The Amazing Race
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
The Ed Sullivan Show
The French Chef
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
Siskel & Ebert At the Movies
This Old House
"MY" TOP 100 GREATEST TV SHOWS BALLOT!
Okay, for those of you who have paid close attention to some of the things I've written in the past, will know that my thoughts on this show's series finale, is very negative. I'll admit, even with only having seen a very limited amount of the show, it probably would've ranked higher if it hadn't been for that finale, but still, it's influence and importance and this really is the show that basically invented the modern form of the hospital drama, so holding one episode against them, no matter how bad, didn't make that much sense.
There's a few shows that I'm already aware that I'm gonna get some slack for not including on this list, so, let's get one of them of the way, no I don't think "The Wire" is bad show. Not at all, but I don't think it's as great as some think it is. I always felt it more redundant of David Simon's other work like on "Homicide: Life on the Street", and the police stuff, always distracted me, it always seemed to be a hinderance, rather than apart of this other world of Baltimore that he was trying to show through the drug trade. Honestly, I always sorta wondered, if he wanted to write a show about a neighborhood of people, then why the conceit, why not just show a neighborhood of eclectic and interesting people.
99. Treme (HBO, 2010-'13)
Treme Theme Song/Intro Song by KenneyOlie
I don't know, maybe I just wanted to get out of Baltimore, maybe the aftermath of a Hurricane is more interesting to me than a drug trade, but I legitimately think that what he was trying to do with "The Wire" he didn't really succeed at until he got to "Treme". Yeah, there's the conceit that everybody's recovering from a disaster and a dire situation, but these are interesting fucked up characters in a interesting place and neighborhood, the show would've been interesting no matter when it happened to take place. Maybe it's just that it was hopeful, and not so down and dirty, it's about a city reviving itself, not a neighborhood getting cut down. I saw "City of God", I didn't need to see it again and in America, but I definitely wanted to see more of "Treme". This is culture shock in every good way imaginable, including the bad ways. Everything else seemed to be holding him back, but here he let loose and it shows. It's a mosaic of people, not a collection of interconnected people and there's something refreshing about that in television. It's almost a "Love, American Style" or a "Naked City" oddle enough feel. Different people, different problems, there's a bunch of them, some succeed, some don't, some succeed but not the way they want, just show that. Don't add extra layers you don't need to, we get it, and with just "Treme" I think he finally got that.
There is no question, we are in a golden age of late night television, and there's much more late night talk and sketch comedy programs on this list than I thought there would be, and most of them are much more modern shows, and they deserved to be on here. That said, when I go back through these last twenty years or so, there's one guy who I always find myself wondering, even in a crowded field, why he never got more acclaim or accolades for actually doing things new and different with the genre. Maybe now some people will notice just how different he was on the late night scene.
98. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS, 2005-'14)
Every time I ever heard somebody complain about how, blase or whatever Jay Leno was, not doing anything/enough interesting or new with "The Tonight Show...", and I'm a Jay Leno defender, but I often wondered if those people were ever watching "...Craig Ferguson", 'cause he actually was doing fresh and unique things on the late night talk format and nobody ever noticed! He opened, with the monologue, before the credits, he would talk directly into the camera, not the audience, he broken the-eh, teleprompter and just improvised for fifteen minutes. He had a robot-skeleton sidekick, all just because he could. It wasn't just talent, this was deliberate. It doesn't surprise me that the few times he did have a regular band, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols was the band leader, 'cause in a time of Jon Stewart reinventing the entire format of Late Night, and the Leno and Letterman's were holding down the forts as the old guards and Fallon and Maher and Conan O'Brien were the heir to the throne, Craig Ferguson is almost punk rock in comparison. He was making fun of the old sketches everybody did, and, I loved how he tore up the cards with every guest, that's a subtle in-joke about the pre-interviews of the industry, and he is a great interviewer. As far as late night network television, he was way more interesting, funny, unique and almost insane than I think anybody ever gave him credit. He's gonna be one of those hosts, who people are gonna look back and go, "Wow, how did he get away with all this?" Sheer abandonment. There aren't that many people, who can literally just talk to themselves for an hour without any plans really and have them be interesting and entertaining on television, but he's one of them. Imagine forty years ago, and Dick Cavett's latest show failed and nobody ever heard of David Letterman yet, and put Craig Ferguson on after Carson or Merv Griffin or somebody and..., uh, yeah. His run on "The Late Late Show" does not get the credit he deserve. Any other time period, Craig Ferguson is an absolute legend of Late Night, and here, his show can't even get into the Emmys, ever, not even his finale season? (Shrugs) He happened to be doing it in a post-Jon Stewart world, and that's the most unfortunate aspect to him, but on the same token, somebody has to be going against whatever the standard was, and he was doing that.
