Saturday, July 14, 2012


Alright, I'm way too tired of not getting any comments on this blog. On the blog, on my twitter, or on my Facebook, anywhere. I've written, on or about, practically everything I can think of, and anything that I feel I'm fully capable of writing on, and have a point or two, that I think is worth saying. One more time, I'm asking for comments, but this time, I'm gonna give you all something that I'm sure people will want to comment on, that everyone will have an opinion on, and something that everyone can criticize. I'm doing a Top Ten List. Not just any Top Ten, I want everybody to write-in to me, somehow, what they consider to be the Top Ten Television Shows, of All-Time!

I've discussed television quite a bit lately. That wasn't particularly intentional but it's been at the forefront of the entertainment news, at least news that doesn't involve box office numbers and genetically-mutated spiders. I've written and discussed , almost every TV genre and subgenre I can think of as well. I meant to do a 30 Day Facebook Challenge on TV, at one point. I started to make a list for some of my answers to that poll, which eventually became "lists" of answers for that poll, and eventually I decided to stop it. Frankly, it started devolving and became too much work, or more work than I should've put into something like that, and personally, I thought I could've made a better and more interesting and well-rounded set of poll question about TV than the one they had, (and seriously thought about it too) basically, it just became too frustrating for me. I've discussed listmaking extensively here. I have my own list of every film I've ever seen, which is a rather unique list for me, plus numerous others. Most recently, I discussed what I would've chosen for the upcoming Sight and Sound poll of the greatest movies of all-time, the most famous such list that gets made. I thought about the idea of a similar listsfor television. There's been a few made, TV Guide made one a while ago. That was a Top 50, and I didn't particularly care for that list. Not only did I have some strong disagreements about the shows that were on/off that list, as all lists inevitably do, but the way they chose to compare shows, I found troubling. I was thinking a bit about it when I ranted about the "Today" show last week. "Today," ranked #17 on that list, and here I was discussing how crappy it is. It's an important show, I'll grant them that, in the sense that it's a good recording of life in America over the last 60 years, and it was the first and longest-lasting show of it's king, but that doesn't necessarily make it good. And how do you compare a show like "Today," to a show like "Seinfeld," which they ranked #1. Other than the fact that their on TV, and happened to have been on the same network, do they have anything in common that we can fairly judge? How about a show like "60 Minutes," that was in their Top Ten, is it better than "Sesame Street," #27, and is "Sesame Street," better than "Donahue," or "An American Family," or "Star Trek: The Next Generation". I still said it sucked, but I at least compared "Today" to it's competition, and the shows that it is comparable too. At least if I'm staring at ten movies, they're actually ten movies.  I can conceivable make a list of TV, and not have two shows in the same genre. Let's see, 1 sitcom, 1 drama, 1 soap opera, 1 talk show-informative, 1 talk-show-entertainment (The Emmys separates so, I'm separating them) 1 Children's show, 1 News Magazine, 1 Reality, 1 Reality-Competition, that's 9. How about, 1 Game show. There you go ten. No room for animation, sketch comedy, cooking shows, how about sporting events, are they TV shows? Is Late-Night talk different from daytime talk show-entertainment? How about miniseries or TV movies, do they count as shows? This inherent problem makes me troubled by such television lists.

That Sight and Sound poll that's taken every decade, they ask for your top ten films, all-time, and nothing more. They don't say, documentary or animated or comedy or whatever, they just say, top ten films, period. I think that might be a better way to approach television as well. Let's throw genre out the window, and just tell us, you're opinion, what are the TEN BEST TV SHOWS, ALL-TIME. Now, I think we have an interesting question. And I think narrowing it down to ten, is really a good thing, because now we're getting serious about this. We're not picking favorites, we're picking "THE BEST," so if you really want to go out and say "The Ed Sullivan Show," is a Top Ten of all-time, you can't just use "The Beatles," and "Elvis", as your reasoning. This should really be, the desert island list, essentially. I'd still say, there's easily arguments, for, well, over 100, maybe 200 shows to be on such a list, and I consider that to be part of the fun of the game.

