4. Martin (1992-1997)
Very few programs remain every bit as entertaining over 15 years after their conclusion as Martin, a show about a big-eared radio DJ from Detroit with enough personality for an entire cast. Fox was the network to watch back in the 1990s, rivaling the popularity of NBC's "Must See TV" block of Thursday night programming with a lineup that drew an engaged urban audience. Between New York Undercover, Living Single, and Martin, Fox's Thursday night lineup ran the triangle offense better than the Chicago Bulls did in the 1990s. During the 1996-1997 television season, these shows were the three highest rated programs among African-American households, with Martin serving as the jump-off for one of the best two hours of television ever organized.
Comedian and actor Martin Lawrence played Martin Payne, a DJ for WZUP (and eventually the host of his own talk show, "Word on the Street"). Central to the show was Martin's relationship with Gina Waters, the large-headed (literally) love of his life. They broke up and got back together throughout the series, but their genuine love provided a complement to the show's constant comedy.
Also important were Martin's relationships with his biggest adversary, Gina's best friend, Pam James, and his two best friends, the comically inept Cole Brown and the tall, bald, and possibly unemployed Tommy Strawn.
Beyond the central cast, the wild gang of side characters played by Lawrence regularly stole the spotlight. Martin had no problem dressing up in drag to play his too-hood-for-her-own-good neighbor Sheneneh, or Martin's mother, the mustached Mama Payne. Lawrence's other legendary characters include Jerome the has-been Detroit pimp, Dragonfly Jones, Bob from Marketing, Roscoe, and Otis.
From Jim's Barbershop to Nipsey's Lounge, Martin had classic locations where the main cast ran into other hilarious characters, like Tracy Morgan's Hustle Man. Even when Martin retired to the solace of his own home, he couldn't escape unexpected visits from Bruh-man, who climbed through the window before using that infamous slow bop to help himself to whatever he wanted from Martin's apartment. Martin also had numerous amazing guest stars like Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Keith Washington, Snoop Dogg, Tommy Hearns, Randall Cunningham, Method Man, Jodeci, and even Biggie. No show is landing cameos like that.
Not only was Martin instrumental in African-American culture and hip-hop culture, it played a role in popular culture that can't be argued. How else would Complex be able to compose a guide of the show's sneaker history? Despite only being on the air for five seasons, Martin left behind so many great characters and scenes that kids will be getting disciplined at school forever thanks to syndication. Think about it like this: two decades have passed since the show began, and people are still talking about how they "can't pay the five." That says a lot.