By my count, and I could be off, but sitcoms overtook my list. I had, I believe 54 sitcoms and to be honest, I'm a little surprised I had that few. Sitcoms are essentially the art form of television. They're the most influential, they're in reruns in the longest, and comedy sticks with you much more than drama ever do, they also hold up better over time. That said, I don't know how many people would've remember to put this sitcom on their list.
97. Grace Under Fire (ABC, 1993-'97)
(NOTE: This is the syndicated theme song. The original, a gospel version of "Lady Madonna" doesn't get used due to royalties; you can find on Youtube, but honestly it's not as good or accurate as this song)
After "Roseanne" there were quite a few attempts to create shows around a similar template, get a blue-collar stand-up comic and base a show around their lives and there were some good ones that came out of that, "Home Improvement" is probably the biggest one, but I find, over time, "Grace Under Fire" is the one that really holds up the best, and probably is the one that most seems like the complementary show to "Roseanne" that they always wanted. Hell, it was created by Chuck Lorre, who people forget now, but started as a writer on "Roseanne", and you kinda see early ones, some of his themes played up in "Grace...". Despite the cheerful sardonic nature, it's quite dark. Brett Butler's character is basically a mess who, only recently kicked out of an abusive marriage, which is still lingering, an alcohol problem, one kid, given up for adoption as a teenager, before the horrible marriage, basically no job skills to speak of working in a plant with the guys. It's kinda like if Roseanne didn't turn out so well-adjusted. It doesn't shy away from these things, and yet it's funny as hell. It's definitely the forgotten show in this era; I hear more people bring up "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" than I ever hear people bring this show up and-eh, probably the most unfortunate aspect is that it was pretty much Butler's own doing. She had a drug and alcohol problem and she relapsed, and there's more than a couple noted incidents on set and during breaks and eventually ABC couldn't put up with her anymore and the show got canceled very suddenly. It seems like she's recovered and she's okay but it's definitely a shame, 'cause this is one of those shows like "Chico and the Man", where you really have to ask yourself what could've been. This really could've been the show that kept that kind of comedy alive on network television, it was still a hit for most of it's run, even when Butler's issued put it on multiple extended hiatuses, but it's mostly discovered through reruns now, but a good thing it is. Especially for the supporting actors, this show had an underrated. Dave Thomas, Tom Poston, Julie White, Alan Autry, Paul Dooley, they tried to bring in Julia Duffy at the end. This is a show that could've just been a cliche or went for the easy jokes, ignore the real tragedies of the character and play them for laughs, but the best shows can gets laughs out of tragedies and they got them here.
I will concede one problem with my list is that there is a severe lack of African-American centered shows. I can think of plenty that are deserving of this list, but it's only a Top 100, and I also don't want to put a show on here just for the sake of diversity. That said, one show I'm a little sad I left off is "in Living Color", as rare as it is, for great sitcoms and dramas series based around African-Americans, sketch comedy is even rarer, although "Chappelle's Show" was great and "Key & Peele" are doing fine now, but I can go back a bit in television history and remember one trailblazer who many people tend to forget these days and when we discuss sketch comedy and variety shows in particular; we really shouldn't....
96. Flip (aka "The Flip Wilson Show") (NBC, 1970-'74)
Oh, you think "Saturday Night Live", were the ones that started making fun of the news? No, no. I can watch these old George Carlin and Flip Wilson sketches all day, and despite only on the air for four years, during the very end of the Variety Show era, these are maybe the ninth or tenth most memorable things from the show. Flip Wilson was once called Television's first black superstar, and yeah, he probably is. There had a couple variety shows here and there that were based around African-American performers, "The Nat King Cole Show" in the fifties, is probably the most noteworthy one, but Flip Wilson was huge. I wonder if people even know how influential he actually was with this show. On top of being the premiere spot for African-American performers to be shown on television, his show has some of the greatest sketch comedy of all-time. I mean, he belongs on this list just for creating Geraldine. Milton Berle might've performed in drag, but he didn't create a character like Geraldine Jones. "What you see, is what you get!" Do, people even know that's where that's from. "The Devil Made Me Do It', that's Flip Wilson. I think the strange reason that we kinda forget him, even among Variety Show hosts, um, partially because it was a dying genre, and other than Carol Burnett, uh that old-style Variety show was dying out quickly, but he wasn't in the popular consciousness that long. He had some amazing comedy albums and then the show, and then you know, African-American stand-up would then get taken over by Richard Pryor's and then Eddie Murphy's and Paul Mooney's and whatnot, and somehow, he seems less important or less threatening maybe as some of the others that came after him, or even some of the ones before like Dick Gregory or-eh, Moms Mabley, but he was just as subversive if he wanted to be as well, but-eh, he kinda got caught in between eras and then, he made fewer and fewer appearances to be home for his family after his divorce. Until I discovered reruns of his show, which somebody smartly decided to make half-an-hour instead of a full hour for some, 'cause it was more palatable that way oddly enough; I never even heard of him. He's arguably the Sidney Poitier of television and I've seen specials devoted to the history of Variety Shows on television, and not even bring him up. He's absolutely one of the best and a lot of shows and performers that came after him, owe him a lot and "The Flip Wilson Show" needs to be mentioned more often as one of the best of the old time Variety shows.