So I'm gonna write my list here, and a bit about my explanations for each show I pick, but I wanna hear everybody else's. We're gonna take a little poll, and see what everyone comes up with. I have my own rules I set for me, but you can pick anything that, had to originally been a TV show. (So, "The Three Stooges, I'm gonna say no to), and the other rule is, you can only pick 10, not 11, not 5. TEN. No honorable mentions allowed here. Either it's in your Top Ten, or it's not.

Okay, as for how I'm picking mine. I do believe that a show need time in order to fully be appreciated, so even in the essence of brevity, I've chosen not to pick any show unless it's either not on the air anymore or if I'm going to pick a current show, it has to have been on for at least five seasons. It actually doesn't effect me much, but I think putting "2 Broke Girls," for example (Granted, not a good one) on here,  would be way too premature. So, I started with that. I ended up with eight sitcoms, one drama, and one, I guess we'll call it a talk show. I'm not surprised I'm sitcom heavy, not only does good comedy transcend time and place, and while I thought about a couple drama series, they're usually of the moment, and don't always hold-up longterm, especially older ones, although many of the current series, especially on cable, are making people rethink that. Those who know me, will probably guess the drama series I chose, but you might be surprised where I ranked it. I did end up, to my surprise with one show currently on TV. I wasn't planning on that, but it ended up there.


1. M*A*S*H

In syndication, "M*A*S*H" sometimes gets squashed a bit as they have to cut what was a 26 minute episode into 22 minutes, but there's no bad episode. There's not an uninteresting episode of the show. "M*A*S*H", is arguably the greatest piece of art ever created for TV. I think the series, is possibly the greatest depiction of a metaphorical Hell, in all of literature. Seriously, I put it up there with Dante's Inferno. The fact that it's a comedy is a necessity, to keep everybody sane. When you're in a war zone and you create comedy, that's still funny, still relevant, 40 years later... and they were the first to successfully mix comedy and drama, they were the first dramedy. How many series really actually do effect comedy and drama, pretty equally. It evolved over time, and never jumped the shark; they had numerous cast changes, and the show never suffered from it. So the Korean War last 3 years, and the show lasted 11, I bet the war might've felt like eleven. Every point of that show, you can think of, whatever they tried or experimented with in terms of form or structure, or pushing the boundaries of what TV shows, what a sitcom, can do, they tried and far-exceeded what anybody else had been done before. There's no show, better than "M*A*S*H".


It's a time capsule; you can't recreate "All in the Family," today, yet it's still ahead of it's time. There are episodes of "All in the Family," that you could not do today. You couldn't do them on cable, unless they were in a drama series. You could not do it, and somehow they made those episodes funny as friggin' hell. As a show in the history of television, I do believe, you can separate TV from, before "All in the Family," and after "All in the Family". "Bewitched," was a top show when "AITF" went on the air. The whole idea of what television could be shifted, but nobody would've noticed if it wasn't a great show. The amazing this about Norman Lear, is that with this and all his shows really, he went after the dark subjects, head-first, and he made them funny. They weren't like "Special Episodes," with disclaimers and phone numbers at the end, they were just great. The conflict is always there, and the comedy is always there, somewhere, lurking about the edges, but when they hit it, you laugh. The reason I don't rank it one, is that, it did kinda get old, and lose it's way near the end. When Reiner and Struthers left, especially, and Jean Stapleton's character died, and they made it "Archie Bunker's Place," it did start becoming a shell of the show that it was, but in it's prime, it's still powerful. Great, great show.


