Although I respect their place in the history of great TV, I’m not a big fan of shows like the Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, the Dick Van Dyke Show, or even MASH, whose finale is the highest rated broadcast ever. The actual content was never enough to get me excited. And I think shows like the Cosby Show, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Mad About You were so overrated it's ridiculous. As time progresses, we, as a society, get smarter, more creative, and, when applicable, funnier. With that said, I have put together a list of the top ten shows in TV history. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my list.
10. Happy Days (1974): “Aaaayh!” Was there anybody cooler than Henry Winkler’s Fonzie? He was the original Dylan McKay and Ron Howard’s Cunninghams were the original Walsh family. Created by Garry Marshall, this was the show where the phrase “jump the shark” came from, and where Joanie first loved Chachi. Add Potsie Webber and Ralph Malph and you’ve got the whole gang. But the party at Arnold’s never got started till Fonzie punched the jukebox to get the music going.
9. Six Feet Under (2001): This dark comedy created by Allan Ball was about the day-to-day happenings of a family who ran a funeral parlor. In the series’ first scene the Fisher family’s father is struck dead in a car wreck and in the last season brother Nate dies. In between almost every issue is dealt with from drug use to David’s homosexual relationship with a black man. This HBO cult classic may be too good to even call television. Every episode started with an epic death scene and every episode ended with a super-cool cliffhanger. If you liked American Beauty you’ll love Six Feet Under. Hey, Six Feet Under. I get it. It’s a play on words. A FUN pun.
8. All in the Family (1971): What’s better than a working class bigot who is constantly complaining about everything under the sun? All In The Family exploded like a bomb on TV. It showed subjects that were then taboo like menopause, breast cancer, vasectomies, impotence, rape and even Archie taking a dump and flushing the toilet! Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers all were an amazing team that made TV history. Archie could be both hard on his family and tearfully human. It was the first time that TV was actually a real reflection of human life. It’s a classic! Plus it was the platform that introduced America to the Jeffersons. After that we were all moving on up!
7. Roseanne (1988): Being complete white trash has never been so fun. A big fat loudmouth wife married to a man who could never hold a job, and did nothing but drink beer and watch TV is why this country fought for freedom. But in the end they win the lottery and get really rich. But then (again) it was all Roseanne’s fantasy, fodder for her writing. The truth was her sister Jackie was a lesbian and her husband Dan had died of a heart attack, and of course, no big lotto win. Regardless of my rips, the show was great, good laughs, and the finale was really witty. So many times it reminded me of my own upbringing. It rang true on so many levels and the up-and-down struggles made you really care for the Connors. I still watch reruns every weekend on Nick@Nite.
6. The Wonder Years (1988): “What would you do if I sang out of tune?/ Would you stand up and walk out on me?” When I heard Joe Cocker’s raspy voice emanate from the TV every Weds. night, I’d race to the living room. My favorite memory of that show is Kevin’s green Jets jacket and big brother Wayne. The Daniel Stern narrated stories, of the Arnold family in the 60’s and 70’s, is one of the most well written shows ever. The episode where Kevin’s math teacher dies is incredibly powerful, and the series finale actually made me cry. I remember, as a ten year old being bored, when the show’s attention turned to Kevin’s relationship with Winnie. But today I still say it’s one of the best ever! What can I say? I get high with a little help from my friends.
5. Friends (1994): The ten-season epic of twentysomethings living in NYC. The storylines were sometimes lame--when Joey was trying to learn French. Wow that was bad. And Phoebe was unbearable and never, ever, ever funny, but nobody can debate its impact on society. Every Thursday night at 8PM this country came to a standstill for Friends. And this show did have its funny moments, no doubt (Ross with the super-white teeth and the tight black pants on the date). It’s the highest rated sitcom ever, and launched the careers of, well, all 6 of them. Friends is the reason we still have to stomach Jennifer Aniston. Of course the spinoff Joey was dreadful at best, but I still miss those must see TV Thursday nights with Friends then Will & Grace.
4. Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990): This is maybe the most copycatted show in TV history. When 90210 was at its peak there was nothing better on TV. Period. Dylan’s storylines, and love triangles, were always great, and Jason Priestly played the squeaky-clean Brandon Walsh to perfection. The gang from West Beverly redefined teen-TV, and the show put FOX on the map. Despite her off-camera drama and unfortunate write off, I still say the standout of that cast was Shannon Doherty. She carried the first four seasons of that show, almost, single-handed. Every dramatic scene and big episode belonged to her. She was great as Dylan’s girlfriend and even better as his bitter ex. The only thing that hurts 90210’s legacy is the soap-operaish weakness of the last few seasons, and the awful inclusion of Tiffani Amber-Thiessen’s Valerie Malone. Thiessen might be the worst actress in TV history and was in no way a fitting replacement for Doherty. Don’t believe me. SOAP every afternoon at 4PM for reruns. See for yourself. Or read about in the Blaze!
3. American Idol (2001): Already in its 9th season, Idol is as relevant and real as it has ever been. Need proof: more people phone-in votes for Idol than Americans cast vote for president. Its contestants, like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, are household names. There is never any contrived drama between the participants. The contest is real and every singer shows up to win and that’s it, regardless of rumors that the early-episode’s rejects are actors. They are not. The 3-judge panel (Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson) with the hooky, over-enunciating host (Ryan Seacrest) has been pathetically copied too many times to count. Some competition shows have even gone with the token British-accented judge with the bad disposition. See Hell’s Kitchen for an awful, horrible version of that once-unique concept. As far as ratings go, Idol pulls 30-million twice a week every week, which if you know anything about ratings is what Friends pulled three or four times a season, maybe. If Idol can survive the recent shakeups of replacing Abdul with Ellen DeGeneres and the talk of Simon’s jumping ship, and make it to a tenth season this strong, I would argue that Idol is one of the two or three most important shows ever made.
2. Seinfeld (1990): Seinfeld is the smartest, greatest, funniest comedy ever made. Period! From Master of my domain to the Soup Nazi, no sitcom in history has ever so aptly weaved together the stories of 4 amazingly-super characters on a weekly basis. This show was a homerun on every level. It got better every season and went out on top with a brilliant finale that tied all the show’s zany players back together perfectly. Larry David was, and is, a genius, and his partnership with Seinfeld will never be topped by any comedy ever. This show is a thousand times better than any comedy in TV history. It’s too bad that Seinfeld has now attached his name to that total piece of junk the Marriage Ref. I guess I was right when I said: Magic can’t happen twice.
1. The Sopranos (1999): "That's the guy, Adriana, my uncle Tony. That's the guy I'm going to hell for." The Sopranos is the greatest TV show ever made. It’s not even up for debate. There is zero argument on this. What about it wasn’t unbelievably brilliant? The acting was out of this world. The writing? Fugettaboutit. The directing, producing, cinematography. The god damn grip boys were the best in the business. First class across the board. Tony whacking Pussy, wow, killing Ralphie, double wow! The knock down fight between Tony and Carmella, are you kidding me? The therapy sessions! Livia Soprano! Uncle Junior! Christopher! Paulie! Johnny Sack! Every character, perfection! Every scene, perfection! Every story line, perfection! Tony killing Christopher! Comfortably numb! Creator David Chase is the greatest genius in TV history. There’s not a second of that show that is even halfway lazily done. The last two episodes are better than the Godfather. Nothing will ever touch it. “In the end you don't hear it, you don't see it, just bang and the lights go out.” Those words and that final scene still give me goosebumps. But Sopranos fans, despite the Journey song, you CAN stop believing. There’ll never be a Sopranos movie. And, I believe, it’s better that way.
Honorable Mentions: Cheers, the Simpsons, the Shield, the West Wing, Fraiser, Dallas, Law & Order, the X-Files, Twin Peaks, ER, Arrested Development, Hill Street Blues, Married with Children, Sex & the City