You know, I know how some people talk about certain TV series, making so many multiple references to other things and whatnot, like "Family Guy" or "Community" for instance, but "Will & Grace" was really the first show where you needed a MENSA level pop culture IQ, up-to-the-minute of the series just to keep up, but boy if you could follow it, it was just one extra insane level to a series that was this great slice of everything great about a sitcom. It's uproariously laugh-out-loud funny, there's adult humor abound, there's outrageous characters doing outrageous things, incredible acting and performances, "Will & Grace" is more than pretty much anything else, just a fun show, even at it's worst, it's just too outrageous to not smile at. It just so happened that some of the characters were gay. Well, not, "it just so happened," they definitely played it up for everything that it was worth, they even brought up the famous "Thirtysomething" and I believe "Melrose Place" incidents, where they cut away from two male characters kissing, but curiously, I guess it was out in the press, but if you didn't read the trades at the time, you went into the series, not even knowing that that was what the show was about. Ooh, "Will & Grace", they're friends, and they'll probably turn into a couple-, Oh, nevermind. Didn't see, that one-, oh, and that's Jack. It seems ridiculous to think of it now, but this was a bit of a subversion on the some of the archetypes we were used to on television at the time. but once you got in the door, it was just fabulous. It was poppy eye candy, and it just happened to be changing the rules of television forever, in very much the same way that Mary Richards walking into WJN looking for a job did. I've seen so many shows try this, quick-wiited style of these crazy characters dynamics, but few of them ever come close, 'cause part of the whole point of the series was that the reason this show can do that is because of how familiar these characters are with each other. This is great casting, and if any one of those four didn't work, the show doesn't work.Instead, you get a show that, even if you knock it down for being too of it's time and referential, the situation itself is believable and realistic enough, and the comedy is so outrageous and hilarious and, for a network series, it took chances, that it continues to hold up.
All four main cast members of "Will & Grace", Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, won Emmys for their performances on the show, something that's only happened two other times. Once with "All in the Family" and the other, coincidentally with this sitcom about four women who talk about their sex lives and insult each other all day. And they're Senior citizens.
79. The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-'92)
I'm serious, btw, the direct link influence show from "Sex and the City" is "The Golden Girls". (Also "Desperate Housewives" as well now that I'm thinking about it) I mean, you got the main one, who's struggling with love, you have the sexpot, you have the innocent, and you have, okay, it doesn't quite work 'cause Miranda and Sophia don't really correlate, but it's still, it's just sex and insults, they just did it over cheesecake instead of over cosmos. I used to get into trouble for using the language that's used on this show, to insult people, they are absolutely nasty and mean to each other and it's funny as hell. "The Golden Girls" gets a bit of a bad rap, from people almost simply on premise, who wants to see a series about four old women, but what you have three legends of television just working perfectly off each other and together. And smartly, they weren't playing the characters they were known for playing beforehand. That was very smart, actually Rue McClanahan and Betty White basically switched roles from what they played on "Maude" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", and I don't think anybody know Rue McClanahan has this southern slut in her and somehow nobody knew this wide-eyed Minnesotan innocent could possibly come from Betty White; it was brilliant and yet it was surreal at the same time. I also don't remember too many shows, other than possibly "The Odd Couple" about older roommates either. I'm often amazed how often I keep running into these series about random people coming together that could essentially be a show called "Family", but yeah, "The Golden Girls" is another one, and probably one of the most unique and funniest of them all. It's one of those shows where, either you're really cool and you truly do know how good it is, or you're one of those people who thinks it's uncool to say how much you actually like it, and deny it, but I don't know why you would do that.
From the Golden Girls to the Golden Age of Television, to the man who's still the go-to example of the most famous person with one of television's most iconic professions. It's actually quite amazing just how good he was. I mean, he did lose the one case, but other than that, he usually convinced the killer to confess, every time.
78. Perry Mason (CBS, 1957-'66)
I mean, a great mystery is never about the who-did-it, it's always about the journey of figuring out and catching the guy. Yeah, it's completely ridiculous and cliche now, how every case ended in a confession and whatnot, but I mean, this is basically the blueprint for every cop or detective series since, including most lawyer shows, and they still go on. From "Perry Mason" to "Matlock", to "Diagnosis Murder" to "Monk", even, this format is still the same and hasn't changed, and the reason it hasn't is cause it's still fascinating. We've been adapting and updating the format ever since. It's still relevant as ever. Classic even. It's probably the only drama series genre that has continued to thrive in reruns really and continuously held up. You turn on "Perry Mason" late night on TV, and whether you fall asleep in the middle or the story captivates you that night, it's so familiar to us that it's comforting to have around. The same way that "The Maltese Falcon" is the perfect two in the morning movie, "Perry Mason" is the perfect two in the morning TV series. Great hard-boiled character, straight from a great collection of pulp novels, black-and-white, murder-mystery, it just feels right to have a show like "Perry Mason" around. He may have been a lawyer but he was television first great detective, at least in the classic Agatha Christie tradition. Him and Joe Friday, but "Dragnet" is basically what detectiving really is, while "Perry Mason" is actually what we really want it to be. And that's fine by me, you know?
From the most classic of television formulas, to one of the most unique and unusual. While lawyers do have a long-standing history on television, another profession that's got a rich television history is psychiatrist. Strangely though, most of the more well-known and well-remember examples are from sitcoms, from Frasier Crane to Bob Hartley to Jason Seaver even, and most of the time, either they were the butt of the joke or their patients were. There's a few exceptions, but rarely were they the main character of a dramatic series, and even more rare, were when we actually got to see them at work.
