June 8, 2013

The best-written TV series...

... a well-selected top 25, chosen by the writers.


AprilApple said...

Friends and 30 rock?

No way no way no way.

Brent said...

chosen by the writes.

I love when you misspell. It makes me feel better about myself, and more sympathetic towards you.

William said...

The Sopranos were good throughout, but the first two seasons were a quantum jump ahead of anything that's every been on television.....The Game of Thrones is not mentioned, but it's currently the best thing on television. I rate the Mary Tyler Moore show very highly. If more women took the trouble to look and behave like Mary Tyler Moore, there would be far less divorce in America.....They're all fantasies but some of them you want to believe in.

SteveR said...

I agree with AprilApple

ricpic said...

What William said. Sopranos in a class of its own.

Chase said...

Why this group of "writers" are shit-for-brains stupid.

We are SOOOO lucky they didn't include such poorly written trash like Playhouse 90 with writers like Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by some idiot named John Frankenheimer.

It's sure no "Friends"!

And aren't we all glad they didn't include such amateur drivel as Your Show of Shows Starring that no talent and never mentioned as influential hack Sid Caesar.
Who were the loser writers on that show?
Mel Brooks
Neil Simon
Woody Allen
Larry Gelbart (Mash)
Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show)

It's certainly no "Taxi"!

Chase said...

Why this group of "writers" are shit-for-brains stupid.

We are SOOOO lucky they didn't include such poorly written trash like Playhouse 90 with writers like Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by some idiot named John Frankenheimer.

It's sure no "Friends"!

And aren't we all glad they didn't include such amateur drivel as Your Show of Shows Starring that no talent and never mentioned as influential hack Sid Caesar.
Who were the loser writers on that show?
Mel Brooks
Neil Simon
Woody Allen
Larry Gelbart (Mash)
Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show)

It's certainly no "Taxi"!

Bender said...

Chosen by the writers (who are presumably the people who give/gave us most of the crap that we have had on TV).

That says it all. I'm surprised that Murphy Brown didn't make the list.

Bender said...

BTW -- as far as best "written" series is concerned, the "writing" process for SNL was extensively improv.

wdnelson93 said...

ditto Bender. Also, the title should have said "Best written *American* TV series. BBC series outrank many of these - starting with "Yes, Minister".

jacksonjay said...

What wdnelson93 said! Fawlty Towers and Keeping Up Appearances are my favorites! BASIL!!!

SNL just doesn't stand the test of time!

Never understood the appeal of Friends.

Darrell said...

You do know that "improv" is the bits and gags that have already worked with an audience, right? It's spontaneous like Obama's speeches are spontaneous.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ditto wdnelson93 on "Yes, Minister." Indispensable.

I don't understand the hate-on for "30 Rock." I was surprised to see it so far down the list. "Friends" I'll grant you, AprilApple; "no way no way no way."

As I appear to be the one person on the planet who never saw "The Sopranos," I've no way to judge whether it's so awesomely superior to everything else ever filmed for television.

I think I would've put "The Simpsons" first, personally -- of those that I've seen of those 25, which is not all of them, but more than half.

Darrell said...

I'm from Chicago and have seen lot of Second City bits over the years. I just just as disappointed as the next guy the first time I heard a repeat performance almost word for word. Letting the audience pick the situation, the occupations, etc. is just another trick. If it's crucial to the gags, they go with the one they rehearsed with. Only things that don't matter, they let the audience pick.

Mark Nielsen said...

The Bob Newhart show (the original 70s one). Co-equal with MTM.

If we're going to include BBC stuff, there's a lesser-known one called "Chef!" that was brilliant.

Chip S. said...

The Chronicle's list specified S1 of SNL, using a cast photo from S2.

What's the insty meme? Layers and layers of fact checkers?

Jay Vogt said...

Without question and in no particular order the finest American TV screenwriters are:

Paddy Chayefsky
Stirling Silliphant
Rod Serling
Terry Southern
Larry Gelbart

Tom Abella said...

What utter nonsense--where's Deadwood? Or does David Mulch only get one show?

glenn said...


Cronenberg David said...

When BBC polled the UK audience and performers, Sgt Bilko was--deservedly--near the top. Also, very highly rated US shows included Curb, Larry Sanders (and Gary Shandling Show) and Seinfeld. "Written" is a particular qualifier beloved by tv (a showrunners medium) that denies "performance", e.g. brilliantly cast, acted and directed shows like The Rockford Files transform--and in many cases transcend--the limitations of printed word and script. As it should be in a visual medium--Rockford took the 'closed' soundstage-bound television drama and took it to the streets and real locations of Los Angeles.

