Critics, fans, and those behind the scenes list their ten favorite TV shows of all-time.
by Robert Bianco, Eric Deggans, Mike Nelson, Diane Werts, Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Billy Ingram, Tom Heald, Rob Salem, Sonia Mansfield, Adam Finley, Suzanne Welke, Steve Welke, Laurel Krahn, Brian Lewandowski, James Norton, Marty Beckerman, Tim Grierson, Joe Lavin and Bob Sassone.
I love so many TV shows for so many different reasons that the idea of narrowing it down to just a top 10 is a daunting task. What’s important to remember here is that these are my top 10 FAVORITE shows, not necessarily the BEST shows. You know what I mean? It’s like when I pick Grease as one of my favorite movies. I’m not saying it’s the best movie ever made. I’m not saying it’s Citizen Kane or The Godfather. I’m just saying that I’ve watched it a million times and I’ve never gotten tired of it. Got it? OK, let’s get this party started:
1. The Simpsons
To put it simply, The Simpsons has changed my life. I can’t go one hour without referencing the show (“D’oh”). And just about everything that happens around me reminds me an episode. (“Remember the one where Homer blah blah blah …”). No other show can compete.
2. Homicide: Life on the Street
The best cop show on TV … ever. ’Nuff said.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Smart, funny, thought-provoking. One of the rare TV series that made me laugh out loud and cry out loud (sometimes in the same episode). There will never be another Buffy, another Willow, another Xander, another Giles.
I love Seinfeld … not that there’s anything wrong with that.
5. Twin Peaks
Probably the only show that ever truly frightened me and made me laugh. Agent Dale Cooper is one of the best TV characters ever.
6. Sex and The City
As a 32-year-old single gal, I’m programmed to love this show. It’s genetic.
7. Saturday Night Live
Weekend Update, The Blues Brothers, Samurai deli, the Church Lady, Wayne’s World, Nat X, Matt Foley the motivational speaker, Celebrity Jeopardy … need I go on?
8. The Sopranos
This one raised the bar for drama on TV.
9. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The show that entertains nerds of all ages.
10. Law & Order
This one is like comfort food. It’s always on. I know the format. I know the players. I know how it’s going to end.
Sonia Mansfield is TV critic for the San Francisco Examiner.
—– Robert Bianco
1) The Mary Tyler Moore Show
2) Hill Street Blues
3) I Love Lucy
4) All in the Family
6) The Dick Van Dyke Show
9) The Carol Burnett Show
10) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
With a special nod toward Batman, because it hit me at just the right age, and I’ve never been more of an unabashed fan for any show than I was for Batman.
Robert Bianco is TV critic for USA Today
—– Mike Nelson
1. The Andy Griffith Show
For the moment when Barney tries to recite the preamble of the Constitution alone, this is the best show ever. And if you haven’t seen the episode where the high strung businessman’s car breaks down, you have to. It’s truly hilarious and moving.
2. All Creatures Great and Small
Robert Hardy as Siegfried is a revelation. (And as a side note, he is an expert on medieval history, specifically the longbow! And he studied under C.S. Lewis! That’s more than, say, David Schwimmer can boast.) And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be charmed by the courtship of James and Helen.
3. Band of Brothers
Truly an awesome accomplishment. I think it should be required viewing for young people (those mature enough to handle the fairly significant violence.)
4. The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes (and The Return of Sherlock Holmes… and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes… and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
Jeremy Brett is hands down the best Sherlock Holmes. Even better than Nicholas Rowe in Young Sherlock Holmes (which I didn’t see, but I assume he wasn’t nearly as good as Jeremy Brett. If he was, please disregard my arrogant assumption.)
5. Fawlty Towers
This is so obvious, I assume it will be on everyone’s list.
6. The Adventures of Ellery Queen
The 1974 version with Jim Hutton. I haven’t seen this since it first aired, but I remember liking it a lot when I was ten. Be warned, some of the other things I liked when I was ten, (e.g. Fizzies, Goober Grape, Deputy Dawg) don’t have the same appeal anymore.
7. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
I miss Johnny.
8. Ghost Story
Again, haven’t it seen it since it first aired. I was only eight when this was first on but it’s endorsed by the very classy Sebastian Cabot so how bad can it be?
