16 Nostalgia-Inducing Classic TV Shows to Watch with Kids

TV you loved as a kid can become your kids' favorites. By Polly Conway
16 Nostalgia-Inducing Classic TV Shows to Watch with Kids

It's hard to believe, but the shows you used to race home to watch (way before On Demand, let alone streaming) are now considered classics. Nostalgic faves will always include old-school programs such as The Andy Griffith Show (which remains awesome, by the way), but now you can add '90s gems such as Doug, The X-Files, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to the list of TV greats. Of course, the advent of Amazon Video, Hulu, Netflix, and even YouTube make it so much easier to share your favorites with your kids.

Remember, even though these shows are old to you, they're new to kids. Take the time to talk about the differences in TV now and then -- not only the content but the shows' production and pacing. There may be some cringeworthy moments (and outfits!), but it’s worth taking the trip back in time. Check out our recommendations for wonderful, shareable, and easy-to-find classics.

(Streaming availability is subject to change, so if you don't find the show in the listed location, search around and you might find it elsewhere.)

The Muppet Show, age 4+. This hilarious blend of puppets and celebs from the '70s and '80s will entertain kids and induce acute nostalgia in parents of a certain age. (YouTube)

Inspector Gadget, age 5+. We all know who's truly behind the Inspector's wins: his intrepid niece, Penny. Netflix's 2015 version is also a lot of fun, but the original still shines. (Hulu)

Doug, age 6+. Sweet, earnest, and totally awkward Doug Funnie moves to Bluffington and figures out how to adjust to his new life in this colorful early Nicktoon. (Amazon)

I Love Lucy, age 6+. Lucille Ball's slapstick comedy never gets old. Though the traditional gender dynamics might give you pause, Lucy steals the show without ever revealing more than a knee. (Hulu)

Animaniacs, age 7+. Like Pinky and the Brain, this cartoon blends silly laughs with sophisticated references that will crack up kids and parents. (YouTube)

Clarissa Explains It All, age 8+. Perennially positive Clarissa deals with the complex world of adolescence with wit and some extremely bold '90s fashions. (Hulu)

Jem and the Holograms, age 8+. Jem and her girl band rock in this glitzy '80s cartoon. With plenty of strong role models and catchy tunes, this one's a winner for all. (Netflix)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, age 8+. These sci-fi stories are packed with positive messages about compassion, equality, fairness, and tolerance. Parents might want to preview episodes because appropriateness varies. (Netflix, Amazon)

The Twilight Zone, age 10+. These classic morality tales will creep kids out in the best way possible. Not every one's a winner, though, so look for your favorites to share. (Netflix)

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, age 11+. Wise-cracking, baby-faced Will Smith stars in this fish-out-of-water family comedy that holds up surprisingly well. Plus, there's no denying the timeless hilarity of Carlton's celebratory dance. (Amazon)

MacGyver, age 11+. With a lead who chooses ingenuity over violence and creates so many cool contraptions, what kid wouldn't enjoy this feathered-haired hero? (Netflix)

Quantum Leap, age 12+. It looks a bit cheesy to modern eyes, but Quantum Leap will appeal to kids fascinated with time travel and the concept of body swapping. (Netflix)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, age 13+. The world of Buffy and her demon-fighting crew is a delight to enter. High school's even harder when it's atop a hellmouth, but they make it work. (Netflix)

Degrassi Old School, age 13+; Degrassi, age 14+. Teen drama never truly changes. Both incarnations of this classic Canadian show offer up the big issues in a relatable way. (Netflix)

X-Files, age 13+. Sci-fi and conspiracy-loving teens will be riveted by the dark adventures of skeptic Scully and her very open-minded partner, Mulder. (Netflix)

Seinfeld, age 14+. This classic full of quirky characters will appeal to snarky teens from any era. Note that some episodes are more mature than others. (Hulu)

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About Polly Conway

As Common Sense Media's Senior TV Editor, Polly is responsible for championing the latest and greatest in TV for kids and families. She's an expert in the realm of shows that are created for (and/or appeal to -- not... Read more