Jason (the commenter) said...

What a bland list, makes you not want to watch television. Especially sketchy is the fact that they don't call out specific seasons for writing excellence.

Was anyone able to find out who the writers making the list in question were?

Chip S. said...

Good point, CronenDave.

"Bilko" >>> "Friends". And where's "The Honeymooners"? Much better than "Lucy", IMO.

"The L̶e̶f̶t̶ West Wing" is pure dreck.

Chip S. said...

Was anyone able to find out who the writers making the list in question were?

The NSA, for sure.

rhhardin said...

1 of 26? They expect a lot of patience.

Was Get Smart on there?

edutcher said...

Sopranos #1? - you must be joking. Every other word was the F-bomb.

Mostly stuff written to please the Lefties, mostly from the last 20 years.

Nothing from the Golden Age of TV - and, no, Lucy was hardly well-written.

Jason (the commenter) said...

That they didn't included "Slings And Arrows" or something by Josh Whedon is ridiculous. And how about a British show or three? Goodness knows American writers spend plenty of time trying to copy them!

Jason (the commenter) said...

rhhardin: Was Get Smart on there?

No, it was not. Too "fun" for the likes of them.

Barry Dauphin said...

There will always be shows which were left off that could have been included... but, really, Friends on the list? What were the writers smoking?

Quaestor said...

A few genuine gems on that roster, but the unnamed Writers struck an iceberg below the waterline when "The West Wing" elbowed its way onto their list.

Baron Zemo said...

"The Wire" is better than any of these shows.

jacksonjay said...

And how about a British show or three?

Jason the Commenter should read the comments before he comments!

bagoh20 said...

A lot of great writing in there creating endless hours of joy I can remember watching with family and friends, leaving memories that have lasted decades. I can remember laughing with loved ones or looking at them and saying at the end of a show: "That was amazing."

Still, none of it is at the level of a Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo. That's quality.

rcocean said...

They seem to have excluded consistency from their evaluations.

"All in Family" and "Taxi" were incredibly uneven. Not just from season to season but from show to show.

And where was the "Twilight Zone", "Perry Mason", "The Fugitive", "The Untouchables" or even "Star Trek"?

Baron Zemo said...

"Deadwood" should make the list. How could Monty Python's Flying Circus not make it? Game of Thrones?

This list sucks.

rcocean said...

"Buffalo Bill" and "The Slap Maxwell story" were both incredibly well written show.

But chicks didn't like them, so they went bye bye

rcocean said...

I could name 20 Limey shows that are better than West-wing

Barry Dauphin said...

I'm willing to live with PRISM if it can be used to identify the writers that stuck Friends on the list.

Luke Lea said...

They left off Thirtysomething.

edutcher said...

rcocean said...

They seem to have excluded consistency from their evaluations.

And where was the "Twilight Zone", "Perry Mason", "The Fugitive", "The Untouchables" or even "Star Trek"?

TZ was on the list, but the others?


edutcher said...

PS FWIW, and I am pretty much of a Philistine, I'm surprised "Alfred Hitchcock" wasn't there. Alsways good.

But, watching a lot of the old shows on cable (mostly Westerns), it's astounding how much of the old stuff you wouldn't have thought was that good holds up quite well and some of the stuff that was supposed to be so good doesn't.

ndspinelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

I saw the very first entry -- SNL at #25 -- rolled my eyes, and quit reading.

Anyone who would but that show on a top 25 list of best-written shows is not qualified to have an opinion on quality of writing. :)

ndspinelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

I would have liked to see the Soprano writers have a go at the Mary Tyler Moore show. Lou Grant loses it and beats Ted Baxter to death with his fists. Murray embezzles money from production to spend at a strip club. Mary and Rhoda have an experimental fling. There were many stories that could not be told because of the codes of that era.

rcocean said...

Missing UK shows:

Are you Being Served?
Yes, Minister
Fawlty Towers
Monty Python
Absolutely Fabulous
The Office
Till Death do us Part
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Jason (the commenter) said...

jacksonjay: Jason the Commenter should read the comments before he comments!

You can find British shows that are well written without going back to the Thatcher era.

Mitch H. said...

"Shows we rilly, rilly like". Bah. *Which* writers? A lot of writers are shit-for-brains worthless sacks of dung.

