100 Best TV Shows of All Time
From classic sitcoms of the '60s and '70s to must-watch modern streaming series, the best TV shows of all time are all right here.
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The best of the best on the small screen
Today, we have so many different ways to find and watch good television. It seems there’s a new channel added to our cable lineup every week, not to mention a new streaming service producing original programming. With so many television series to choose from, the best TV shows of all time can be hotly debated.
That debate ends now. To pull together our list of the best TV shows, we looked at the series that had huge impacts on pop culture and their genres, won big at awards shows, were critics’ darlings, and are still talked about today. We’ve included classic TV shows, sitcoms, crime shows, and yes, even cartoon shows. Check out our picks—presented in random order—to find out if your favorites made the cut.
1. M*A*S *H (1972–1983)
You wouldn’t think a show about army hospital staff during the Korean War could find humor, but M*A*S*H managed to deliver the laughs in spades. The ensemble cast of this doctor show included Alan Alda and Loretta Swit, with the series earning 14 Emmys during its 11 seasons on air. The show’s 1983 finale garnered 106 million viewers, a record for its time; in fact, ad spots during the episode sold for more than some Super Bowl commercials that same year. If that doesn’t prove its place on our list of best TV shows, we don’t know what does.
2. This Is Us (2016–2022)
It’s hard to think of another show that can break your heart in nearly every episode yet keep you wanting more. This Is Us does that and more with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and the current happenings of the Pearson triplets. It’s right up there with the best sad movies when it comes to pulling your heartstrings. In 2017, Sterling K. Brown took home the Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy for his turn as Randall Pearson. The series is set to conclude in 2022, at the end of its sixth season, and we can only hope that the producers will wrap up all of the loose ends we’ve been wondering about by the finale.
3. I Love Lucy (1951–1957)
Lucille Ball set the bar for women in comedy with her beloved sitcom. Desperate to become a star and be a part of husband Ricky’s musical show, Lucy will stop at nothing for her chance in the limelight. Naturally, there’s a lot of silliness and physical comedy that ensues. The series won four Emmys but left an indelible mark on pop culture. You’ll still hear folks uttering the show’s infamous catchphrase, “Lucy, you have some ‘splaining to do,” when someone is up to no good.
4. Will & Grace (1998–2006; 2017–2020)
This much-loved sitcom centers around the lives of the titular characters, college friends now sharing a New York City apartment, and their friends Jack and Karen, salty characters, who more often than not stole the show. Not only was Will & Grace hilarious week after week, but it was also rather groundbreaking for its time in terms of shining a light on the LGBTQ community. Proving that you just can’t keep a good show down, Will & Grace was rebooted by NBC in 2017 for a three-season run after an 11-year hiatus.
5. Gilligan’s Island (1964–1967)
Considering the place it holds in pop culture, you might be surprised to learn that Gilligan’s Island only ran for three seasons. The series featured a group of men and women stranded on a deserted island after a disastrous storm. With only their wits about them and little else—save for Ginger’s always impressive wardrobe—the lovable madcaps must figure out how to survive, all while trying to be rescued. Created by Sherwood Schwartz, the man behind The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island earned its spot on our list of best TV shows with plenty of humor. Its theme song, like the best movie soundtracks, is completely unforgettable.
6. The Wonder Years (1988–1993)
Though it was set in the 1960s, kids in the ’80s could still relate to Kevin Arnold as he navigated the trials and tribulations of middle and high school, his growing crush on Winnie, the girl next door, and more, all with faithful buddy Paul by his side. The Wonder Years turned child actor Fred Savage into a teen heartthrob, and the series picked up four Emmys during its six-season run. While it’s ultimately a coming-of-age story, the backdrop of the ’60s and ’70s definitely adds an interesting element to the life of a teen in a suburban town.
7. Black-ish (2014–present)
Aside from being laugh-out-loud funny, Black-ish approaches topics of race and stereotypes in smart and thoughtful ways, earning it a spot on our list of best TV shows. At its core, it’s a family comedy, but what rise to the surface are truly clever ways of explaining relevant issues in our society. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross shine as parents Dre and Bow, and the rest of the ensemble is equally as talented. Yara Shahidi, who plays oldest daughter Zoey, even scored her own spin-off, Grown-ish on Freeform, now in its fourth season.
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8. The Brady Bunch (1969–1974)
By now, everyone the world over knows the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. The Brady Bunch wasn’t an awards’ or critics’ darling, but boy did it leave a major mark on pop culture. The series made huge stars of its young cast, so much so that they even tried their hand at being a professional singing group. In 1995, The Brady Bunch Movie spoofed the ’70s series and was so successful that A Very Brady Sequel followed the next year.
9. Star Trek (1966–1969)
Between its space theme and diverse cast, the original Star Trek was truly ahead of its time. Though it only lasted for three seasons, it spawned multiple other series and movies. Fans can’t get enough of this sci-fi wonder, which notably starred William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. While nominated for Emmys over the years, the show didn’t take home a trophy until it received the Governor’s Award in 2018.
10. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)
Oh, how we love our British aristocrats, particularly the Crawley family. Historical fiction at its best, Downton Abbey depicts their affluent lives in contrast to the servants who, well, serve them at the palatial estate they call home. Though the series touches on actual historical events, like the sinking of the Titanic and World War I, the characters are all fictional creations of show creator Julian Fellowes. Viewers fell in love with watching how the other half lived during the early part of the 20th century, and the equally—if not more—intriguing lives of the people who worked for them.
11. Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983)
Actor Michael Landon was already a bona fide television star before this show hit small screens, and he brought his fans in droves to this series, which was based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s children’s books. Set in Minnesota in the late 1800s, Little House on the Prairie was good clean, family fun for nine seasons. It won four Emmys during that time and showered viewers with countless memorable storylines, including the kidnapping of Laura, Mary going blind, and Carrie falling down a mineshaft.
12. The Handmaid’s Tale (2017–present)
Actress Elisabeth Moss knows how to pick a role. Fresh off of her turn on Mad Men, she stars in The Handmaid’s Tale as June Osborne, one of many women forced to live as concubines in this vision of a dystopian future. Based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel of the same name, the show has audiences bracing themselves for what’s to come with each new episode. Just when you think the lives of these women can’t get any worse, they do. Though many scenes are difficult to watch, the series is written and filmed so extraordinarily that it keeps viewers wanting more. While the sixth and final season is yet to drop, you can binge up to Season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
13. Cheers (1982–1993)
Even though viewers weren’t physically in that iconic Boston bar, everyone felt a part of the Cheers family by tuning in to the sitcom each week. Ted Danson shined as ex-baseball player turned bartender Sam. His chemistry with Shelley Long—who starred as snooty Diane Chambers—during the series’ early seasons was unmatched across even the best ’80s shows. Cheers even spawned an equally successful spin-off: Frasier, which followed character Frasier Crane’s move home to Seattle.
14. Sex and the City (1998–2004)
It’s the series that made New York City a starring cast member and alerted all of us to the designer shoe phenom that is Jimmy Choo. Sex and the City dared to touch on every taboo topic about what does and doesn’t go on between the sheets. Women everywhere identified with one of the four core members of the friendship quartet that was Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. It won seven Emmys, spawned two feature films, and recently came back to television in the form of the miniseries And Just Like That.
15. Frasier (1993–2004)
It is so rare to find a spin-off that matches (or even bests) the quality of the series from which it was spawned, but Frasier is just that enigma. Winner of a whopping 37 Primetime Emmys, the series explored the life and loves of Frasier Crane, who viewers initially met on Cheers. Though Kelsey Grammer was clearly the star as the titular character, the show truly became an ensemble series, with stellar performances from Jane Leeves, David Hyde Pierce, and Peri Gilpin.
16. Schitt’s Creek (2015–2020)
Some television series have to age like a fine wine before they are truly appreciated. That’s pretty much the case with Schitt’s Creek, which didn’t hit its heyday until it became streamable on Netflix. The Rose family appears largely unlikeable at first—until you fall in love with them and the cast of characters that makes up the town of Schitt’s Creek. The series, created by father-and-son duo Dan and Eugene Levy (who also star on the show), won nine Emmys, solidifying its status as one of the best TV shows of all time.
17. Seinfeld (1989–1998)
Scroll through the channels on your television any time of day, and you’re likely to bump into a rerun of Seinfeld. Why? Because this “show about nothing” (as creator Jerry Seinfeld referred to it) had mass appeal and is still as relevant today as it was in the ’90s. The show is now one of the classics you can stream on Netflix. It won ten Emmys and propelled the careers of many of its actors. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for one, already had several credits under her belt prior to joining the Seinfeld cast, but her turn as Elaine Benes proved there’s nothing this funny lady can’t do.
18. Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996)
For more than a decade, Murder, She Wrote proved that sometimes life could imitate art by telling the story of a mystery author who also solves crimes. Angela Lansbury is an absolute treasure in the role of Jessica Fletcher, who leaves no stone unturned to get to the bottom of a situation requiring sleuthing. The series still enjoys a lot of air time, with reruns appearing almost daily somewhere on television.
19. Hill Street Blues (1981–1987)
Sure, there were cop shows on TV long before Hill Street Blues, but this series, created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozell, really changed the game. While it was never made clear where exactly this understaffed precinct was located, its inner-city beat was riddled with drama and controversy. The show won 26 Emmys, and its theme song even became a hit in its own right, winning a Grammy. The ensemble cast introduced viewers to all aspects of police life, from on-the-job antics to personal issues.
20. All in the Family (1971–1979)
Prior to 1971, TV audiences had never seen a character like Archie Bunker on television. Narrow-minded (that’s putting it mildly) and opinionated, the blue-collar crank knew how to offend everyone with his controversial and mean-spirited remarks. Yet viewers saw a bit of themselves in the way in which the Bunker family argued about current events. The series won 22 Emmys and had several spin-offs, including The Jeffersons, Gloria, and Maude.
21. Friends (1994–2004)
Who doesn’t wish they had their very own Central Perk? The ongoing romantic entanglements of the characters, particularly the “will they or won’t they” Ross-and-Rachel plotline, had us hooked from start to finish. Friends turned its cast, who were already working actors, into global superstars, thanks to its relatable storylines about twentysomethings trying to make it in the city and some truly hilarious comedy.