"Cheers," and "M*A*S*H" are the only two shows nominated for Best Comedy Series, for 11 straight years, every year that they were on the air, but there's a reason for that, they were great. "Cheers," was literally dead last in the ratings it's first season, but people believed in it at NBC, and the modern sitcom structure was born. Pretty much every sitcom on TV right now is either borrowing from "Cheers," or "Seinfeld," and 90% of them are borrowing from "Cheers". It was the first time a show was about two people, a boy and a girl, who were going to get together, but it takes a long time to do it. It used to be, they were together and they stayed that way, not Sam and Diane. On-again, off-again, they hated each other, they loved each other, they hated each other again... that dynamic never existed before. Yet, the amazing part is, they lost that dynamic, and amazingly the show not only continued, it stayed good, maybe got better. It's a perfect metaphor for the '80s, everybody was broke, unemployment was sky high, your life sucked. Misery loves company, and what do you do, when you want to get away and escape from your miserable? You go to a bar. It's absolutely perfect, natural. There's a sadness with all these characters, you know, there's a lot of quiet desperation in everybody. Even Frasier and Lilith. Maybe not Woody but... well, even him. And they took the time to focus the show on these supporting characters. We know as much about Norm and Cliff as we know about Sam. The people in their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their fears... their flaws. Not a bad episode of that show. From first to last episode, practically perfect.


If you've never seen an episode of "Seinfeld," you know at least, twenty references from that show. For years, I thought "shrinkage," was an actual word. The manner is which Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, gave us their point of view of life, is really, what they brought to that show. They said it was about nothing, but that's what it's about, how they see the world. From there, then everybody thinks it's about nothing, because they can do anything. As long as they're in the room, and reacting to it, we're getting something we've never seen before. I don't know, how they came up, with so many different ridiculous situations, but it's amazing how funny it remains, and how amazing it is that show, was a network series, and stayed on the air. It's this bizarre combination of taking, everything we know about a sitcom, flipping it on it's head, and not seeming to care about it. They created their own little world, where they go and complain about how stupid everybody else in that other world is. Whatever they wanted really. Episode could take place in a Chinese restaurant, waiting for a table and have nothing happen, and other times, the show could have twenty scenes in it. Most sitcoms have seven. Just cutaways to see what Newman's doing for a second. Total freedom with comedy, freedom with form. It's the simplest thing, they thought it was funny, so they did that. Didn't try to please anybody, didn't try to make a sitcom like every other sitcom,... they just didn't care. It was inconsequential to them if we laughed, but we did, we still do.


Carl Reiner was the head writer for Sid Ceaser's show, and when he got his own show, he wrote about a guy who was the head writer of Sid Ceaser's show. Rule #1 about writing: Write what you know. That was easy. That's another show where there's no bad episodes. Every one of them is funny as hell. Great acting, great performers. The writing is great, but that's a show where sometimes they could improvise things for a minute or two, and it would be amazingly funny. Another show that played with structure. I mean, they told half their show in flashbacks. Hardly anybody did that before "The Dick Van Dyke Show", and whole series do that now. It's also the first married couple, that wasn't guy vs. girl like Lucy and Ricky or Ralph and Alice fighting each other all the time, or a show, with a married couple, that's about all the hijanks their kids get into. It's a loving, romantic relationship, somewhat sexual even. In many ways, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," is really kind of a bridge show, from the '50s and '60s, family-friendly TV, to what became, the more adult-based, thoughtful TV shows of the '70s, and eventually, and onward. You take that out of the show, you still got some of the funniest one-liners and random jokes in history. The scenes of Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie and Van Dyke, just coming up with sketches for the TV show, brainstorming, picking on Mel, and-eh, acting out sketches, are some of the funniest things I've ever seen. So many different kinds of comedy, and ways of using it, are in that show. From physical comedy to wit are parody to relationship humor, everything's in that show. Self-deprication, even. Watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and probably "The Jack Benny Program," over and over again, and you'll learn everything about how to write comedy.


Speaking of great writing and acting. If you love "The West Wing," it's impossible to watch any drama on basic television now, 'cause we're spoiled; it was way too good. It's mind-numbing to watch anything else. I put on a DVD of "The West Wing," and it's "Ah, breath of fresh air, intelligence, wit. My God, smart people in the White House. Why should this be a fantasy? If I'm picking favorite shows, than yes, "The West Wing," would probably be my number one. It's certainly the best Drama I've ever seen. It's more of a throwback show, than most people like to admit. Workplace drama, loads of interesting characters who are all, really great characters, performed by actors who can do anything. "The West Wing," has moments that are funny as hell, right next to moments that are more serious than a heart attack. And really serious too. I mean, "M*A*S*H" was in a warzone, it aimed higher, and that's why it successes are higher. Same as "The West Wing," what happened in that house was the difference between life and death, literally, and making a mistake at that job, at any of those jobs... that's drama. It's hard to pull off, unless you're the best writer in Hollywood, and Aaron Sorkin..., if I had half his talent...? I'm amazed he lasted four years actually. 80+ episodes he wrote. It's hard to write six episodes of a series like they do in Britian, which is a season, he wrote four American seasons worth of maybe the best television ever made. It was still great after he left. They should've won two more Emmys, for seasons 6 & 7, but even without that, hard to top, especially on Basic.