All in the Family doesn't belong on that list, it's just there for the epater le bourgeois effect. And I Love Lucy for the historical back-stop. Between Sports Night and West Wing, Sports Night should have taken the palm for writing - Sorkin's been degenerating ever since his introduction. There ought to have been a Whedon show in there somewhere, probably Buffy even though the writing decayed heavily in the last four seasons.

A lot of those shows were mixed bags - MASH was a great service comedy for its first half, and an insufferably pompous left-liberal mess for its second half. Sopranos had maybe three good seasons. Friends was never more than a "perfectly average" Nineties show, inoffensive on its own merits, but not especially well-written. Likewise SNL had a brilliant initial run, followed by twenty or so years of mediocrity interspersed by occasional outbursts of socially relevant sublimity. But for its *writing*? Bah, I say, bah.

As for Deadwood, in the comments - it had two good seasons, but fell apart in its last season, sad to say.

Jason (the commenter) said...

rcocean: Missing UK shows:


Queer As Folk
Being Human

Astro said...

As usual with these lists, a handful of universally acknowledged great shows, but mostly a reflection of the prejudices of the small group that put the list together. Most of them not worth the effort it takes to press the button on the remote.

Astro said...

Missing UK shows?
Doctor Who
As Time Goes By
All Creatures Great and Small

Leland said...

Looks like a NBC, ratings in the toilet, puff piece. 30 Rock? Can't take it seriously. Cheers? "Norm!" That's magnificent writing?

No Moonlighting?

As Jason noted, no Josh Whedon?

And this may be more acting than writing, but Gilmore Girls had some lines.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

The Larry Sanders Show was the greatest written series. As far as the medium is concerned, TLSS immanentized the eschaton, or increased the speed at which the Singularity shall occur, whichever you prefer.

Fuck Netflix I ain't been back since they took it off.

wyo sis said...

I have to agree to a limited extent with Frazier. The funniest slapstick routine I've ever seen is in the episode where Niles is ironing his pant.

Cedarford said...

Among the really old shows, I thought The Honeymooners would make any list. Same with Carol Burnett.
The list should also specify "American TV shows" to stop debate like "WTF about Prime suspect? Or Upstairs/Downstairs?"

Distinction needs to be made for original writing vs. writing adaptation of existing books or short stories (Game of Thrones, etc.)

The list largely omits the old variety shows ..which was actually where a good deal of the best writers worked at one time or another on comedy, skits, joke monologues, scripts or writers suggestions of topics for hosts and guests that were presented to the audience as "spontaneous reality".

The list omits well written kids shows, too.

Nonapod said...

More great UK shows:

- Vicar of Dibley
- Bless Me Father
- All Creature Great and Small
- Upstairs Downstairs
- The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series
- Downton Abbey (Well... the first season anyway)
- Don Martin

Ann Althouse said...

""The Wire" is better than any of these shows."

Bet you $50 that's impossible.

Ann Althouse said...

"Lucy" was good because the actors did some fabulous clownish acting that really fit together. Same thing as "The Honeymooners." 4 characters, and the actors had a style that matched well. The particular problems thrown at them in a given week hardly matters.

X thinks he's won a prize but actually the prize is for Y.

A thinks B is leaving him/her but really B is planning surprise party.

Cedarford said...

And the list omits the great writing - fact or fiction - behind news story hours (60 minutes), shows like National Geographic Presents, Nova and Frontline.

That stuff all garnished quite a few writers Emmys.

abby said...

Buffy the Vapire Slayer and Firefly. Joss Whedon is a genius.

ErnieG said...

I would have nominated Law & Order if only for the great lines they gave Jerry Orbach.

Bender said...

The list would not be so bad if we did not have the absurdity of writers who apparently cannot read. The question isn't "favorite show" or "good show" or "entertaining show" or even "best stories," the question is the best written show.

Unfortunately for the partisan ass-hat writers who infest today's television, they think "Bush sucks" is the pinnacle of literary genius rather than being the hackery that it is.

Bender said...

By the way, many of those "missing" shows are on the full list at the Writers' Guild.

Lost and X-Files, for instance, make the list, as does Homicide: Life in the Streets. Playhouse 90 is there, way down the list behind South Park, which should be near the top. Monty Python and Get Smart are even further down.

Speaking of animated shows, if we are talking about writing, then shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle, and the original Looney Tunes, definitely need to be there, but are not.

Baron Zemo said...