Flip Wilson was a groundbreaker for African-Americans in comedy but nowadays, more people are getting the freedom from networks to really do almost whatever they want in comedy, more-than-ever now, especially women. From Tina Fey to Lena Dunham to Amy Schumer, women comics are getting more freedom and opportunities to create their own shows, whether it's from traditional routes like sketch or stand-up or through newer media like the internet. These two belong on that list as well.
95. Broad City (Comedy Central 2014-Present)
I have absolutely no idea, why they called this show "Broad City". I had heard about it a bit, and I think because it was Comedy Central and it was two women with sketch backgrounds and a nonsensical title that sounds like a place, I guess I just presumed it was another sketch series before watching it, and they could've done that, but instead these two created, this sorta demented version of "Laverne & Shirley", the kind that we all kind of secretly wish "2 Broke Girl$" actually was, or should've been. These two aren't capable of a cupcake business, I'm not sure the characters are capable of even making a cupcake, or using a stove really. It takes some balls to play these characters that are just complete fuck-ups. Comedy really is risking and baring everything and going where we're uncomfortable and they do it. This did start, essentially as a sketch show on the internet, but Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer sorta formed these characters and by the time Amy Poehler caught wind of them and got Comedy Central to pick them up and let them do whatever, they wanted, they basically had characters and a series put together already, and the only issue I ever had watching them, after the shock of what they were willing to go through for comedy was that I had to catch up to their world. They're definitely modern characters, and yet there's something kinda classic about these two, they're like Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello or something. This show is a bit of the blind leading the blind. You know, you got the one who's slightly smarter and more aware than the other, not realizing that neither one of them are actually capable of whatever they're trying to do. It's much more simplistic than it seems, and yet it's also just, that much more outrageous. I love details like a roommate we never see, but her boyfriend's always around, and somehow managing to keep a temp job by just showing up. They're just two crazy characters who I wanna see what other ridiculous situations they can find themselves in. That's television in it's simplest form, create a character, stick to them and then do whatever you want. It's not that simple actually, that's Jack Benny being cheap for twenty years before somebody holds him up and going "You're money or you're life?" I might see more layered or complex female protagonists from some amazing and great people to idolize, but you need the opposite end of that too, and these two are doing it.
As much as Jon Stewart revolutionized Late Night with his run on "The Daily Show", the fact is, one person out there was already putting his skewed vision of politics and pop culture and confronting it head-on into America's homes. I could've picked that series, but that was a network show that eventually got him canceled, and that was probably for the best. I don't think everybody needs to be on cable, in order to really express themselves, but in this guy's case, it helps.
94. Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO, 2003-Present)
It's very easy to pigeon-hole Bill Maher. He's definitely part George Carlin, part Mort Sahl, and somewhere along the way, he decided to try to balance his actual interests in politics and essentially create a comedic version of the McLaughlin Group, and that was called "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher", and that was a great alternative for it's time, and the irony was he said something on that show that was so politically incorrect it eventually got him fired and once everybody realized how truly ridiculous that was, HBO swept him in, and probably let him to make the show he really wanted to do. "Real Time..." really is the show that truly utilizes every one of Maher's skills. The monologue, the major political interviews, he goes after the politicians, both sides, his own comedic sketches and then a round table that's really a round table, that's really a political debate. Say what you want, he's never playing it safe, he's always dancing on a tightrope and you know, yeah, I agree with most of his politics, but it doesn't stop him from still being funny. It's him un-tethered and that's the best way to get the most you can out of your Bill Maher. Being the clown and the court jester is fine and subversive, occasionally you need somebody who will take the issues of the day and take comedy as deadly seriously as he does. HBO gave him the right forum for that to really be achieved.
