Vulture is in the midst of its Sitcom Smackdown, a three-week contest that pits the best sitcoms of the last 30 years against each other to crown the ultimate winner. But while that bracket focuses on the greatest, most innovative modern comedies, it couldn’t cover all of the series that live on in our hearts, the ones that may not fit those highfalutin parameters but which we could talk about for days. To give these other series their moments to shine, every day we’ll be pitting two like-minded comedies against each other: We’ll pick our winner, and readers will then vote for their own. Today: It’s the battle of the babysitters, Who’s the Boss? versus The Nanny.
Today’s Contenders: Who’s the Boss? (1984–1992) vs. The Nanny (1994–1999)
A wealthy New York City businessperson hires a big-personality resident of an outer borough to watch their offspring. Of course, I’m describing both Who’s the Boss? and The Nanny. The core of the two shows is quite similar, as they were each built on a nearly identical boss-babysitter dynamic. Both were immensely popular and effective star vehicles for their respective sitters. But which one was better?
Connection: Though Fran Drescher and her then-husband created it, The Nanny was developed by showrunners Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser. Sternin and Fraser were a husband-and-wife team that served as producers and writers on Who’s the Boss? It was on WtB? that they originally met Drescher, who was guest-starring at the time.
Setting: While both shows took place in the tristate area, Who’s the Boss? was set in a wealthy Connecticut suburb. The Nanny’s fancy house was in Manhattan itself.
The Babysitter: Both shows were built around a “hot stuff” babysitter-out-of-water. On Who’s the Boss? Tony Micelli (Tony Danza) was a very Italian-American former pro baseball player from Brooklyn. He would say “Ay!” a lot. The Nanny’s nanny was Fran Fine, a very Jewish-American former cosmetic saleswoman from Queens. She had that laugh — you know the one. Both shows got a lot of mileage playing off the character’s stereotypes.
Who was the boss, literally?: If you’re going to have a very, let’s say, “ethnic” housekeeper, than the boss has to be uptight. Tony’s boss was Angela, a successful yet fussy advertising executive. Fran’s boss was Maxwell, a successful (albeit not as successful as Andrew Lloyd Webber) yet British-ly fussy Broadway producer. Both spent a lot of time exasperated.
Who was the actual boss?: As Community proved, Angela was very much the boss on Who’s the Boss? And to that point, the show was built to be about flipping traditional gender roles and making the woman the boss. On The Nanny, Maxwell might’ve signed the checks, but he was not nearly man enough to boss around Fran. Fran was in charge.
Will they? Won’t they?: Who’s the Boss?: They won’t. It’s funny, before looking back, I thought I remembered Angela and Tony ending up together. Though at one point they acknowledge their love, the show doesn’t end with a big marriage. The Nanny: They will! Compared to WtB? The Nanny was much more explicit about hinting at this happening. How could Maxwell resist? He couldn’t, and they were married by season five.
Theme Song: Oh, these theme songs. Who’s the Boss? is a great example of the post-Cheers, generic, eighties, AM-radio schmaltz theme. Do the words mean anything? Probably not, but, gee, do they sound pleasant. The Nanny had a sassy little number that featured the now-lost theme art of explaining the entire premise of the show in song.
Foreign Spinoffs: Considering that both were huge hits Stateside, they both were translated and remade for foreign countries. The results are pretty spectacular.
Are the shows any good? Sure, why not? They both were very repetitive, but the casts had real solid chemistry. Who’s the Boss? is not particularly funny upon rewatch. It’s a lot of “You’re a bozo.” “I’m the bozo!? No, you’re the bozo. Oh! Ay!” The Nanny isn’t super funny, but it holds up pretty well. It benefits from having a lot more comedic weapons. If you are into sassy burns, all the stuff between Niles and C.C. is pretty great. Most important, depending on your personal preference, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, Tony Danza and Fran Drescher still have a certain star quality.
The moment of truth: I listed those qualifiers in the sentence above, because they’re pretty essential to judging each show. Who’s the Boss? was very Italian, and The Nanny was very Jewish. If you remove their ethnic crutches, which is better? Without this, Who’s the Boss? doesn’t really have anything else to make jokes about other than Mona sleeping with a lot of guys. The show kind of just plods along between classic sitcom mix-ups and awwww moments. The Nanny just did more: references, innuendo, parody, broke the forth wall, running jokes, etc.
Winner: The Nanny — cue that laugh.