Moment Top Ten
The Best Jewish TV Shows of All Time
With decades of “Jewish” shows to choose from, Moment had to call in the experts, Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television to pick the top ten.
Milton Berle’s Shows (1948-1956)
Milton Berle, born Milton Berlinger, spent decades on stage before becoming TV’s first superstar on Texaco Star Theater. Dubbed “Mr. Television,” he brought the fast-paced, smart-aleck world of Borscht Belt comedy to America’s goyim. His outrageous costumes, aggressive personality and willingness to do almost anything for a laugh (even cross-dressing) were straight out of the vaudeville playbook but seemed brand new to mainstream America.
The Goldbergs (1949-1956)
Starting in 1929, Gertrude Berg’s authentically crafted characters from the Bronx became America’s quintessential Jewish family, transitioning effortlessly from radio to television in 1949. Familiar phrases (“Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Bloom”) and Berg’s own star power as Molly made the series a CBS hit. Sadly, in 1951 The Goldbergs fell victim to unproven McCarthyist blacklisting of cast member Philip Loeb.
Sid Caesar’s Shows (1949-1958)
Isaac “Sid” Caesar teamed with comedienne Imogene Coca and producer Max Liebman to invent live, irreverent satirical TV comedy in Your Show of Shows. With stellar supporting players (including Carl Reiner and Howard Morris) and Hall-of-Fame writers (including Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and later Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen), landsmen all, the programs created some of the decade’s funniest moments, including hilarious parodies of From Here to Eternity and This Is Your Life.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)
Carl Reiner turned his comedy-variety résumé and personal life into this classic sitcom, drawing on his real TV work life in Manhattan and his Jewish family life in New Rochelle, New York. Although the domestic setting for Rob and Laura Petrie was not presented as Jewish, the office world was another matter. In particular, Morey (Moritz) Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell embodied the sharp-tongued Jewish writers of Reiner’s Sid Caesar days.
Everyone knew that Rhoda Morgenstern was Jewish, thanks to her quick wit and New York accent. Yet when Rhoda departed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, returning to New York City for this spinoff, producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns rarely made her Jewish identity explicit. One key moment comes when Rhoda’s parents, Martin and Ida, first meet her new (non-Jewish) boyfriend. Martin says to Ida: “How come you didn’t ask if he was Jewish?” Ida knowingly replies: “If he was Jewish, I would have asked.”