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Comments (49)

Parent written by KarenSkyy

My daughter fell in love with Gilligan's Island when she was about 8 years old. After that, I introduced her to two of my favorites as a kid, I dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. She loved those too. She found Full House on her own and it became an instant favorite. It turns out all of the kids her age were watching Full House. She is 12 now and still loves these shows. I feel that many of the shows on Disney channel are very reminiscent of the shows from the late 80s & early 90s. I actually enjoy watching Liv & Maddy, Girl Meets World and I liked Good Luck Charlie. Wizards of Waverly Place was one of my favorites.
Teen, 14 years old written by MelBrooksFan

Personally, I would add some of my mom's favorites, "Friends" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," as well as two of my personal favorite shows, "Hey Arnold!" (I know its target audience was younger than I am, but it's nostalgic for me because it makes me remember when I was the same age as the main characters), and "The Dick van Dyke Show." I'm surprised those weren't on here! I would also like to add Sid Caesar's classic shows, "Admiral Broadway Revue," (ran from January 28 - June 3, 1949) "Your Show of Shows," (ran from 1950 - 1954) and "Caesar's Hour." (ran from 1954 - 1957) I know those are pretty old, and you can't really find them anywhere else but YouTube, (though you just might be able to find a copy of "Ten From 'Your Show of Shows'" somewhere) but I strongly recommend them. They are pretty clean. There are a ton of clips on YouTube, ranging from single sketches only a few minutes long to the occasional full hour-long episode. Anyways, give these shows a chance - they shouldn't be forgotten!
Parent of a 13 and 13 year old written by jweber01

Now that my kids are 14, we watch Friends and Seinfeld every day. It's nothing that they haven't heard at school and I can clarify any questions. X-files for sure. I watched All in the Family and Good Times at their age, also Dr. Who and Remington Steele.
Adult written by isaaclee

There are tons of classic shows that can be enjoyed. my own brother likes seasome street. there's George Lopez, Everybody Hates Chris, and so on. But many old black and white shows turn out really good.
Adult written by chrijeff50

I would add any Western from the Golden Era of same, 1955-75. Most were well written and exciting (if not always historically accurate), had attractive and sympathetic regulars and often important guest stars, and, of course, the Good Guys always won! Among my faves: "Wagon Train," "Laramie," "Gunsmoke," "The Big Valley," "The Rifleman," "Alias Smith & Jones," "Cimarron Strip," and all the Warner Brothers group--"Lawman," "Sugarfoot," "Cheyenne," etc.
Adult written by loveisblue

Monkees, we love the Monkees in our house. Also, the Munsters, Bewitched, I dream of Jeanie, and The Twilight Zone. Beverly Hillbillies and I Love Lucy are great also. There is a great Beverly Hillbilly show about Grannie wanting to plant a vegetable garden in her front yard and not liking what is available in the grocery store. The classics are so much better than what's out there now days.
Teen, 16 years old written by Maya16

Sounds like a great list. I would add Sabrina the tennage witch, full house, home improvement, and everybody loves Raymond. I know that Seinfeld is an excellent show that can be two sides of a coin which always me makes nervous about sharing with my 11 year old brother. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is popular hit in my house that everyone enjoys.
Adult written by andnoogzy2

I want to add ALF to the list! My 12 year old loves that show! He is always funding himself in some moral dilemma!
Adult written by loldoge333

No Cartoon Network!! Shows like RegShow and AdvTime repetitively crosses kid friendly borders with words like "gumballs "Pervy" and "sticky and sweet love case"
Teen, 17 years old written by tvconnoisseur

I’d add Full House, Fraggle Rock, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, Rugrats (that’s actually classic now!), Hey Arnold!, Fat Albert, Perfect Strangers (never seen it, but heard it’s good), and Family Matters. For tweens, & teens, I highly recommend Degrassi Junior High (the ‘80s one!), ER, & The Sopranos.
Parent of a 12 year old written by timbo66