It doesn't seem revolutionary when you watch it now, but it's still funny. They created like, three of four good spin-offs out of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," that means good characters to begin with. At the time, a woman, without a regular boyfriend, working for a living, coming off a bad relationship, it was supposed to be a divorcee, but still, after the first episode where they explained it, you ended up with just a great show. The other side of television writing. Local news, bad anchorman, disgruntled employees. One of those show where your friends become your family. It still works. "30 Rock," is the same show, without the uniqueness of the concept essentially. It's another show that developed the supporting roles, and kinda interestingly, everybody else changed, to some extent, except Mary. Some got married, some got divorced, some did both if you want to count "Rhoda," into the universe. Everybody changed or evolved in some way, and ironically Mary, stayed Mary. She never got another steady boyfriend or a husband, or anything else, which was actually genius, because here's the character who's finally happy and found herself, in her work. She stayed, the working woman. Beautiful, smart, sexy, but professional, to the end. They didn't flash it either, but she was the role model, and she stayed that way. It's a little of everything.Classic comedy, timely, ahead of it's time, inventiveness, it's all there, and it still great.


"The Honeymooners," is the only show from the fifties that I rank, anywhere near the top of any such list of television. I know "I Love Lucy," is an obvious popular one, and there was great comedy and drama back then, when TV was in it's infancy, but a lot of it, was either, some great comedians who were holdovers from vaudeville and radio, and they're transferring to TV, and most of the other shows were, some form of the, cliched era of the fifties, the "Leave It to Beaver," "Father Knows Best,"-type things, that are really fantasy, more or less. Which is probably why "The Honeymooners," had only the one season on the air. The Classic 39 they call them, after starting as a "Cavalcade of Stars" sketch, it wasn't a hit show. It wasn't an ideal. Compare Lucy's apartment to Ralph's, it's like a different universe, much less, a different part of New York. It's poor, it's not lower class, it's poor, and it's not the American Dream. They're trying for it, they're hoping, Ralph is always scheming, always failing unfortunately, but they're trying. I see "The Honeymooners," everywhere, still. Any show with a husband and a wife, is basically a variation on "The Honeymooners". Ralph Kramden's estate should've sued Ray Romano and Kevin James for copyright infringement, and a couple dozens other shows, while they were at it. It's the funniest, but it's also the barest. It's basically an outline for, how all these shows should be made. I mean, 60 years ago, they created not only comedy, but a comedy format and structure, that not only are we still using, it's still relevant, even today. What of "I Love Lucy," or "Car 54..."or "Leave it to Beaver," or anything of that era, is still relevant today? Nothing, except "The Honeymooners", and it's still funnier than anything that came after it.


