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Reel Story: The 101 Greatest TV Shows of All Time

Last year the Writers Guild of America voted on the 101 greatest TV shows of all time. It was a lot of fun to cast my ballot, and I’m excited that the final rankings weren’t too far off from how I voted. Hopefully many of you are hard at work on spec TV pilots that will one day become shows that end up on a list like this. Because every one of these great shows started with a writer and an idea and the perseverance to see it through. There are two other things these shows all have in common:

They are all populated with characters that we want to keep spending time with, week after week. They are also constructed from premise engines strong enough to produce multiple years worth of compelling episodes. Few writers have the ability to fully execute on both of these fronts, and the writers who do tend to be the ones who sell most of the pilots.

On Thursday, June 26, I’ll be offering a webinar through The Writers Store, Writing the Spec Pilot that Launches your TV Career, that will discuss these skill-sets, as well as critical other ones, in more detail. For anyone who is interested, I invite you to click here for more information.

Now on to the WGA list. What do you think? Any shows you think are ranked too high or low in the list? Any favorites get snubbed?

1. The Sopranos – HBO – Created by David Chase

2. Seinfeld – NBC – Created by Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld

3. The Twilight Zone (1959) – CBS – Season One writers: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Robert Presnell, Jr., Rod Serling

4. All in the Family – CBS – Developed for Television by Norman Lear, Based on Till Death Do Us Part, Created by Johnny Speight

5. M*A*S*H – CBS – Developed for Television by Larry Gelbart

6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – CBS – Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns

7. Mad Men – AMC – Created by Matthew Weiner

8. Cheers – NBC – Created by Glen Charles & Les Charles and James Burrows

9. The Wire – HBO – Created by David Simon

10. The West Wing – NBC – Created by Aaron Sorkin

11. The Simpsons – FOX – Created by Matt Groening, Developed by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening and Sam Simon

12. I Love Lucy – CBS – “Pilot,” Written by Jess Oppenheimer & Madelyn Pugh & Bob Carroll, Jr.

13. Breaking Bad – AMC – Created by Vince Gilligan

14. The Dick Van Dyke Show – CBS – Created by Carl Reiner

15. Hill Street Blues – NBC – Created by Michael Kozoll and Steven Bochco

16. Arrested Development – FOX – Created by Mitchell Hurwitz

17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – COMEDY CENTRAL – Created by Madeleine Smithberg, Lizz Winstead; Season One – Head Writer: Chris Kreski; Writers: Jim Earl, Daniel J. Goor, Charles Grandy, J.R. Havlan, Tom Johnson, Kent Jones, Paul Mercurio, Guy Nicolucci, Steve Rosenfield, Jon Stewart

18. Six Feet Under – HBO – Created by Alan Ball

19. Taxi – ABC – Created by James L. Brooks and Stan Daniels and David Davis and Ed Weinberger

20. The Larry Sanders Show – HBO – Created by Garry Shandling & Dennis Klein

21. 30 Rock – NBC – Created by Tina Fey

22. Friday Night Lights – NBC – Developed for Television by Peter Berg, Inspired by the Book by H.G. Bissinger

23. Frasier – NBC – Created by David Angell & Peter Casey & David Lee, Based on the Character “Frasier Crane” Created by Glen Charles & Les Charles

24. Friends – NBC – Created by Marta Kauffman & David Crane

25. Saturday Night Live – NBC – Season One: Writing Supervised by Walter Kempley, Harry Shearer; Written by: Ann Beatts, Chevy Chase, Tom Davis, Al Franken, Rosie Michaels, Garrett Morris, Michael O’Donoghue, Herb Sargent, Tom Schiller, Alan Zweibel

26. The X-Files – FOX – Created by Chris Carter

27. Lost – ABC – Created by Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof

28. ER – NBC – Created Michael Crichton

29. The Cosby Show – NBC – Created by Ed Weinberger & Michael Leeson and William Cosby, Jr., Ed. D.

30. Curb Your Enthusiasm – HBO – Created by Larry David

31. The Honeymooners – CBS – Season One writers: Herbert Finn, Marvin Marx, A.J. Russell, Leonard Stern, Walter Stone, Sydney Zelinka

