Top 10 TV Shows of All Time
Written by: Catalogs.com Editorial Staff
July 6, 2010
Filed Under TV
Contributed by John Allen Wallace, Catalogs.com Info Guru
Any top ten list is bound to be subjective, but this one has criteria: to make this list, a show must have longevity (Sports Night was great, but didn’t last), staying power (Three’s Company was funny, but hopelessly dated), strong writing (hopefully self-explanatory) and memorable moments (there’s a good reason that the final episode of M.A.S.H. was until very recently the most watched show in television history). Here are my choices, and let the debate begin.
10. All in the Family
Certainly dated to some extent, and it loses points for that. However, product of its time or not, this was groundbreaking television, and remains funny today. It brought open discussions of racism, homosexuality, sexism, and other topics once considered taboo into prime time, and still managed to be entertaining, not uncomfortable. Archie Bunker is no hero, but he is one of television’s great male roles.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
You might not expect to find a show that’s a mix of teen angst and vampire fantasy here, but this show was far different than the current Twilight obsession. Joss Whedon’s creation knew when to poke fun at itself (frequently, but with the memorable musical episode in particular), but also gave us powerful television. The scripts were intricate and well-written, and the characters drew us in, from Buffy and Angel to those in smaller roles. It gave us laughs, chills, and even tears (if your eyes didn’t well up at times, you’re made of stone). What more could a viewer ask?
8. The Simpsons
Few shows in television history have more staying power, with Homer and the rest still going strong after more than two decades. Just a check of the list of guest voices points to the show’s place in American pop culture: Tony Bennett, James Earl Jones, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Leonard Nimoy, Bono, Stephen Hawking, and many, many others. If you were not skewered in Springfield, you were likely not that memorable.
7. The Dick Van Dyke Show
Perhaps not as familiar to younger viewers (Oh, the horror of watching black and white!), but just as watchable today as in its own time. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore have to be on any list of the most talented leading pairs in the history of television or movies. Their chemistry is magical. Either was more than capable of carrying a show alone. The two together gave us one for the ages.
Too soon to tell for this one? Not at all. Ask the ever-growing legions of fans who watch, rewatch, and dissect every episode. It combines sci-fi and soap opera seamlessly, managing to appeal to a wide swath of viewers, and boasts writing to match any show ever produced. The planned six-year run also allows viewers to catch up and provides a clear beginning and end rarely seen on television. Here too, the characters have become part of our lives: who could watch without taking Jack’s side or Sawyer’s in the fight for Kate? What show has provided such intellectual depth as well as pure guilty pleasure? What show has provided better cliffhangers and unexpected twists? Hardly an episode passes without an audible gasp (if not a scream) from those watching with me. If you aren’t watching, you should be.
5. Saturday Night Live
The only show in the top ten without a plot, and the only one to surpass The Simpsons for staying power. Generation after generation stays up late for SNL, and even as one great cast after another comes and goes, the show keeps going strong. Its alumni reads like a who’s who of comedy in the last 35 years: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Dana Carvery, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and many more. The show has given us social conscience, memorable music, and most of all, laughter.
A blueprint for sexual tension in comedy, with Sam Malone (Ted Danson) paired with first Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) and then Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), but also much more. The constant banter of Norm and Cliff, the pompous but lovable Frasier, the trashy but also lovable Carla, and of course Coach and Woody, all became part of our culture and our lives.
A comedy about surgeons in the midst of war? It sounds far-fetched, but it worked. No show has mixed comedy with drama so successfully. We laughed and cried, and loved every moment. It’s hard not to tear up even as I write this, remembering Radar delivering the news of Henry’s death, or Hawkeye’s suffering on the final episode. However, it’s equally difficult not to laugh remembering B.J. greeting Frank for the first time with “What’s up, ferret face?” and countless other moments. Some shows seem to be sent off an assembly line, but it seems safe to say that there will never be another quite like M.A.S.H.
2. The West Wing
A political show, yes, but if one can set politics aside, its greatness shines to both sides of the aisle. Nearly every time I walk into a voting booth, I wish a man like Josiah Bartlet was on the ballot. This produced more chills than anything I’ve ever seen on television. There are far too many to list, but two that stand out are Bartlet’s using Bible verses to dismantle “religious” leaders objecting to his policies, and the moment when he risks political capital by sending American soldiers to a third world African country, with no oil to defend, just humanity. His explanation: “They’ve got mothers standing in front of tanks. We’re going to go get their backs.” He can be my President any time. Agree or not, it is well worth watching. The scripts, particularly in the Aaron Sorkin years, are also incredibly witty and funny, from the pilot’s opening scene, when Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) wakes up to find he accidentally (yes, really) slept with a hooker. Just watch. You won’t be disappointed.
No other show, not even SNL, so completely seeped into American culture. No topic was taboo. What other show could base its most memorable episodes on masturbation and shrinkage and yet not be offensive? “Regifting,” “double-dipping,” “close talker,” and so many other phrases are now part of our lexicon. No other show is as quotable, and as with M.A.S.H., Cheers, and (coming soon) Lost, the final episode was an event to be planned for and shared with friends. The relative failure of the cast members separately only shows that the whole in this case was far greater than the sum of its parts, and very simply the best show in the history of television.