed for children - therefore, it could not be included. 
  • However, they cannot be shows targeted at the Under 5 set. No Nick Jr. No "David the Gnome." No "Sesame Street." No "Allegra's Castle."
  • All programs must be live-action. No cartoons.
  • I must have clear and fond memories of each program. There were a lot of shows out there where I hear the title of the show and think, "Oh yeah I remember liking that show!" But the actual premise or cast of characters seem fuzzy to me. Those shows can't be on the list.

So, now that we've got the ground rules laid out, I present to you:

The Top 16 Best Television Shows from Rachel's Childhood:

1. The Wonder Years

I actually went back and forth with myself on whether to include "The Wonder Years" on this list, specifically because it might break Ground Rule #1. However, based on the fact that this may be my Favorite Show of All Time (along with "Friends," "Friday Night Lights" and "Breaking Bad), and it centered around a kid's escapades growing up .... I deemed it okay to include. It is the greatest coming-of-age television show of all time.

2. Salute Your Shorts

I am always floored when I read about this show only being on the air from 1991-1992. I loved it so much and for so long it seems like it lasted at least five seasons. However, I've seen the "Zeke the Plumber" episode about 20 times over at this point in my life, so I guess the constant reruns of the same 15 episodes would create delusions in any seven-year old's mind.
3. Boy Meets World
Ah, the show that inspired this very list. The first five seasons of "Boy Meets World" were incredible. Not quite "The Wonder Years" quality (I tell you, those Savage boys have IT), but watching awkward Cory Matthews bumble his way through sticky situations alongside his BFL (Buddy for Life) Shawn and his quirky gal Topanga, was sweet, nostalgic, endearing television. It was only as the characters grew up and the writers fell to the device of making both Cory, and especially Eric, unbearably goofy when the show began to slide. However, that chemistry between Cory and Topanga, and even Cory and Shawn, was what kept us all watching. Of course I cried when they broke up near the end of high school.... what of it?

4. Saved by the Bell
Because of the hokeyness of the show and the widespread ironic adoration for it by everyone from the age of 20-40, I almost bumped SBTB a few spots down the list. However, because I truly did love the show, and because it is a cult classic, and because Slater will always be a pig, Zack will always be a Preppie, Jessie a bookworm, Lisa a fashionista "Galloping Gossip," Kelly the All-American cheerleader next door and Screech a dweeb.... I have to include it. It's horrible, but gosh darn if I won't stop any time I see the "Hot Sundae" episode is airing. 

5. Clarissa Explains it All
I feel I don't even need to go any further explaining just why this show was so fantastic; I mean, just look at her outfit. Clarissa was the teen I wanted to grow up to be - hip, funny, smart, BFF with a dude, had a pet alligator, and her fashion was always on point. Admit it - you're humming the theme right now. 

6. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
This is a show that if I watched today I am convinced I would still love. I so wish that HUB or some cable network would re-air episodes of "Pete and Pete" because I am dying for a dose of Mr. Tastee. It was quirky and silly, but had heart, and a cast of supporting characters that were so interesting and endearing you almost loved them moreso than the title characters. Yes, this show aired on Nickelodeon and was technically for kids, but I'm pretty sure plenty of parents loved it, too.

7. Hey Dude
"It's a little wild and a little strange".... that I adored this show when it aired on Nickelodeon in the early '90s. A bunch of teens working and living at a dude ranch. A bumbling boss from New York! A young Christine Taylor. Hijinks galore. It was must-see TV to me at the time, but let me tell you this: I bought the first season of "Hey Dude"(actually, I pre-ordered it before it was released) a couple summers ago and watched it all in one sitting.... it was pretty... rough. I don't know if it's because the times have changed for my sophisticated television pallet has matured (or that it didn't have enough fart jokes), but "Hey Dude" doesn't quite hold up. However, I won't discount my taste today for a program I loved back then. 

8. Full House
Yes, this show is cheesy beyond belief. Yes, the premise was beyond belief. Yes, Michelle Tanner was the most annoying child on television. But hot damn if I didn't love this show almost more than life itself. A quality family show with some laughs, some life lessons and a lot of catchphrases ("How Rude!" "Have Mercy!" "You Got it, Dude!" "Cut It Out!"). The morning after the series finale, I distinctly remember walking into my fourth-grade classroom, looking at my friend Lisa and saying, with sullen eyes, "I can't believe it's over....." We didn't know how to carry on. So as much as I can barely make it through an episode today (I tried a could of weeks ago when there was an episode where f'ing LITTLE RICHARD made a guest appearance during a school fundraiser...), that memory of pure inconsolability after the show's run had ended.... that reason alone puts "Full House" at  #8.