77. In Treatment (HBO, 2008-'10)
Of the all of the, I won't said failed, but those very briefly run, HBO series, that only lasted a couple years and got a cult following but not much else, "In Treatment" is probably the one that I hear about brought up the least, which is sad and strange because it's probably the best of those lesser-known HBO shows. I guess it's because it was so different than anything else that-. I definitely know that this is something that I immediately respond to, 'cause two people in a room talking, is way more interesting to me than any blood-soaked action scene I can find, but maybe people just don't completely realize just how unbelievably difficult that is to pull off. Writing, directing, editing, acting,, I remember showing it to one person and he asked me after a week of episodes if it got better, and I looked him, like he was crazy; he thought it was boring, and I looked at him, wondering, "Dude, this is the more enthralling and entertaining thing you can do on television." First of all, half-hour drama series, you just don't see at all anymore, at best there half-hour dramedies and they're only called dramedies, 'cause some people don't understand that not all comedy is laugh-out-loud comedy, but this was a half-hour drama series, and then, it wasn't once a week, it was five days a week and each day of the week, we looked in on a session of Paul's patients, this was a show that had 43 episode seasons. It was ambitious, even if you consider that they were, pretty faithful to the original Israeli series that it was based on called "Be Tipul", this is something so unique anywhere on television, but it's utterly fascinating. Talk about unheralded acting performances, Gabriel Byrne, has to learn a new half-hour play every single day. I know the Emmys don't give out a season award, but Christ, he must've been on a-eh, soap opera actor's regiment, and it's one of the greatest acting performances in television history, especially how he suddenly shifts on Friday episodes, when we see him and his psychiatrist and we actually get a sense of how troubled and screwed up he and his own life is, and we learn secondhand about him, and this rather bumbling character who in his job is usually so, focused and pristine, seems perfectly normal. There's this horrible misnomer that, you have to show everything because it's a visual art form, and in most cases that's true, but "In Treatment" is one of those shows where,- writer's should study this show, 'cause it's just important to know when and how to reveal things, without having or needing to show them everything at once. It's so critical, how the slight inflections and moments can actually be so much more powerful; reveal doesn't have to be a big twist, it just need to be enough for the characters to suddenly make a big deal out of it. Two people, in a room, half-an-hour, psychiatrist patient, and see what happens; and give two good actors two good characters and that is literally all you need; and you'd get much television if more people understood that and were talented enough to know how to do it.
Every so often, somebody takes an industry poll of what pieces of entertainment are the most accurate to a profession, like acting Vietnam war veterans what movie is the accurate to portraying the actual war, for instance. Every-so-often they ask cops and policeman about it to, what television show is the most accurate, and I think most people expect them to say something like "NYPD Blue" or "Law & Order" or "Hill Street Blues", or more-or-less hoping they don't "The Shield", really, but actually, most of the time they take this poll, it's this show, that usually ends up winning; this sitcom, about cops.
76. Barney Miller (ABC, 1975-'82)
Boom, ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-boom-, sorry, I love this bass line, this and "Night Court", have the greatest TV theme bass lines, bass lines and horns; whoever put this Youtube, clip together of all the "Barney Miller" openings, kudos. There had been sitcoms about police before, eh, "The Andy Griffith Show" comes to mind, most obviously, although I think "Car 54, Where Are You", is probably the most noteworthy one, although that's about the police the same way way "Gomer Pyle. U.S.M.C." or "The Phil Silvers Show" were about the Army. They were more Keystone Cops than anything, uh, "Barney Miller" seems like nothing when you're just looking at. It's clearly a set, it looks and feels like a stage play, even moreso than most three-camera sitcoms, even at the time, and yet, very little happens. You hardly ever leave the actual police station, characters come in and come out, some people end up in jail, there's a lot of paperwork, that's a lot of jokes and making fun of each other, and there's two or three little subplots and then the episode sorta ends, that's most of the show, but that's actually kinda it. It's very much, more than most workplace shows, a show about people working, doing their jobs and doing them well. This is like if "The Office" had no Michael Scott or David Brent, well, they do have a couple of them, but they just don't work there. I think originally, they were going to more integrate the personal lives of the characters into the show, I know Barney's wife was supposed to be considered a regular character at one point, but most of those characters usually were talked about but were rarely seen, which is one of my favorite sitcom tricks anyway, 'cause with unseen characters you can do or say anything about them, but it makes the show seem realistic, and it really is at it's best, when it's a day in a lives of these character and mostly, there's not much going on. The show was also, very of it's time too, there's lot of episodes about New York running out of money and police stations being cut and removed, and a lot of that was New York in the '70s before some of the more recent memorable mayors came and started to rebuild a lot of the city. There's a lot of things going on at the edges of the screen that are fascinating in this show. Hal Linden, I think was a complete unknown before the series, and it's almost unfair that the show is named after his character, 'cause yeah, he's the Captain, and he's the star of the show, I guess he's the sane character surrounded by crazies, a la, Bob Newhart, or Judd Hirsch, except they're all mostly just quirky, not crazy. It's one of those sitcoms that aims and hits a different level and tone than most sitcoms. Producer Danny Arnold, in fact, made it a point to have shooting days for the series, go on, hours longer than even the most hectic of series, even after the audience gets sent away, not because the series was unfunny, but he instead to record quieter moments of the show, so that the audience, wouldn't overreact to the comedy or get in the way of the ambiance and, you just never see that today. I mean, the show was also, always notoriously behind schedule, and episodes barely had scripts half the time, but there was a method to this madness. And that's why it still stands out even today. I mean, and it even had more going on than that, the first outing of a gay character storyline, in sitcom history, it had multiple actors and characters come and go throughout the series, and yet it was still always entertaining, but those things are just sorta secondary, "Barney Miller" is first and foremost, a workplace series, and nothing else going on really topples that.