22. Quantum Leap (1989–1993)
A fun romp through time, Quantum Leap starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a scientist trapped in the past, thanks to a government experiment involving time travel. The series finds Beckett desperately trying to get home while leaping into different bodies in each episode. While inhabiting the body of another person, the good doctor tries to help solve some of their problems. A cult favorite, Quantum Leap took home six Emmy awards.
23. Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)
The original Battlestar Galactica, which aired in 1978, only enjoyed one season. But fans went wild for its second iteration, which kicked off with a 2003 miniseries. They couldn’t get enough of the Galactica crew and their face-off with the Cylons, humanoid robots bent on destruction. In their orbit, Earth is a mystical colony of sort and the only one left after the enemy attack obliterates the 12 other colony planets. It’s an action-packed yet character-driven sci-fi adventure with plenty of twists.
24. Oz (1997–2003)
A serious nail-biter from week to week, Oz followed the happenings of a prison facility and the eccentric criminals it housed. Critics loved the series as much as the average TV viewer. Interestingly, the cast consisted of many actors who also appeared in the Law & Order franchise, including BD Wong, J.K. Simmons, and Christopher Meloni. The show’s unpredictable nature and grittiness set it apart from a lot of other shows dealing with the criminal underbelly.
25. The Crown (2016–present)
To say this series following Queen Elizabeth II‘s reign of England is an award show darling is the understatement of the year. The Crown has already won 21 Emmys in its five seasons, and its exceptional attention to detail and quality shows no signs of slowing. Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton have each taken turns playing the powerful royal, with both established actors and newbies taking on the roles of other prominent members of the esteemed family. We can’t wait to see what the series has up its sleeve next.
26. Cagney & Lacey (1981–1988)
Considering its casting of talented leading ladies Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, this series really couldn’t go wrong. The dynamic duo proved women can easily carry a crime show, conveying strength and quick, clever thinking in each and every episode. It focused on both their professional lives as police detectives and their personal problems. A particularly emotional story line involved Lacey’s breast cancer diagnosis, bringing mainstream attention to the disease.
27. ER (1994–2009)
It’s the medical drama that made a star out of George Clooney and had us holding our breath for 15 fantastic seasons. Based in Chicago, it’s arguably one of the best shows about doctors ever to grace television. Throughout the series, producers did a beautiful job weaving in professional conundrums, patient stories, and romance to create a well-rounded show that made us all question what’s going on behind the scenes in our own doctors’ lives.
28. Taxi (1978–1983)
While the employees of Sunshine Cab Company were all busy dreaming of bigger and better things than working their shifts, Taxi was launching the careers of actors who are now household names. Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, Tony Danza, and Andy Kaufman saw their stars soar after appearing on the show. The characters were loveable, the writing was witty, and the cast’s chemistry was off the charts.
29. The West Wing (1999–2006)
If you weren’t interested in politics before watching The West Wing, you definitely found yourself paying more attention afterward. The series won 26 Emmys and boasted a cast of incredibly smart, talented actors, including Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Sheen. Interestingly, it’s been reported that the set was so similar to the inside of the Oval Office that groups on the Warner Bros. studio tour weren’t allowed inside the soundstages because of White House security concerns.
30. Succession (2018–present)
Royals aren’t the only families to have a line of succession. Business tycoons do too. This drama is slow moving but oh so good once you have the opportunity to dive into the characters that make up the devious Roy family. When the patriarch steps down from the throne, it’s only a matter of time before his offspring do whatever it takes to grab power. It’s clever and soapy at the same time, Succession makes the list of best TV shows because, though fairly early in its run, it has built a devoted following.
31. The Carol Burnett Show (1967–1978)
Comedienne Carol Burnett and her comedy troupe proved there was nothing they couldn’t do, delivering laughs week after week for 11 seasons. The variety show set the standard for other series in its genre, and Burnett even had an award named after her at the 2019 Golden Globes. The funny lady ended each episode by tugging at her ear, a signal to her grandmother watching at home. Even after her grandmother passed, Burnett would continue with the ear tug as a way of honoring her.
32. Designing Women (1986–1993)
Four women embracing what it means to be a Southern belle while also standing firm in their independence and beliefs is what made Designing Women spectacular. With very different personalities and problems, the ladies gave viewers a reason to laugh, cry, and laugh again. The incredible cast included Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Annie Potts, Delta Burke, and Meshach Taylor.
33. Saturday Night Live (1975–present)
In its impressive 47 seasons on the air, Saturday Night Live has allowed countless celebrities to take the reins of the show as host. This weekly changeup has kept the variety show fresh year after year, as have its rotating cast of comedians and clever sketches. The show has launched countless careers, from Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray to Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey, and more. Fun fact: The series’ youngest cast member was Anthony Michael Hall, who was just 17 years old when he joined SNL.
34. Knight Rider (1982–1986)
A pop culture phenomenon, Knight Rider was totally boss in the ’80s. With KITT—Knight Industries Two Thousand, a supercar powered by artificial intelligence—by his side, Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff) was able to fight crime largely by himself. It may not have been award-winning TV, but it was certainly an ’80s favorite and remains part of pop culture to this day.
