15 classic TV shows about the United States Navy

Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh!

Image: The Everett Collection

From Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. to M*A*S*H, the military has proven to be a successful setting for television series. Even characters like George Jefferson and Steve McGarrett were given backstories in the Navy. And no wonder, as veterans of World War II and the Korean War returned from service and settled into suburban life, TV networks looked to celebrate their service and tell their stories.

Here, we are going to focus on the U.S. Navy. A fleet of TV shows have been set on the high seas, from drama to comedy. Let's take a look through the periscope.

1. Victory at Sea

1952–53

Rolling back the clock several decades, we find one of the earliest military shows on network television, a documentary series on NBC that chronicled the hard-fought victories of World War II mere years after the end of the global conflict. Compiled from millions of feet of Navy footage, Victory at Sea featuring the invigorating music of Richard Rogers, of Rogers and Hammerstein fame.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Navy Log

1955–58

Airing on both ABC and CBS, this dramatic anthology series remains most notable for its impressive list of budding guest stars, from DeForest Kelley (a former member of the United States Army Air Forces) to Clint Eastwood (former Army man) in one of his earliest TV roles.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Men of Annapolis

1957–58

The only show to have been filmed at the U.S. Navy Academy in Maryland, The Men of Annapolis marched for 41 episodes in syndication. The anthology series focused on fictitious Midshipmen, and featured guests stars such as Robert Blake and Fred Astaire.

4. The Silent Service

1957–58

Another dramatic anthology series, The Silent Service focused on stories set under the water. Each episode told the history of a submarine in service, from the USS Bergall to the USS Wahoo. Many future TV stars of the 1960s honed their craft here, including Russell Johnson (Gilligan's Island), DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy. The second track on Bob Newhart's Grammy-winning comedy album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, "The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish," was a spoof of this syndicated show.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

5. Hennesey

1959–62

Former Little Rascal and Our Gang member Jackie Cooper set the mold for how to navigate a career after being a child star. The actor served in the Navy during World War II and returned to the screen for this overlooked comedy-drama set in a Naval hospital in San Diego. In a way, it blazed a trail for gems like M*A*S*H.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. The Blue Angels

1960–61

"Four men… welded together in a united team to conquer the unexplored reaches of the heaven," the opening proclaimed. This Sixties aerial adventure centered around the world-famous flying squadron, featuring aviators from the Navy and Marine Corps. Like Men of Annapolis, the series ran in syndication, and featured rising stars like Burt Reynolds and Ernest Borgnine.

Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum / YouTube

7. Ensign O'Toole

1962-63

Disney darling Dean Jones entertained a generation of Boomers in movies like That Darned Cat! and The Love Bug. Before going to work for the House of the Mouse, 31-year-old Jones played this titular Navy Ensign, who served in the Pacific aboard the USS Appleby. Jones was no stranger to the material, which was based on the semi-autobiographical books of William Lederer. Jones himself was a Navy veteran, who had served during the Korean War. Future M*A*S*H star Harry Morgan popped up as a guest star, while a young Beau Bridges had a recurring role.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. McHale's Navy

1962–66

Ernest Borgnine, who served in the Navy aboard an antisubmarine ship in World War II, was obviously well-suited for playing military men. Like The Blue Angels, the focus was, as the title implies, clearly on the Navy, though Marines played a significant part in the stories, especially the pilot episode. The series served as a launch for the brilliant Tim Conway (a former Army man), who went on to comedy glory on The Carol Burnett Show.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Broadside

1964–65

Despite the groan-worthy pun of the title, this pioneering women-driven comedy deserves more notice. A spin-off of McHale's Navy, where Kathleen Nolan's lead character Lt. Anne Morgan had made her debut, Broadside told tales of the WAVES, a.k.a. the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, during WWII. Sheila James (now Kuehl), formerly Zelda Gilroy of The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis, would co-star in her final regular TV role. (Today, she is a politician in California.) Joan Staley (Okie Annie on Batman) and Lois Roberts rounded out the cast of one of the first female workplace comedies.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. Convoy

1965

Not to be confused with the 1975 novelty song that helped ignite the trucking craze of the Seventies (and inspire an eponymous motion picture), this Convoy was an NBC drama for one brief season. Because it recycled reels of stock footage from World War II, the show would be one of the last fully black-and-white production for the network. The lack of color (which we can see in this promotional photo) led to its ratings demise.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Mister Roberts

1965–66

An adaptation of a prior hit novel / play / film, Mister Roberts centered around a WWII cargo ship called the USS Reluctant. Former NYPD cop Richard X. Slattery played the barking captain of the ship. He made a career of similar roles, on war shows both serious (The Gallant Men) and comedic (C.P.O. Sharkey).

