Exclusive: TV Writers Choose the 101 Best-Written Shows Ever; What Was No. 1?

TV Guide

The Sopranos | Photo Credits: HBO

Bada bing! The Writers Guild of America has named HBO's The Sopranos, created by David Chase, the best-written TV series of all time. Members of the WGA's West and East coast chapters — folks who obviously know a thing or two about writing TV shows — evaluated hundreds of dramas, comedies, miniseries (six hours or more), daytime serials, animation, variety series, talk shows and kids' programs to come up with an unprecedented, exhaustive list of TV's top 101.

"The focus here is on exceptional writing and storytelling over the course of a series," says writer and WGA board member Aaron Mendelsohn, who oversaw the survey and a similar "101 Best Written Films" roster in 2006 (No. 1: Casablanca).

Mendelsohn originally planned to poll the WGA on its TV picks in 2007, but the writers' strike got in the way. The delay ended up being fortuitous. "It really is, now, a golden age of TV," he says, with several more recent shows (like Breaking Bad) making the grade. "We're thrilled that this list is happening when it's happening. There has never been a larger concentration of exceptionally written shows on TV, at least not since the 1970s."

WGA members could list as many as 20 entries in selecting what they felt were the best written TV series of all time. An independent organization then compiled the list.

The list is quite an array from nearly 70 years of TV history, with Playhouse 90, Roots, Sesame Street, South Park, Freaks and Geeks and Late Night with David Letterman all making the cut along side obvious choices like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hill Street Blues and Taxi. All English-language programming was eligible, as long as it had aired in the United States. That's why several UK-based programs made the list, such as Absolutely Fabulous. Both the American and British versions of The Office made the top 101 cut.

Producers James L. Brooks and Steven Bochco landed the most shows on the top 101, with three each.

"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," said WGA West President Chris Keyser and WGA East President Michael Winship in a joint statement.

Mendelsohn admits he's disappointed that there aren't more shows created by women or people of color on the list. "That speaks to a broader problem in the industry than to the list itself," he says. But as barriers continue to be broken in the industry, future lists will hopefully begin to rectify that.

The WGA's "TV 101" was revealed at a tribute event held Sunday night in Beverly Hills co-sponsored by TV Guide Magazine.

Bubbling under the list: Ally McBeal, which was No. 102. Other shows just missing the list included Happy Days and Family Guy. Here is the top 101, in order:

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
11. The Simpsons
12. I Love Lucy
13. Breaking Bad
14. The Dick Van Dyke Show
15. Hill Street Blues
16. Arrested Development
17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
18. Six Feet Under
19. Taxi
20. The Larry Sanders Show
21. 30 Rock
22. Friday Night Lights
23. Frasier
24. Friends
25. Saturday Night Live
26. The X-Files
27. Lost
28. ER
29. The Cosby Show
30. Curb Your Enthusiasm
31. The Honeymooners
32. Deadwood
33. Star Trek
34. Modern Family
35. Twin Peaks
36. NYPD Blue
37. The Carol Burnett Show
38. Battlestar Galactica (2005)
39. Sex & The City
40. Game of Thrones
41. (tie) The Bob Newhart Show; Your Show of Shows
43. (tie) Downton Abbey; Law & Order; Thirtysomething
46. (tie) Homicide: Life on the Street; St. Elsewhere
48. Homeland
49. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
50. (tie) The Colbert Report; The Good Wife; The Office (UK)
53. Northern Exposure
54. The Wonder Years
55. L.A. Law
56. Sesame Street
57. Columbo
58. (tie) Fawlty Towers; The Rockford Files
60. (tie) Freaks and Geeks; Moonlighting
62. Roots
63. (tie) Everybody Loves Raymond; South Park
65. Playhouse 90
66. (tie) Dexter; The Office (US)
68. My So-Called Life
69. Golden Girls
70. The Andy Griffith Show
71. (tie) 24; Roseanne; The Shield
74. (tie) House; Murphy Brown
76. (tie) Barney Miller; I, Claudius
78. The Odd Couple
79. (tie) Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Monty Python's Flying Circus; Star Trek: The Next Generation; Upstairs, Downstairs
83. Get Smart
84. (tie) The Defenders; Gunsmoke
86. (tie) Justified; Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show)
88. Band of Brothers
89. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
90. The Prisoner
91. (tie) Absolutely Fabulous (UK); The Muppet Show
93. Boardwalk Empire
94. Will & Grace
95. Family Ties
96. (tie) Lonesome Dove; Soap
98. (tie) The Fugitive; Late Night with David Letterman; Louie
101. Oz

For the complete list of writing credits to go along with the 101 Best Written TV Series list, go to www.wga.org/101tv.

What did the list miss? What shows shouldn't have made the cut, but did? Share your thoughts!

View Comments