Watch a season of "The Wire" and then tell me that "Friends" and "Mash" and "30 Rock" are better.

That is if you can follow it.

Maybe schedule it for early in the day. Just sayn'

Baron Zemo said...

"The Wire" used top notch crime novelists such as Dennis Lehane and George Peleconos and Richard Price.

The dense multilayer story telling was a joy to behold.

The only show on the list that even approaches it is "The Twilight Zone."

Baron Zemo said...

Currently "Justified" is based on the crime novels of Elmore Leonard who is the preeminent crime novelist writing today. It is consistently well written and the characters are mulch-demesnional yet still believable.

If you don't believe me ask El Pollo Raylan.

Baron Zemo said...

To talk about writing we should differentiate between plot and character.

Some of the shows mentioned created great characters (Archie Bunker, Mary Tyler Moore, Frank Burns, Frazier Crane) yet were essentially plot less in both each episode as throughout the run of the show.

Other shows had interesting and engaging plots (The Fugitive, Twilight Zone, The West Wing) but had characters that were basically card board cut outs. Look at President Bartlett. He is so perfect. Richard Kimble... man doesn't he get tired of helping widows and orphans when he is running for his life.

There are a few shows that had interesting and unique characters and decent plots like the Sopranos. But over time they ran out of gas as the writers started to repeat themselves or wrote themselves into a corner.

So much so that you had to be obscure when you ended the series because you couldn't come up with a satisfactory ending.

Baron Zemo said...

David Chase and Terrence Winter basically raided the story of the real life Decavalcante family of Jersey as most of their plots were lifted from actual events and the day to day life of those mooks.

They were more copyists that creators much like the people at "Law and Order" who take real life cases and fictionalize them.

Baron Zemo said...


The characters were multidimensional not mulch-dimensional.

Meade is mulch-demensional. Just sayn'

Baron Zemo said...

"The Wire" takes us into a world that most of us know nothing about.

Inner city projects and corners where the crack trade flourishes and death lurks in the next car driving by.

Also it delves into the complete corruption of the police and the news papers as well as the total failure of the school system in urban America. With a quick side view of union corruption. Slickly told with well defined and original characters and a plot that twists and turns but is really well written from the first episode to the last.

It is my view the best written show in the history of television.

And I watch a lot of television.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I'm very disappointed no one named any television shows I hadn't seen before :|

Baron Zemo said...

Well I bet you haven't seen 12 Corazones which is just about the show on television today...bar none.

Baron Zemo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christy said...

How would every one rank the writing on Veronica Mars?

Justified's lyrical writing makes me happy.

I agree, Whedon deserves to be on the list.

I watched The Twilight Zone way too young. It formed my tastes in literature, TV, and movies. I'm not sure that was a good thing.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Christy: How would every one rank the writing on Veronica Mars?

I love the series, but the characters were probably better than the writing.

Can't wait for the movie!

jacksonjay said...

No one mentioned the genius, Lena Dunham.

jr565 said...

The Wire and Breaking Bad should be on the list, certainly. But behind stuff like Cheers? No freaking way. THose should be in the top 5 at least.

LarsPorsena said...

Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!

Ann Althouse said...

Clue to Baron: the wire is on the list.

Beach Brutus said...

No Andy Griffith? No Mission Impossible?

rcocean said...

Several points on old 60s dramas vs. 21st century stuff or IOW sopranos vs. The fugitive. In terms of quality, Chase had several advantages of Quinn Martin:

1. The Sopranos could target intelligent viewers (5% of the TV audience).

2. No commercial breaks

3. 13 episodes a season instead of Twenty-six

4. DVD's, Netflix, DVRs, and VCRs. All of which allow people to follow complex plots on a week to week basis. 60s drama couldn't get too complex because people would see an episode on Friday at 10 PM and THAT was it.

Saint Croix said...

1) The Avengers
2) The Decalog
3) Dr. Katz
4) Jonny Quest
5) Archer
6) Chuck
7) Seinfeld
8) Nero Wolfe
9) Cupid (original)
10) Justified

11) Community
12) Detective Conan
13) Key West
14) Human Target
15) Columbo
16) Psych
17) Monk
18) Sherlock
19) Cheers
20) Whose Line Is It Anyway?

