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The 101 Best Written TV Shows of All Time According to the Writers Guild of America

By Dustin Rowles | Trade News | June 3, 2013 | Comments ()


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The Writers Guild of America, in combination with TV Guide (?), has gotten together to rank the 100 best written shows of all time, because the world loves a good list. By including 101 shows, it's hard to argue about omissions because nearly everything is included (although, an argument certainly could be made for the omissions of, say or "Sports Night" or "Veronica Mars," and especially "Slings and Arrows"). If anything, most folks will complain about the ranking, and there's where it's easier to quibble (and that's also what list are all about: Quibbling). For instance, "Sex and the City" is a good 50 spots higher than "Justified" (it's also higher than "Game of Thrones"). "Louie" is too low; "Downton Abbey" is too high, and there are various other issues we could take.

But all things considered, it's a solid list. What we can also surmise from it are that Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner are basically the best television writers on the planet.

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. The Bob Newhart Show *TIE

41. Your Show of Shows *TIE

43. Downton Abbey *TIE

43. Law & Order *TIE

43. thirtysomething *TIE

46. Homicide: Life on the Street *TIE

47. St. Elsewhere *TIE

48. Homeland

49. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

50. The Colbert Report *TIE

50. The Good Wife *TIE

51. The Office (UK) *TIE

53. Northern Exposure

54. The Wonder Years

55. L.A. Law

56. Sesame Street

57. Columbo

58. Fawlty Towers *TIE

58. The Rockford Files *TIE

60. Freaks and Geeks *TIE

61. Moonlighting *TIE

62. Roots

63. Everybody Loves Raymond *TIE

63. South Park *TIE

65. Playhouse 90

66. Dexter *TIE

66. The Office (US) *TIE

68. My So-Called Life

69. The Golden Girls

70. The Andy Griffith Show

71. 24 *TIE

71 .Roseanne *TIE

71.bThe Shield *TIE

74. House *TIE

75. Murphy Brown *TIE

76. Barney Miller *TIE

77. I, Claudius *TIE

78. The Odd Couple

79. Alfred Hitchcock Presents *TIE

79. Monty Python's Flying Circus *TIE

79. Star Trek: The Next Generation *TIE

79. Upstairs, Downstairs *TIE

83. Get Smart

84. The Defenders *TIE

85. Gunsmoke *TIE

86. Justified *TIE

87. Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show) *TIE

88. Band of Brothers

89. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

90. The Prisoner

91. Absolutely Fabulous (UK) *TIE

92. The Muppet Show *TIE

93. Boardwalk Empire

94. Will & Grace

95. Family Ties

96. Lonesome Dove *TIE

96. Soap *TIE

98. The Fugitive *TIE

99. Late Night with David Letterman *TIE

100. Louie *TIE

101. Oz

(via)


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Scotty

    So many t.v. shows that weren't listed on here and that's very sad. Quantum Leap, Magnum P.I., MATLOCK, The Incredible Hulk, The Equalizer, Scarecrow And Mrs. King, Midnight Caller, Stingray, The A-Team, etc... This list is just that, a list by an organization, not by the American public. For the top ten, I would have put one t.v. show that I personally thought was the best amongst the best and positioned as number one--that would be NOWHERE MAN.

  • Christopher Treidel

    Your argument is moot without Sports Night. Aaron Sorkin was awesome with his writing for this. No one could see it at the time.

  • jayman419

    My So-Called Life?

  • guy

    As much as I enjoy Dexter, it is a horribly written show for so many reasons and doesn't deserve a spot on this.

  • Daffodil

    Scroll scroll *whatevs* yup, this sure is pointless.
    Some of these shows defy comparison to each other... The Simpsons, The Daily Show, Band of Brothers, SNL, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Star Trek... what metric do you compare these by?

    Monty Python's Flying Circus is 45 positions below Modern Family. I don't even...

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Where's Mama's Family!!!