9. The Show Formerly Known as the Martin Short Show
Probably not fair to include a 90 minute TV special, but it really was hilarious. The Making of A Nightmare to Remember which documents Tim Burton’s remake of An Affair to Remember with Brett Butler (played by Jan Hooks) and Lyle Lovett (Joe Flaherty) is as weird and hilarious as its premise. And the parody The Bodyguard One Mo’ Time in which Whoopi Goldberg (Jan Hooks) guards Jackie Rogers, Jr. (Short’s weirdest character, which is saying a lot) is far just as funny, and perhaps even a little weirder. Weirdest and perhaps funniest of all is a brief interview with Lyle Lovett (Flaherty, of course) reminiscing about his favorite TV host, Pancake Willie.
10. Late Night with David Letterman (the ’82 to, oh, ‘87 years)
I remember nearly having a heart attack laughing at Larry “Bud” Melman coming out as The Big Man and terrorizing a family while at the same time teaching them about Millard Fillmore (I think that’s who it was, but it’s been a long time.) And Brother Theodore was something to stay up late for, as well. Chris Elliot as “Legs Diamond,” Zippy the Chimp, even Jay Leno was funny back then.
Mike Nelson is the author of the books Death Rat, Mind Over Matters, Mike Nelson’s Mega Movie Cheese, and the host/head writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
—– Suzanne Welke
1. Mystery Science Theater 3000
5. Space Ghost Coast To Coast
9. Whose Line Is It Anyway?
10. Absolutely Fabulous
Suzanne Welke is associate producer of the UPN show Girlfriends.
—– Steve Welke
1. Iron Chef
Sheer on-the-spot creative brillance.
2. Star Trek: The Original Series
Family stopped whatever it was doing to watch re-runs on weekends.
Always funny, the chemistry between actors is amazing.
4. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Creative masterminds that established a new original style.
5. Rockford Files
Pacing, acting, story, etc. all come together perfectly, everytime.
6. Cowboy Bebop
Japanese Anime that restores my faith that good shows can still get on TV.
7. The Twilight Zone
Inventive sci-fiction that is always good to watch.
Again, family watched this show together. Just plain fun.
9. The West Wing
Great dialogue and character interaction. Production value is great.
Educational/ documentary programming in general, but this show rocks.
Steve Welke is co-producer of the UPN show Enterprise.
1. The Dick Van Dyke Show
2. Fawlty Towers
3. Star Trek
4. The Sopranos
5. Absolutely Fabulous
6. Black Adder
7. Six Feet Under
8. I Love Lucy
9. The Prisoner
10. The Adventures Of Superman
Rob Salem is TV critic for The Toronto Star.
—– Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
1. Brady Bunch
Don’t miss the episode where Greg took Tiger out back and shot him in the head.
2. Mystery Science Theatre 3000
Could only come out of my own Minnesota. My pal Bob was their grip for a while.
3. Austin Stories
Short-lived and hilarious.
4. The Real World
Shut up, I know, shut up.
5. The Facts of Life
Those of us who went to an all-girls school in the ’80s needed all the help we could get.
6. The Sopranos
Woke up this morning, got myself a rerun.
Little-known Britcom that used to run all the time on PBS.
8. All in the Family
The only show that made my WW II-era parents split their sides laughing.
George Costanza is possibly the most fully realized TV character ever.
OK, this time I’m kidding. But man, Randolph Mantooth could get my toe out of a bathtub faucet any time.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is the creator of the weblogs Pop Culture Junk Mail and MSNBC’s Test Pattern.
—– Marty Beckerman
1. The X-Files
Seasons 1 through 6, before Chris Carter ruined it with the fucking baby, David Duchovny ruined his career, and Gillian Anderson ruined her hair.
2. The Simpsons
3. The Daily Show
4. Conan O’Brien
5. South Park
6. Ninja Turtles (’80s version)
8. Weird Al Yankovic TV
Because you can actually watch western civilization crumbling in real-time.
10. Saturday Night Live
When it doesn’t suck, which has been all the time lately, because Jimmy Fallon is a cocksucker and Phil Hartman is still dead.
Marty Beckerman is the author of Generation S.L.U.T., which will be released in January from MTV/Pocket Books.
—– Tom Heald
1. The Simpsons
Best. Cartoon. Ever.