Image: The Everett Collection

12. The Wackiest Ship in the Army

1965–66

Despite its title, this comedy about a two-mast schooner in service during WWII featured Gary Collins (pictured left) as a Navy man. NBC's adaptation of the hit Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson movie instead starred future TV host Collins and Emmy winner Jack Warden (Brian's Song). As a young man, Warden had served in China for the Navy, sailed as a Merchant Marine, and jumped from planes as an Army paratrooper. The day before D-Day, he shattered his leg in a jump. During his recuperation time, he decided to become an actor. Collins, too, had served in the Army. Harry Morgan also turned up in this series. No wonder Col. Potter seemed so experienced.

Image: The Everett Collection

13. C.P.O. Sharkey

1976–78

Rickles served as a seaman first class on the USS Cyrene in World War II. No wonder the funnyman looked so comfortable in his film debut, the serious drama Run Silent, Run Deep. He put his experience to comedic use in this NBC sitcom. C.P.O. Sharkey cast him as a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer in charge of an eclectic mix of characters ripe for his trademark insults. The show also can claim to feature one of the first depictions of punk rock and moshing on American televisions, as the Dickies turn up in the 1978 episode "Punk Rock Sharkey."

Image: The Everett Collection

14. JAG

1995–2005

When JAG (the acronym stands for Judge Advocate General) hit the airwaves in 1995, it hardly looked like a smash. Ratings almost sunk this battleship in its first season. The action-drama ranked a measly 79th overall. JAG's future looked uncertain. However, with a second tour on a different network, the series grew to become one of the quietest pop-culture success stories of the new millennium. Thanks to its alluring stars David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, not to mention a heavy dose of military realism, JAG sailed for ten seasons and spawned even bigger spin-offs.

15. NCIS

2003–Present

You can't talk about JAG without mentioning the armada of spin-offs that came in its wake. NCIS continues to gun for Gunsmoke's record in its 16th season, while the subsequent NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans continue to rank among the most-watched dramas on network television.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

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Carrie 1 month ago
Please add at least a few of these shows to the line-up
Claude 2 months ago
I am still waiting for them to add this show to the line-up! CPO Sharkey and Carter Country were real funny shows that I would watch as a kid. Please bring them back for me?
VenturaCapitalist 2 months ago
Hennesey was a fantastic show.
Have to go to youtube to see them.
EdCaf 2 months ago
Ironically...JAG was the LAST show I watched regularly on TV.....
Joe 2 months ago
The music of Victory at Sea has been remastered and sounds better than ever.
VenturaCapitalist Joe 2 months ago
Richard Rodgers was an incredible composer.
Wiseguy Joe 1 month ago
Back in the 1970's I bought the soundtrack album.
RedSamRackham 2 months ago
* The bugler in my grade school color guard used both Navy Log and Hennesey theme songs when leading the color guard at school assemblies. ☺
djw1120 2 months ago
Lately, I have been watching JAG on H & I along with Nash Bridges and Numb3rs.
I have also been watching NCIS, NCIS-Los Angeles and NCIS - New Orleans since the beginning.
I was very sad when Michael Weatherly left - I loved Tony DiNozzo's interactions with the rest of the team.
Especially with Special Agents Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Tim McGee.
And especially his love interest with Ziva David.
greenmonsterprod 2 months ago
The most memorable moment from "CPO Sharkey" wasn't on the show itself. It was the hilarious moment when Johnny Carson barged onto the set during filming. He was looking for Don Rickles because, while Johnny was away, Rickles accidentally broke the cigarette box on Johnny's desk.
* Rickles humbly hugged Carson and begged his forgiveness, a great Mr. Warmth moment indeed. I enjoyed CPO Sharkey as brilliantly parodying the lifer company commanders many of us dealt with at USN RTC. ☺
This NEVER gets old!
EdCaf greenmonsterprod 2 months ago
Yes! But Rickles' jokes during that scene would brand him a racist today...people have become incredibly uptight.
stephaniestavropoulos 2 months ago
They left off the one based from the movie: OPERATION PETTICOAT, starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. For the show, they cast John Astin and Tony Curtis' Daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. Like CPO Sharkey, it also ran for 2 seasons.
Also: Emerald Point N.A.S. Sea Patrol Last Resort.
Saw that omission also.
JohnSonger 2 months ago
Would really like to see Navy Log on MeTV. How about it? Hennesey and CPO Sharkey wouldn't be to bad either. I think a lot of people would like to see these older navy shows. You could have one on a week.
Soraya 2 months ago
The new commenting system sucks!
djw1120 Soraya 2 months ago
Again.
What does that have to do with this story?
garykevinware djw1120 2 months ago
Plus, she's written the same thing multiple times.
Yes, but how does she really feel about the "commenting system?" She shouldn't keep her feeling all bottled up inside her, like that. It's not healthy!
EdCaf Soraya 2 months ago
I think it sucks too...but this is my first time mentioning it! I think it's designed to prevent arguments and fights....
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