  • Adrien

    Murphy Brown, Buffy and South Park should be higher on the list. Missing from the list: Venture Brothers, Alf, Firefly, Fresh Prince, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dead Like Me, Enlightened, Pushing Daisies, Parks and Rec.,
    Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Extras.

    I know Enlightened only lasted 2 seasons but it's one of the best written tv show. They should have chosen just one "The Office" and it belongs to the American franchise.

  • John

    Useless.
    Miami Vice should be on this list. OVER JUSTIFIED!

  • crispin

    How in the hell is "Dexter" better than "The Muppet Show" or "Star Trek: The Next Generation"? Heck, I wouldn't even put it on this list!

  • Vearski

    Louie!!!!? At 100. That's just shameful

  • crispin

    According to this list, "Dexter" is somehow the better show.

  • Nile John Escasenas

    jack bauer never made it? :(

  • googergieger

    Wasn't Curbed mostly improvised? Lost was written by the internet. I don't know, other things could be said I'm sure.

  • e jerry powell

    I never think of "Louie" as being a written show in the conventional sense, so it strikes me as odd for it to be included, but I wasn't consulted, and I don't necessarily disagree, so...

  • Tony

    A list of the 'Best Written TV Shows' is fine, but they're not separating the wheat from the chaf: ALL of these shows had a shitty episode or two, but how about the shows not mentioned that had well-written episodes that, even if few and far between, belong with the best of even these TV shows' efforts?

    It doesn't appear these shows are listed by their number of most well-written single episodes - there are iconic episodes of TV series that stay in a viewer's memory forever, yet the shows themselves may have had more bad episodes than good.

  • Dave Dorris

    Big Buffy fan here, but including Buffy and omitting Angel makes no sense. I submit Angel was more consistently well-written over it's run.

    And I guess Firefly wasn't on long enough, but damn if that one (partial) season wasn't incredibly well-conceived and written.

  • $2786243

    How about a list of the most unevenly written shows ever?

  • Semilitterate

    Northern Exposure needs to be much higher on the list. And I'm appalled at the omission of Eureka. For shame

  • Iam_Spartacus

    They got the Bob Newhart Show, but what about Newhart which I think was the better of the two especially with that jaw dropping finale.

    Also what about Police Squad? Great show that kicked off the Naked Gun films although short lived.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    I'm a fan of both, don't get me wrong. I just found Newhart got a bit cutesy towards the end under the weight of all of its breakout characters. The earlier episodes are good in spite of the beyond dull Leslie and I'm not entirely sure about my feelings about Kirk. The Henry Mancini theme song still makes me feel warm and a bit dreamy.

    I can't leave this post without stating that as much as I like The Bob Newhart Show, Rob Hartley should've had his license revoked pretty much every episode. Good thing he was a Ph.D and not an MD. If he were, I could see him saying, 'Take this bucket of thorazine and call the dentist in the morning if you're still alive. We'll vacation in Aspen together if your body doesn't reject it.'

    That doesn't sound like I like these shows, but when they used to show them in a one-hour block until last year, I was there for every minute.

  • Disquiser

    no sons of anarchy!?

  • Doug Graves

    1. THE WIRE

  • forza_rossi

    0 Credibility just because of this !

  • ÇℜΔÇK_ℵΙℵℑΔΔ

    Laaaaazy

  • Archie Leach

    YES BILKO! Should be much higher.

  • MadeFromClay

    Awful lack of British Shows, other than ones currently being comsumed my Americans. Doctor Who, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Brideshead Revisited, I'm Alan Partridge, Father Ted, House of Cards (original) all deserve to be on there, especially when compared to something like Modern Family *spits*.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    I'm an unapologetic fangirl of Keeping Up Appearances. Lifelong.

  • BiblioGlow

    Misfits too, for Simon's character arc alone.

  • MadeFromClay

    *Consumed by* oh I didn't spot it but Flying Circus is already on there.