2. Most of the shows I’ve listed as my personal favorites have suffered in quality at one point or another. What better example than Moonlighting: brilliant, self-indulgent, and star making. And like the work of Aaron Sorkin, a series that worked on speech patterns — “I’m looking for a man with a mole on his nose.” “A mole on his nose?” “A mole on his nose.” “What kind of clothes?” “What kind of clothes do you suppose?” “What kind of clothes do you suppose would be worn by a man with a mole on his nose, who knows?” “Did I happen to mention, did I bother to disclose, this man that we’re seeking with a mole on his nose? I’m not sure of his clothes, or anything else… Except he’s Chinese, a big clue by itself.” “How do you do that?” “Gotta read a lot of Dr. Suess.” “I’m sorry to say, I’m sad to report. I haven’t seen anyone at all, of that sort. Not a man who’s Chinese with a mole on his nose, with some kind of clothes that you can’t suppose. So get away from this door and get out of this place, or I’ll have to hurt you, put my foot in your face.” “Oh.” “Time to go?” “Time to go.”
3. NBC’s Must See TV is generally absent from my list, with the exception of Night Court, which I rank above The Cosby Show Family Ties and Cheers on the original juggernaut comedy lineup for its refusal to do “special” episodes. Reinhold Weege is a genius.
4. NBC’s Must See TV has pretty much filled the Thursday timeslots at ABC with quicksand. Friends, Frasier, and Will & Grace I can avoid for seasons because I know they’ll always be around in syndication or on DVD. Not so for a series like Nothing Sacred. From poverty and abortion to an unaired episode on AIDS in the priesthood, Nothing Sacred’s deadly sin (with Catholic League protests long before the series aired) was to not to take the easy Touched By an Angel approach to legitimate questions about the differences between faith, spirituality, and religion.
5. A continuation of NBC’s classic Overnight with Lloyd Dobbins and Linda Ellerbee, ABC’s World News Now has from the beginning embraced its cult following among insomniacs, prisoners and nursing mothers. And while anchor quality and/or quirk have varied, Friday morning always brings a chance to polka.
6. My SNL description below) also applies to Late Night/Show with Letterman but both shows still manage to show brilliance in their continued mocking of the conventions of the variety and talk show formats. Whether 12:30 or 11:35, Letterman has never done a “straight” talk show, but his off-center parody of a late night show. With Dave and Paul, rocket chairs and “Is This Anything,” the show always asks, “Can you believe anyone is really watching us?”
7. Saturday Night Live has grown from counterculture to … well, culture. And even thought it’s often a study in quality control, we still watch it every week.
8. Neither respected by NBC or FOX, TV Nation brought a sense of humor, and attitude back to the newsmagazine. Bravo’s edition The Awful Truth continued a necessary frustrated rage against bigotry and the corporate machine.
9. Deceptive, seductive, addictive, and maddening in just the right ways, I found the cult of Twin Peaks worth the effort.
10. It’s a bit of a cheat, but “Children’s Television Workshop.” My parents never taught me how to read. I actually taught myself with Sesame Street and The Electric Company and, I’m told one day walked into the living room and started reading them the newspaper. Regardless of age, the continuing experimentation of Zoom 3-2-1 Contact (the original edition with Marc, Lisa & Trini)” and Square One TV have offered genuinely fun education that hooks kids and makes them want to learn more.
Tom Heald is the editor of TV Barn’s Remote Patrol.
—– Joe Lavin
1. Boston Red Sox 12 – Cleveland Indians 8, 1999 American League Division Series, Game 5
2. Fawlty Towers
3. Boston Red Sox 7 – California Angels 6, 1986 American League Championship Series, Game 5
4. The Larry Sanders Show
5. Boston Red Sox 13 – New York Yankees 1, 1999 American League Championship Series, Game 3
6. Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends
7. Boston Red Sox 2 – New York Yankees 0, May 28, 2000
8. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers
9. Arizona Diamondbacks 3 – New York Yankees 2, 2001 World Series, Game 7
Joe Lavin is the author of But I Digress…
Wow. That’s such a daunting task. Reminds me of the first question everyone asks me when they hear i’m a TV critic: “What’s your favorite TV show?” And I have so many, that often I can’t give a coherent answer. Anyways, here’s my stab at it.
1. The Nat King Cole Show
I’ve only seen this one in archival footage and documentary tapes. Still, the sight of a suave, talented Cole trading vocal and piano licks with the likes of Mel Torme and Peggy Lee was an amazing source of pride — especially in 1956, eight years before black people would gain the federally mandated right to vote in all states. And watching cole prove that h was more than just a slick baladeer with performances that revealed his true singing and piano playing prowess — well, that was just icing on the cake.
