Saturday Night Live (1975-Present)
Canadian writer and producer Lorne Michaels (born Lorne Lipowitz) brought back the Sid Caesar style of live TV satire in 1975 and effectively reintroduced classic Jewish comedy traditions. Much of the original cast was not Jewish, but they recognized funny as funny. Numerous Jewish-related skits reflected their eras and included Gilda Radner touting “Jewess Jeans,” Mike Myers as “Coffee Talk” host Linda Richman and Adam Sandler performing his now-famous Chanukah song.
Combining a Manhattan feel, a baby boomer mind-set and a heavy dose of Jewish ethos, Seinfeld, labeled a show about “nothing,” was really about anything (waiting in line at a Chinese restaurant or trying to find your car in a mall parking lot). The characters perfectly captured the upper-middle-class, vaguely elitist, liberal, New York, quasi-neurotic personalities of its two Jewish creators (Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David). In the world of Seinfeld, everybody was Jewish, or might as well have been.
The Rugrats cartoon series starred five children—including half-Jewish infant Tommy Pickles—and offered “equal time” for Jewish holidays after years of Christmas and Easter cartoon specials. In 1995’s “A Rugrats Passover” episode, Grandpa Boris tells the Exodus saga during a family seder and the kids imagine themselves as the biblical characters, with pushy Angelica as Pharaoh and even-tempered Tommy as Moses. This 30-minute lesson was a Passover primer for the program’s gentile viewers.
Brooklyn Bridge (1991-1993)
The best Jewish series you’ve probably never seen, Brooklyn Bridge was producer Gary David Goldberg’s (Family Ties) loving re-creation of the Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth. Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn Bridge focused on an urban Jewish family in a world of fading ethnicity and growing assimilation, with a deft mix of realistic personalities and light comedy. The surprising gem of the series was Marion Ross as matriarch Sophie Berger, who blended force, will, pride and maternal concern into a memorably authentic figure, dominating the screen just as her character dominated family life.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1999-Present)
Often cited as the most respected news anchor since Walter Cronkite despite not being a news anchor, comedian and Daily Show host Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) is so comfortable with his Jewish heritage that he easily and regularly acknowledges it. (No oblique references here.) Drawing on generations of Jewish TV comedy, Stewart delivers his “fake news” with pitch-perfect verbal and visual timing and the time-honored willingness to do almost anything for a laugh.