  • ShagEaredVillain

    There is a conspicuous lack of "Firefly"

  • Bert_McGurt

    That's because Firefly wasn't written - it was gifted upon us by a truly loving and benevolent Creator. And lo, one day humankind shall finally grasp the ultimate eternal shininess.

    In the name of Joss the Prophet, so say we all.

  • toblerone

    This list is WRONG.

  • ellcoolj

    Where is the quickest wit /pop--culture fed Gilmore Girls?

  • Beto Placido

    What? NONE Bryan Fueller? That's a shame!

  • toblerone

    YUP.

  • disqus_rCJTTYmkV8

    It's a reflex action to rank "Twilight Zone" so highly. Everybody's memory of it is that every episode was terrific. That couldn't be more wrong. About a third of the eps were good to really good. But many more of them were preachy and dull and beat the same themes into the ground. (Man encounters some odd situation -- goes back in time to what he thinks was an idyllic time, only to realize he was better off where he was, that sort of thing).

    Meanwhile, I'm looking for "The Outer Limits," a show that made one of the first attempts (if not THE first) to treat science fiction and alien shows seriously, and I'm not finding it. "TOL" (I mean the original series, not the reboot that was largely dreck) had some dreadful shows too, but attempted to be thoughtful without much of the flip irony Serling seemed compelled to write into ever "TZ" episode. Plus ... take a look sometime at the people who wrote "TOL" episodes, some of the best SF writers of the time (Harlan Ellison, for heaven's sake, and even Robert Towne had a hand in an episode). The shows look pretty cheesy now, but they were done, and done fairly well, on a shoestring budget.

    "The Monsters Are Coming to Maple Street" is a pretty damn good TZ, usually considered among the best, but I don't think it comes close to, for instance, "Demon With a Glass Hand."

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Totally agree, TOL was a very groundbreaking show, Gene Roddenberry kept a close eye on that show when developing Star Trek TOS. After all, Shatner, Nimoy, Doohan and Whitney all starred in it.

  • BiblioGlow

    The difference is that when Twilight Zone was good, it was society-changing good - not many shows can boast the sort of influence that TZ has had. But I'm definitely going to have to find a way to check out The Outer Limits though, after a recommendation like this.
    The list is disappointingly light on sci-fi all around. Where's Stargate: SG1? Farscape? Eureka? Buffy/Firefly?? And as much of an X-Files fangirl as I am, I still can't rank it above both Star Trek and Star trek: TNG, for exactly the reasons you mentioned - the episodes were simply more thoughtful, exploratory, and more of what sci-fi strives to be at its best.

  • Kirbyjay

    Freakin TZ music still gives me the heebie jeebies.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Come down on some episodes of The Scary Door.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    All of TOL is on Hulu.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Hulu: The word that makes every Canadian break out in spots.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    You've lost me. Must be a Canadian thing.

  • BiblioGlow

    Awesome, thanks! I'll definitely check it out. They also added TZ a few months ago, so I'm working my way through that, Farscape, Star Trek: TNG, and Defiance. I can't wait to add TOL to my nerd lineup, it'll fit in perfectly.

  • damnitjanet

    Deadwood should DEFINITELY be higher on this list!

  • PaddyDog

    The fact that Deadwood isn't in the top 5 can only mean that the Writer's Guild is populated by a lot of very jealous, bitter people.

    And I say they are cocksuckers, one and all.

  • Three_nineteen

    I am pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of St. Elsewhere, Murphy Brown and Northern Exposure. It usually seems that those shows (especially Murphy Brown) have been completely forgotten.

    I also like the inclusion of the 3 late night shows, but especially Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Not forgotten here, man. A couple of years ago I had a pretty violent allergic reaction to some prescribed medicine, so I spent my birthday dry heaving and watching Murphy Brown with my mother. It really wasn't that bad and it wasn't my worst birthday by a long shot. I got hit by a car on my sixteenth birthday and was in a car accident on my eleventh birthday and I'm sure that the fact that I've never learned how a drive a car and have a nigh on maniacal fear of ever doing so has nothing to do with those events. I did get to miss a math test and a french test respectively so...chronic pain worth it?

