The Light from the TV Shows: This One’s for the Veterans – 20 Military-Set Sitcoms

With Veteran’s Day coming up quickly – it’s on Sunday, Nov. 11, in case you don’t tend toward looking at the calendar – now seems like a perfectly appropriate time to take a look back at some of the many sitcoms set in the world of the military. Granted, not all of these are necessarily what you’d describe as military sitcoms, per se, nor is this intended to be perceived as a comprehensive list, but everything that’s on here does feature the military in a significant capacity. Just call it our little tribute to the men and women who’s fought for our country…and to the ones that made us laugh, too, of course.

The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959): Otherwise known as the adventures of notorious US Army con-man Ernie Bilko, who regularly pulled the wool over the eyes of the perpetually befuddled Col. Hall while trying to earn a fast buck whenever possible. Although consistently ranked as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Silvers’ show had such an extensive ensemble cast that it was also one of the first series to get the axe not because it didn’t get ratings but because it was simply too expensive to maintain.

Ensign O’Toole (1962-1963): Starring future Disney staple Dean Jones as the title character, who was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Appleby. Although it only lasted for a single season, the series had a heck of a cast, featuring former “Phil Silvers Show” regular Harvey Lembeck as well as Jack Albertson and a very young Beau Bridges.

McHale’s Navy (1962-1966): Kids, if the only version of Lt. Commander Quinton McHale you know is the one played by Tom Arnold, you really don’t know “McHale’s Navy” at all. Head for the nearest wayback machine and check out the original series, starring the recently-departed Ernest Borgnine and the still-alive, still-hilarious Tim Conway. With a supporting cast that includes another future Disney stalwart, Joe Flynn, as well as noted prestidigitator Carl Ballantine, the show has, aside from the occasional – and, given the era, somewhat inevitable – politically-incorrect moments, held up well over the years.

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