2. The Richard Pryor Show
Another series that didn’t last long, this was ribald comic Richard Pryor’s reward for acing a stint hosting Saturday Night Live. Despite repeated inteference from the censors — Pryor appeared in one sketch nude with his, um, “naughty bits” removed to symbolize what censors were doing to him — it was incredibly funny, hinting at the comic feast to come when TV let comics such as Arsenio Hall and Chris Rock mine black culture to fuel their shows.
3. Saturday Night Live
I remember stumbling on this show during its second or third episode, clicking channels late one saturday night while my mother lay sleeping on the couch. It reminded of thedays when I’d smuggle a Richard Pryor or Redd Foxx record into my room, turning down the volume so my mother couldn’t hear the profanity-laced comedy routines. This was rock ‘n’ roll sketch comedy, weaving rock culture, stoner culture, college culture and New York culture into a potent stew that was irresistible for a fan of zietgist-tapping pop art. Even at a young age, I could tell this was something new, dangerous and fun.
4. The Sopranos (first season only)
Watch these 13 episodes and you see creator David Chase’s complex vision fully realized — a textured, darkly comic drama about a Mafia capo forced to realize the mother he adores is his worst enemy. No other storyline mined since has presented the same level of drama and artistic fulfillment, making you wish Chase had folowed his first instinct and let Tiony kill his mother at the end of the first season’s final episode.
5. Good Times (first season only)
Yeah, Jimmie Walker’s J.J. character was a coon in teenager’s clothing, but John Amos and Esther Rolle’s depiction of hard working, project-living parents in Chicago’s South Side reminded me of a dozen families I knew growing up in my own ghetto home in Northwest Indiana. Put simply, Good Times was the first time I saw a family on TV that looked like the ones I knew (my father wasn’t in my home, so it wasn’t like mine). They had money troubles, worried about getting and keeping jobs, fretted about racism and struggled with the knowledge that so many were doing so much better than they were. Then Amos left the show and it turned into “the J.J. Hour” – destroying a powerful program.
6. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert
Kirshner was a record executive with severe stage fright — Paul Shaffer’s dead-on impression of his deer-in-the-headlights delivery of band intros during an SNL Blues Brothers skit remains a classic — who somehow managed to offer the hippest late night music showcase of the late 70s and early ’80s. I remember being glued to a live performance of “Message in a Bottle”-era Police, The Specials, Earth Wind and fire knockoffs Cameo, and many other bands years before MTV would make such appearances routine. For a young music fan, watching Kirsher’s show — before he began letting disco bands lip synch performances — was like mainlining musical ecstasy.
7. The Twilight Zone
For a young fan of science fiction and comic books, this was heaven — a TV show that took all those storytelling techniques seriously and weaved compelling, classic tales out of them.
It made me angry for weeks, mostly because it made real how my ancestors were stripped of everything that they had — their homes, family, heritage and self-respect — forced to a new land where they would be treated like animals for the rest of their days. It was a potent lesson in the facts of slavery, exposing exacly how it all unfolded in a way that viewers could never forget.
For me, one of the best TV comedies ever – capturing the dysfunction of late 20h century urban life with spot-on accuracy. Of course, it didn’t start out that good and its final season was a mish mash of efforts to keep a fading franchise alive. Still, when it was good, it was among the very best at lapooning self-obsessed urban dwellers.
10. The Simpsons
Blessed with a cast that never gets old and a concept that never tires, his animated family has been skewering pop culture for 13 seasons – always a step ahead and a cut above.
Eric Deggans is media/TV critic for The St. Petersburg (Florida) Times.
—– Laurel Krahn
1. Homicide: Life on the Street
It’s the Best Damn Show On Television. Plenty of critics have raved about it, yet it never received a single Emmy nomination for Best Drama (there’s really no better proof that the Emmys are seriously screwed up). You’ve probably heard that it’s a brilliant drama about homicide detectives, life and death, all sorts of deep stuff. What is often overlooked is that the show is often incredibly funny. Well written, well acted,well directed . . . just plain well done. You can’t beat the first three or four seasons, after that the show slid downhill a bit, but still had some darn good episodes and moments, too.
2. China Beach
Lots of people would have you believe that television is the worst bit of pop culture, a corrupting influence, or just plain crummy. These people haven’t watched Homicideor China Beach. Whenever you see a storyline on Homicide or China Beach that seems far-fetched or overly melodramatic, those usually turn out to be the plots based on true stories. This gem is too often overlooked when lists like this are made.
