(Above image courtesy Pixabay)
Looking for free classic TV?
The following, in alphabetical order, are The Savvy Screener’s top free sources for TV classics, which we’ll loosely define as any shows not of this century. Please visit each entity’s website for info on apps and device compatibility.
At crackle.com/shows, you’ll find a large collection of titles. These range from shows everyone seems to be familiar with (e.g., Bewitched, Charlie’s Angels, The Facts of Life, Fantasy Island, I Dream of Jeannie, The Partridge Family, Roseanne, Starsky & Hutch, S.W.A.T.) to shows everybody should be familiar with (e.g., Archie Bunker’s Place, Barney Miller, The Critic, The Ellen Show). Then there are shows we admit having no recollection of (a 1990 reboot of Zorro?)
If a TV show is in the public domain, chances are you can find it in the Internet Archive, where folks have uploaded thousands of titles for you to peruse. You can start browsing at archive.org/details/classic_tv. If at first the sheer volume of titles seems rather unwieldly, you can sort alphabetically by title or by number of views.
When we last checked, a complete collection of Leave it to Beaver held the top spot, with over 350,000 views. The top ten also included a few episodes of Bonanza, Lucy meeting John Wayne on The Lucy Show, the first episodes of The Lone Ranger and The Beverly Hillbillies, and — with over 130,000 views — the following unaired short pilot for a proposed Batgirl series:
If you’d rather find classic TV shows from Internet Archives neatly organized by genre, check out RerunCentury at reruncentury.com. The site has more than 1,400 episodes under 16 categories, such as Music and Variety, from where we unearthed the following 1959 gem from CBS: Rock Hudson hosting the first episode of The Big Party, with guests including Sammy Davis Jr. and Esther Williams, and directed by future multiple Oscar nominee Norman Jewison (e.g., Fiddler on the Roof, Moonstruck):
Head to shoutfactorytv.com/tv for an outstanding collection of shows covering all aspects of pop culture, including music (from The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour to Sou!), talk shows (e.g., Dr. Ruth, The Dick Cavett Show), cool drama (like Route 66, The Saint, Secret Agent and The Prisoner), and hilarious comedy (e.g., Car 54 Where are You? and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).
Our Film Detective favorites include a Dick Clark-hosted Celebrity Party from 1963, a 1949 episode of The Spike Jones Show, the TV movie A Christmas Without Snow from 1980, controversial talker The Joe Pyne Show from the 1960s, and the very first Sherlock Holmes TV series from 1954-1955 (photo below).
You’ll need to join and be approved for this private Facebook group, but once in, prepare to be surprised by postings of full episodes of long-gone series, many of them British.
In the course of just a few days, we discovered the first episode of 87th Precinct, a 1961-1962 NBC series, based on Ed McBain novels and starring Robert Lansing, Gena Rowlands and Norman Fell; an episode of The Baron, starring Steve Forrest, which aired on ITC in the U.K. and ABC in the U.S. during the 1966-1967 season; and The Persuaders!, also on both ITC and ABC, from 1971-1972 and starring…get this…Tony Curtis and Roger Moore!
You’ll find Tubi’s classic TV shows at tubitv.com/category/nostalgia_tv. The shows don’t seem to be in any order, but there are six dozen of them. So, whether your tastes fall into talk (The Geraldo Rivera Show anyone?) riveting drama (e.g. Naked City) short-lived shows that nonetheless left an indelible mark on a generation (e.g,., The Patty Duke Show) or whatever, browse the site and you’re likely to find something that will make you hit “play.”
TV4U’s Dailymotion page hosts dozens of playlists aka TVS microchannels. These cover such specific categories as the 1940s, color classics, talk shows, reality shows, and even a whole channel devoted to shows of the early Dumont Network.
Visit dailymotion.com/TVSGlobalMedia/playlists for much more.
Ira H. Gallen has been collecting and restoring vintage TV for decades. Most of the collection isn’t free, but Gallen has posted hundreds of his shorter-form artifacts on YouTube. If you’re seeking a huge selection of old commercials, head to youtube.com/user/tvdays/videos.
The page includes over 15 commercials that originally aired on Adventures of Superman. The following includes Clark Kent, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen extolling the virtues of Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks. We have no idea why Lois Lane wasn’t invited to the breakfast.
The online collection from this leader in restoration and preservation is relatively small, but stellar.
For more from the UCLA Film & Television archive, visit youtube.com/user/UCLAFTVArchive. For other cool archives, take an online trip to Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications for a collection of vintage shows that change monthly at museum.tv/archives.htm, or to the American Archive of Public Television at americanarchive.org for fascinating shows from the history of National Educational Television and its successor PBS.
Uncle Earl has spent many years combing through video sharing sites to collect over 35,000 individual episodes of classic public domain shows at solie.org/ClassicTV. The library is divided into useful categories. There are the usual genres (e.g., westerns, game shows, kid shows), plus such entries as “Catalog of Stars,” an alphabetical list by first name of actors, characters and creators (so you can get, in a row, for example, Robin Williams, Robots! and Rod Serling).
On our last visit, we discovered all 13 episodes of Automan, a 1983-1984 ABC scisci-fi superhero series starring Desi Arnaz Jr. as a computer programming cop and Chuck Wagner as his AI-generated hologram who fights crime at night. The pilot follows:
You’ll find hundreds of seasons of of free TV shows by going to Vudu.com, clicking or tapping on “free” and then on “TV.” Last we checked, the most popular classic series included Roseanne, The Addams Family, Alf, 3rd Rock from the Sun and I Dream of Jeannie.
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