9. Step by Step
What is it about the circumstance of slapping two families together in one home that makes for great kid television? "Step by Step" was another entertaining show made up of a handful of super-different-from-one-another characters that all had to learn to get along under one roof. And hey, remember Cody? Wasn't he ssooooooo silly and goofy? Wasn't there a rumor that he was dead? He's not. Anyway.... solid show. Great theme song.

10. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
This show scared the crap out of me as a kid. Well, I guess not so much "scared" as just creeped me out.... for life. I recently read an article about "Are You Afraid of the Dark" secrets that I absolutely loved (did you know Ryan Gosling appeared on an episode?), which brought back a lot of great memories from this show. To this day, just thinking about "The Tale of the Quicksilver" gives me the chills. 

11. Family Matters

Okay, let's remove Urkel from the equation for a minute. This show would have been fine on its own. It's got the basic Rules of Family Programming without the ultimate nerd next door: Big-ass family living under one roof; Teenage girl who's just popular enough but also awkwardly schlepping through life's dramas; Precocious little kid that you also want to punch in the face; Heavyset dad who's a little goofy but always has a valuable lesson stashed away in his back pocket. Urkel just helped things along with his signature catchphrase, high-water jeans and eternal adoration for Lisa Winslow. And I believe Waldo Geraldo Faldo alone garners enough extra pizzazz points to keep this show on the list.

12. The Secret World of Alex Mack
Alex Mack had kind of a kick-ass adolescence. She could levitate things with her mind. She could morph into this awesome silvery liquid. She wore a lot of really cool hats. Sure, sometimes her special powers acquired by being doused with some radioactive chemicals got her into a pickle, but..... oh my god remember when she got mopped up into a bucket that one time? Man, this show ruled.

13. Hang Time
"Hang Time" was one of those TNBC shows that I always watched and pretty much enjoyed, but it will never be a total classic for me. I liked the "we're a high school basketball team.... with a girl?!?!" plot scenario, and I liked most of the characters at Deering High (except that snotty Mary Beth Pepperton... man she really was a bitch), however, the cast almost entirely changed out every single season. Aside from Julie and Mary Beth, I think the show had a rotating cast of male characters. This kept me from really developing an interest in the ongoing plot line, but they were cool teens who played basketball, and, at that stage in my life, that was good enough for me.

14. California Dreams
Here we have a show about another group of teens, but what makes it different is that they live in California.... aaaaannnddd they're in a band. Of course the show was schmaltzy and I think this was another case of a rotating cast of characters throughout the show's four-year run, but all the characters were likable and, as a youngster with dreams of my own, I enjoyed watching a bunch of teens playing their music after a day on the beach.

15. USA High
The only teen-based program on the list that didn't air on TNBC, Nickelodeon or ABC. This show was essentially "Saved by the Bell"... however, all the kids were in boarding school in France. I'm almost positive they used the same "dorm" set as SBTB: The College Years... Anyway, the characters were your standard mix of teen stereotypes who got in situations that, of course, teens would whilst attending a boarding school in a different country. Everyone was likable enough but they just didn't have the chemistry as our beloved troupe from Bayside to make the the show a classic teen comedy.

16. All That
Sometime in the mid '90s someone thought it would be an excellent idea to create a "Saturday Night Live"-eqsue show for kids. And that person was... mostly... right. Sure the sketches skewed to some over-the-top, fairly aggravating brands of comedy (I remember hating Amanda Bynes' goofy eye rolls even then), but there were moments I found hilarious (although never Lori Beth Denberg). I loved the fact that they had current musical guests perform (TLC! Brandy! Dru Hill! Da Brat!), and part of me secretly always wished I could be a cast member on the show. Alas...

So, there you have it. Sixteen programs that escorted me through my pre-teen years. I don't know what's on Nickelodeon these days (or, is Disney Channel the new Nick?), but I'm fairly certain they don't make quality kids' programming like they used to. Do you have a favorite show that I didn't list?


  1. I had a similar thing happen to me this week - my fiance and I usually go to team trivia on Thursday nights, and the rotating "Loser's Choice" category this week was "Saturday Morning Cartoons from 1985-1995." Almost NOTHING I watched on Saturday morning was mentioned - no Muppet Babies, no Voltron, no Masters of the Universe... TMNT was in there, but only one question. And the quizmaster was all, "These were all before my time, so..." and then I felt old.

    Also, I think I am the only late 20s/early 30s person in the United States who has never seen an episode of Saved By the Bell. Weird.

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