35. Murphy Brown (1988–1998)
Outspoken and opinionated, Murphy Brown brought a new style of feminism to television. Candice Bergen’s portrayal of the broadcast journalist made the character multidimensional and loveable, despite her curmudgeon tendencies. In 2018, the series was brought back to life for a single season, delving into the year’s current events and political news stories (of which there were many). In that incarnation of the series, viewers had the opportunity to meet the adult version of Murphy’s son, Avery, who was a small child at the end of the show’s initial run.
36. Orange Is the New Black (2013–2019)
Not your average prison show, Orange Is the New Black was based on Piper Kerman’s book of the same name, which detailed her own experience in a minimum-security women’s prison. The cast was largely unknown at the start of the series, but that all changed as the show took off, making stars out of each actress. The series won four Emmys and made us all look at the people behind bars in a whole new light.
37. Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
Even those who didn’t consider themselves fans of the fantasy genre got sucked into Game of Thrones, based on the books by George R.R. Martin. Nine families entered the fight of their lives to become the ruler of all of Westeros. It was bold and bloody—no one was safe, not even those who appeared to have staying power. The show’s primary tagline, “Winter is coming,” is still uttered when there’s trouble afoot (or when the temps start to drop). Fans are anxiously awaiting HBO’s prequel, House of the Dragon, which will release in 2022.
38. Saved by the Bell (1989–1992)
Don’t roll your eyes at this one—Saved by the Bell is pure television gold. Why else would it have spawned spin-offs like The New Class (1993–2000), The College Years (1993–1994), and the reboot that appeared on NBC’s Peacock in 2020? If you were a kid in the late ’80s and early ’90s, you wished you had a place to hang out like The Max and begged your parents for Zack Morris’s early edition cell phone. It may have been totally predictable, but Saved by the Bell was, and still is, a television classic.
39. Breaking Bad (2008–2013)
Until we watched Breaking Bad, we had no idea a meth dealer could be so endearing. Following the story of Walter White, a former chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime when he’s diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, viewers are taken on a wild ride. White makes and sells meth in an effort to set his family up financially after he’s gone. Though his reasoning starts out as noble, he must do a lot of truly horrible things to follow through on his plans.
40. Modern Family (2009–2020)
We’ll admit that the early seasons of Modern Family were funnier than the later ones, but overall this sitcom delivered incredible laughs throughout. There wasn’t a single weak link in the cast, which included some child actors who grew up and flourished before our very eyes. The messages in each episode were subtle compared to the laugh-out-loud humor, but the bond between the family was always heartwarming.
41. NYPD Blue (1993–2005)
Another police drama from Steven Bochco of Hill Street Blues fame, NYPD Blue tackled the issues affecting New York City’s 15th precinct. The series was known for pushing the envelope with its choice of language and nudity, which the television network tried to tamp down as much as possible, though Bochco fought back. Clearly, his creative choices were what NYPD Blue fans—and critics—wanted.
42. Fleabag (2016–2019)
Though it was only around for two seasons (a decision made by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge), this series had a major impact on television. Based on Waller-Bridge’s award-winning play, Fleabag follows the protagonist (Waller-Bridge), known only as Fleabag, as she navigates life after her best friend’s tragic death, for which she feels responsible. Winning six Emmys despite its short time on air, the funny, sexually progressive series made a star of Waller-Bridge and left fans wanting more.
43. Grey’s Anatomy (2005–present)
We’ve said hello and goodbye to many doctor shows over the years, but Grey’s Anatomy remains consistent in its relentless approach to medical drama. Created by Shonda Rhimes, the series still includes original stars Ellen Pompeo, James Pickens Jr., and Chandra Wilson. At close to 400 episodes, the series is one of the top 20 longest-running scripted American primetime TV shows. With story lines that put both new and beloved characters’ lives at risk, Grey’s Anatomy keeps us on our toes.
44. Gilmore Girls (2000–2007)
Gilmore Girls took home only one Emmy during its seven-season run (for makeup), and fans will tell you this is a travesty. The fast-talking mother-daughter duo of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore delivered quick, witty lines week after week, with plenty of comedy and drama to keep viewers entertained. So beloved was this series that fans were gifted a four-part event in 2016, which shared where the Gilmore gals had landed after the 2007 finale. Selfishly, we’d like another miniseries to bring us up to date again.
45. Doctor Who (1963–1989; 2005–present)
Sci-fi fans can’t get enough of the Doctor—you know, the alien adventurer who travels through time and space. Over the years, many different actors have portrayed the Doctor, including David Tennant, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker, the first female to snag the role. Die-hard fans can’t get enough of this Britsh series or its associated merchandise. If there’s a Dr. Who fan in your life, they’re bound to have something in the shape of a TARDIS, the time machine spacecraft that resembles a British police box.
46. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017–present)
Once a housewife, always a housewife? Not for Midge Maisel, who forges her own path as a stand-up comic in the 1950s after her marriage takes a turn for the worse. Funny, confident, and strong, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel proves to viewers we can be anyone we want to be. From her impromptu speech at a women’s rally to her telethon debut, Midge’s most marvelous moments are TV gold.
47. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)
Groundbreaking in the way it portrayed independent, single women at the time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was built around well-developed characters rather than crazy plotlines. Viewers rooted for Mary as she moved on from her small-town Minnesota life to the state’s capital, with a new job and new friends waiting in the wings. The spin-off Rhoda, starring Moore’s sidekick Valerie Harper, lasted for five seasons.
