The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time

100 greatest TV shows of all
Collage: Variety; Images: Everett Collection / Getty Images / Courtesy of Networks

What makes a great television show?

There may be as many types of excellence as there are excellent shows. Series can wow us with how broadly they changed society, from “Seinfeld” redefining American slang to “Mad Men” bearing all the hallmarks of an early-21st-century TV Golden Age to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” making daytime viewers feel part of a special club of millions. Or they can feel like closely held secrets, always ready to welcome curious viewers for the first time, like “The Leftovers” or “Enlightened.” They can bring together insights about a rapidly shifting society with humor that stands the test of time, like the shows created by Norman Lear, who died this month at age 101. And they can dazzle us with spectacle or entrance us with intimate character moments — or, if they’re “The Sopranos,” they can do both.

Mike McQuade for Variety

This issue of Variety looks at all the ways that TV is a part of our lives, and, fittingly, it’s topped by the show so appealing that television has been chasing its success since its earliest days. Lucille Ball let the world into a fictionalized version of her home, and in so doing became a fixture in all of ours. And her endless transformations — her plug-and-play approach to new careers, her rubbery face — suit a medium in which the most reliable constant is change.

The list around which this issue is built reflects decades’ worth of evolutions and revolutions; the entries were chosen by a team of Varietystaff and contributors, taking into account the quality of each show and its cultural impact. (With apologies to countless programs that deserve celebration, we limited ourselves to English-language series that aired or streamed stateside — because the entire world of television is prohibitively broad for this undertaking.) We hope this list will reflect two particular ways television can be great: familiarity and discovery. Our top 100 television shows, the product of heated staff debates, may remind each reader of past favorites, and may introduce future binge-watches too.

Not that Ball, this list’s marquee star, would have known what that phrase means — to her, “binge” is what you do with a bottle of Vitameatavegamin. But we hope she’d have appreciated the idea. Spending time getting to know a show and to anticipate its rhythms is a pleasure that’s been available since Lucy Ricardo first begged to perform at Ricky’s club. And it’s not going anywhere.


These writers contributed suggestions for list entries: Joshua Alston, BreAnna Bell, Amber Dowling, LaToya Ferguson, Hunter Ingram, Cynthia Littleton, Ramin Setoodeh and Brian Steinberg.

From Variety US