Thanks to a proliferating number of streaming networks, TV shows aren’t exactly in short supply these days. But amid the flashy new thrillers and slow-burn sagas, it can be comforting to return to the old stalwarts: network sitcoms and dramas.
In fact, a new Nielsen analysis suggests many viewers did just that last year, as broadcast hits including “The Office,” “Criminal Minds” and the still-airing “Grey’s Anatomy” topped the research company’s ranking of 2020’s most-streamed shows. Nielsen cites those shows as garnering more viewership than any other title (including original series and movies), based on its content ratings for Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Below, we’ve compiled a wide-ranging list of our favorite broadcast gems available to stream on, and beyond, those platforms.
‘Law and Order: SVU’ (1999)
Few shows reflect our social and cultural evolution the way SVU does — after all, it’s the longest-running (non-animated) show on prime time. It’s also iconic: Taylor Swift literally has a cat named after its main character Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) of the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. If you’re up for a serious USA Network-style marathon, start at the beginning with Detectives Benson and Stabler (that’s Elliot Stabler, played by Chris Meloni) and work your way through to Season 22, which now follows Captain Olivia Benson and will soon feature Stabler’s return.
You can also choose episodes by guest star, of which there are a seemingly infinite amount, including memorable turns by Martin Short, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Williams and Ann-Margret, to name a few. (Streaming on Hulu)
‘The Office’ (2005)
The beloved and oft-quoted workplace comedy was already a perennial hit on Netflix before moving over to NBC’s Peacock earlier this year. But the series became especially popular — and resonant — amid a global pandemic that unexpectedly took many people away from their offices and colleagues.
The show’s real-time appeal goes beyond its meme-worthy humor, as Washington Post Associate Opinions Editor Autumn Brewington recently mused: “Losing oneself in Dunder Mifflin is a way of coping with pandemic isolation.’ (Streaming on Peacock)
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ (2005)
Before “Scandal” and “Bridgerton,” Shonda Rhimes gave us this drama about the heavily intersected lives and careers of the beautiful, brooding and occasionally insufferable doctors at a Seattle teaching hospital. We haven’t quite been the same since. The series is currently in its 17th season, so settle in, McStreamy. (Seasons 1-16 streaming on Netflix; Season 17 streaming on Hulu)
If you’re in the mood for a snarkier medical drama, try “House” on Peacock or Amazon Prime.
The TV equivalent of going where everybody knows your name. The classic NBC sitcom features a memorable ensemble cast: Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson (whose character replaced the late Nicholas Colasanto’s beloved Coach), Bebe Neuwirth, George Wendt and, uh, Kirstie Alley — long before she had a Twitter account. (Streaming on Hulu, CBS All Access and Peacock)
You likewise can’t go wrong with the spinoff “Frasier,” available on CBS All Access, which follows Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and features some of the best TV banter we’ve ever heard.
‘New Girl’ (2011)
This roommate comedy, which aired for seven seasons on Fox, is funny, sweet and once featured a cameo by Prince. And while it wasn’t known for its social commentary during its time on air, fans have pointed out a few plotlines that evoke current events. (Streaming on Netflix)
Though this devilishly funny comedy landed on Nielsen’s list of most-streamed original series, we’re including this here because it began on Fox. The show’s trajectory alone — from being canceled by Fox after 3 seasons to enjoying a lively and well-reviewed revival on Netflix — highlights its passionate fan base. (Streaming on Netflix)
‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ (2013)
Like “Lucifer,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was canceled by Fox — following its fifth season — due to lackluster ratings. Disappointed fans lobbied for its resurrection, prompting NBC to bring the goofy Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), stalwart Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) and their colleagues back to our TV screens. The eighth season of the series will premiere on NBC later this month. (Streaming on Hulu)
Fans rejoiced when Netflix announced a slate of classic Black sitcoms — including Mara Brock Akil’s treasured series about four Black women navigating their late 20s and early 30s while living in Los Angeles — were coming to the platform last year. (Streaming on Netflix)
‘This Is Us’ (2016)
Dan Fogelman’s tender family drama, now in its fifth season on NBC, follows the triumphs and struggles of the Pearson family across generations, while poignantly exploring issues that affect all of us — most recently the pandemic and protests against racial injustice. (Streaming on Hulu)
Over the course of seven seasons, Kenya Barris’s ABC sitcom — about a multigenerational and wealthy Black family — has masterfully balanced its humor with moving and nuanced explorations of issues ranging from police brutality to colorism. (Streaming on Hulu)
‘The O.C.’ (2003)
Josh Schwartz’s teen drama is iconic for many reasons: Seth (Adam Brody), Summer (Rachel Bilson), Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows (which apparently could have been Jon Hamm’s?!) and, yes, Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and Marissa (Mischa Barton). (Streaming on HBO Max)
‘Jane the Virgin’ (2014)
This dramedy, from Jennie Snyder Urman, was inspired by a telenovela — roots the CW series playfully wove into its DNA with standard evil twin appearances, love triangles and that-character’s-not-dead-after-all reveals. But it was always so much bigger than its twists and turns.
The true heart of the story is the bond Jane (Gina Rodriguez) shares with her mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) and grandmother Alba (Ivonne Coll), three generations of Latinas who always had each other’s backs. (Streaming on Netflix)
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ (1990)
Will Smith’s breakout, which aired for six seasons on NBC, was one of the most exciting additions to streaming last year. For all of its hilarious moments, the sitcom was just as skilled at delivering poignant scenes that we still remember by heart. (Streaming on HBO Max)
‘Parks and Recreation’ (2009)
Amid questionable pandemic-focused entertainment efforts from celebrities last year, this delightful Amy Poehler-led comedy resurfaced with a pitch-perfect reunion special that made us remember why we love Pawnee, Ind., so much. (Streaming on Peacock)
‘The Good Place’ (2016)
Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a self-proclaimed Arizona dirtbag, dies and unexpectedly ends up a place that looks a lot like heaven in this comedy from “Parks and Rec” co-creator Michael Schur. Danson, of “Cheers” fame, plays the afterlife architect who helps Eleanor (and several other spirited Good Place arrivals) navigate her new surreality.
The thoughtful comedy ended last year after four seasons, so you can binge the series and get all of the answers to the universe in one fell swoop. (Streaming on Netflix)