Rolling Stone just conducted a major poll involving actors, writers, producers, critics, and showrunners to come up with the 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, a list they describe as “the definitive ranking of the game-changing small-screen classics.”
They aren’t exactly breaking any big news here. TV is good. In fact, currently TV is really good. The era of the creator is among us. Multiple networks like HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC, History, and WGN are making showrunners and creators the auteurs of the day. The more networks get out of the way of the creative folks, the better the shows have become. Shows aren’t tied to being exactly 48 minutes with exact beats needed at 24 minutes for a commercial break. Even my DVR has learned that Game of Thrones might be 67 minutes one week and 61 minutes the next.
Ranking shows against each other is as hard for me as it is to compare a silent Chaplin film with Captain Ron. I have my favorites and Rolling Stone hit upon many of the greatest hits. If you like television, you probably have been told by all your TV snob friends about these shows. Someone has told you to watch The Sopranos or told you that if like Breaking Bad, you should have watched The Wire.
A perusal of their list shows me that it’s very recent-TV biased. I don’t blame them – it’s what is out there and accessible. Do you think 25 years ago we would still be talking about Freaks and Geeks? That would be a show you had heard your parents talk about but you never saw an episode. So I wanted to make a list of shows that just don’t get talked about. Here are 10 shows from previous decades that I just don’t hear discussed anymore.
10.) Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963) – One of the best Westerns at the heyday of TV Westerns. The Man in Black is so cool.
9.) Columbo (1968-2003) – The show wasn’t on consistently and maybe that made it that much cooler. Columbo took the detective genre in directions that it wasn’t headed in the early 1970s. An excellent show that just gets better with age.
8.) 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964) – The coolest P.I.’s in Los Angeles. People know the song but have no idea about the show.
7.) Barney Miller (1974-1982) – One of the best theme songs of all-time. It’s also the first time I remember a sitcom that didn’t really feel like a sitcom. Really interesting characters and stories sets this show apart from its contemporaries.
6.) Your Show of Shows (1950-1954) – I’ve seen episodes on PBS and on DVD collections. This variety show with Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Imogene Coca is brilliant.
5.) The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) – Don’t judge every show on the quality of the product on the screen. If you were a young boy during the run of this fun show, you were probably obsessed with it. A few times a show just taps into the creativity of the average 12-year-old. The fond memories of this show are long for us aging Gen Xers.
4.) Get Smart (1965-1970) – The weirdest and most clever comedy of the era and when you watch it now, it’s hard to imagine how it lasted as long as it did. Truly groundbreaking.
3.) Green Acres (1965-1971) – Still a show that I will seek out to watch episodes. It’s a really refreshing show that I don’t know has ever been successfully duplicated.
2.) American Gothic (1995-1996) – It didn’t last long but this show too often gets lumped in with the Twin Peaks and The X-Files influenced shows. But Shaun Cassidy produced a show that would be very comfortable on Netflix or FX these days. The era wasn’t ready for horror to make the way into a dramatic hour long show. I still love the potential of this show.
1.) The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978) – I’m not sure how this was left off the Rolling Stone list because it has longevity and creativity and quality. This isn’t just a show that is the #101 best show, it’s one of the top twenty shows of all-time. The Conway/Korman/Burnett sketches should be required viewing for any young comedian today.
At its best, TV tells unique stories that don’t fit into the limited motion picture format of 90-200 minute limitations. Props to Rolling Stone for providing the start of a shopping list for TV fans. But there’s a deeper end of the pool.