  • DeltaJuliet

    I know Southland never got the acclaim it desereved but I can't believe it's not on this list. I still say it's one of the best dramas I have ever watched.

  • toblerone

    +1000. Another criminally overlooked show in every regard (Writing, Acting, Directing, Cinematography).

  • JQ

    Good to see nothing written by Seth McFarlane made it in.

  • Laura

    Justified is way too low. The writing on that show is awesome!

  • dizzylucy

    Agreed. The dialogue alone should have pushed it well into <50. Wynn Duffy is displeased.

    I'd also move Golden Girls higher, simply for how well it's held up.

  • The Shield and Band of Brothers crazy low.

  • DeltaJuliet

    I said the same thing when I saw Band of Brothers at 88. No way it's in the lower half of 100.

  • csb

    I know The Wire is in the top ten but its ranking still seems criminally low.

  • DarthBrookes

    Uh... #59?

  • csb

    There are two shows tied at #58 so #59 gets skipped. It happens a few times throughout the list.

  • Allijo

    I'll presume Sherlock is being classified as a mini-series. Otherwise, I've already hired Moriarty to deal with the list makers.

  • Jeff in Middletucky

    Deadwood needs to be a lot higher. That said, I'm quite pleased with what took the top spot.

  • $27019454

    Totally agree. I don't watch much TV, but for what it's worth, I think that show is the gold standard of everything: writing, cast. direction.

  • Once you get beyond the Top Ten, or maybe the Top Twenty, ranked lists like this mature into a pointlessness even more haggard and pants-shittingly pronounced than the already pretty fucking pointless one they're born into.

  • kirbyjay

    Moonlighting was about the David/Maddie dynamic (bitchfest) and Bruce Willis' starpower.. The writing was terrible. It was beyond terrible.
    I dare you to recap even one episode that made any sense. I watched it every week for BW and I'm not ashamed to admit it. When he wasn't snarking off I was bored to tears. Cybill Shepherd has ruined every show she's been on with her giant ego. She was jealous of BW so she tried to make Maddie funny. She was jealous of Christine Baranski so she tried to make Cybill funny. There has to be a straight man but she didn't care about the shows, just herself.
    Lost was about a wonderful idea that totally crapped the bed in about the 3rd season. Think about it, most episodes had The Lost trucking from one location to the next with no reason other than to have them truck from one location to the next only to have someone or something jump out at them. And that was the show.
    They introduced new characters every week that were left dangling or just died, They left so many unanswered questions.....the polar bear? The Others taking Walt ? What happened to the kids they snatched? What's with that ending? I swear they made it up as they went along and never had a planed outcome or story.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Whatever gives us Al Jarreau. But yes on Moonlighting/Cybill. I've never seen Lost.

  • Yes, this is a list of 101 TV shows.

  • Kyle, you're my hero. You just perfectly summed up how I feel every single time one of these gets done.
    Oh look, a momentary disturbance in the vacuum of space somewhere between Jupiter and a kitten farting in its sleep.

  • Rochelle

    1. I watch waaaayyyyy too much tv. I am at least familiar with all but one of these shows, and have watched episodes of all but three of them.

    2. I wonder about the criteria for ranking, just a vote, metrics, what? I say this because Modern Family should not be ranked so high. And I like Modern Family.

    3. I have many quibbles about where shows are ranked on this list.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Whoever put Modern Family above GoT obviously didn't tune in last night.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    'Whoever put Modern Family above GoT obviously didn't tune in last night.'

    Well, yeah.

  • IngridToday

    Why is Modern Family even on this list? Each episode gets further into one-dimensional characters and over-the-top/cliqued stories.

  • Holly Martins

    *scratches head* I don't get it. For so many reasons.

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