48. 30 Rock (2006–2013)
The cast of 30 Rock was a real comedy dream team, which makes it impossible to pick a favorite funny episode. Week after week, viewers tuned in to watch the antics behind the scenes of TGS with Tracy Jordan, a sketch comedy show that felt an awful lot like Saturday Night Live. Celebrities behaving badly is always intriguing, so watching the diva doings of this show within a show was always a laugh. Tina Fey as head writer Liz Lemon was pure magic.
49. Charlie’s Angels (1976–1981)
From the fashion to the crazy story lines, Charlie’s Angels could be a little out there at times. Still, this trio of butt-kicking women holds a strong place in pop culture—to this day, you’ll find women striking the iconic Angels pose. Younger generations may only remember the feature films (starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu) or the short-lived 2011 reboot, but all took inspiration from the ’70s classic.
50. The Wire (2002–2008)
There are two sides to every story, and The Wire showed the Baltimore drug scene from the perspective of both the cops and the dealers. With an incredibly talented cast that included Idris Elba, Dominic West, and Lance Reddick, the series was complex and compelling and kept fans guessing because nothing was ever exactly as it seemed.
51. The Golden Girls (1985–1992)
This sharp-as-tacks comedy starring legendary actresses Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty is still as relevant today as it was when it premiered in the mid-’80s. Each episode has laugh-out-loud moments, and the running gags, like Rose’s “back in St. Olaf” stories and Sophia’s “picture it” moments, made viewers feel like insiders in these characters’ lives. You’ll still catch reruns of The Golden Girls on TV today and find tons of merch referencing the show.
52. The Good Wife (2009–2016)
Actress Julianna Margulies took the role of Alicia Florrick and ran with it, leading The Good Wife through seven flawless seasons. Alicia is a former litigator who leaves her career behind to play the dutiful wife to her high-powered husband, a state’s attorney. When a humiliating and corrupt scandal sends him to prison, Alicia must take back her power and career, both for her family and herself.
53. Sesame Street (1969–present)
It’s hard to believe that Sesame Street has been teaching generations of children for more than 50 years, but it’s true! We cried when Mr. Hooper passed away and danced along with the young girl who rocked out to Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” The series continues to introduce important characters, like Julia, who shares what it’s like to have autism, and Ji-Young, the first Asian American muppet. Most important, Sesame Street connects children from across the world in a way that makes it one of the best kids’ shows of all time.
54. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–present)
You don’t have to be a kid or the parent of one to appreciate the humor that is SpongeBob SquarePants. The long-running animated series is snarky and silly in all of the best ways. Who knew the daily life of a sea sponge and his underwater pals could be so entertaining? SpongeBob SquarePants even became a Broadway musical, proving its mass appeal.
55. The Love Boat (1977–1987)
Captain Stubing and his crew made hitting the high seas with a group of strangers and celebrity guests look positively magical in The Love Boat. Guest stars included Jamie Lee Curtis, Florence Henderson, Vanessa Williams, Betty White, and Sonny Bono. Even if you’ve never seen the show, there’s a chance you’ve heard (and can hum) its croon-worthy theme song.
56. The Shield (2002–2008)
An antihero of epic proportions, Vic Mackey is a corrupt cop who uses his own set of rules to get his job done, and some of his methods are downright reprehensible. Michael Chiklis played Mackey with such intensity that he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2002. Aggressive and uncomfortable, The Shield makes it hard to know just who to root for, a combo that ultimately makes for compelling TV.
57. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996–2005)
Everybody Loves Raymond touched on family dynamics so relatable you can’t help but laugh, even if your parents don’t live across the street like Raymond’s do. The ensemble cast made the series a delight to watch and contributed to the show’s 15 Emmy wins. With perfectly executed jokes and a lot of heart, the sitcom made you realize that if you don’t laugh at your own family issues, you just might cry!
58. The Real World (1992–present)
Considered by many to be the first reality TV show, The Real World started out as an honest look at what happens when seven people from different walks of life live under the same roof. The fact that they were twentysomethings and all attractive didn’t hurt either. Those early days of The Real World made for fascinating television, particularly the seasons held in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
59. The Big Bang Theory (2007–2019)
This is the sitcom that sci-fi fans had been waiting for their entire lives: Following a group of super-smart scientists and their aspiring actress neighbor, The Big Bang Theory provided the sort of camaraderie TV was missing after the end of Friends. Throwing in guest appearances by beloved members of the Star Trek and Star Wars universes, along with a lot of Stephen Hawking references, The Big Bang Theory taught viewers about friendship, science, and coexisting despite differences.
60. Law & Order: SVU (1999–present)
Frankly, we’re partial to the entire Law & Order franchise, from the original to Criminal Intent, but SVU is the series that has stuck around the longest and deserves major props. Investigating cases assigned to the special victims unit, detective Olivia Benson and her squad handle delicate issues that feel real and timely. Viewers love the ripped-from-the-headlines format, a hallmark of the Law & Order franchise.
61. The Simpsons (1989–present)
The Simpsons have been staying on top of current events—even featuring Reading Digest, a spoof of Reader’s Digest, in one episode—and making viewers laugh for more than 30 years. Originally a cartoon short on The Tracy Ullman Show, it’s the longest-running comedy series in U.S. primetime TV history. Not bad for an animated family that doesn’t age. Created by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon, The Simpsons has won 35 Emmys over the years, proving its staying power has never waned.