Television has been of animation for so long now that it's actually to forget that most of what we remember as television animation, actually isn't television at all. We all grew up on Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes among others, but most of those cartoons originated as short films that were shown in theaters as apart of a theater experience that would include a double feature, newsreels, live-action shorts, etc. So when considering some of the classics in the animation canon, you want to be a little bit careful, at least in my mind, that you want to make sure that the characters are truly original to the television medium. That said, some of the classics of animation in the television medium, are a little tricky to put on this list, because they're not exactly remembered mostly as series, since a great deal of the most enduring pieces of television animation are animated specials and putting a one-shot next to shows that lasted a decade or so, seems weird, and frankly wrong. That said, you could say this pick is a bit of a cheat, but, eh, you know what, in order to really capture the best of television in 100 TV shows, they kinda need to be represented, somewhere on this list.
75. The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show (CBS, 1983-'86)
I mean, what can you say, are there any more endearing and longer-lasting characters,in the 20th Century even, moreso than "Peanuts". I think behind, Elvis, Michael Jackson and like Kurt Cobain or somebody Charles Schultz is considered the most successful and richest dead artist/celebrity of all-time, I mean, if that's not a legacy than what is? And I personal actually always did prefer this regular series to any of the more noteworthy specials, those are great too of course, but you really always wanted more after watching them, and this was quite unusual. Bill Melendez, who produced and made most of the "Peanuts" specials, didn't really want to do a regular series, They much preferred to do specials periodically and really put most of their energy into them, but eventually they pull out, the series, and then kinda re-edited a lot of them later on, so that they seemed like a TV special themselves. It's sometimes difficult to tell where this show begins and ends sometimes, 'cause everybody wants so much of "Peanuts", I mean, they just did a new movie recently too. I remember very distinctly the day Schultz retired and then he passed away, literally that day, in some ways, the funny pages of the comics have never really gotten passed that. I still read "Peanuts" everyday, they still print them, and who doesn't have affection for Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, etc. This is basically the high standard watermark, that, I think most animation, especially animated that are about kids themselves, and try to show a kids' perspective on the world, this is the unattainable, unreachable goal that all those other shows wish they could match. I remember I used to talk about-eh, how "Hey, Arnold" was sorta like a modern-day "Peanuts" but in the city, and how I always had an affection for that series, but let's face it, nobody ever brings that show in conversation ever. That's the thing, you're never gonna live up to this. I don't know, we want to see Lucy trick Charlie Brown into trying to kick the football every time, or why Snoopy pretending to be the Red Baron is so endearing, hell, I love Little Re-Run, always terrified riding in the basket in her Mom's bicycle, there's just so much there that's, so ingrained in us. Who doesn't put their head down and go "Good grief" and just walks home disappointed. It's not big, it's not boisterous, it's just perfect, in any form.
I suspect the main character and probably the star of the next show on our list has a great affection for Charlie Brown as well. In fact, now that I think about it, the way he ended up doing this show feels eerily reminiscent of how Charlie Brown ended up being named the director of the Christmas pageant in that great Christmas special. Although in his case, he didn't home a tree that died, he brought home a dog that then, died. That would've been a bit of a bummer if that happened to Charlie.
74. Louie (FX, 2010-Present)
It's very easy and cliche to talk about how "Louie" is essentially changing and breaking every rule of what a sitcom can be, although there actually is a precedent when you go back far enough in television history and that's Jack Benny actually, where he was basically left to his own devices and would often, hell, he didn't even want to go into television, he liked being on the radio, and then he turned the radio program slowly, really slowly, into a TV series, and then, he'd basically do whatever the hell he wanted, sometimes a Variety show, other times a behind-the-scenes of the show, often a straight sitcom about a Variety show host,-, I mean, switch that to being a stand-up comic, and in the fact that, you can basically write, direct, edit, and do anything else you could want on the series and you basically end up with Louie C.K.'s deal, only on a budget. He's a standup, he's shoots himself performing stand-up, he shoots the regular day, the regular-, he calls them vignettes and they can go, pretty much anywhere he wants. I think there is actually a timeline to the series, but it definitely isn't about getting that right, it's about getting the story correct for what he's trying to do, and just like Jack Benny, do whatever you need to make it funny, Louis C.K. is basically doing the same thing. Same story too, he didn't want to do television, he had a bad experience doing "Lucky Louie" on HBO, which was an interesting experiment in 3-camera comedy, but he asked for complete control and for it to be done on a budget, and he's basically the blueprint of people getting that kind of power. There's others like Tina Fey and Lena Dunham that have basically gotten that kind of absolute freedom, but he's definitely the one who uses that freedom to the fullest possible extent. It's definitely one of the best shows on television, drama or comedy, and it shows that when you get somebody so talented and leave them to their own devices you get some of the most interesting television around. I've some call this, the real show about nothing, instead of "Seinfeld", I tend to disagree, I think it's basically just, the real show about Louis C.K., whatever fascinates and intrigues him at that moment in time. I know when I'm working on ideas for TV series right now, "Louie" is basically the inspiration I end up using, and in this day of everybody creating their webseries I bet I'm not the only one. Just show what I'm thinking and in the world I'm thinking it in, and you got in. Unfortunately, I don't think most of us are as talented and capable of such a thing as he is, but that's where "Louie"'s place is gonna be in the future.