Believe it or not, it's actually not that unusual for many of the biggest American hit shows to actually originate as series overseas, particularly in England. Legendary series like "All in the Family" and "Three's Company" among other originated as series over there. What's more unusual is for the British series over there, to itself make it's way to America and become a hit here. And then, there's what this show did.
93. The Office (UK, BBC2, 2001-2003)
I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure "The Office" holds the world record, or it probably will one day in the future for being one of the biggest international franchises in television history, certainly one of the biggest for a scripted series. Nearly every country seems to now, have basically created their own version of "The Office", which admittedly is strange. On top of just, the typical fact that shows or movies that take place in a traditional cubicle office never succeed, supposedly because they remind people too much of work, the original UK version of "The Office" was so clearly niche and different than any other sitcom on TV at the time that I almost immediately presumed that it was too dry and strange to ever catch on. Boy was I wrong on that one. I don't know what possessed Ricky Gervais to use this mockumentary technique, as far as I know, it really hadn't been done too much in television before, but the effect is quite great. It really lends itself, not only to great improv, but to recognizing that comedy is often just a glance or a look. You know, you don't always need to say what you're thinking in order to understand what you're thinking or what the joke is, and more importantly than that, I think somehow you end up finding yourself caring about the characters more, because you see all those little winks and glances. It's kinda odd, how emotional you get caught up in the show. It helps that for every version, they make it a point not to cast people who were particularly well-known as actors at the time. It makes it feel like a real office and makes David Brent look and feel like the real asshole of a boss. Who knew, what, not even fifteen episodes can do that, and get you so caught up in the characters so well.
Speaking of straight men getting laughs with pauses and glances, from shows that started on the internet and shows that started overseas, we come to the first series on the list that originated on radio. It won't be the last, although maybe more impressive than that, the star and producer of the series, realized that, after relocating the series from New York to L.A. that it would be easier and cheaper to film an episode of the show ahead of it's airing, making it one of the first sitcoms and for that matter that actually didn't air live. Although it did screen the episode to an audience ahead of airing, they didn't have laugh tracks back then.
92. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (CBS, 1950-'58)
I mean, it's George Burns and Gracie Allen, like, is there anything here that actually needs explanation? If there is any explanation needed, George will smile slyly with his cigar and tell you everything. People forget that, this was probably one of the first major TV shows that broke the fourth wall all the time. Burns and Allen, were a comedy duo, a boy-girl act and they were popular up in the later stages of vaudeville 'cause Gracie Allen, is an absolute genius. In real life, she was, but as a performer she's an absolute genus 'cause nobody was an better dingbat than she was. She was a "Dumb Dora" act, yes, that's where that comes from, it's an old vaudeville, she was the dumb blonde and George is the straight man, and the one thing that really was what put their careers above others is that once they got married in real life, they moved the act to a married act as well, and introduced the domesticity part of the boy-girl act. In a way, they invented the first perfect sitcom format life 25 years before the invented the sitcom. They almost beat out television. Television in the early days was a lot of great vaudeville performers that can do absolutely anything, and television captured those performers and so much is this time capsule of legends, and Burns & Allen, are two of the very best. They had 20 years of doing this on radio, and all around the country, and at that point, all you have to do is turn on a camera and you got one of the greatest and funniest TVs of all-time.
Comedy definitely this list. On top of the sitcoms, there's a dozen variety shows, whether they're talk or sketch or both, they all have comedic elements to them. Sketch comedy in particular has been around since the very beginnings of television, often recording some of the greatest old sketches from the masters, especially some of the great vaudevillians from Ed Wynn to Bob Hope and with sketch being the major part of the variety format that's lasted so long, it's a bit surprising when we see some people find some new way to approach sketch comedy on television. Okay, I snuck in one show that's not a scripted series, forgive me.