21) Rome
22) Top Chef
23) Spider-Man (original)
24) House of Cards (British)
25) White Collar
26) Parker Lewis Can’t Lose
27) 30 Rock
28) Flying Blind
29) Lois and Clark
30) Supernatural

31) You’ll Never Get Rich
32) Bugs Bunny
33) Castle
34) Burn Notice
35) Speed Racer
36) Better Off Ted
37) Twin Peaks
38) Chappelle’s Show
39) Harper’s Island
40) Mission: Impossible

41) Batman
42) Arrested Development
43) Alias
44) Maverick
45) The Big Bang Theory
46) South Park
47) House, M.D.
48) The Brady Bunch
49) Bat Masterson
50) The Andy Griffith Show

51) Danger Man
52) Love Connection
53) Family Ties
54) Battlestar Galactica
55) The Cosby Show
56) Friends
57) Twilight Zone
58) Moonlighting
59) The Drew Carey Show
60) Everybody Loves Raymond

61) Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
62) The Ben Stiller Show
63) The X-Files
64) Hogan’s Heroes
65) Best of the West
66) The Daily Show
67) Keen Eddie
68) Ten Speed and Brown Shoe
69) The Monkees
70) Amazing Stories

71) Bored to Death
72) Veronica Mars
73) Malcolm in the Middle
74) Star Trek
75) Lost
76) Ellery Queen
77) Game of Thrones
78) Home Movies
79) NYPD Blue
80) The Bob Newhart Show

81) Person of Interest
82) Homicide: Life in the Street
83) The Prisoner
84) The Associates
85) E.R.
86) The Dick Van Dyke Show
87) Mr. Ed
88) Gilligan’s Island
89) The Flintstones
90) Mad About You

91) Early Edition
92) Love, American Style
93) Fringe
94) Bewitched
95) Hong Kong Phooey
96) Miami Vice
97) Jeeves and Wooster
98) Happy Days
99) The Sopranos
100) My Name is Earl

Saint Croix said...

Hannah Arendt was not a television critic, but I do find evil kinda boring after a while. And I like violence! But I swear, the Mafia shows, the drug-pushers, the sociopathic killers, I lose interest.

As to the criticism that Love Connection has no writing whatsoever, ahhhhh, you got me. It does have a catchphrase, though.

Back in two and two!

Icepick said...

So, putting a lot of "fucks" into the conversation makes The Sopranos number one? Hmm. I must have a great team of writers working for me, because I say "fuck" alot. Well, I did before my daughter came along. I don't say it so much now. But you know how having kids always seems to ruin the quality of a show....

Icepick said...

Also, the whole list is invalid because Cowboy Bebop isn't on the list.

Archie Waugh said...

The writing on I LOVE LUCY was great for its time; it's just over-familiar today because every single LUCY plot has been recycled endlessly by other shows...even other Lucille Ball shows. But the entire structure of the sitcom as it was known for 40-plus years was created by that show.
Somebody mentioned Looney Tunes, but sorry, those were theatrical shorts that were re-used for TV many years after they were made, much like The Three Stooges. People still insist they were a TV show, and they most certainly were not.

Bender said...

How could I forget The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show?

Now there was some sharp writing, brilliantly delivered by Gracie.

Laika's Last Woof said...

Anyone who thinks "The West Wing" is better than "Game of Thrones" is an inspid dweeb with a "Dogs Playing Poker" picture hung above their Elvis Presley peeing cherub fountain.

Largo said...


Here are two more more from the UK that are worth mentioning:

1. Minder
2. The Goodies

Gary Rosen said...

Since the list does not include "Barney Miller" it is utterly worthless and without any redeeming value. Just to take one example, "Taxi" was a very funny show but Barney Miller made it look like Gilligan's Island. Also if you're going back to the '50s with Lucy then you should have "Honeymooners" and "Sgt. Bilko".

Gary Rosen said...

"where was The Twilight Zone"

rcocean proving what we've suspected all along, that he's illiterate.

Gary Rosen said...

"I thought the Honeymooners would make any list"

Were you teenager when it came out, Fudd, or only 9 or 10?

CyndiF said...

A bit biased toward current shows...

ndspinelli said...

Mary Hartman was a groundbreaker. The Reverend Jimmy Joe Jeter and Condo's For Christ. Put all of the televangelists in their place. Martin Mull is one of the funniest men ever on tv.

Baron Zemo said...


I left out the word "other."

What I meant was that it should be number one not the overrated Sopranos.

Sorry if I wasn't clear.

ndspinelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

I don't see a lot of love for Benny Hill on this thread.

Baron Zemo said...

I hate the Sopranos because if they were going to dramatize a Mafia family they should have used the Colombos.