You've probably noticed by now that most of the more traditional family sitcoms have missed this list for one reason or another, at least, traditional in the sense of, the "Leave It to Beaver"'s of the world, and many of those other series that more-or-less sorta represent an ideal family structure, even if that ideal itself was a bit strange like "The Brady Bunch" of something of that nature. One show I left off, "The Cosby Show" I'll probably get some crap for, even though, believe it or not, I didn't leave it off because of the recent revelations about Bill Cosby, but mostly these shows don't hold up that well. There's definitely exceptions all the way through this list, but I think we've realized at this point in time, that most families are not that ideal and are a little twisted in some way. Doesn't have to be much, just has to be enough, of a twist for the show to hold up.
73. Family Ties (NBC, 1982-'89)
I have this amazing image in my head of Gary David Goldberg just pitching the idea of "Family Ties" in my mind, 'cause it's such a brilliant at concept, you almost think it's too brilliant. "It's a modern-day family sitcom", "We have enough of those", no, you don't understand, like, instead of the fifties parents, or the older parents of like Archie Bunker, these are two parents who were hippies in the '60s", "That'll, wait..., that, that might work." I think they'll be dumbstruck by that idea in 1982, and then, after a few minutes, he'll go, "Well, wait a minute here, they're hippy parent, won't they just end up with basically very liberal kids as well, where's the conflict?" And Goldberg goes, "Ah, we'll make one of the kids a Republican", and the Network guy goes, "Oh, that's ridiculous, that'll never work," and of course, you end with one of the greatest characters in television history. I don't know if you can do a modern version of this show, it kinda just, it doesn't quite work today, this cultural divide just doesn't swing that far anymore but somebody pointed that this show is basically the opposite of "All in the Family", and that, is kinda bizarrely true. I don't think that was intentional at all. I actually more-or-less appreciate the more personal conflicts of trying to stick to your own values while living in a world that, compromises them more and more, and that's basically how the show, with every character essentially, to one extent or another. It's one of those shows that really knew how to kill your babies, as they call it in writing, attack the character where it hurts the most. Give the hippy parents Reagenomics kids, give the Conservative a feminist girlfriend, make the daughter an artist because she loves having clothes, not because of her desire to be creative, there's so much there, you know. You think about some of those family sitcoms where the characters end up in trouble and everybody's better at the end, with a speech or something, this show, sorta basically was the same structure, but it never really felt that way. It always came across A. like they really got in trouble for what they did, and B. It'll be alright, but you still gotta live with those choices. Nothing was ever easy on this show, (Added baby, and kid growing three years in a season, aside) and that's something that's probably the ultimate legacy of the show. Traditional family sitcom, this is the show more people should look at to see how to do it.
Hey, the first science-fiction show to make the list everyone. That's right, a show where our main character go off to explore the far reaches of the universe and study the strange, and different alien beings, creatures and cultures and then report back their findings and experiences. Let's see these explorers now at their current locations, the Space Station known as, Mrs. Dubcek's Attic in Ohio? Huh, two Ohio-based series in a row, that's weird, you don't usually see tha-aaaaaa-,"Incoming Message from the Big Giant Head...."
72. 3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC, 1996-2001)
Oh my God, this show's so funny. I remember when I would get in trouble as a kid, I'd lose TV privileges except for "3rd Rock from the Sun", I was always allowed to watch that no matter how much trouble was in. Granted I was never in that much trouble, but still, this was like, the show that was just too good to keep from somebody, no matter they did. Before you'd shoot Hitler, you'd show him "3rd Rock from the Sun" and then shoot him, it's that funny. I mean, no, alien sitcoms did not have a good track record up until at that point. I mean, other than "Mork & Mindy", you didn't have much, and that show only worked because, they happened to luck into finding out that there was a Robin Williams on Earth, and it was probably harder to find one of him than it was to find an alien. It's a basic fish out of water story, but God damn, they found the strangest funniest fish you could possibly find. This is one of those shows, where they just loose, and went, "What's the strangest thing somebody could possibly do here?" and then they did it. This is how you take an idea and a conceit and just don't even care, just use it to it's full effect. Bonnie & Terry Turner, like, this husband & wife team, I know they have a few clunkers on their resume, but they should get more work. Maybe they're not interested, but between this and "That '70s Show," they created two the funnest TV sitcoms, ever. John Lithgow, I think won three Emmys for the show, and Kristen Johnson won another two, this is some of the greatest comedy acting, you'll ever find. The sheer amount of just utter abandonment to do some of the stuff they all do, it's pure genius. I mean, the show is insane, basically we're the straight guys to them. That's what you ended up with basically, you don't realize how difficult this is, especially from an acting standpoint,-. somebody, I think Broadway has like given him every honor imaginable, so they know exactly how talented John Lithgow but I think somehow everybody else in the world forgets until we suddenly see him in something, and we're like, "Oh my God, Wow, he was so good!" John Lithgow's one of the greatest actors alive, and if you don't come to that conclusion after watching "3rd Rock from the Sun", then I don't know what to tell you, 'cause I can't imagine anybody playing a role like this the way he does. Or any of these actors, it doesn't surprise me at all that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood right now. "3rd Rock from the Sun", is one of those shows, that, people don't bring up enough. We forget it, when talking about the best shows, even of it's era now, 'cause that really were the "Friends", "Seinfeld", "Mad About You", "Everybody Loves Raymond", "Frasier" on at the same time, and I think those shows are probably more relate-able to people so they stick in our heads more, but this is the kind of comedy that so few people can even attempt now, 'cause it's so id-centric, that we almost instantly block it out, like, "Oh God, that couldn't have actually happened, that's too out there." But it did, and I hope more people actually discover this show, 'cause, it's literally out of this world.