91. Whose Line Is It Anyway (UK, Channel 4, 1988-'99)
Believe it or not this started originally on radio as well, as a radio program in the UK, that was run mostly by a famous improv troupe called "The Comedy Store Players", and it would be mostly improv through the radio. That's where they got the reading of the credits part of the series, 'cause you have to read the credits at the end of a radio show, so they had one of the performers do it in a character on the radio. "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", I mean it's almost like, getting a behind the scenes look at first drafts of sketch comedy, and frankly when I discovered it, it was just a new thing to see a TV show that was pretty much just, people making shit up and having it be funny. I'm actually kinda amazed it took so long to come up with this idea, it's not like Improv is new by any means, funny people are often at their funniest on the fly. it's actually kinda weird they didn't get to a show like "Whose Line..." until they did. This is literally the barest form of comedy you can have. No set, no script, nothing but your talent and skill, and be funny. It's the most stripped-down you can really get to, it's almost like looking at first drafts, except of course it's not really, but it could be. It's another show like "The Office" that started in Britain but then moved onto dozens of other countries, the American version's getting it's second reincarnation now, I still picked the British one, 'cause that was the one I first saw and discovered, but the whole legacy of the show is pretty huge and every version is funny, I mean, that's the beauty of it, it's just filled improv. Why didn't Second City think to do this first? (Shrugs)
From performing comedy on stage, back to performing comedy on stage with a script. A TV show that's actually based on a play, and not an easy one to perform at that; in fact they're two of the toughest and most difficult characters to play in western literature. What? They are, it's unbelievably challenging; why do think they keep remaking it as a series?
90. The Odd Couple (ABC, 1970-'75)
I can't think of too many scripted pieces that are equally famous for being successful as a play, a movie and a TV series, each of which are legendary. Each of which are respected as great, each of which have their own fans and following. That alone is an achievement. Oddly "The Odd Couple" was never a hit series, it was canceled every single year it was on, and then the summer reruns would bring it back and then in actual reruns it would get a resurgence. And people, this was actually a bit of a strange concept at the time. Remember, this was like, the first era of when people were actually getting divorced and going through changing homes and moving in with old friends. Now, it's not that ridiculous, it's almost commonplace and accepted, but if there were TV shows about, roommates essentially, they were almost always two or three young people, like in their early 20s, of the same sex and usually they were looking to get married, this sort of burst of reality did hit a raw nerve. Plus, it's just, great natural comedy. Opposite personalities having to be together are funny, when performed well. It's not that complex, until you try acting it, 'cause what little acting experience is doing scene work for the original play, and the material can turn dramatic in a heartbeat. I don't think it's that hard for this series, but trust me, Jack Klugman won two Emmys, Tony Randall won one for the series, they earned them. Garry Marshall was actually the one responsible for taking the Neil Simon play, and Simon had TV experience as well, so it's not like he couldn't have done it too, but Marshall took that and made it a great TV series, and yeah, he's got a good base to work with, although you can see how hard it is to redo this, with the latest incarnation, that you do realize that he should get some credit. Good material to work with, but I'd argue it's the best series he ever worked on. It's certainly still the one I can watch anytime it's on and always get a laugh. It's influence is the biggest too. You don't see many remakes of "Happy Days", but remakes and reworkings of "The Odd Couple", I mean, for half the last decade the biggest TV show was "Two and a Half Men"; it's still relevant.
You go through the history of TV sitcoms, you'll find a shocking amounts of sitcoms that are in some ways involved in the behind-the-scenes of the entertainment industry. There will be plenty on this list, hell, "Burns & Allen" technically can count as one itself. It's natural, people write what they known and since Lucy & Desi created a show about a bandleader and his wife and Carl Reiner turned his experiences working for Sid Caeser into "The Dick Van Dyke Show", it's just something that's gonna come up often. So when somebody does find a new approach to it, you notice it.
89. Extras (BBC Two, 2005-'07, BBC One, 2007; HBO 2005-'07)
Since the earliest beginning of television, shows about the law in some manner have always dominated television. By one statistic, on average, there's a minimum of 19 hours/week devoted to it on network television and that stat dates back to the 1950s, so don't be too surprised that there's more than a few lawyer or cop series that end up on this list in some manner. That said, the first one to show on this list, is a bit of a different beast that what we normally think of with the subgenre.