62. 24 (2001–2010)
With each episode following—in real time—an hour in the day of counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, the Kiefer Sutherland drama was groundbreaking in the way it was filmed and edited. Every minute counted as Bauer attempted to foil the plans of those on the attack, and the ticking clock that appeared before and after each commercial break served to ratchet up the tension.
63. The Andy Griffith Show (1960–1968)
It must be nice to be sheriff in a town like Mayberry, North Carolina, which has very little crime. This allows Sheriff Taylor, played by the iconic Andy Griffith, to shoot the breeze with the locals and his deputy, Barney Fife, who also happens to be his cousin. The series, initially shot in black-and-white and later in color, is indicative of its time and good, clean, family fun.
64. Jeopardy! (1984–present)
“I’ll take ‘Best Game Shows’ for $100, Alex.” For more than 35 years Jeopardy! has pit a returning champ against two challengers to test their knowledge in an impressive array of categories as they provide questions to the answers. It remains to be seen if the show will remain popular once a new host is named to fill the late Alex Trebek’s very big shoes. And here’s some good news for quiz champs: If you can’t catch the show live, you can watch it on ABC’s free app.
65. Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963)
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, The Beaver just couldn’t get anything quite right. The younger brother to all-around good guy Wally, Beaver found himself in a pickle each and every episode. Generally frowned upon by his father, Ward, this kid tried to navigate his young life in the idyllic suburbs with the help of perfect TV mom, June, and buddies like Larry and Whitey.
66. The Bob Newhart Show (1972–1978)
The legendary Bob Newhart was on point with this series about a psychologist and the eccentric array of people around him. The show, which also starred Suzanne Pleshette and Bill Daily, is as laugh-out-loud funny now as it was back in the ’70s. It’s known for its madcap episode ideas, such as the time Newhart’s Dr. Hartley falls down an elevator shaft. If you aren’t familiar with this classic, it’s certainly one worth checking out.
67. Maude (1972–1979)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show gets a lot of credit for casting women in a different light on television. But Bea Arthur’s Maude was also a groundbreaking look at the life of a single, independent-minded, and opinionated woman. A spin-off of All in the Family (Maude was Edith’s cousin), the titular character doesn’t take guff from anyone and isn’t afraid to share her liberal views.
68. Family Ties (1982–1989)
Just a nice midwestern family consisting of mom and dad (who are liberal hippies), a conservative son, and two daughters who couldn’t be more different. Family Ties was so much more than a family sitcom. Yes, it addressed a lot of the growing pains involved in a marriage and bringing up kids, but it also touched on some serious, relevant issues of the time. The series launched Michael J. Fox’s career, and Alex P. Keaton may be one of the best television characters of all time.
69. MacGyver (1985–1992, 2016–present)
A roll of duct tape and survival skills is all MacGyver ever needed to catch the bad guys. The secret agent was unstoppable, all while maintaining regular-guy charm. Richard Dean Anderson starred as the title character in the ’80s, a role Lucas Till filled when the series was rebooted in 2016. While we have to admit we’re partial to the original, Till does a great job picking up where Anderson left off, and the series still has all of the action and suspense it did over 35 years ago.
70. How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014)
This sitcom took an entirely different approach to the television genre, with a father telling his kids how he met their mother (hence the title of the series). Through many seasons of flashbacks, we learn Ted’s ups and downs of dating, which all lead to meeting the mother of his children. The way the story unwinds leaves viewers constantly guessing which character is the kids’ mom. We won’t share any spoilers, in case you haven’t watched it yet. But we promise you’ll laugh and cry throughout this clever series.
71. The Jeffersons (1975–1985)
In this spin-off of All in the Family, the Jeffersons, like the show’s theme song says, are “moving on up to the Eastside, with a deluxe apartment in the sky.” As a wealthy Black couple, the Jeffersons’ presence is met with mixed reactions from the other tenants of the luxury apartment building. Sherman Hemsley as George and Isabel Sanford as Louise were an absolute dream team. The series ran for 11 seasons, winning two Emmys during that time.
72. Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014)
Set during the Prohibition era, an intriguing time period in and of itself, the story of Boardwalk Empire unfolds in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Steve Buscemi portrays Nucky Thompson, a politician and gangster who isn’t afraid to play both sides of the law. But when the feds get involved in his dealings, all bets are off. The ensemble cast of Boardwalk Empire is stellar, which is just one of the reasons the series won 20 Emmys.
73. Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990–2000)
What started out as a fish-out-of-water story about the Minnesota-born Walsh twins and their move to swanky Beverly Hills quickly turned into a sensational soapy drama. The show was so popular that it turned its cast into television superstars, causing a fan frenzy wherever they went. The series lasted for ten seasons, following the characters through high school, college, and their early careers. Whether you were Team Brenda or Team Kelly, if you were a teen during the nineties, there’s a special place in your heart for 90210.