Up next, the first mention of a show created by the legendary Norman Lear. His work dates back all the way to working on "Four Star Revue" and "The Colgate Comedy Hour", but it was him that would change the sitcom forever by creating content that wasn't simply childish and would break the boundaries of politics, race, sex, class, and confront nearly every social norm from every direction possible. I could easily have put about six or seven of his shows on this list, even some of the ones that are notorious flops I can make arguments for, but I only chose a couple, and this one is strangely one that he always complained got taken away over and away from him from the network, and I can't quite disagree to most extents, but even given that, this is still a powerful series.
71. Good Times (CBS, 1974-'79)
"Good Times", the ironically-names "Good Times" is one of those shows that's remembered, mostly now for a famous character and catchphrase, but if you take a closer look at the series, it's one of the best depictions of a poverty-stricken family ever on television. I mean, you watch it today, and it's like half of Norman Lear's stuff, you wonder, how the hell he got away with so much. There's stories about drug addiction, about underage sex, about, just unemployment in general. This was a spinoff of "Maude" but oddly, it often feels like the opposite of "The Jeffersons" most of the time. John Amos's character leaves the series, he's the breadwinner of the show, and he was barely employed as it was, and they kill him off, which itself, was just shocking and then, you're really legitimately wondering how the hell these characters are gonna survive? I think Norman Lear was much more subversive even when he had to focus on Jimmie Walker's character, in putting him in some pretty uncomfortable positions that only undercut the tragedy of the series. You watch "Good Times" now, and you wish they can make a show like this anymore that can actually be funny, can actually show and in some cases preach to me, but still make us laugh hysterically and never make us feel like, it's a very special episode. It's not a very special episode, it's just the same old everyday crap they have to deal with. Trying to get by while trying to better oneself, trying to educated oneself in a world where the education system is completely against you. We like to honor "The Cosby Show", for how it positively portrayed African-Americans on television and it did, but this show's the rebuttal 'cause it shows that you don't have to have made it and become rich and be portrayed positively, maybe more positively 'cause it's about the struggle in trying to make it and not, how they are after they succeeded.
There's a lot of shows that essentially are about the behind-the-scenes of a television broadcast in some manner, many of them for some reason happen to show the behind-the-scenes of a news program. There'll be a few on this list, including this first one, and it makes sense. In the annals of television, no matter how much the television box turns into the computer screen, even during many of the best moments in our country, it's the television news that's the place we find ourselves surrounded by. I know, it's the days of Fox News and not Edward R. Murrow, but it's still to remember just how holy that anchordesk and television in general actually is.
70. The Newsroom (HBO, 2012-'14)
The Newsroom Season 2 - Opening Credits from HUGE on Vimeo.
I've never been completely sure why there such derision for "The Newsroom". I mean, it's not Aaron Sorkin's best series, but not Sorkin's best series, is like saying "King Lear" is not Shakespeare's best, technically it's true, but look at the standard. That might be part of the problem, we've so lowered so many of the standards that, when we see something, where most every character is actually trying to, I mean, be good at their jobs basically, we look at it with derision. I think that's what the famous opening speech is about, I mean, it's played to death and it's a rallying cry for people, but when you get right down to it, all it's really saying is, "Look, I'm tired of all this bullshit, here's where we're at it, let's actually give a damn and act like we actually are," and it says something that people can get into trouble for that these days, and that's what a great first episode does, is it completely haunts and looms over the rest of the series, no matter what happens on the show, however dramatic or comedic it is. It's smart people trying to not screw up and do stupid things in a high-stress environment, and usually failing. Yet, it's hopeful, romantic, and inspiring. It's a Don Quixote story, people tilting at windmills, trying to do the news in a world where, no one really cares anymore if the news is done well. Make whatever parallels you want to the show itself, or it's short run, but you don't see anybody trying that, and let's face it, after watching so many shows that don't give a damn about whether the characters are smart or the dialogue that's actually interesting, anything Aaron Sorkin produces on television is automatically 100x better and smarter than basically anything else on television. "The Newsroom" is the way the television news should be, maybe not the way it is, but who cares about that; we have enough of that, and enough people making fun of that anyway.
We'll see a few of those satirists making fun of the current newsmedia landscape, later in the countdown. Right now, the only game show to make the list. I only had room for one unfortunately, and I could've picked from dozens of them. "What's My Line?" is as classic as ever, "Wheel of Fortune" is the most popular and biggest around the world, "The Price is Right" has lasted the longest on television, (And that's not even counting it's original run) and there's definitely some great appeal to watching a show like "Match Game 73" or "You Bet Your Life", even though the game aspect of the show is probably secondary to the comedy that's orchestrated between the participants, but in terms of scripted, the written material, and game shows are written to some extent, some more than others, but they're definitely formatted. And if that's the case, then one game show, pretty easily stands out.
69. Jeopardy! (Syndication, 19884-Present)
I called "Jeopardy!" the best game of all-time recently on one my-eh, TV Viewing 101 blog recently, and that's nothing to be shabby about. It's not an easy show to participant in, it's not an easy show to write, certainly, especially with the strange reversal of the format of answer and then question, you watch other game shows and it becomes clear that, the writing on "Jeopardy!" requires, not only a lot more research, but some actual writing. It's full of puns and double-meaning and entendres and strange sentence structures, and multiple verse-tense relationship structures, it's not easy. There's a reason that, this is the game show they use now, to challenge a computer's knowledge. The original show, started by Merv Griffin, as a way to create a quiz show that would deter any cheating and fixing, it ran for eleven seasons and was hosted by Art Fleming, it was a good show, but it was still very primitive. Technology definitely helped, when they finally created, I believe the third version of the series with Alex Trebek hosting, and video screens instead of cards, and the contestants standing instead of sitting. They got rid of a lot of things that, we tend to associate with game shows like a ringing in sound with a buzzer, and nobody able to ring in early, and if you watch the early episodes, you realize, that the audience is still trying to clap between correct answers at the beginning, 'cause that used to be what was done, a right answer was worth clapping over, but actually it isn't that impressive, really. Yeah, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" 15 questions right, win a million, (Blows raspberries) 61 questions a game, every category, against two other people in competition who are just as smart, and then, keep doing it everyday. You can't luck into a win on "Jeopardy!" I mean, you can study and train, certain aspects and subjects, but you need to recall, you still need problem-solving skills, you need to be smart to be good to be on this show. This is a true standard, if you can do good at "Jeopardy!", you're a God, and you know, if you don't do well, we'll it's "Jeopardy!", it's hard. Either way, watching it, you're captivated, you're trying to participate and compete; it's got every aspect of what makes a great game show times two in it. What is "Jeopardy!".
