The 101 Best-Written TV Shows of All Time

 

The Writer’s Guild of America has released its list of the best-written television shows ever. The guild evaluated talk shows, daytime dramas, primetime fixtures, cartoons, and variety shows to compile the list.

“At their core, all of these wonderful series began with the words of the writers who created them and were sustained by the writers who joined their staffs or worked on individual episodes,” WGAW President Chris Keyser and WGAE President Michael Winship said in a joint statement. “This list is not only a tribute to great TV, it is a dedication to all writers who devote their hearts and minds to advancing their craft.”

The top 10 are

1. “The Sopranos”2. “Seinfeld”3. “The Twilight Zone” (1959)4. “All in the Family”5. “M*A*S*H”6. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”7. “Mad Men”8. “Cheers”9. “The Wire”10. “The West Wing”

For the full list, go here.

So, Ricochetti, do you agree with the Writer’s Guild? What would your list look like?

There are 105 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @Gracie

    The Andy Griffith Show should have been ranked much higher. My kids think it is hilarious and its stories don’t seem dated like so many of the older shows on that list (when I have stumbled on reruns if MASH on TV, I find it unwatchable).

    • #1
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    @ScottAbel

    Good grief, what a horrible, crap list.

    “24”? HAHAHAHA ….

    They pretty much made the show up two weeks in advance, and had NO IDEA where they would land at season’s end. Sometimes it worked (season 5), and then there was all the rest.

    No Babylon 5, which made multi-season arcs in TV the new wave?

    No new Battlestar Galactica, which was pretty much the best thing on TV the first three seasons?

    I would swap out either of those shows in place of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The writing, while it had incredible marks, was mediocre for about 3 seasons. Deep Space 9 was better, overall.

    • #2
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    @VinceGuerra

    Only five of these 101 are actually worthy of being on a list: Soap, The Wonder Years (first several seasons), The Twilight Zone, Cheers, Fasier and The Cosby Show.  Roughly eighty of them are pure garbage, and the rest had some good moments, but lacked consistent greatness. Also, I’m a  little vexed that MacGyver gets no mention.

    • #3
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    @DNGic

    I have to mention Friday Night Lights. This show, and its characters, had me hooked from beginning to end. Top ten in my book.

    • #4
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    @TomDavis

    Rawhide was a great show.  Eric Flemming taught Clint Eastwood how to act.  Any rational listing would have it in the top 10.  The theme song alone is enough to put it in the top 50.

    Poirot is another great show that should be in the top 100 and probably in the top 25.

    I have a personal affinity for Dragnet, both the 1950s version and the 1960s edition. 

    Of course, as several others have suggested, Rocky and Bullwinkle should be high on the list too.

    • #5
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    @flownover

    Looks like a mutual admiration society has made a list. 

    Where is Car 54 , Where Are You ?

    The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

    I think lists are great, now if we can get Netflix and Amazon to adopt them and the AFI movie lists, life will be that much easier.

    • #6
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    @PsychLynne
    Misthiocracy: My nominations for underrated tv show writing: · 5 hours ago

    • The Equalizer

    I’m glad to see this mentioned.  Looking back, I couldn’t decide if it was a great show, or if I just loved watching it with my daddy with a bowl of popcorn : )

    Also, Fraiser.  I love the word play in it, but the character’s and the physical comedy always make me laugh out loud.  The scene where Niles cuts his finger while preparing for a date at Frasier’s place is some of my all time favorite TV.

    • #7
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    @Paladin

    I think they should have included specific seasons for this list. For instance, the later years of M*A*S*H included some outrageously bad, preachy, writing.

    • #8
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    @dash

    Reading the entire list I’m shocked at how many I’ve never seen at all or only a few episodes. I should just give away the TV,  I apparently have very poor taste in programs.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Member
    @drlorentz

    All I want to know is, did Rob vote for Cheers?

    • #10
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    @LeslieWatkins

    All in the Family and Frasier. Either could have filled auditoriums on Broadway. Love Mary Tyler Moore, but her shown is in syndication and just doesn’t hold up.

    • #11
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    @Percival

    WKRP in Cincinnati isn’t on the list, ergo the list is invalid.

    Roseanne is on the list, ergo the list is insipid.

    Sex and the City is on the list, ergo the Writers Guild has a drug problem.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @BasilFawlty

    I had to cycle through the entire list to get to The Prisoner and Get Smart?