The Sopranos for tweens? Really? Are you kidding me? Sex, language, murder, extortion, violence, violence & more violence. Don't let tweens watch that. Jeeez...
Teen, 13 years old written by Darksouls444

I think watching old tv shows like Leave it to beaver. and too close for comfort bring back old culture it teaches kids what people did before Ipads and Iphones and computers like today
Educator written by MrRivera

Brilliant! Indeed everyone has their list of personal favorites, and therefore not all will hit a top 10 (or 13), but I would really like to thank you for adding Robotech and Voltron to the list. I know there is a new Voltron out there, but it seems it has fallen into the new "comatose" programming being delivered by NickToons, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and other kid-focused media. Robotech, like most anime, was not intended for young audiences due to the complex nature of its storyline. However, kids lack the ability to think nowadays. In fact, even some of the young parents may be taught a thing or two by this "cool looking" cartoon and see what may happen when people from all walks of life come together for a common cause.
Adult written by TheGraphicDesigner

How about The Dukes of Hazzard? It's humorous, exciting, and immensely charming. The plots are usually creative and well-paced, with a few intertwining story threads in each episode and plenty of clever plot twists. All of the characters are very likeable (even the villains), and you never grow tired of watching their antics. I know many people who watched this show as a kid and still love it, and I started watching it as an adult and tune in frequently to CMT to watch it (the episodes are also available online and DVD box sets also exist) . The show places a lot of emphasis on family, helping others who are in need, and standing up for what is right. The Duke family is very selfless and goes out of their way to help others in trouble, whether they are longtime friends or people they just met-though quite often this gets the Dukes into trouble, too. Daisy is very beautiful and can use her looks to her advantage, yet at the same time she is just as skilled a driver as the boys and can hold her own in a conflict. Enos is one of the few honest deputies in Hazzard, and though he can't directly go against his orders from the corrupt Boss Hogg, he does try to help the Dukes do what's right when he can. The villains are blustering and goofy, but rarely scary or menacing. There is frequent reckless driving, but rarely are characters harmed in crashes (often when a character crashes, other characters will stop to make sure they are okay) and a few scuffles, which never last very long and no one gets seriously hurt. Occasionally some characters will wear somewhat-revealing clothing, such as men going shirtless, women wearing cleavage-revealing shirts, midriffs and short shorts (hence where the term "Daisy Dukes" for short-shorts came from), but it's nothing you wouldn't see walking around in the summer in real life. The language is very mild (words like "jackass", "damn", "hell") but such instances are very few and far between. The main villain Boss Hogg smokes a cigar, and on rare occasions other characters are seen smoking. Alcohol appears in some episodes, and a few plots have to do with illegally-brewed moonshine. Overall, I'd say it's an appropriate show for kids 10 and up, maybe 8 and up depending on the kid.
Educator written by Bigchris

Here are a few suggestions Andy Griffith "must love " married with children "be sure u have older kids but sure to be a big hit " the Cosby show rosane"once agin check the age "and everybody loves ramond and friends" my siblings all love ramond
Parent of a 12 year old written by timbo66

I'm confused why anyone concerned with providing common sense media to children would recommend "Married with Children" which portrays a dysfunctional family and is chock full of inappropriate themes and poor role models
Teen, 14 years old written by Yz11

Personally I agree that Star Trek should be near the top of the list. Of course leave it to beaver and the Andy Griffith show can't be ignored. But the big shows that stand out from when I was younger are the old westerns like gunsmoke and bonanza.
Adult written by D-Rae

I just looked up the Wonder Years ( not Fred and Winnie, Kevin and Winnie) and found every episode with a great description on TV.com. To watch you do need a Netflix subscription or amazon Prime (I think). Does anyone know where or if any of the shows listed are streamed for free? I'm completely new to streaming, so I need some help here. The ones that I listed that we have watched were on YouTube. By the way, I'm a math teacher and use Danica Mckellar's (Winnie) books. They are great to put real world situations into math so that its easier to understand, especially for tween/ teen girls.
Parent of a 7 and 8 year old written by Sierra Filucci