88. Boston Legal (ABC, 2004-'08)
The thing with David E. Kelley, was originally he was a lawyer who quit and decided to become a television writer and he started creating these really great lawyer series, and most of the time, they were regarded for their realism about lawyers and the law, even if it was a bit of an exaggerated realism, but somewhere down the line, the shows, even when they were good, would start to get silly and begin to go just really out there, and just ridiculous at time. Sometimes it was him, and sometimes it was him leaving a series and other people taking, but he finally did manage to figure out how to avoid that with "Boston Legal". Of course, he figured out how to avoid it, by starting the series, just over-the-top and absolutely ridiculous, "Boston Legal", is one of those shows that probably will be looked at in hindsight at one of those shows that really blurred the line between whether it was a comedy or drama series. I mean, he had "Ally McBeal" that did that too,-, actually it wasn't blurring the line, it was just stomping on it with abandon, like a toddler going through a temper tantrum. More than anything, there was just so much strange shit going on at once, that the general reaction to watching it, is like, "Are you fucking kidding, they are not actually gonna do this!" The show was actually created by accident almost, 'cause it's actually a spinoff of "The Practice", which is the most opposite show to this you could make. It's a great show, but it was about an upstart, bare bones lawfirm that took the serious cases and it was very much a minimalist, serious law drama and it's a great show, but it was losing it's way late in the show, and then somehow it got an extra season that it wasn't planning on having; it was supposed to end earlier but it got another year and a smaller budget, and then, David E. Kelley just went crazy I guess. He took out half the regulars and brought in James Spader to just be his strange and weird self, and I guess he said, "Okay, we got Spader, now what's weirder and stranger than bringing in James Spader?" and somehow he got to William Shatner as the answer, and I'm pretty sure with "Boston Legal" he just kept asking and doing the same question, "What's weirder and stranger than this? Let's do it." What you ended up with was this great bizarre, strange show with an all-star cast, despite the constant continuous cast rotations in it, and, I think nobody at ABC knew what the hell to do with it, so they let it get to a syndication number before ending. It had a regular audience, an upscale audience at that, but I'm having trouble even defining the show now, good luck doing it at the time. I understand ABC's dilemma, "Grey's Anatomy" know what it is and is easy to promote and define and market, but "Boston Legal" is just too out there, but that's why it's stands out and still holds up.
Okay, I've been doing with transitions between shows until now, but let's see, eh, well, it's a sitcom that's a period piece, you don't see that too often, although a few come to mind, and almost all of them are kids or teenager based. From "Happy Days" to "The Wonder Years" to "Fresh Off the Boat", the twenty year rule applies to television, so what separates this one? Well, it's funny as hell, and from what I've been told, it's got some moments that are disturbingly realistic, but more than anything, probably the fact that it's about a bunch of stoners helps, not that I would know anything about that.
87. That '70s Show (Fox, 1998-2006)
I kinda always thought "That '70s Show" was a ratings hit; it seems perfect to spread all demographics. Kids can watch it to see teenagers like themselves, or more depressing like their parents, older people can watch it which a different sense of irony, even the older audiences I imagine would appreciate the parents' upheaval but strangely it actually never that big a ratings hit, and I'm not sure why to be honest. It's still ranks behind "Married... with Children" as Fox's most successful live-action sitcom. I don't know anybody ever say they didn't like the show. I guess what helps it in it's favor, is that it was perfectly cast and especially hard for some of the younger actors. I mean, I had seen Danny Masterson around for years, but pretty much all the other younger actors were unknowns going into the series. Everybody was perfect for the parts they were in, it was just great casting above anything else. It was just a cool show above anything else. The look was amazing, the writing was some of the funniest on television, you could argue this might've been the last great 3-camera sitcom, which is a bit depressing, but this was not a show that would work in single-camera, even though they experimented a lot. Dream sequences, other aberrations, the 360 camera, for the passing of the joint, the strange flowery joke-y bumpers, this show had a look. It's also probably the first series I remember that positively looked at marijuana oddly enough. I was probably from the last generation that truly experienced the after school specials and D.A.R.E. and whatnot, do they still have D.A.R.E. (Shrugs) but yeah, this show, I guess it's not a positive portrayal, but this is definitely a show that probably wouldn't exist if we hadn't had a President that admitted that he tried to inhale. It's tame now, but that aspect did stand out from other shows that we were used to at the time. More than anything the show, was just absolutely funny. It really got every aspect it was going for. Youth, young love, aged cynicism, it played with perspective more than many sitcoms at the time; it's probably way more influential than we notice, consciously. It was co-created by Bonnie & Terry Turner who had done '3rd Rock from the Sun", another sitcom that took chances with it's show, including an absurd premise above anything else, probably more than most they just have a great sense of comedy and use that instinct more than anything traditional that we would think of, and that more than anything puts "That '70s Show" on the list.
Most of my list you'll notice are shows that are somewhat older. There's definitely some current series on the list, but very few that are truly new, only two series that started airing in 2014 made the list, and admittedly there's a part of me that wonders if I'm jumping the gun a bit on "Broad City", that's a unique ledge to be one but I'm mostly sure about it, but that said, the other show that's debuted this recently on the list, I'm much more certain that it will in time eventually be considered one of the greatest series in it's genre, if it isn't already.
86. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO, 2014-Present)
I think it's pretty clear that the new-eh, evolution of the Late Night Variety Series, has arrived, and despite the unbelievable legacy that "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has left, with currently, if you count Stephen Colbert twice, it'll be six series when Samantha Bee's TBS show debuts of late nights series that are acolytes of Stewart, (Not counting Michael Che on "SNL") but that said, John Oliver is the one that's taking the reigns and bringing us something else. He's building on what we got now, and he's the one that's gonna take over if he hasn't already, and actually I think he has. In my mind, he is the premiere Late Night Talk Show host right now. He's got the freedom of HBO behind him, and you want to see what subject he's gonna tackle that nobody else will the next week and devote a twenty minute investigatory story about it. This is the perfect marriage of, having the time, having the freedom and ability and using it in the best possible manner. I've got the time to devote to it, why the hell not devote the time; that's basically all he's doing. This could've very easily been a clone "The Daily Show" and, thank god he didn't go there, 'cause he took all they did and he found the new approach to it, that's all you need, just be a little bit different and more inventive and your one of the greats.
One of the major issues with longform television series are continuity errors. You can try your best, and keep updating the bibles as you go, but even some of the best TV series, have issues with this, whether it's four years in the seventies taking eight years to complete, or a 3-year war spread over eleven seasons, or hell, just not recapping the history's of the show or characters accurately. Everybody loses a Chuck Cunningham from their memory once in a while. So when a show is based around the idea of keeping such continuities intact, and they do it, over a long run, it's quite impressive.
85. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-'14)
It wasn't particularly unusual in certain times for a TV series to shoot on a soundstage, with a three-camera but without a studio audience, they would show a later audience a taping of the episode and gets the laughs like that, before there was a laugh track and that's what they did with "How I Met Your Mother", but they definitely did it, not only because they had to, but they more than took advantage of having that kind of freedom. It was unique on television, even at the time when everybody was going from 3-camera to single-camera, this show, found a unique little niche, It played off of things that had been done before, but they found a way to do it differently and well. "How I Met Your Mother" is probably the most daring concept I've seen for a sitcom in a long time. You can say it's a "Friends" ripoff or something like that, but when you basically set up a goal your going towards from day one, you have a tightrope with no net, and you gotta just keep dancing. It's a show about layering and paying attention to every little detail. I mean, of course at that point, shouldn't be anything more complex than, these guys are all friends and know each other, that's all you need anyway, adding a conceit like that.... Whew. This is how TV shows should be done, the more you watch it, the better and more layered and deeper it gets, but you can still watch a random episode, know enough of what's going on to be entertained and it'll be funny. This should be the blueprint. I think if, this show was on in '70s, when it was more clear that the sitcom was being revolutionized, with shows like "M*A*S*H" and "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Soap" and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman", breaking a lot of the barriers and standards of what we think of with a modern day sitcom, conceptually, oddly in that sea of shows that were transcending what we think of as the television sitcom, oddly I think it would've stood out more and been more respected than it is today, which is just odd. I think we've seen these ideas before at this point elsewhere, but, I still don't think people fully get just how really special "How I Met Your Mother" is. Just the high level of difficulty alone, over nine seasons, and they pulled it off, and it was brilliant, and the last episode worked and it holds up on repeated viewings, and it's conceptual unique...., there's a lot of "and it's..." when you go back and look at how good the show was.
Animation makes it's first appearance on my ballot here and some might be surprised. It won't be the last, but it's probably the most influential addition. Even fifty years after, this pair remains as relevant as ever as they're often considered television's first animated series that attracted kids and adults equally with a biting satire and wit and a collection of characters still remembered today.
84. Rocky and His Friends (aka Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends) (ABC, 1959-'61, NBC 1961-'64)
I think a lot of people don't quite know, just how big and influential "Rocky & Bullwinkle" really are. They basically were like the first great cartoon satirists on television, at least nationally, and they really were the first ones to use animation that way, and really like twist everything around. This is another one of those shows people don't really just how much they did. "Fractured Fairy Tales", "The Way Back Machine", you know, they were kinda like a Variety show of just random weird shit, just animated. In some ways it almost feels stream of consciousness. It's part long-running soap opera, part sketch, part variety, and it's parodying all of it, Boris & Natasha are basically stereotypes of Russia they're making fun of; it's almost like they were ahead of the time on the subjects of the satire. "Rocky & Bullwinkle" basically is where you can trace back, the stories of "The Simpsons", the satire of "South Park", the randomness of "Family Guy", basically any animation on television that's comical and satirical, they're rooted in things "Rocky & Bullwinkle" were doing it, before anybody. As I grew up, I definitely miss seeing them on TV, in reruns. I think they invented the multiple titles, or were making fun of it for comedic effect. That's probably where "Dr. Strangelove..." got the idea to have it's film subtitled, the timing's right. Everything was made fun of, nothing was safe, even the idea of educating through television wasn't safe. I mean, they were their generation's "Animaniacs".
