Coronavirus: The best classic TV shows to stream, from ‘Lucy’ to ‘Star Trek’

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Our colleague Bill Keveney from the USA TODAY Entertainment team is here to share some classic TV shows to get you through any long days indoors.

Although there’s a mountain of new programming available for coronavirus homebodies, there’s a treasure trove of classic TV worth watching, too.

Think of it as an archaeological dig of sorts: These earlier shows provide an opportunity to examine how long-running formats started, how black-and-white technology expanded into the wonderful world of color and how cultural attitudes evolved about race, gender and sexuality.

If you’re not looking for a TV anthropology lesson, then consider it delicious comfort food that the whole family can enjoy.

Here’s a sampler of scripted classics worth watching for the first, second or even the third time:

“I Love Lucy” (1951-57; CBS All Access, Hulu, Hallmark Channel): Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, created one of TV’s most venerable formats, the studio-audience sitcom. Come for the history, stay for the vitameatavegamin. 

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“All in the Family” (1971-79; Crackle, getTV): After a decade of silly ’60s sitcoms, Norman Lear gut-punched TV and the culture by taking on real-world, hot-button issues of race, religion, gender and war via a working-class Queens family and its bigoted patriarch.

“Hill Street Blues” (1981-87; Hulu): Long before today’s golden age of TV creativity, “Hill Street” introduced shaky, hand-held camera work and overlapping dialogue as it followed a supersized cast of characters in a volatile police precinct.

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“St. Elsewhere” (1982-88; Hulu): This quality medical drama, a “Hill Street” cousin at MTM Enterprises, showcases pre-“AGT” Howie Mandel and pre-“NCIS” Mark Harmon while  offering TV’s original rage-inducing finale: the entire series took place in the mind of a boy with autism. Bonus: It launched  Denzel Washington’s career.

“The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-68; Netflix, Amazon): If you’re looking for a happy, peaceful place to cocoon, visit Sheriff Andy Taylor and kin in idyllic Mayberry, North Carolina. Bonus: You get to watch Ron Howard – er, Opie – grow up.

“Leave It to Beaver” (1957-63; Amazon, MeTV): A suburban mom serving dinner while dressed to the nines and wearing pearls must have seemed phony even then, but her two sons talked like real boys, imbecilic and profound, and not like 35-year-old hack comedy writers.

“M*A*S*H” (1972-83; Hulu, DirecTV, MeTV): A Korean War surgical unit serves as home for this masterful Vietnam-era blend of dark comedy and antiwar commentary as doctors and nurses try to patch up bodies and souls. Its finale is TV’s most-watched non-Super Bowl show, with 106 million viewers.

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“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969-74; Netflix): Before they sought the Holy Grail or explained the meaning of life, the Monty Python troupe showed off its surrealist chops with the dead parrot sketch, the lumberjack song and the Ministry of Silly Walks.

“Green Acres” (1965-71; Amazon, MeTV): The story of a snooty New York lawyer and his wife becoming rural farmers pushes the absurdity dial to 11 with a county agent who can’t say hello without contradicting himself and Arnold Ziffel, a pig who’s treated like a school-age boy.

“Julia” (1968-71; Aspire TV): This sweet comedy about a widowed nurse (Diahann Carroll) and her cute son was groundbreaking, too, as the first TV series with a black woman as lead character in a nonstereotypical role. 

“Columbo” (1971-78; IMDb TV, Cozi TV): Peter Falk brilliantly embodied the rumpled, often-underestimated homicide detective whose trademark “Just one more question” hooked many a cocky killer.

“The Twilight Zone” (1959-64; Hulu, CBS All Access, Netflix): Rod Serling contemplated ever-relevant human issues from a fantasy and sci-fi perspective in this anthology series known for its jaw-dropping final twists. Black-and-white filming heightens the tension.

“Star Trek” (1966-69; Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, CBS All Access, Heroes & Icons): Gene Roddenberry’s prescient look at a high-tech, hopeful intergalactic future spawned a smart, entertaining franchise that remains alive and relevant. Plus, it gave us Spock. 