32. Deadwood – HBO – Created by David Milch

33. Star Trek – NBC – Created by Gene Roddenberry

34. Modern Family – ABC – Created by Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd

35. Twin Peaks – ABC – “Pilot,” Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch

36. NYPD Blue – ABC – created by David Milch & Steven Bochco

37. The Carol Burnett Show – CBS – Season One: Written by Bill Angelos, Stan Burns, Don Hinkley, Buz Kohan, Mike Marmer, Gail Parent, Kenny Solms, Saul Turtletaub; Writing Supervised by Arnie Rosen

38. Battlestar Galactica (2005) – SYFY – Developed by Ronald D. Moore, Based on the Series Battlestar Galactica Created by Glen A. Larson

39. Sex & the City – HBO – Created by Darren Star, Based on the Book by Candace Bushnell

40. Game of Thrones – HBO – Created by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, Based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

41. The Bob Newhart Show *TIE – CBS – Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music

41. Your Show of Shows *TIE – NBC – Season One: Written by Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Max Liebman

43. Downton Abbey *TIE – PBS – Created by Julian Fellowes

43. Law & Order *TIE – NBC – Created by Dick Wolf

43. thirtysomething *TIE – ABC – Created by Marshall Herskovitz & Edward Zwick

46. Homicide: Life on the Street *TIE – NBC – Created by Paul Attanasio, Based on the Book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

46. St. Elsewhere *TIE – NBC – Created by Joshua Brand & John Falsey, Developed by Mark Tinker / John Masius

48. Homeland – SHOWTIME – Developed by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, Based on the Original Israeli Series Prisoners of War by Gideon Raff

49. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – WB – Created by Joss Whedon

50. The Colbert Report *TIE – COMEDY CENTRAL – Season One writers: Stephen Colbert, Rich Dahm, Eric Drysdale, Peter Gwinn, Jay Katsir, Laura Krafft, Allison Silverman

50. The Good Wife *TIE – CBS – Created by Robert King & Michelle King

50. The Office (UK) *TIE – BBC – Created by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant

53. Northern Exposure – CBS – Created by Joshua Brand & John Falsey

54. The Wonder Years – ABC – Created by Neal Marlens & Carol Black

55. L.A. Law – NBC – Created by Steven Bochco & Terry Louise Fisher

56. Sesame Street – PBS – Created by Joan Ganz Cooney

57. Columbo – NBC – Created by Richard Levinson & William Link

58. Fawlty Towers *TIE – BBC – Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth

58. The Rockford Files *TIE – NBC – Created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell

60. Freaks and Geeks *TIE – NBC – Created by Paul Feig

60. Moonlighting *TIE – ABC – Created by Glenn Gordon Caron

62. Roots – ABC – Written by William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, Ernest Kinoy, James Lee; Based on the Book by Alex Haley

63. Everybody Loves Raymond *TIE – CBS – Created by Philip Rosenthal

63. South Park *TIE – COMEDY CENTRAL – Created by Matt Stone & Trey Parker

65. Playhouse 90 – CBS – Season One writers: Edna Anhalt, Edmund Beloin, Harold Jack Bloom, Marc Brandel, George Bruce, James P. Cavanagh, Whitfiled Cook, Helen Doss, Scott Fitzgerald, Devery Freeman, Frank D. Gilroy, Helen Howe, Speed Lamkin, Ernest Lehman, Herbert Little, Jr., Don Mankiewicz, Elick Moll, Paul Monash, Dean Reisner, Norman Retchin, Selma Robinson, William Sackheim, Rod Serling, Leonard Spigelgass, Leslie Stevens, Brandon Thomas, David Victor, Charles M. Warren, Hagar Wilde, Cornell Woolrich

66. Dexter *TIE – SHOWTIME – Developed for Television by James Manos, Jr., Based on the Novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

66. The Office (US) *TIE – NBC – Created by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, Developed by Greg Daniels, Based on the BBC Series The Office