The older I get, the more I realize that "Roseanne," was just, brilliant. I don't think it's yet, gotten the respect that show deserves. It you want to put it, in a timeline history of television, it turned the family sitcom completely on it's head, and basically destroyed anything that even still slightly resembles the traditional family sitcom, but I don't think about that when I watch "Roseanne". I think, this show was about a realistic as a sitcom can be. It's the first family sitcom with an actual history. A history of real shit happening to people, like fucked up shit. It was a fucked-up family, that came from a fucked-up family. Not the cartoon-ish kind, like, everybody had damaging flaws. Every character, every actor. You know, I always wonder personally why Laurie Metcalf never gets a role like Jackie again, 'cause she was so good in that part, and then I realize that, they haven't written another part like that since. Roseanne had a lot of freedom with that show, there were times, especially in the last season, where she played with the form, and satirize and parodied herself and the show, and television, and really had a lot of fun, but once you stripped that away, you had a show that could legitimately, shock the hell out of you, and not cheat, not make a special episode out of it, make it a brutally honest, real life thing, yet still make you laugh. Alright, maybe the last season, they did cheat a bit, but if anybody got to the last episode, they even explained that, in a way, actually gives the show even more depth. A sad way, but believable. It's another show also, that, the more you watch it, the deeper it gets. They through hints in that show that really foreshadowed what happens later, and they set things up, weeks, months ahead of time, sometimes. Even great shows have a hard time with that. From a storytelling side, it's great writing, from a comedy perspective, it's still funny, still relevant,- pretty much any way you look at "Roseanne," they did something better than anybody else had tried, and many times they did it first.


I did not expect, when I decided to write this blog, that "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" would find a spot on this list, in fact, I actually thought that I'd have nine sitcoms, and 1 drama, and none of the shows would still be on the air, and that's the only hint of what I thought the other show that I had here was gonna be, but no show, has done more to completely transform the cultural and even political landscape of America than
"The Daily Show...." It's the only show on cable, that I watch religiously, even though I don't have cable. Maybe part of that is that I can't get it on DVD or reruns, but it's the show that holds a mirror up to my generation, but more than that, it's blurred a line between comedy and news, that I don't think anybody knew existed. Maybe Mort Sahl, but that's it. People have always used the news and current events, for comedy, that's not new, it's not even new to do it, in the guise of a news program. Even Flip Wilson and George Carlin did that before "Saturday Night Live," and people did it before them, but somewhere along the line, they decided to, not just make fun of it, but to actually take that stand-up perspective, and actually become journalists. Yeah, Bob Hope and Carson, and Jay Leno can make fun of both sides, and not take a real stand, but what good is that really? Heisenberg principle, everything is objective All the great journalists who's names I can think of, weren't unbiased, they took a stand, if they needed to. Jon Stewart's the Edward R. Murrow of our time. I'd rather it'd be Brian Williams, but who are we kidding? In the world of infotainment news on CNN, it's no wonder, that suddenly comedy, which is the cousin of outrage, becomes the place where we can actually get real news now. Cut through all the B.S., and get to the important stuff, and really find out what makes sense, and what doesn't in this world. They did what Mort Sahl started, when he's read the newspaper on stage, and telling jokes as he read, and took it one further and became the journalists, and then they put it on TV. It reinvented the talk show while they were at it.

Okay, that's my list. I want to hear everyone else's, please comment with your own. You don't have to explain in detail like I did, but I'm sure some of you have your thoughts on this, probably disagree with at least some of mine. Let it out, give me yours! Either comment on my blog here, go to my Facebook page and post a list, or post it on twitter, with either my Twitter ID @DavidBaruffi_EV attached, or under the hashtag #TENGREATESTTVSHOWS!


David Baruffi said...

Just checking to make sure this is working.

Michele Baruffi said...

The West Wing in 6th place? Seriously? Who raised you? Oh, yeah, I did. But I thought I taught you better!

1. The West Wing
2. The West Wing, Will also accept: MASH
3. The West Wing, Will also accept: The Tonight Show
4. The West Wing, Will also accept: Murphy Brown
5. The West Wing, Will also accept: Jeopardy! / Wheel of Fortune
6. The West Wing, Will also accept: Phil Donahue / Oprah
7. The West Wing, Will also accept: Law and Order
8. The West Wing, Will also accept: Married…With Children
9. The West Wing, Will also accept: Twilight Zone / Alfred Hitchcock Presents
10. The West Wing, Will also accept: Saturday Night Live

Unknown said...

V the series
Knight Rider
The A-Team
Magnum P.I.
Miami Vice
Battlestar Galactica
The Six Million Dollar Man
Buck Rogers
The Greatest American Hero

in no particular order

David Baruffi said...

Wow, do we have different tastes in TV! The only shows of those I even like are "Magnum P.I." and "Miami Vice". Thanks for contributing and for the share on Facebook! :)