3. The Dick Van Dyke Show
Lest y’all think I’m all about drama, I’ve got a soft spot for sitcoms. And is there a better sitcom than this one? Didn’t it make you want to write for a TV show? And wish your friends were as witty as Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam? I still aspire to throw parties as cool as some that Laura and Rob threw. And wish my pals and I could throw together a kicky variety show for every major holiday. A timeless classic, too. They avoided topical humor and pop culture references enough that this show works well year after year (lesser sitcoms end up quite dated).
4. Star Trek
I almost forgot to list this. Shameful, really. I know the episodes by heart, I’ve been to Star Trekconventions, I’ve read a lot of tie-in novels, I’ve collected books and posters and other stuff relating to the show. I can tell you the episode titles and obscure facts. I allegedly gave up my obsession with the show a decade or more ago (I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of Enterprise, a season or two of Voyager). And yet my knowledge of The Original Series remains with me, I think it always will (live long and prosper). Can’t beat the chemistry of the original crew. I love the good episodes and lovingly mock the bad ones.
5. The X-Files
I hate how it ended. But wasn’t it a fun ride? I love Mulder and Scully (and Skinner, the Lone Gunmen, Krycek, et al). They’re just fun to look at and think about, really. Icons. The only fanfic I read? It’s about this show. And there’s some good stuff (No, really! I blush to admit it, but it’s true). So much promise in those early episodes, in the early seasons. In an alternate universe, maybe it ended better. Of course the nifty thing about this series is that it works on a variety of levels. Some fans watched for the relationship between Mulder and Scully, others for the Monster of the Week episodes, others for the “mythology” episodes (the wacky ongoing story that got so messed up), and others for the funny episodes. Or maybe for all of it, really. The episodes by Darin Morgan alone would bump this show onto my list.
6. Hogan’s Heroes / Get Smart
I always think of these together for some reason. Maybe it’s the gadgets. As a kid, I became obsessed with both shows because of the cool gadgets. I wanted to be suave like Hogan or cool like 99, but somehow suspected I’d always be a bit more like Maxwell Smart. Preposterous and silly shows? Maybe. It doesn’t matter because they’re so very funny.
7. Late Night with David Letterman / The Late Show with David Letterman
Dave has made me laugh for years and years and has influenced my sense of humor in ways I’m sure I don’t even realize. He’s the king of late night, as far as I’m concerned, if one really has to crown one. Not that I didn’t like Johnny, I just relate to Dave far more.
8. NewsRadio / Sports Night
My picks for the two best half-hour series of the last decade or so. They both have great ensemble casts. Both shows reference pop culture a whole lot, in witty ways. Both shows featured wordplay heavily at times, but also weren’t afraid to go with flat out physical humor.
9. Buffy The Vampire Slayer / Angel
I tried to resist, but the cute dialogue and the epic themes drew me in. The Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling” (the Buffymusical) is one of my favorite hours of TV ever. Other episodes of both series? Right up there. I’m a pushover for a good mix of comedy and drama, for series with characters that grow and change over time.
10. Magnum, P.I. / Moonlighting / Remington Steele
These shows are the reason I grew up wanting to be a private investigator. These shows were mostly fun fluff, but fluff that was a cut above the rest of the action/adventure dramas. Like the best shows, the reason they’re classic has a lot to do with cast chemistry. Even when the writing wasn’t as good as it should be, I still wanted to watch these characters interact. Classic banter. And bickering. From time to time Magnum did more serious episodes and those worked better than anyone could’ve expected.
Laurel Krahn writes about TV almost every day at tvpicks.net, even when she’d much rather be sleeping (or actually watching TV). She owns props that were featured prominently in one of her favorite episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street. Not that she’s obsessed, no not at all.
—– Tim Grierson
In my young life, one thing is clear: I haven’t watched enough television. This list proves it. Forget favorite shows — I’ll give you my 10 favorite TV moments:
1. The 2000 Presidential Election coverage
Exhilarating live drama. Back when we thought these things were real.
2. The 9/11 coverage
Whatever I say here can’t mean as much to you as where you were, who you were with, what you were watching, and what the hell you were thinking.
3. David Letterman’s first episode on CBS
It’s not called Late Night anymore, got it? It’s Late Show now. Dave’s suits are gonna start looking better, too. And, for a little while, this show is gonna be the best damn thing on TV. But then the universe’s cosmic normalcy will take over. And then Jay Leno will overtake him in the ratings.
4. “I Do, Adieu,” Cheers
Season five. Episode 26. Instead of going through with the wedding, Diane leaves Sam to finish her book. She swears she’ll come back. He knows she won’t. And a new generation’s Casablanca is born.