68. My So-Called Life – ABC – Created by Winnie Holzman

69. The Golden Girls – NBC – Created by Susan Harris

70. The Andy Griffith Show – CBS – Episode 1, “The New Housekeeper,” Written by Jack Elinson and Charles Stewart

71. 24 *TIE – FOX – Created by Joel Surnow & Robert Cochran

71. Roseanne *TIE – ABC – Created by Matt Williams, Based on a Character Created by Roseanne Barr

71. The Shield *TIE – FX – Created by Shawn Ryan

74. House *TIE – FOX – Created by David Shore

74. Murphy Brown *TIE – CBS – Created by Diane English

76. Barney Miller *TIE – ABC – Created by Danny Arnold & Theodore J. Flicker

76. I, Claudius *TIE – PBS – Written by Robert Graves and Jack Pulman

78. The Odd Couple – ABC – Episode 1, “The Fight of the Felix,” Written by Peggy Elliott & Ed Scharlach

79. Alfred Hitchcock Presents *TIE – CBS – Season One writers – Gwen Bagni, Samuel Blas, Robert Blees, Ray Bradbury, Richard Carr, James Cavanagh, Eustace Cockrell, Francis Cockrell, Marian Cockrell, John Collier, Robert C. Dennis, Mel Dinelli, Stanley Ellin, Fred Freiberger, Irwin Gielgud, Gina Kaus, Terence Maples, Richard Pedicini, Louis Pollock, Joseph Ruscoll, A.J. Russell, Stirling Silliphant, Andrew Solt, Harold Swanton, Victor Wolfson, Cornell Woolrich

79. Monty Python’s Flying Circus *TIE – BBC – Conceived and Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Neil Innes, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

79. Star Trek: The Next Generation *TIE – SYN – Created by Gene Roddenberry

79. Upstairs, Downstairs *TIE – PBS – Created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins

83. Get Smart – NBC – “Pilot,” Written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry

84. The Defenders *TIE – CBS – Created by Reginald Rose

84. Gunsmoke *TIE – CBS – Episode 1, “Matt Gets It,” Written by Charles Marquis Warren & John Meston

86. Justified *TIE – FX - Developed for Television by Graham Yost, Based on the Short Story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard

87. Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show) *TIE – CBS – Created by Nat Hiken

88. Band of Brothers – HBO – Written by Erik Bork, E. Max Frye, Tom Hanks, Erik Jendresen, Bruce C. McKenna, John Orloff, Graham Yost; Based on the Book by Stephan E. Ambrose

89. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In – NBC – Season One: Written by Chris Beard, Phil Hahn, John Hanrahan, Coslough Johnson, Paul Keyes, Marc London, Allan Manings, David Panich, Hugh Wedlock, Digby Wolfe

90. The Prisoner – CBS – Premiere Episode: Written by George Markstein and David Tomblin

91. Absolutely Fabulous (UK) *TIE – BBC – Episode 1, “Fashion,” Written by Jennifer Saunders, Based on an Original Idea by Jennifer Saunders & Dawn French

The Muppet Show *TIE – SYN – Season One: Written by Jack Burns, Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Marc London

93. Boardwalk Empire – HBO – Created by Terence Winter, Based on the Book Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

94. Will & Grace – NBC – Created by David Kohan & Max Mutchnick

95. Family Ties – NBC – Created by Gary David Goldberg

96. Lonesome Dove *TIE – CBS – Teleplay by Bill Wittliff, Based on the Novel Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

96. Soap *TIE – ABC – Created by Susan Harris

98. The Fugitive *TIE – ABC – Episode 1, “Where the Action Is,” Written by Harry Kronman

98. Late Night with David Letterman *TIE – NBC – Season One: Writing Supervised by Merrill Markoe, Writers: Andy Breckman, Tom Gammill, David Letterman, Richard Morris, Gerard Mulligan, Max Pross, Karl Tiedemann, Steve Winer

98. Louie *TIE – FX -Season One: Written and Directed by Louis C.K.

101. Oz – HBO – Created by Tom Fontana

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