Quick, what show won the Best Comedy Series Emmy for 1970? Yeah, don't worry, this is a tricky one; the show only lasted that one season. It won't be the only show on this list that only lasted that long, but it's probably the least well-known one, which is a great shame, 'cause who do discover or re-discover it, will got back and realize just how ahead of it's time it actually was.
83. My World... and Welcome To It (NBC, 1969-'70)
"My World... and Welcome to It" was based on the animation of James Thurber, the famous cartoonist for The New Yorker and based on his book, and it was one of the first Primetime series that combined animation with live-action sequences, but even with that fact, the show is just strange and bizarre. The main character breaks the fourth wall, it's subversive, it's satirical, half the time the entire episode takes place in his imagination, and he's narrating and talking to us the whole time, and basically winking at the camera, I mean, this is a series that almost feels like, somebody told Larry David that he's being followed with a camera, and then there's aberrations. This was a show that, structurally was just too far ahead of it's time. I've seen, only a couple episodes myself, and even I'm going, "This was made when?" "How has this show not gotten a cult following?" It's so low-key and sardonic, this is like, really high-concept comedy especially for the time, especially for a sitcom, especially for a family sitcom. This must've stood like a sore thumb in a world of "Bewitched". You could argue this was the first major show that kind led to the sitcom renaissance in the '70s. It's definitely a show that I believe a lot of people have to discover to realize just how ahead of it's time it was. Absolutely makes sense that this show only lasted one season in that era, today this would be an HBO show that gets the critical acclaim and cult audience that a show like "Dream On" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" might have gotten.
From one of the great sly looks at society to a sharp look at a subculture that had mostly been stereotyped and trivialized in television history before. It's also great to see a sitcom about truly intelligent people, anytime, even if they may diverge a bit much into nerd culture.
82. The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-Present)
Admittedly, it takes a while to fully get into "The Big Bang Theory", when it first started, I didn't get it and it didn't quite find it's groove, but strangely, the more you watch it the more you kinda just accepted the rules of the universe of the series, you suddenly find yourself completely involved in it. I mean, I hear idiots talk about, whether it represents geek or nerd culture, and I don't care about that; it gets these characters right and frankly, it's a very easy, classic setup, the girl and the guys setup, and it's just a new twist on it. I mean, it's pretty much the last classic sitcom structurally on television. 3 cameras, sexual tension, each character evolves, you get to learn about them. More characters come in, it's pretty basic actually. Create interesting characters and watch them grow, they just happen to focus and care more about, eh, comic books and dark matter and whatever, while you know, Sam Malone cared about sports and women; that's the real inspiration of "The Big Bang Theory". It's just good characters done well, and in Jim Parsons case, incredibly well, 'cause there's a reason he wins the Emmy every year; that's probably the toughest acting job on television, arguably ever. That performance alone almost guarantees a spot on the list.
There's only one western that made my ballot, and I know in some ways that's unfortunate, this genre ruled the television landscapes for decades, but in many ways that's kinda the problem. It's a bit of a lost genre, but honestly there also aren't that many that hold up well. Just because a "Gunsmoke" or a "Bonanza" ran forever, that also often means that, they basically blur together after a while.And as much as I respect something like "The Big Valley", "Branded" or "Rawhide", as you might have guessed with a lot of this list so far, if you're gonna grab me enough to make this list, you gotta be a little bit different than everybody else.
81. Maverick (ABC, 1957-'62)
Everybody else is a gun-toting, save the woman, for justice, or marshall, and Bret Maverick is just a conman. He's a wimp, he's a smooth operator, he's gonna out-smart you and not simply outshoot you, and that's just more interesting that most of the other western archetypes. James Garner is probably not ranked high enough on most people list of greatest TV stars, he basically created the anti-hero. Everything else was basically a morality tale of some kind, and "Maverick" was just much more subversive and interesting. If more westerns found ways of being like "Maverick", I think the genre could've survived a bit longer, 'cause the big problem is that, essentially every story has told. there might be one or two left but not many, not since "Unforgiven" really, and television really basically did everything in the genre it seems, (Although "Hell on Wheels" kinda found something interesting) and yet, "Maverick" holds up as smarter and funnier and more slick. It's more cool. I mean, "Have Gun, Will Travel", but it's so heavy-handed, you need a combination of levity.
We'll continue with the list later one, keep an eye for updates, and check out Geekcast Radio for their complete list.