Lists ranking the top “whatever” are always an exercise in fire starting because of the subjective nature of the entertainment industry, but occasionally one of these lists comes from a source with enough authority on the matter at hand to make a head turn (though, not necessarily make it nod in agreement), and that’s just what we have now as the Writers Guild of America has released a list of the 101 Best Written TV Series.
Topping the list is David Chase’s venerable mob drama The Sopranos with Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing, Seinfeld, coming in at number 2. The Twilight Zone, All in the Family, and Mash rounded out the top 5 with the rest of the list doing a fair job of representing every genre and era in television history, though not everyone will feel that way.
For one thing, there are surely going to be people who say that the list somewhat inordinately rewards relatively newer shows with just shy of half the list featuring shows that premiered in 1990 or later, including the top spot, which could have justifiably gone to any one of the other shows in the top 5.
There are also 21 shows on the list that are presently on the air, assuming you count Arrested Development (16th) and 24 (71st). Newer shows that somewhat surprisingly didn’t make the cut were the wildly imaginative Community and the polarizing Lena Dunham penned series, Girls.
Late night shows like Late Night with David Letterman, The Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, and The Daily Show placed on the list, with The Daily Show coming in at a somewhat surprising 17th, but the guild had no love for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien’s Late Night, or Letterman’s time at CBS with The Late Show.
Shows with a strong female protagonist like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer made the list, but classics and favorites like Maude, Cagney and Lacey, Designing Women, and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd failed to, as did Ally McBeal, a show that was lauded for its clever writing during its time on the air.
As was said before, about half the list featured shows from the last 25 or so years, but the preceding near-half century of television was also represented with a focus on legendary sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, dramas like Gunsmoke, and anthology series’ like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Again, though, there is room to gripe about the absence of Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, The Jack Benny Show, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery (though, one wonders if Guild Members thought one mention sufficed for Rod Serling and others like Letterman and Bob Newhart), and more.
Really, this all comes down to one’s perception of what a well written TV show is and undoubtedly, any one of us could go down this list and lop off 15 or 20 of the guild’s choices and swap in some of our own. That’s part of the charm of these lists: they make everyone into an expert and everyone else into a fool.
So, with that said, here’s a link to the complete WGA list of the 101 Best Written TV Series, check it out and then let us know which shows you think got robbed.