The Oct. 6 issue of Rolling Stone is out, with the magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” on the cover. (No. 1? Hardly a spoiler alert needed – it’s HBO’s “The Sopranos.”)
I’ve been waiting to see this list since the late spring, when I was asked, with a few other TV critics (as well as some television creators, producers, writers and actors) to send in my own list of what I considered to be the 50 best shows on TV, ever. It’s not an easy task, even though Rolling Stone helpfully supplied a long list of potential candidates, sorted by decade, to help jog the memory.
The final results, which included input from the magazine’s staff, have been intelligently corralled and summarized by Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone’s TV critic and in-house pop culture guru. The list contains a few surprises and, naturally, some choices that could be eternally quibbled over. The whole list is worth a read. After “The Sopranos,” the rest of their Top 10 goes like this: (2) “The Wire”; (3) “Breaking Bad”; (4) “Mad Men”; (5) “Seinfeld”; (6) “The Simpsons; (7) “The Twilight Zone”; (8) “Saturday Night Live”; (9) “All in the Family”; and (10) “The Daily Show.”
The history student in me found it difficult to be certain that some of our recent and current TV greats would belong on an “all-time” list. (For example, I put “The Daily Show” on my top-50 list, but at No. 25, and with the caveat that I only mean the Jon Stewart years. And do we really think cable sketch shows like “Portlandia” and “Broad City” are going to be on any list 20 years from now?)
My Top 10 resembled the consensus result, but in different order: I think “The Wire” is the best TV show of all time, followed by: (2) “Breaking Bad”; (3) “Seinfeld”; (4) “Saturday Night Live” (yes, even in the bad years); (5) “Game of Thrones” (which Rolling Stone ranks 12th); (6) “The Sopranos”; (7) “The West Wing” (RS ranks it 15th) ; (8) “The Simpsons; (9) “All in the Family”; and (10) “Sesame Street.”
Yes, “Sesame Street.” My god, it taught more than half of us our letters and numbers! Where would everyone born after about 1967 be without it? (Rolling Stone, also born in 1967, ranks it No. 31.)
Curious about the rest of my list? I’ve attached a copy of my ballot below. (Note: The asterisk next to Letterman, No. 27, was meant to distinguish between his NBC and CBS shows; RS counted Letterman’s entire reign.)
A list like this is not the kind of thing I would die on a hill trying to defend (at some point I stopped fussing with the order and called it a day), but I do stand by some of my choices that didn’t show up on the Rolling Stone list at all, such as “Soul Train,” “King of the Hill” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” (I’ll kindly spare you the 1,000-word essay I would write in defense of Pee-wee.) The 10-year-old me can’t believe “The Carol Burnett Show” didn’t make the final cut of 100 (I ranked it 15th). And I might reconsider my omission of either “thirtysomething” or “My So-Called Life.” And “Transparent” (how could I forget?) and the original “Roots” (my bad) and … well, there’s nothing more frustrating than an imperfect list, is there?