1) The characters must be married, not dating. This eliminates Sam and Diane from "Cheers," David and Maddie from "Moonlighting," and many, many others.
2) We had to spend time with them as a married couple; last minute or implied weddings don't count (sorry, Ross and Rachel).
3) Preference is given to couples for whom their relationship is a major focus of the show. To me, this eliminated Ward and June Cleaver from "Leave it to Beaver," Howard and Marion Cunningham from "Happy Days," and a host of supporting characters who served other purposes in the story.
4) It's my list, so I'm limited to shows I think I know well. I've never watched "Mike & Molly," "The Honeymooners," "Friday Night Lights," or "Gossip Girl" so those often cited examples don't make the cut.
So my Top Ten Favorite TV Married Couples are…
10. Phil and Claire Dunphy, "Modern Family"
9. George and Louise Jefferson, "The Jeffersons"
8. Dan and Roseanne Conner, "Roseanne"
7. Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, "I Love Lucy"
6. Cliff and Clair Huxtable, "The Cosby Show"
5. Paul and Jamie Buchman, "Mad About You"
4. Andy and April Dwyer, "Parks and Recreation"
3. Rob and Laura Petrie, The Dick van Dyke Show"
2. Jim and Pam Halpert, "The Office"
1. Marshall and Lily Eriksen, "How I Met Your Mother"
Christopher and Carla Turk, "Scrubs"
Tim and Jill Taylor, "Home Improvement"
Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, "Hart to Hart"
Mike and Carol Brady, "The Brady Bunch"
Chuck and Sarah Bartowski, "Chuck"
Monica and Chandler, "Friends"
Al and Peg Bundy, "Married with Children"
…and from the movies, Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man series
Notes and Explanations:
• Marshall and Lily are perhaps the only completely monogamous couples on contemporary television (virtually everyone else has intimate exes at minimum). For me, that's the end of the argument.
• The Dunphy's are a surprise addition to the list because I couldn't stand Phil for the first season or so of "Modern Family." It took two seasons to redeem him for gawking at Gloria.
• Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser are probably two of the better actors on the list. That may have improved their ranking a bit.
• I was surprised that half-hour sitcoms absolutely dominated the list. But dramas very rarely seem to include healthy, commendable marriages. Or even ones with redeeming qualities.
• Some of these couples seemed to fight a lot or be reluctantly married, most notably Dan & Roseanne and (shock!) the Bundy's. But loyalty and fidelity were key factors in most cases here, so even flawed, sarcastic characters get some respect from me. If I had been more familiar with "All in the Family," Archie and Edith would have been included, too.
• Every time I talk about this subject with someone, they say, "You have to include so-and-so!" And I would consider it, if I had watched that show (more).
• A few of my favorite shows of all time (I'm looking at you, M*A*S*H) are not represented on this list. On the other hand, a couple of these shows were not particular favorites but left an impression on me anyway.