Hi D-Rae -- YouTube and Hulu are your best bets for legal free streaming of TV shows, though you'll sometimes find them on other smaller sites. Netflix and Hulu have streaming-only subscriptions, and iTunes and Amazon offer shows you can buy individually. Amazon is more expensive up-front, but comes with other perks. Lots of options!
Adult written by cokeefe16

The Andy Griffith Show - The classic titled "Opie the Bird Man" is not to be missed. Perfect Strangers - available on DVD - Balki and Larry, cousins from different cultures. Lots of slapstick and Lucille Ball-type plots. (Lucille Ball actually said this was her favorite comedy!)
Adult written by Sandra Miller-Louden

You forgot Leave it to Beaver...which is part of the line-up on ME-TV. There are many simple lessons here which are given in light comedy...no sledge-hammer, preachy soliloquies, just common sense parental guidance. Please add this to your list.
Educator written by GoDutch

We watched (and still do-our kids are grown and on their own) The Andy Griffith Show. It shows the very simple life of a little boy and his dad. The best shows are when Opie is a young boy. We need more Andy and Opie in our society.
Parent of a 7 and 8 year old written by Sierra Filucci

Hi folks -- Thanks for adding your suggestions to the list. Many of the shows listed in the comments are not available streaming, or only a couple episodes on YouTube, but there's always DVDs for Little House on the Prairie, Cosby Show, etc. As for Seinfeld, we rate it pause for 14 and up, which means parents should use discretion when sharing with kids. It's definitely not a pick for every family and some episodes are more appropriate than others. Thanks for all your great feedback!
Parent of a 7 year old written by rfrag9404

I totally disagree with Seinfeld being appropriate. The episode about "The Contest" their contest while he is dating a virgin? Or the one about her breasts being real or not? Or so many more. Most of the jokes are based on sexual situations and not at all appropriate for young viewers.
Adult written by sonja102

The Cosby Show, A Different World, Good Times, Little House on the Prairie... all of these shows contained life lessons and tidbits that kids could relate to and take away with them. The Cosby Show and A Different World showed us a very different side to black life that was not present in mainstream television during that time--two professional black parents in the same household raising their children and loving each other; and black kids actually go off to college. Good Times taught us that no matter where you come from, you can still dream and overcome any circumstance through education and hard work. Oh, and let's not forget about our Saturday morning School House Rock!!! "Conjunction junction what's your function?"
Adult written by chrijeff50

"My Favorite Martian." A warm, gentle comedy about a young newspaper reporter (Bill Bixby) and the stranded Martian (Ray Walston) who becomes his "Uncle Martin." Martin's strange powers--and occasional strange inventions and diseases--make for plenty of fun. About 8+. DVD. "Simon & Simon." Two PI's--A.J. (Jameson Parker) and Rick (Gerald McRaney) in '80's San Diego are brothers, polar opposites, and best friends. Probably 12+. DVD. "Wagon Train." Wonderful classic Western, great ensemble cast, truckloads of Famous Faces guest starring (even Bette Davis showed up a couple of times!), and a wide variety of stories from humorous to action. 10+. 8 seasons on DVD. "Laramie." The absolute best buddy Western that ever was. Young gunfighter Jess Harper (Robert Fuller) wanders onto the struggling cattle-ranch/relay-station owned by righteous Slim Sherman (John Smith) and, after considerable angst, becomes his best friend and partner. 10+. 4 seasons, DVD. Actually, almost any old Western is a good choice, because the ones from the Golden Age (1955-75) teach great lessons--about friendship and loyalty, courage and perseverance, justice and compassion, and how to make up for your mistakes. And the Bad Guys always Get It in the end!
Parent of a 8 and 10 year old written by kwillson

Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Cosby Show.....although I disagree with including Seinfeld on this list as a 14+. There is a great deal of sexual reference and even an entire episode about masturbating....while that episode, and many others, are hilarious, it's not something I'd watch with my kids!!!!
Adult written by gatekeeper15