74. Happy Days (1974–1984)
It’s the 1950s, and the wholesome Cunningham family gets more than they bargained for when they are introduced to the Fonz—that would be one Arthur “Fonzie” Fonazarelli. With its toe-tapping theme song, Happy Days became iconic television during the era, though fans often admit the quality of the series went downhill as the seasons progressed. In fact, that’s how the phrase “jumped the shark” came into play; after an episode in which Fonzie literally jumps over a shark on water skis, it appeared the show was ready to be laid to rest.
75. Dallas (1978–1991)
“Who shot J.R.?” was the question television viewers desperately wanted the answer to in 1980. Dallas was appointment television for millions, and finding out who had the guts to shoot the oil tycoon weighed on everyone’s mind. The series was full of great cliffhangers, and as soon as they caught sight of the longhorns at the beginning of each episode, audiences knew they were in for a treat. The series got a reboot in 2012, but it only lasted for a few seasons and couldn’t compete with the original.
76. Good Times (1974–1979)
Despite living in the housing projects of Chicago, the Evans family makes the most of life. Jimmie Walker had a career-making turn as the charismatic J.J., and the show launched the acting portion of a young Janet Jackson’s career. While Good Times was a spin-off of the show Maude (matriarch Florida was Maude’s housekeeper back in New York), the character of Maude was never mentioned.
77. My So-Called Life (1994–1995)
You may question how a television show that only enjoyed one season can make it onto this list, but My So-Called Life is absolutely worthy. It’s a realistic coming-of-age story (sometimes painfully so), complete with angsty teens making poor choices and parents trying to figure it out as they go along. It launched the careers of series stars Claire Danes and Jared Leto and even received four Emmy nominations. Not bad for a show that only had 19 episodes to shine.
78. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966)
There aren’t many entertainers as versatile and legendary as Dick Van Dyke, so it was a no-brainer that he had his own show during the 1960s. In the series, Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, a television writer, married to Mary Tyler Moore’s character, Laura. It won 15 Emmys during its time on air and is considered quintessential ’60s television, filled with plenty of physical comedy and classic bits.
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79. Reading Rainbow (1983–2006)
Young bookworms couldn’t get enough of PBS’s Reading Rainbow with host LeVar Burton. He shared illustrated readings of beloved stories, with each episode representing a theme. Children would also share the reasons why they love certain books, encouraging other kids to read them. The show is remembered so fondly that many of its fans, now adults, wanted to see Burton in the role of Jeopardy host after Alex Trebek’s passing. As a testament to its power, the show won more than 250 awards in its more than two decades on air.
80. Scrubs (2001–2010)
Often unfairly overlooked on lists of best TV shows, Scrubs was comedic gold from its pilot to the finale. It was a career launcher for lead Zach Braff, who stars in and narrates the series as Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian. At the start of the show, J.D. is a newbie at Sacred Heart Hospital, but thanks to friendship and some hard life lessons, he’s a veteran doctor by the end. The cast is incredible, including the hilarious Donald Faison.
81. Benson (1979–1986)
A spin-off of the series Soap in which Benson DuBois worked as Jessica Tate’s butler, Benson brought the character into the political world. Initially, he was director of household affairs for the fictional Governor Gatling. But Benson’s quick wit quickly propelled him further into politics, and eventually he became lieutenant governor. It was a comedic look at what goes on behind the scenes with government officials.
82. Outlander (2014–present)
Based on the best-selling fantasy series by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is the story of Claire, a British combat nurse currently living in the year 1945. After touching an unsuspecting rock, she’s swept back in time to 1743. It’s there that she meets handsome but rough-around-the-edges Jamie, who she is forced to marry. Through much time jumping and a series of wild events, the characters must play the cards they are dealt in very dramatic ways.
83. Mad Men (2007–2015)
This critics’ favorite allowed audiences a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a fictional ad agency in the early 1960s. Television viewers couldn’t get enough of Don Draper and the Sterling Cooper staff. A man of mystery, Draper and his personal relationships were as fascinating as the ad campaigns he set out to create. The series won 16 Emmys and put Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, and January Jones on the Hollywood A-list.
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84. The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)
The fifth dimension is and always will be an odd place, which is what makes The Twilight Zone so terrifying and unexpected. Rod Serling narrated all 155 episodes, but the actors changed fairly regularly in order to switch up the stories from week to week. There was a contemporary reboot of The Twilight Zone with actor and director Jordan Peele at the helm, but it only lasted two seasons.
85. Homeland (2011–2020)
This gripping drama about a CIA operative who thinks a prisoner of war has pledged his loyalty to al-Qaeda had viewers riveted for eight seasons. Claire Danes won critical praise (not to mention awards) for her turn as Carrie Mathison, the operative involved who also happens to be living with bipolar disorder. Actor Damian Lewis portrays the POW, who may or may not be planning a terrorist attack on American soil. It’s a nail-biter from beginning to end.
86. Dynasty (1981–1989)
Some might call Dynasty frivolous, but frankly, that’s what made it one of the best primetime soaps of all time. The catfights between Alexis and Crystal, the shoulder pads, the evening gowns—it made us all want to dive into the lives of the Colbys and the Carringtons. Updated for the modern era, the Dynasty reboot is enjoying success on the CW. Speaking of soap operas, here’s how you can still watch Days of Our Lives after it leaves daytime TV.
