Last year, in 2023, a couple of shows celebrated their 30th anniversary. The X-Files, Frasier, Boy Meets World, and many more iconic stories debuted in 1993. It was a good time to be a viewer. Another long-lived series that burst onto the airwaves was The Nanny, a comedy sitcom that won many fans — and continues to do so in the streaming age.

Inspirations from various fonts

Fran's (played by Fran Drescher) life is in disarray after her long-time boyfriend broke up with her and fired her from her job at a bridal boutique. As a cosmetic salesperson, she finds herself at the doorstep of the Sheffields, a wealthy family who lives in Manhattan. By chance, the patriarch is looking for a nanny to look after his three kids. Their lives intertwine moments later

A picture of an avenue in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Edited by the author. By Jim.henderson from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The first episode does a great job of establishing the story's foundations. While she begins her new job, Fran struggles to adapt to a world of butlers, debutante dinners, and limousines. Certain people make sure she never forgets that she is new to this world. Class conflict remains one of the key themes throughout most of the episodes.

Not only did Drescher play the nanny, she was also the co-creator, along with her then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson. She continued to influence the creative direction of the series during its run. As a result, she could meld elements of her real — both Frans are Jewish women born in Queens, for example — without making it wholly autobiographical.

Light at the end of the tunnel

This fighting doesn't feel cruel because of the brand of humor. Fran makes fun of her own accent, missteps, and her romantic relationships (or lack thereof). By doing this, she gives us permission to laugh. And people did laugh.

What some viewers mistook as a laughing track is the sounds of a live audience. Sometimes, the laughter is so loud that the characters almost seem to choose their moments to deliver punchlines. This aspect is absent in most modern shows. Cynics might say it's perhaps too sugary, but it imbues each episode with so much extra energy, which the actors use in their performances.

All the characters get chances to shine, too. Most of them get a chance to launch a couple of zingers, but also become the target of a joke. It's an arena of comedy, where many characters gets to shine, in ways that highlight their traits. People who often play the straight person, like Maxwell Sheffield (played by Charles Shaughnessy), upend the viewer's expectations when they least expect it.

Some of the exchanges use terms that can be offensive to present-day viewers, because they use language that was mainstream in the 1990s. The humor is more than just a road to laughter, though.

Its vulnerability allows it to joke about painful aspects, and this opens up discussion about certain issues. This is the case in the 7th episode of season 1, where one of the children's mental health, Grace (Madeline Zima) is the focus. In "Your Feets Are Too Big" (Season 3, Episode 20), the show highlights the intense scrutiny women face as a result of society's beauty standards.

A decade grows in a moment

The original airing of The Nanny, 1993 to 1999, overlapped with Bill Clinton's presidency. In fact, the president's half-brother, Roger Clinton, was one of the Sheffields' neighbors in the show. With the end of the Cold War, the optimism for a new age spurred people on to push boundaries in technology, art, and politics.

O.J. Simpson stands outside the Santa Monica Courthouse during the Civil Trial (1997). By TwinsofSedona from Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

This was also a time when people had to confront a lot of violent events, too: the Waco siege, the O. J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the Montana Freemen confrontations. The growth of the political divide grew in this period. Comedy was, in a sense, a way for viewers to hold on to the initial optimism of the age while real-life events whittled away at it.

Of course, The Nanny also referenced events. The episode "The Party's Over" (Season 3, episode 8), jokes about the "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" line that surfaced during the televised trial, which was only a couple of months old by that time.

The difference in Fran's politics and her employer's becomes a central when she refuses to cross a picket line in The Strike (Season 2, episode 13). This represented many of the political discussions that had flared up during this period.

One important way that The Nanny interacts with the times is through fashion. Maggie (Nicholle Tom), the eldest Sheffield sibling, follows the example of her peers, with a preference for muted colors of the grunge style that was popular. C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane) tends to favor the dark colors and strong contours of then-contemporary office wear. Fran subverts expectations through her clothing choices. Her clothing doesn't follow one trend, but becomes a canvas for her own individuality.

The Italian fashion house Moschino was a part of many of Fran's looks. This 1995 Moschino dress showcases the quirky style of the brand. By Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art from Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

One episode, Fran might wear a dark academic ensemble, and then in another scene she puts a twist on certain punk elements. This shows that she is not a static character. Her style changes over the years, too. Her mother (Renée Taylor) and grandmother (Ann Morgan Guilbert) have a similar individualist fashion streak, which is a visible sign of her inheritance, in more ways than one.

More lives on the air

The Nanny's 6th, and final season, ran its course in 1999. It would live on in the new millennium through reruns, though. Several remakes put a spin on the story in countries as varied as Argentina (La Niñera), Greece (Η Νταντά), and Turkey (Dadı). The Russian remake (Моя прекрасная няня) was so popular that it exceeded the original's 145 episodes.

The Nanny's devoted fans sustained the show's popularity when it might decreased long ago. Many focus their attention on the show's fashion, with communities like whatfranwore and The Fran Fine fashion database with thousands of followers. Brenda Cooper, the costume designer for the show's first 78 episodes, won an Emmy in 1995 for her work on the series. Her fashion philosophy also influenced the rest of the decade.

Emmy Award. Edited by the author. By NASA/Bill Ingalls from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

It brought not only fans together — much of the cast kept in touch over the years. A large part of the cast held a reunion in 2004 for The Nanny Reunion: A Nosh to Remember. During the Covid pandemic, there was a virtual table read of the first episode. All the seasons became available for streaming on HBO Max in April 2021. The resurgent popularity even sparked talks of a series reboot in 2023.

Competition was fierce on television when The Nanny debuted back in 1993. Many were unsure if it could thrive. Its success highlights that a show can draw on established sitcom tropes, but still be entertaining viewing by tweaking certain elements, such as the main character's outlook and the relationships of the ensemble, enough to keep it fresh. Sometimes their chutzpa can make or break a show.