"While the traditional gender dynamics might give you pause..." Really? In a world where gender confusion has increasingly become the order of the day, "traditional gender dynamics" are exactly what is needed.
Teen, 14 years old written by Yz11

I would say that SNL should wait until 14 or 15 at most. They do a lot of crude jokes sometimes.
written by Amalthea

While most of these are good - and quite a few of them I HAVE shared with my daughters - I wouldn't share "Seinfeld" with my dog, if I had one. Replace it with "Happy Days", "7th Heaven" or "Sailor Moon" and you'd have a near perfect list.
Adult written by D-Rae

Little House on the Prairie is always loved by our whole family, including my husband. We own 4 or 5 seasons, but I bet it's available for streaming. I also keep thinking about finding Flipper. The girls often stream cartoons like The Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry, and the one with the little mouse who goes around yelling, "Endale, endale, ariba, ariba." For the life of me I can't think of the name (or how to spell in Spanish." I love Mama Bear's suggestion of the Cosby Show and another readers post of The Wonder Years (I miss Fred and Whiney).
Adult written by D-Rae

Thank you, YES. Speedy Gonzales! I definitely agree that Sinfeld is not to be on my list either. Friends goes much further than what I would want my kids to watch too...
Adult written by Mama Bear

I agree with others here re: The Cosby Show (we get it on Netflix), my 8 yo adores that show and I Love Lucy. We also love Family Matters, Barney Miller, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family (the more appropriate episodes of these!). ALSO, how could I forget The Andy Griffith Show!? Another huge hit with my little one.
Parent of a 9 year old written by nordicgirl65

My 9-yr-old daughter is just crazy about Full House. I eventually bought all 8 seasons. We also, as a family, have watched all of Little House on the Prairie. There are a few episodes with scary themes (people dying in blizzards, from plague, etc.) that we skipped, but most of them are great family entertainment. Home Improvement is another that we watch.
Adult written by CSM Screen name...

The Wonder Years. After you Ignore the hairstyles, all the angst of young adolescence hits home for middle school-age kids. Episodes are funny, serious and sometimes sentimental. (Netflix)
Adult written by Aloevera

The Walton's...endearing characters, history, and life lessons! 10+ Little House on the Prairie....doesn't get any better! 8+ Cosby Show 11+ Eight is Enough 12+ Family Ties. 13+ Considering Party of Five and Dawson's Creek for 14 yr old, anyone have feedback on those? Or something better?
Parent written by [email protected]

Old Bugs Bunny/Warner Brothers cartoons (tweety bird, daffy duck, et al) We watch them on YouTube. My kids love them! They are also shown on Cartoon Network sometimes. We love watching Bernie Mac reruns (BET), and Gidget (Antenna TV) reruns as well.
Adult written by CSM Screen name...

The Cosby Show!! Season 1 & 2 are great for little kids but even teens can enjoy the entire series!! We watch the Huxtables every week in our house! YouTube!
Teen, 13 years old written by Strategist101

I used to watch Spider-man and his Amazing Friends every morning. Haven't seen it in a long time though... the channel that it came on when I watched it shut down. MacGyver is always good. Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my favorites.
Educator written by Kimbra Power

The Brady Bunch has had our kids on the edge of their seats this Summer... it has been a delight to watch them over again with our now 12 and 6 year old daughters, so innocent.... "Oh Mike..." I Love Lucy has been a huge hit, especially with our six year old, SHE loves Lucy! The girls both quote these shows over and over again. They're often chatting away, and when I ask why they're giggling, they say "oh, it's just something Ethel said to Fred!!!" Can't recommend highly enough seeking out your Leave it to Beaver, The Wonder Years, Gilligan's Island and watching it WITH your kids... really great family connections are being made.
Parent of a 7 and 12 year old written by spower

We watched all episodes of Get Smart one summer.....the "one liners" our family had for years to come were..."Would you believe" hilarious!!!!

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