5. “Homer’s Phobia,” The Simpsons
Season eight. Episode 15. Homer’s afraid John Waters’ homosexual kitsch dealer is giving Bart gay. One of the best satires on homophobia ever presented on prime time. Even better, it originally aired two days after Valentine’s Day.
6. Game Six, 1985 World Series, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Kansas City Royals
His beloved Cardinals try their hardest not to choke away a series that’s theirs for the taking. Then, umpire Don Denkinger blows the call at first. At age 10, the boy watches his team collapse in front of him. The phrase “life isn’t fair” suddenly becomes concrete, makes sense, stings like hell.
7. Nirvana gets its own Unplugged on MTV
Kurt Cobain sings “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Nobody in his fan base has ever heard the song before. But it scares the hell out of them. A few months later, his suicide seemed like the only way to top this performance.
8. “Performance Artist,” The Larry Sanders Show
Season two. Episode 14. Everything you need to know about late-night talk shows and shamelessly self-promoting “shock” artists.
9. “The Finale,” Seinfeld
Season nine. Episodes 179-180. Comforting evidence, on a colossal must-see level, that this show could suck hard. And we Frasier fans aren’t gonna let you forget it.
10. Charlie Rose
Who’s he got on tonight? I dunno. Probably somebody good, though.
Tim Grierson is editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culutre, politics, and humor.
—– Brian Lewandowski
Is it possible to choose 10 television shows that are my favorites of all-time? Thankfully I can pretty much rule out anything from the last 2 or 3 seasons. Anything in the 50s or 60s, I can’t really comment on since I was either just a twinkling in my parents’ eyes or a useless diaper filled wombat. So maybe this “all-time” thing should be “my-time.” Anyway, here they are:
1. Family Guy
Any animated series that sneaks in things about how much the Yankees suck is all right in my book. As an added plus, I swear that Peter is modeled after Boston Mayor Tom “Mumbles” Menino.
2. Match Game
I BLANK this show so much that I would watch it while BLANKING your BLANK. Long live Charles Nelson Reilly! He is still living isn’t he?
This BBC classic is what “Friends” should be. People who actually work day jobs, drink beer and have real issues about sex and..um…well..sex and they are not afraid to say “penis.” Are you? I’m not. Penis. There I said it again.
4. No Soap Radio
The whole series from 1982 seemed to be based on the different floors of a seedy Atlantic City hotel. I recall one episode where an overstuffed chair was eating the guests. It was captured, put on trial and sentenced. A newspaper headline read “Chair to Get Chair.” I swear that this was on the tube waaaaay before my first hit of acid.
5. The Muppet Show/Sesame Street
How much of my adult life was influenced by these shows? Just about everythingÖ although I still don’t tell anyone about my invisible “Snufalufagus.” Sesame still rocks but I will someday take out Elmo with a baseball bat.
6. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Say no more! Say no more! Nudge. Nudge. Know what I mean?
I remember thinking when I was little that Danny DeVito looked just like freakin’ Rhea PerlmanÖand then what did they do? They got married. No wonder Andy Kaufman killed himself.
In direct contrast to CBS’ “Ebweebudy Wuvs Waymond” this show is not friendly and lovable. Ted Danson is an ass. Ted Danson is Dabney Coleman’s Buffalo Bill. Me like.
9. Charlie’s Angels
Farrah! Farrah! God, I loved Farrah! When I was younger I had a box where I stored every picture I could find of her. Ya know something though? She never wrote me back when I requested a pair of her panties.
10. Twin Peaks
Every week I would watch and think how much I would like to bang Sherilyn Fenn like a screen door in a windstorm. Then the weird music would start, a backwards talking midget would appearÖand somehow I would lose the urge.
Brian Lewandowski is a somewhat former stand-up and media writer who has a penchant for being opinionated, often daily, often at brianlewandowski.com. He occasionally interviews celebrities of some sort at Hideedee.com.
—– Billy Ingram
My top ten favorites of all time, off the top of my head and in no particular order are:
Amos and Andy
Great cast and hilarious plotlines that are still being recycled. TV’s firstgreat sitcom.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour
I love everything about this show, especially the musical arrangements.
Lost in Space
Could not get enough of Irwin Allen when I was a kid. Still love it.
If I start watching, I’m hooked. Dr. Julia Hoffman was excellent.
The best show ever.
Thrilling! World class actors and twisty scripts.