87. The A-Team (1983–1987)
We pity the fools who didn’t have the opportunity to witness the A-Team‘s era of television. The intimidating but loveable Mr. T, who played B.A. Barracus, was the biggest star to emerge from the series, but all of the team members hold a special place in ’80s pop culture. Unfamiliar with the show? It’s about four Vietnam veterans who are framed for a crime. While on the run, they come to the aid of others in precarious situations.
88. Stranger Things (2016–present)
When you want science fiction, all sorts of spooks and scares, and ’80s nostalgia with modern filmmaking, Stranger Things is here for you. The series breathed new life into actress Winona Ryder’s career while making stars out of Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo. Winner of seven Emmys, it’s certainly one of the most creative shows in television history.
89. Lost (2004–2010)
A game-changer for television, Lost is almost uncategorizable. It’s a drama, but also action packed with a hint of sci-fi thrown in. Whenever you thought the show’s writers and producers were going to zig, they zagged with story lines that kept Lost completely fresh. Even at the very end of the series, viewers were confused as to what was real and what wasn’t. One of the best things about the series is that you can watch it again and again, picking up new clues you never noticed before.
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90. The Americans (2013–2018)
When watching The Americans, one can never let their guard down. With so many twists and turns throughout each episode, viewers were constantly grappling with what to expect next. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, are Russian agents posing as your typical American couple at the height of the Cold War, and they have everything on the line—including the safety of their kids.
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91. The Sopranos (1999–2007)
You have to admire a show so well written that you actually care about and often root for the bad guys. Tony Soprano is a New Jersey mob boss who tries to keep the professional and personal separate. Of course, that doesn’t really fly in his line of work. Torn between reminding everyone who is boss and occasionally following a moral compass, Tony is the antihero television never knew it needed.
92. House (2004–2012)
Despite his many shortcomings, namely his cranky personality, we’d like to have Dr. Gregory House on speed dial when we can’t figure out what our health symptoms might mean. Actor Hugh Laurie executed the character of House perfectly, and the ensemble cast that filled out his dutiful medical team was a dream. A different type of medical drama, the ways in which the team solved puzzling health maladies were always fascinating.
93. Diff’rent Strokes (1978–1986)
While the severity of the cast’s off-screen problems often took the focus away from the comedy that was Diff’rent Strokes, the show undoubtedly had a stronghold on pop culture. It’s the story of what happens when two young African American boys are adopted by their mother’s boss after her untimely death. The kids go from living under the roof of a single mother to a Manhattan penthouse. Racial issues were sometimes addressed, but mostly the actors brought laughs, with little Arnold delivering his catchphrase, “Whatchu talking ’bout, Willis?”
94. I Dream of Jeannie (1965–1970)
A television classic, I Dream of Jeannie made a huge star out of actress Barbara Eden. In a plotline that could only have worked in the ’60s, an astronaut has his life turned upside down when he finds himself in possession of a bottle containing a female genie. You’d think life would be a piece of cake when you have endless wishes to be granted at your disposal, but that’s not how sitcoms work!
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95. St. Elsewhere (1982–1988)
Before he became a big-time movie star, a young Denzel Washington starred as Dr. Philip Chandler on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. The series was more of a critical darling than a rating phenom, but it did win a respectable 13 Emmys. The lives and careers of Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital staff were put on display in this hour-long show, which also starred Howie Mandel and Ed Begley Jr.
96. Veep (2012–2019)
Not exactly prepared for the position to which she has been elected in the White House, Selina Meyer, played by the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus, must learn on the job. Or maybe just bumble her way through it. That’s politics, right? Veep won 17 Emmys, including trophies for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
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97. The Office (2005–2013)
Based on the British series of the same name, the U.S. version of The Office actually ran for six more seasons than its predecessor. It’s a mockumentary of the Dunder-Mifflin office crew, who are the ultimate hilarious stereotypes of folks you might naturally find in your own office. Laughs, heartfelt moments, and personal relationships made viewers fall in love with the show. It also elevated the careers of John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Mindy Kaling, and more.
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98. Arrested Development (2003–2006; 2013; 2018–2019)
A cult favorite, Arrested Development‘s satirical story of the wealthy Bluth family whose patriarch is imprisoned following years of improper business dealings won plenty of critical praise. Ron Howard narrated while actors Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, and the late, great Jessica Walter brought the over-the-top dysfunctional characters to life. The series was canceled after its 2006 season, but Netflix breathed new life into it in 2013 and again in 2018.
99. Friday Night Lights (2006–2011)
Based on the feature film of the same name, Friday Night Lights is why your friends sometimes repeat the mantra “clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.” Coach Eric Taylor has his work cut out for him as he leads a Texas high school football team through their rigorous seasons. A sleeper hit at first, Friday Night Lights has a seriously loyal fan following. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton brought heart and soul to the series, while relative newcomers like Minka Kelly and Zach Gilford became ones to watch.
100. The X-Files (1993–2002; 2016; 2018)
Scully and Mulder were the dynamic duos of the sci-fi world throughout the ’90s and into the early aughts, thanks to The X-Files. Portrayed by Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, respectively, the duo carried out the duties of F.B.I. agents who must investigate seemingly unexplainable cases. Of course, there are some extraterrestrial forces trying to stop them at every turn. The X-Files won 16 Emmys and was rebooted for a six-episode event in 2016 and a ten-episode event in 2018.
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