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @KnotwisethePoet

    Most of these shows I haven’t watched (though I have thought the bits I saw of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad were terrifically well-written), but having admitted my limited experience and without without putting too much thought into it, here are my personal top 10:

    1. Firefly

    2. Life

    3. Firefly

    4. Lost (Season 1)

    5. Avatar: The Last Airbender

    6. Seinfeld

    7. Animaniacs

    8. Pinky and the Brain

    9. The Cosby Show

    10. Firefly

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Contributor
    @TroySenik
    Percival

    Sex and the Cityis on the list, ergo the Writers Guild has a drug problem. · 1 minute ago

    Favorite thing I’ve ever read.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxman
    Knotwise the Poet:

    8. Pinky and the Brain

     · 11 hours ago

    Go Pinky.  Take over the world

    • #16
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    @IsraelP

    I watch very little television and haven’t seen most of the shows on the list, but I have no doubt that Northern Exposure should be way higher.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @RyanM

    I do think that Seinfeld may be the greatest television show of all time…  but I haven’t really watched many of those other shows.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Member
    @RyanM
    Basil Fawlty: I had to cycle through the entire list to get to The Prisoner and Get Smart? · 31 minutes ago

    Did they ever resolve the prisoner?  I have the entire series on dvd but haven’t watched it yet.  I thought they ended it before it really ended…

    • #19
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    @PaulJCroeber

    The Magic Hour isn’t on the list?!?!

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidKnights

    Like all such lists, it is way toO biased toward the modern.

    Frasier should be a top 10, as should WKRP.  Rockford Files was groundbreaking and also ought to be high on the list.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Member
    @Chris
    Paladin: I think they should have included specific seasons for this list. For instance, the later years of M*A*S*H included some outrageously bad, preachy, writing. · 12 hours ago

    It could be very funny, but…

    cue M*A*S*H rant:

    Hawkeye dealing with Chinese -American super soldier who has gone on many dangerous missions in WWII Europe and Korea.  Soldier seems jumpy, so they bring in Sidney the psychiatrist to chat.  

    Turns out this is the first time the soldier has fought someone who may be his relatives, and he is relieving his guilt about being a good American solider killing the enemy by trying to subconsciously kill himself by taking dangerous missions and thus be a good Chinese. 

    Hawkeye then utters the line that killed the show for me:  “it’s like me declaring war on Crabapple Cove…”

    Yeah, nothing like the US fighting European enemies in WWI or WWII because no one in the US emigrated from Europe… oh, never mind….

    end M*A*S*H rant.

    • #22
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    @Augustine

    Deadwood.  It should be #1.

    • #23
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    @Yeahok

    What is difference between Best TV Shows and Best Written TV Shows?

    How much of the writing part, when considering Best Written, is manifested in dialog? Maybe 60% of writing is dialog the other 40% is the story set up, stage directions, car chases and montages of hot women.

    Are there examples of poorly written – good TV shows? The show kinda sucks but everyone tunes in faithfully each week just to see what mischief whatshisname gets into this time. Rob says people want to see “that guy”.

    • #24
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    @BenjaminGlaser

    The Dick Van Dyke Show

    /endlist

    • #25
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    @MikeLaRoche

    Quantum Leap is missing.

    • #26
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    @PonyConvertible

    I was surprised to realize that out of the top 25, there were 15 that I had never watched even once.   I vote for Gilligan’s Island.

    • #27
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    @DCMcAllister

    Yeah…ok—wonderful questions! I’ve always wondered that too. How much does great acting play in elevating a show? Can there be good acting with subpar writing? Sometimes I’m watching something and see an actor deliver the performance as best he or she could. I think, wow, they pulled that off despite the crappy writing. I think an actor deserves super kudos in a situation like that. Of course, I’m sure the reverse is often just as true (probably more so). I can just picture writers pulling out their hair when an actor screws up his writing. Writers in Hollywood must be some of the most long suffering people in business. Or maybe not, maybe there’s a lot more ditching of bad actors than we know about. But I digress…great questions, Yeah..ok.

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @BasilFawlty
    Ryan M

    Basil Fawlty: I had to cycle through the entire list to get to The Prisoner and Get Smart? · 31 minutes ago

    Did they ever resolve the prisoner?  I have the entire series on dvd but haven’t watched it yet.  I thought they ended it before it really ended… · 33 minutes ago

    Edited 32 minutes ago

    Well, they definitely ended it.  Whether the ending made any sense is an entirely different question.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @MBF

    Another vote for Deadwood.

    • #30

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