You'll notice that, while I definitely span out throughout the entire history of the television that it I definitely lean against a lot of series from the early days of television. That not because I haven't seen most of the shows, I actually have gone back and watched quite a bit of shows from that era, but most of them, unfortunately don't hold up. Even this one, I'm probably one of the few people who voted for this show, putting it this low, on the list. It's still good, and you can say it's a bygone and you can't really hold these shows to the same standards as shows today, and that's true, but even still, most of those 'Leave It to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" series, even "The Andy Griffith Show" missed this list, even at their best, the older they get, the more they also represent a falsehood. The white picket fence, the family with the Dad and work, the Mom cooking dinner, basically everything that was made fun of in "Pleasantville", it's pretty accurate for too much of it. Even the morality plays of most of the westerns make that genre seem outdated. Still though, even with the outdatedness, sometimes, the performers themselves can make shows from this era, still remain inspirational and oftentimes, funny, even generations later.
68. I Love Lucy (CBS, 1951-'57)
It doesn't hold up, particularly well, but there's still something so classic about "I Love Lucy". Lucille Ball, um, it's interesting, she wasn't a natural comedienne, she was an actress, usually was a serious actress, but would take whatever role she had and she worked with The Three Stooges to Buster Keaton and would just study and study, and would and specify every routine to the nth degree, I mean there was no improvisation on the show, even when, you know, it seems like she's about to die on camera in front of everbody, and yeah, you gotta remember, these were all, pretty much shot and aired live at the time. That aspect of it doesn't quite translate now, but at the time, part of the appeal is that she actually was doing all these things right then and there. Her and Ethel mostly, and let's face, it, there's still dozens of attempts to try and remake the Lucy and Ethel dynamic on television, and most of them, don't even come close to succeeding. Desi Arnaz however, probably should get a lot more credit than most, 'cause in an effort to create a TV show that showcased Lucy's talents the best, he basically invented the 3-camera sitcom, so it's pretty much, Desi Arnaz pretty much is responsible for everything we know about television sitcoms. I mean, there's a few exceptions, like "The Andy Griffith Show", which decided to shoot single-camera like a movie and add laughs later, to create the actual environment of a small town and be realistic, but most everybody is borrowing something from "I Love Lucy". I mean, this is basically, pick your cliche episode plot of a sitcom and sure enough you'll see that "I Love Lucy" originated it and did it first and usually did it better. "I Love Lucy" is definitely essential television, basically everything goes back to "I Love Lucy" in some way and even today, you run into it, it's still on, you could've seen the episode a 100 times, but you still kinda get a kick out of it; it's still entertaining.
Back to a series that's takes a look at the behind-the-scenes of a television series, and just like Aaron Sorkin, the main star of this show has used this conceit and motif multiple times over the years, many of them successfully, including his latest television venture, although he's begrudgingly updated the format to modern time. You see, he's typically more old-school when it comes to entertainment, seeped in the traditions of vaudeville and the classic Variety-Sketch shows of old. Must be hard for him to suddenly switch to a mockumentary format, but he's a professional, he's pulling it off.
67. The Muppet Show (ITV, 1976-'81 [UK]; Syndication, 1976-'81, [U.S.])
Despite the fact that Jim Henson, had become legendary on television for "Sesame Street", he actually wasn't able to get "The Muppet Show" on network in America, and it actually was shot in England and then was only syndicated in America, which is a bit surprising, 'cause it was pretty well-received at the time. This was sorta surreal, even outside of the use of Muppets, they enjoyed doing this, almost Felliniesque look behind-the-scenes of a show, as much as it is a pretty great sketch comedy series. I mean, it's the first show I can remember that actually showcased it's critics panning the show during the series. I mean, Henson always a dark sense of humor and this was where he first showcased it, even though it's hidden in this very classical format actually. I mean, it's an old-time, Variety show, almost in the Vaudeville sense, and it's just a chaotic mess trying to put a show like that on. it's almost like, an old Busby Berkeley movie, like "Footlight Parade", except it's Muppets. I mean, I think we have all have an appreciation for "The Muppet Show", this is just,- I mean, similar to "Peanuts", you can't really get more memorable characters than The Muppets, and this show, is probably the best showcase of all of his best instincts, certainly on television. It's iconic, they went back to the show for the recent movie, I mean, it's basically the memory of "The Muppets" that I think everybody has, and let's face it, it's still funny, even today. It's all the great stuff we love about television. Great stars, funny sketches, irreverence, that great, "Put on a show" feel to it, there's just nothing better. This is the perfect show to just put on and watch.
While the Muppets took their inspiration from the past, this next show took their inspiration from the recent past. There's a few shows that have tried to replace "Seinfeld" and recreate the dynamic of a show about nothing, including Larry David who's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" probably properly has that mantle, even though, sadly I did not find a spot on the list for that show. Instead, I thought, if you're gonna borrow the format from "Seinfeld", you might as well do it as fucked up as possible.
66. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX 2005-'12, FXX, 2013-Present)
The longest-running sitcom in cable television history, basically started, I believe as an online short, that was pitched around to every network and FX, basically was looking for new shows everywhere they could and immediately, this show struck a cord that, it was basically, the most twisted, bizarre thing of all-time. The show was actually advertised as "Seinfeld" on crack, and I think that's too simplistic, this show is like, if the four from on "Seinfeld", were snorting mountains of the worst, shittiest crack they can find, and then, had an orgy, and they all of them got pregnant and then the worst aspects of each of them ended up in these characters. I think people don't realize just how difficult it is, to actually do stupid, funny. You can't just be stupid, it's gotta be smart stupid, The way they do this show, this is taking incredibly stupid characters, they are all still characters, and then putting them in stupid situations, but smartly. It's so difficult, and when you have characters that are just that outrageous doing it, it just makes it funnier. And then they added Danny Devito, which I don't think they needed, but he saw the show, liked it, and asked to be apart of it from what I heard, and of course a legend like him, and it's almost perfect. "It's Always Sunny..." is just absolute pure insanity, and I don't know that, people haven't really discovered this show yet. It never gets into the Emmys, even for Writing, this is just one of the most consistently brilliant and funny series of all-time, and it absolutely lavishes in going as over-the-top as possible. It's brilliant smart stupid; that's so hard to do, it should be more appreciated.
Similar to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," this show, during it's time, would take some of the more unpopular and not-so-political correct situations of the day and use them for humor. They stuck more to the more traditional sitcom formats, but they took a few bullets of controversy in their day. In fact, three years into the series, the show suddenly became a hit after the series after one complainant started a letter-writing boycott. She got the show to hold back one lost episode, but eventually, the backlash led to the series' long run and basically made the network.
65. Married... with Children (FOX, 1987-'97)
"Married... with Children", was the first sitcom, and pretty much the first show really, to air on the FOX Network, and it basically is responsible for making that network. They weren't the first people to try a new network at the time by the way, there were plenty of failed attempts, going back to the DuMont Network in the fifties to try to create a successful fourth major network. It was, Tracey Ullmann, which inevitably debuted "The Simpsons", a show that actually holds up pretty well, called "It's Garry Shandling's Show", that eventually led to him getting "The Larry Sanders Show", and they re-aired each show a few different times just to see if anybody would watch it. The show was actually originally called "Not the Cosbys", and it was conceived as Sam Kinison and Roseanne having kids together, it didn't become that, but it basically became the anti-sitcom. Especially in the '80s where everything was a family sitcom, this was the rebuttal. Your job was useless and terrible, your wife was awful, your kids sucked, your neighbors are these overly-hokey overly-political neighbors, and the humor, was just,- I mean, I don't think, other than "Two and a Half Men", perhaps, was a show this blatantly rude and crude humor-wise, at least on network television, but it was always satirical and dark. This was a show that knew how to play to the over-the-top tropes of bad sitcoms, and just played with them. Most of shows I think, do that terribly, especially when, they can treat the situation seriously and it would be funnier, but this show, always knew exactly where to take it and leave it be equally outrageous and was funny, and was sardonic satire of the highest order.
Soap operas have one of the longest-lasting legacies of television, in fact, some of them predate television and have their roots in radio. "Guiding Light" most notably, when it was finally canceled had stayed on the air for 79 years, including radio. If this was a greatest TV characters list, you better believe I'd find a spot for Erica Kane from "All My Children", but this being a greatest TV show list, I couldn't truly find a legitimate spot to place a daytime soap opera on here. I can't blame them, it's daytime and while there's exceptions, anything that lasts that long is gonna be difficult to retain quality for so long, and besides who can tell at this point whether any of the surviving series are better than others anymore, and besides, most of Primetime series have basically adapted the continuous storyline format anyway.
64. Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991)
"Dallas" surprisingly holds up unbelievably well. I mean, it definitely goes up and down in quality but going back, it's definitely influential and it's actually pretty compelling, even now. The key to a great soap opera is great actors and great characters, making the ridiculous believable, or if not the ridiculous, just the pure, base emotions of a character. J.R. is evil, Bobby is nice, and whatever happens, that doesn't change, even when they're trying to. J.R. Ewing, is still one of the most complicated characters, most interesting villains ever. Even in episodes, where he's barely in it, and it's devoted to Charlene Tilton or something, he, basically only presumes everybody will do the selfish thing because that's the only thing he knows to do. And, "Who Shot JR?", plotline, is just absolutely brilliant. I mean, I'm actually amazed nobody did it before and essentially. Spend years creating an evil character, and suddenly he gets shot and literally everyone's a suspect. It's basically the greatest plot ever. There's so much that I don't even think we realize that we take from "Dallas". I remember blatantly borrowing the "Make the whole year a dream" scene for a story I wrote in 7th grade, one of my more noteworthy short stories that people in my family still talk about, and I never even watched the show until decades later. There's part of it ingrained in us, and every TV show that's in Primetime that uses a continuous storyline they owe a great debt to this show and it's not because it was the first, I think "Peyton Place" actually was the first Primetime soap, but the fact that it was this good and still can hold up in it's own genre and beyond it, yeah, "Dallas" has got to be up there. Just don't play a drinking game about how often the words Ewing and Barnes are said, you will dead by episode three. Any random three episodes.
Forgive me if I make this introduction a little brief, I've talked about this show a few times already on this blog and I've said a few things about the show over the years, but that said, it's still a great show, groundbreaking, funny as hell, and like "Married... with Children" a groundbreaking show for it's network, even if, they probably shouldn't have made those damn movies.
63. Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004)
Admittedly, "Sex and the City" is one of those shows that works best when you consider it in it's time period. It's definitely more of a commentary on it's time now, than it probably works as a sitcom, but that said, the show still has some of the funniest moments in TV history, and you gotta remember, even with shows like "The Larry Sanders Show" having been on cable and breaking a few of the sex boundaries, the flood gates, exploding after "Sex and the City" and now, a lot of the comedy that started from this show, is practically commonplace now. You can make sex jokes on network television now, back then, this was where you got the more adult sexual humor that was nowhere else to be found at the time. I know they don't have a lot of them around anymore, but every alternative magazine used to have their own Carrie Bradshaw, the local one in Vegas was named Sonya, who would write these quick-witted anecdotes about their sexual experiences, from a first person perspective and a lot of talented writers did write stuff like that, and I think that's always been the twist of the show, that we're only seeing, mostly the sexual liaisons of the characters, and even then they're edited through this magazine article usually, so I think the biggest criticisms about the show, being one-dimensional characters and was just sex humor through slutty characters, but I always thought the twist of the show was that we were only seeing their sex lives and their real lives through the subtexts were actually just as interesting. It's definitely underrated and shows that have tried to emulate it, they got the words but they never really know the music. There's more than just sex jokes in the shows and I think the people who really appreciate it get that.
There's this great joke from the movie "Network" where Faye Dunaway is getting pitched new TV series and they all starred these "Crusty but benign" detectives of some kind, or a (Insert profession here) that solves crimes. There were dozens of them and most of them were some degree of good. We'll get to the best of the bunch later on in the list, but while there could've been room for a "Kojak" or a "Quincy, M.E." or something of that nature, but as per usual with this list, you gotta be a little unusual and different and this show was definitely the antithesis of those other series, and also the one of that era that holds up the best.
62. The Rockford Files (NBC, 1974-1980)
Stephen J. Cannell was doing really well writing for shows like "Adam-12", "Columbo", "Chase", "Baretta", he's a television legend, and long after he was creating some of the greatest television shows and NBC actually did something that just seems ridiculous now, they gave him an hour of television, before their was even a show. They basically told him, "We need an hour of television, come up with something." So, he decided to take all the cliches that the Private Eye genre was known for and just, completely undercut them at every turn. Make him not do anything unless he's paid, make the P.I. live out of a camper with his father and a piece of junk car, he was an ex-con, etc. and the first sign of trouble, he gives up the name of whoever hired him, just destroyed all of them. He called it "Rockford", thinking nothing would come about it; he shot the pilot and it got picked up, and the rest is history. I've seen some people call "The Rockford Files" as "Maverick" as a P.I., I think that's too simplistic. "The Rockford Files", was basically the blueprint for all the great action detective series like "The A-Team" and especially "Magnum, P.I." in the '80s. It's one of those few drama series that actually did take a more comedic twist to the material. It was snarky, it opening with that answering machine message, there was always something a little off, and you look back at shows like USA Network's entire lineup since "Monk" pretty much, or even today, when people are trying to find a twist on the classic procedural drama, what they're basically trying to do is recreate "The Rockford Files", especially some of the more action-based ones, and in modern times when this genre's almost non-existent anymore, you realize how difficult it is. "The Rockford Files" is the one that I can most watch from this era, that still feels unique and fresh and you know it still holds up. This is the show that still holds one of the biggest upsets in Emmy history when it beat out "Dallas" for Drama Series. The only reason it ended actually was because, Garner did all his own stunts and it caused him too many injuries to do the show anymore, and it then got caught up in behind-the-scenes legal issues and supposedly it was too expensive to make..., it kinda fell apart and other shows kinda came up and took it's spot, but yeah, "The Rockford Files", is definitely the one show that stands out in an era where almost every other show of the genre can blur together.
I myself am actually a bit surprised I found a spot for this show on the list, much less one so high. It's not the first project I think about for either of the show's creators, but the more I thought back about it, the more I realize this show's actually somewhat unique even at the time and still today, and surprisingly, it holds up better than I think most shows did.
61. King of the Hill (FOX, 1997-2010, Syndication, 2010)
I think "King of the Hill", kinda gets overshadowed and forgotten within FOX's so-called "Animation Domination" lineup, 'cause it doesn't quite fit with "The Simpsons" or Seth McFarlane's barrage of shows, it definitely went for a more subtle and subdued kind of tone and humor. That's also because this actually a loose spin-off, not of those shows but of "Beavis and Butt-Head", where Greg Daniels and Mike Judge had already started sketching ideas for a character that would eventually evolve into Hank Hill. The show definitely took chances, and that's something I gotta give those guys credit for never seeming to try the same kind of comedy twice, and yet all their stuff really does kinda go together, it's always fascinated with the slight characters aspects and quirks and that's where the humor lies, not in the situation or the actions per se. "King of the Hill", took it's time, treated itself, I wouldn't say more like a normal sitcom, I think oddly, it seemed more like a realistic situation, than a television show half the time, much less a sitcom. It was just this great mellow, little slice-of-life humor, that just happened to be animated. I mean, other than the need to switch locations there's no real reason this couldn't have been live action, but for some reason it feels more interesting since it wasn't. Over the years, I think that's what makes it hold up, it went for character and situations over just straight-out laughs every minute and it actually seems more interesting now. I know that animation, you can do anything, but sometimes, something like "King of the Hill", shows that you don't necessarily have to.
We'll continue with this list some other time, keep an eye out for updates and check out Geekcast Radio to hear their complete list.