Top 50 Tv-Shows Of All Time
By Lyra Radford | August 11, 2017
Since the days of radio, families have looked forward to gathering around a storytelling device together. So once televisions became common in homes and sitcoms began to air, that fondness grew into an obsession. Over the years we’ve seen the evolution of in-home entertainment, not just visual effects or picture quality, but the content itself. Much of what’s on today would have been unacceptable 50-years ago and who knows what we’ll be watching 50-years from now...
There are always a handful of shows each decade that just outshine the rest. Some have become iconic by testing boundaries, revolutionizing their genre, providing insight into issues of their time, or by simply being the first of their kind. From old-school favorites to the must-sees of today, these are the top 50 television shows of all time.
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
All In The Family
One of the most famous sitcom families in television history are the Bunkers. All in the family was a groundbreaking show, depicting highly controversial topics of the time like racism, abortion, women’s liberation, homosexuality, religion, and even impotence. All topics previously considered inappropriate to air on network television.
Alfred Hitchcock (1955-1962)
X-Files (1993 -2002) (2016-Present)
Doctor Who (1963-Present)
Doctor Who is an iconic series in British pop culture that (thankfully) made its way to the U.S. and has become a massive cult hit here as well. The sci-fi series debuted in the early sixties and follows the misadventures of the time traveling renegade Doctor throughout the galaxy. The first run lasted 25-years, then it was revived in 2005. This resurgence brought the attention of the new generation back to the old series from the 1960s. Now both are legendary.
How could a show with one main star last this long? Well, the power of regeneration of course. The show has a built-in premise of a rotating the leading man. And while it’s the same Doctor, he’s still different in sense of style and peculiarities that even he must get used to.
The Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
I love Lucy (1951-1957)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Ongoing)
Saturday Night Live (1975-Present)
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Sex and the City (1998-2004)
Good Times (1974-1979)
The Odd Couple (1970-1975)
Happy Days (1974-1984)
Happy Days was meant to be a television show of nostalgia. Filmed in the 1970s during difficult times, the show was set in the 1950s and followed the lives of the Cunningham family during simpler times. Through Richie Cunningham, Potsie, and legendary greaser Fonzie, audiences are given a glimpse into a teenage past full of milkshakes, sock hops, and jukeboxes. It was the show left a huge mark and spawned beloved spinoffs like Laverne & Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Mork & Mindy.
The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
The Jefferson's was a spin-off from All in the Family. George Jefferson was essentially the black version of Archie Bunker. Both men were highly opinionated and set in their bigoted ways. As the theme song suggested, George and Weezy ended up with a whole lot of cash plopped in their laps and they spent it on a deluxe apartment in the sky… away from Archie Bunker and over on the east side.
The Wonder Years (1988-1993)
Game of Thrones (2011-Present)
The mysterious, mythology driven series Lost, forever altered network television. It centers around an ensemble cast of characters stranded on a stunning but often menacing island. Smoke monsters, character driven side stories, and a mysterious hatch that served as the Pandora's box of the island... The show was a pretty confusing and semi-stressful ride. But the good kind, like trying to piece together clues in an “escape room”.
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977)
The Golden Girls (1985-1992)
You’d think following a ratings bonanza like Cheers would be an impossible task, but that’s exactly what the series Frasier pulled off for 11-years. Kelsey Grammer’s character, Dr. Frasier Crane was introduced on Cheers and in this spin-off, he returns to Seattle after a divorce and takes on a job as a radio host for a call-in psychiatry show. He and his high-strung brother both have very high opinions of themselves and often clash with their blue-collared father who’s quick to put them both in their place.
Law & Order (1990-2010)
Mad Men (2007-2015)
Sesame Street (1969-Present)
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001)
Sanford & Son (1972-1977)
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Very few dramas can be credited with contributing to the reshaping of modern-day television, like The Sopranos. First, it was rare in the 1990s to have a large cast of characters, let alone a large cast of extremely well-written and brilliantly depicted characters. They were memorable and complicated. The content was edgy and violent but it completely “de-dramatizing” the traditional Mafia mythos. It took bad-ass mobster Tony Soprano, dropped him in therapy sessions and showed him as an actual family man, not just a crime-family man. It's down-to-earth approach to shocking material is what made it one of the most-watched shows in television history.
The Simpsons (1989-Present)
The Simpsons is the longest running American sitcoms in history, with its two leads, Bart and Homer Simpson ranked high among the most recognizable figures of pop culture. Sharp, witty, insightful, The Simpsons was the first to inject social commentary into a primetime animated series, proving cartoons could still be enjoyed by clever adults. The Simpsons paved the way for shows like South Park, in fact, an astounding amount of comedies have admitted to taking inspiration from The Simpsons.
South Park (1997-Present)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's brilliant satirical cartoon, South Park took it upon themselves to break through any remaining barriers television had and continues to do so. They will gladly stir up controversy anywhere they can. Their political commentary is both sharp and timely. After 20 seasons South Park is still brimming with brilliant low-brow humor and will forever be one of the best shows of all time.
The Office (U.S. Version) 2005-2013
Soap was a primetime comedy that served as a daytime soap opera parody. Just the premise alone makes you laugh. But taking on (already ridiculous) daytime TV tropes for comedic reasons only works with a strong cast–which is exactly what Soap had. Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, and a young Billy Crystal rocked this hilarious show in ways that demand a revival.
All kidding aside, Soap could do well with modern audiences, it was ahead of its time. It dove into topics like homosexuality, prostitution, and murder. Not that these subjects were unheard of in the late 1970s but they were still pretty taboo. They also threw in alien abductions, demonic possession, and a little kidnapping for good measure. It was a bold show and earned itself a loyal fanbase.
Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
What made Six Feet Under so remarkable was how artfully it explored death and grief. It’s wasn’t (and still isn’t) common for a television show to put such emphasis on these topics, incorporate them sure, but focus on them? No.
The HBO drama was based on the Fishers, a family who run their own funeral home so death was really a major theme here. But it was beautifully created as can be expected with Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty behind the wheel. The cast was also fantastic; Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, and Lauren Ambrose were remarkable.
Will & Grace (1998-2006)
Twin Peaks (1990-Ongoing)
Late Show with David Letterman (1993-2015)
The West Wing (1999-2003)
30 Rock (2006-2013)
Now, E.R. wasn’t the first medical drama on television but it quickly became the favorite and the gold standard by which all others are judged. E.R.’s ability to seamlessly merge medical and interpersonal drama not only kept interest, but it made viewers feel like they’d actually experienced what working in a downtown emergency room is like.
The Muppet Show (1976-1981)
The Honeymooners (1955-1956)
The Honeymooners was based on a recurring sketch from star Jackie Gleason’s variety show and was one of the first comedies to put a bickering working class married couple on television (which obviously became a trend). It only lasted for 39 episodes, but The Honeymooners became one of the most influential sitcoms of all time.
The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Given recent accusations against Bill Cosby, a bit of a dark cloud looms over the memory of The Cosby Show. It’s especially challenging to look back on his performance as a goofy but loving father and doctor, Cliff Huxtable. But all that aside, The Cosby Show was an extremely popular, good-natured show and remains iconic today. Nothing Cosby did, will take away from the performances of the beautiful Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable and little Keshia Knight Pullman as the adorable Rudy. The rest of the cast and The Cosby Show itself most certainly deserves a high ranking in family sitcom history.