#1. The Dick Van Dyke Show
His name doesn’t appear in the title, but Carl Reiner is the real genius behind The Dick Van Dyke Show, the wonderful, trendsetting CBS sitcom about a head writer of a TV show that ran from 1961-1966. Long before Ocean’s Eleven, The Jerk, and even The 2000 Year Old Man, Reiner was a performer and writer on the famed Your Show of Shows, working alongside Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. He used his experiences on that show as inspiration for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the rest is comedy history.
#2. WKRP in Cincinnati
Hugh Wilson worked for Atlanta Top-40 radio station WQXI before creating WKRP in Cincinnati in 1978, and he based many of the show’s memorable characters on real-life former co-workers. The most notable example: Dr. Johnny Fever=Skinny Bobby Harper. But one WKRP’er wasn’t based on a radio employee: billing manager-turned-DJ Bailey Quarters was inspired by Wilson’s wife. Aw.
#3. Brooklyn Bridge
The Golden Globe for Best TV Series — Musical and Comedy went to the following well-known shows in the 1990s: Frasier, Seinfeld, Cheers, Roseanne, and...Brooklyn Bridge? Creator Gary David Goldberg (founder of Ubu Productions) based the program, about a Jewish family living in Brooklyn in the 1950s, on his childhood, and while it was beloved by critics, the show never caught on with the public. It was canceled after two seasons (and 12 Jenny Lewis appearances) and hasn’t been released on DVD, but you can find episodes online if you look hard enough. *COUGHtorrentCOUGH*
Steven Moffat’s first TV comedy, Joking Apart, was based on his separation with his first wife. He followed the autobiographical route for his next, better show, Coupling, inspired by his relationship with producer Sue Vertue (whose mother, Beryl, ran the production company that would eventually air the BBC program). Alas, Moffat’s most recent work, Doctor Who, isn’t based on anything autobiographical...or is it? *TARDIS noise*
#5. Freaks and Geeks
All this week, the A.V. Club has been publishing episode-by-episode breakdowns of Freaks and Geeks with Paul Feig, who created the forever-underrated series in 1999. And one thing has become abundantly clear: pretty much everything that happened to Sam or Lindsay or really anyone on the show, happened to Feig or someone on the staff, like executive producer Judd Apatow. For instance, when talking about the episode “Tests and Breasts,” Feig said, “The geek story is based on something that I went through, which is my first exposure to porn, which was just horrifying.” The reason Freaks and Geeks has remained so beloved, even though it only aired 18 episodes over a decade ago, is because the show felt so goddamn real (especially that scene of Bill eating a quiet, lonely lunch while laughing his ass off to Garry Shandling — been there).
#6. Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthuaiasm/30 Rock
I’m including these three together because, really? Do I have to explain?
#7. Everybody Hates Chris
Chris Rock is a Bedford-Stuyvesant boy, having spent his formative teenage years there in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Nearly 20 years after his first stand-up performance, which jumpstarted his career and led to, let’s say, more expensive residences, he created a show about what it was like to be a black teen in the neighborhood. It was a great mix of honesty and humor, and ran for four seasons.
It’s tough to know how much of Louie — Louis C.K.’s too much of a drama to be a comedy, too much of a comedy to be a drama FX series — is real and how much is fake. Obviously, the scene of him ducking from a homeless person, who then gets mutilated by a dump truck, didn’t happen. But the set-up to that moment, in which a woman agrees to go on a date with him because “he could be something at some point,” might very well have occurred in his life. That blurred line between fantasy and reality that makes Louie one of the greatest, most (bizarrely) honest shows on TV right now, even if C.K. never actually went on Fox News to argue with Christians Against Masturbation.
9. Up All Night
In an interview with Forbes, Up All Night creator Emily Spivey said that she based the freshman NBC sitcom around her “experience having my son...and having to go back to work at Saturday Night Live. There was a huge gap between the sort of rock and roll job I had where I was up all night and my son who was getting up at six in the morning. I wanted to capture those extremes and do a show about someone who waited such a long time to have a baby. I felt like no one had really honestly told that story.” And she’s doing a damn fine job.