The Lucy Show
Light and breezy and it reminds me of being home sick from school.
The Carol Burnett Show
“Eunice, get a grip on yourself!”
Finest jazz and Be-bop performers, along with the top comics of the early-sixties beat era.
Billy Ingram is the creator of TV Party! and the author of the book TV Party!
—– Adam Finley
It would be easier for me to come up with ten of my favorite ways to have someone vomit directly into my mouth than it would be to come up with ten of my favorite television shows. Nevertheless, it is my duty as an Internet writer never to question the delusion that everyone cares deeply how I feel about things. Therefore:
1. Mystery Science Theater 3000
MST3K might easily be dismissed as a quirky sensation with a cult following, but beneath the oddball humor, barrage of pop culture, and inspired ineptitude is an important message about creating something on your own terms. Fortunately, it worked, but these rare gems don’t materialize too often.
2. The Simpsons
I’ve discovered that recent episodes ofThe Simpsonsneed time to simmer. My initial viewing of an episode is often much worse than my second or third viewing of the same episode once it has gone to syndication. Those who say The Simpsons is nothing compared to what it was ten years ago would be wise to try this technique. You’ll realize it hasn’t become less intelligent, just more familiar.
3.Sifl and Olly
Sock puppets, Civil War corpses, lunch boxes with zebra brains inside them, flatware confused about its sexual orientation, and good old fashion rock and roll. This show was crescent fresh.
4. Strangers With Candy
You know, that short-lived Comedy Central series about the frumpy fortysomething high school freshman/whore/drug addict/racist? I have all the episodes on tape if anyone wants to borrow them.
5. Home Movies
A crafty wiseacre of a cartoon about a boy who makes movies with his friends. Packed with double the daily recommend allowance of irony.
6. Space Ghost: Coast-to-Coast
And of course there’s Cartoon Planet, The Brak Show, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and the rest of that “Hanna-Barbera re-imagained by chemically-imbalanced animators” clan, but Space Ghost started it all. He taught me that a shark’s reproductive organs are made from M-80s, and it is for this reason alone I tune into his show every week.
7. Politically Incorrect
It was like a McLaughlin Group that didn’t take itself seriously.
8. Mr. Show
One of the most brilliant sketch comedy shows ever conceived, and arguably too good for television.
9. The Adventures of Pete and Pete
Before Nickelodeon became an outlet for booger jokes and slapstick sans substance, there was this show, which had lots of booger jokes and slapstick melded with an actual love for its characters. Pete and Pete, a series about two brothers with the same name, demonstrated that you could be wacky and irreverent without being dumb.
10. The Muppet Show
I have a friend who considers me his “go to” guy whenever he needs a bit of Muppet trivia. It’s not a full time job, but it’s an invaluable service, kind of like driving a tow truck.
Adam Finley is typing this completely barefoot.
—– Diane Werts
In no particular order:
Always funny, but actually a keen little drama of human behavior, too, with its weekly cross-section of criminals, victims and oddballs crossing paths with lower Manhattan’s 12th precinct detective squad.
Another set of even stranger cops and even stranger citizens, in desert California. Men aren’t from Mars but some other galaxy in this sweet little dramedy: Three exceedingly codependent male cop partnerships touch on matters of race, gender, good/evil and workaday relationships.
THE original smart sci-fi show, creating foreign worlds that reflect clearly on the social and personal issues of our own Earthbound one. And just rollicking good tube fun.
The SMARTER sci-fi show, taking the action out of the futuristic realm and making it contemporary, not to mention state-of-the-art technically. With its Earthling star lost in space alongside fugitive aliens, everybody’s utterly alone in the universe, trying to make their own distinct agendas jibe with their sense of responsibility and connection to others. Kick-butt babe aliens, too!
Where I got my start on kick-butt women. Anne Francis plays a sleekly independent evening-gowned PI who brings down bad guys with karate before heading home to her pet ocelot, Bruce, and a long hot bubblebath. The life every girl should lead.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Just the best sitcom ever. The first real adult look at both marriage and career, but never heavyhanded and just as happy to get laughs with some good old-fashioned slapstick.
Utterly unique cop hour partners a Canadian Dudley Do-Right mountie with a streetwise Chicago cop for weird professional action and stark emotional character study. Great use of mood tunes from the cool likes of Sarah McLachlan.