“Miami Vice” (1984-89; Starz, DirecTV, NBC.com): Want some flash? Michael Mann created a TV template and a cultural moment with this tale of two gun-toting, pastel-wearing detectives up to their necks in cocaine and killings in over-the-top Miami. 

“The Golden Girls” (1985-92; Hulu, DirecTV, Sling): A whole different Miami lifestyle is on display in this hilarious sitcom about four older women bonded by love but nevertheless capable of lethal verbal jabs.

“Roots” (1977; GooglePlay; Vudu): The eight-part miniseries based on Alex Haley’s novel about a family’s experience with slavery in America was a blockbuster hit that dominated the national conversation by taking on a topic too often ignored in this country.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77; Hulu): Mary Richards, a pioneering single woman, and her TV station colleagues (along with her crazy neighbors) more or less created the modern TV workplace “family,” setting the standard for “Taxi” (1978-83; Hulu, CBS All Access), “Cheers” (1982-1993; NetflixHulu, CBS All Access) and other great sitcoms. The “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode is one of TV’s greatest.

“The Rockford Files” (1974-80; IMDb TV): James Garner gave this ex-con private investigator who lived in a mobile home on a Malibu beach more than enough roguish charm to power this delightful light drama. 

“The Munsters” (1964-66; Amazon, Cozi TV): The outsiders-are-just-like-us theme rode a wave with “The Addams Family” (1964-66; Amazon Prime) and this atypical suburban family of a Frankenstein father, vampire mother and wolfboy son. It’s worth it just for Fred Gwynne’s Herman stamping the floor while shouting “Darn! Darn! Darn!” or Al Lewis playing Grandpa Dracula as a Borscht Belt comic.

“Dallas” (1978-91; IMDb TV): The king of prime-time soaps gave us “Who Shot J.R.?” and created one of TV’s most infamous moments, the Bobby Ewing shower scene that brazenly upended an entire season’s story to reintroduce a popular character.

“Upstairs, Downstairs” (1971-75; Britbox): If you love “Downton Abbey” but are willing to play the field in search of another early 20th-century British household filled with bickering aristocrats and their servants, this could be a good match.

“The Carol Burnett Show” (1967-78; MeTV): The engaging Burnett, joined by Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner, headlined the best of TV’s sadly bygone era of great prime-time variety shows. Burnett’s “Gone With the Wind” drapes dress and the Conway/Korman dentist sketch are all-time gut busters. 

“Magnum, P.I.” (1980-88; Amazon): No offense to the rebooted action drama about a charming, self-deprecating Hawaiian private investigator, but Tom Selleck is Magnum. And Jack Lord’s stiffness aside, the original “Hawaii Five-0” (1968-80; CBS All Access, DirecTV) was better, too.  

“Gunsmoke” (1955-75; CBS All Access, DirecTV, TV Land): No classic TV collection is complete without the Western, once ubiquitous and now nearly nonexistent, and Marshal Matt Dillon and fellow Dodge City denizens racked up 635 episodes, the most for a live-action, scripted series. The Cartwrights of “Bonanza” (1959-73; DirecTV, Pluto TV, MeTV) are worth visiting, and “Rawhide” provides a peek at a young Clint Eastwood (1959-65; Amazon, H&I).  

“Get Smart” (1965-70; Amazon, GooglePlay, FandangoNow): Comic geniuses Mel Brooks and Buck Henry put their spin on the James Bond craze with bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, who somehow succeeded despite making every mistake in the book. Sorry about that, Chief. Bondian alternatives include “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (1964-68; AmazonGooglePlay, Vudu) and “The Wild Wild West” (1965-69; DirecTV, FETV).

“The Fugitive” (1963-67; Internet Archive, MeTV): Black-and-white filming (it switched to color for the final season) and a new peril and location each episode gave this story of a wrongly convicted man searching for his wife’s killer a film noir feel. “Peter Gunn” (Amazon Prime, The Roku Channel, Hoopla) and “The Naked City” (The Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto TV) also turned monochromatic limitations into noirish art.

“Perry Mason” (1957-66; CBS All Access, MeTV): The iconic defense attorney’s name became a synonym for lawyer and the early hourlong series created a template for all the legal dramas that followed.

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