Talk about unique. Where the heck did this come from? Distinctively animated Colorado small-town fourth-graders encounter aliens, Jesus, Saddam Hussein and everybody else in creation, which would be hilarious fun even if it weren’t in the service of some of today’s most wickedly pointed topical satire.
Bringing holy issues down to human scale, this tale of an activist Pittsburgh parish priest (Kevin Anderson) essentially got run off the air for being too good at pinpointing what really matters. Compassion. Hope. Openness. Forgiveness. Doubt and faith. Everything but sanctimoniously parroting the rules of the righteous who claim to speak for God.
Structurally, it’s just a great construct in terms of setting, pacing, character, and even when some episodes wobble a bit, it’s never less than the ultimate sort of entertainment network TV can deliver.
Diane Werts writes about TV for the New York daily newspaper Newsday. She just finished a two-year term as president of the Television Critics Association, and is a charter member of the Emmy panel at the awards site http://www.goldderby.com.
—– James Norton
1. The Larry Sanders Show
All the behind-the-scenes viciousness of show business, and twice the humor. Larry Sandersfeatured tight writing, great timing, and a neurotic main character who engaged your sympathy while struggling to stay atop his fundamentally messed-up world. A little Sopranosesque in that regard, but with more digs at entertainment industry insiders, and fewer bloody mob hits.
2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
It’s an elegant concept: a team of anthropomorphized junk food gets into nutty mishaps. A lazy, malicious, easily distracted milkshake, an incredibly stupid but good-natured meatball, and an all-powerful, totally streetwise packet of french fries interact, have adventures, and basically go nuts.
The good episodes are also dangerously funny.
Coming out on DVD this November, so there’s no excuse to miss it.
3. Twin Peaks
David Lynch at his artistically-weird-but-deeply-meaningful best.
4. Law & Order
Anything you can watch for four straight episodes is really more of a clinical addiction than a television show, but Law & Order still qualifies for this lilist. At its best when it probes the gray areas of the law where subjective human input is necessary for a verdict (as opposed to the episodes involving idiotic, “I ate too many low-fat Twinkies so I went nuts and stabbed her” insanity defenses) Law & Order is great at pointing out the gaps between the legal code and personal morality.
A note to Law & Order fans: See Crimes and Misdemenors if you’re into Waterston and Orbach.
5. The Simpsons
Saying The Simpsons is one of your favorite shows is like saying God is your favorite Christian deity. Oh, you like The Simpsons? How remarkable! You don’t say!
Still: It’s probably the most nuanced and complete catalog of modern American culture ever created. And, yes, it’s hilarious.
6. Northern Exposure
For its first couple of seasons, Northern Exposure was one of the best comedy ensemble shows on television. But as its quirky characters matured and deepened, the show grew into one of the best dramas on TV. Then it jumped the shark (the “bubble boy” episode, if I recall) and drowned. But when Northern Exposure was good, it was very good indeed.
I’d stopped watching Cheers for about 10 years. Over time, the show faded from memory, and I recalled it as just another solid, run-of-the-mill comedy.
Revisiting it after all these years, however, I found that the writing is incredibly tight, the actors are amazingly light on their feet and the show just hums with vibrancy. The best episodes are comedy steamrollers.
Don’t knock Cheers. Ever.
8. The Family Guy
Many comedies push the boundaries of acceptable humor. The Family Guy shattered them, regularly, and in jaw-droppingly offensive ways. Fortunately, its sense of comic balance was impeccable.
9. The Sopranos
All good gangster stories seem to operate on a voyeuristic principle: You get to see all the wonderful perks of being part of organized crime, as well as all the horrific downsides. The Sopranos’Jersey setting makes it easy to click with its well-developed characters, and it has an evolving storyline that just won’t quit.
10. Samurai Jack
Almost certainly the most artistically amazing animated program to air on television. Though the storylines often have predictable (or childish) aspects, the show has moments of real grace, imagination and intelligence.
James Norton is editor of Flak
—– Bob Sassone
1. The Dick Van Dyke Show
2. The Simpsons/Warner Brothers cartoons
3. The West Wing/Sports Night
5. The Twilight Zone
6. David Letterman (all three shows)
7. The Andy Griffith Show
8. Mystery Science Theater 3000
9. Magnum, P.I.
10. Leave it to Beaver
Bob Sassone can’t believe he left off this list Star Trek: The Next Generation, Private Eye, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Kate and Allie, The Odd Couple, I Spy, Stingray, The X-Files, Ed, Alias, The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, Breakfast Time, Boy Meets World, and Guiding Light 1980-93.