Sunday, August 22, 2010

Greatest Television Of All Time

Boy, isn't that a grandiose statement, especially considering this will be solely my own opinion.

I got an email from my brother tonight with a link to an article written by a his friend Tom. It was Tom's opinion of the 10 greatest television shows of all time. I read it. I disagreed. Too many of his shows were modern series on the premium movie channels, shows that aren't available for all to watch. This can't help but lessen their impact.

Brother M responded with one of his own. I read his. I disagreed.

Maybe my definition of "greatest" isn't the same. Anyway, I complied my own list. I am of the first generation (I think) that was raised on television, so I remember the groundbreakers - those shows that set the stage for those that would follow in their footsteps, the rule breakers - the ones that changed the social climate, and the ones whose impact has become indelibly ingrained in American culture. Oh, and I couldn't limit myself to 10.

These aren't necessarily my favorites. They are included because of the scope of their influence on culture and the impact they had on the television as a medium. In my opinion.

So, in alphabetical order . . .

ALL IN THE FAMILY didn't care whose toes it stepped on. It slapped racial, ethnic & political issues right in our faces without worrying about political correctness. It took a sitcom about a bigot that tackled issues previously taboo on TV and made it one of the most popular and successful shows of all time.

COSMOS is one that was on my brother's list, and I have to agree with him on this one. Never before had hard science been so entertaining. I could still watch it over and over, even though some of the information has been supplanted by newer discoveries. I don't know that I ever saw the stars the same since. All billions and billions of them. But I like Brother M's rationale for its inclusion much better: "...Carl Sagan’s exploration of the elegance of the universe was more than the typical Discovery Channel show about killer asteroids. It was a sweeping documentary of what it means to be a curious animal endowed with the creative spark and covered literally everything from the evolution of the brain and the destruction of the ancient library of Alexandria to the discovery of the twin paradox and conjectures about the beginnings of space-time. Plus, if you watch Cosmos, you’ll understand a lot more of The Big Bang Theory."

DALLAS gave the primetime soap a perment place on television, paving the way for all those shows on Tom's list. Even though Peyton Place was the prototype here, it never attained the cult following Dallas did. I still remember the summer of agony waiting to find out who shot JR.

HILL STREET BLUES / ST. ELSEWHERE are lumped together for a couple reasons. They were on at the same time and accomplished the same task. They ushered in the ensemble cast (now copied by just about EVERYONE), and showed the cops and doctors not as clean, shiny heros, but as fault-filled humans who were sometimes heroic and sometimes failed.

I LOVE LUCY broke the ground of television comedy. It was, at various times in its run, the most watched program on television. It was the first to be shot in front of a studio audience and consistently earns a place in greatest TV lists from both TV Guide & Time Magazine. It was also the first show to feature a "biracial" couple - a 'white' woman with a 'brown' man. It was, simply, the prototype of television comedy.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER gave us the quintessential, yet impossible to live up to and completely unattainable, definition of the all-American family of the 50's. It became the image of the ideal life and set the tone for so many ideal family shows to follow. I wanted to live there.

M*A*S*H let us see the horror of war in prime time. It was the first program to regularly have us laughing and crying at the same time, often every week, and no one can dispute the anti-war messages it delivered so well.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE has never cared who it poked fun at, and the biggest names in TV, movies, and politics have gamely gone along with the skewering. It was the first of the non-prime time shows to come back on the air after 9-11 and show us that we were allowed to laugh again. It has also launched more successful careers than just about any other show.

SEINFELD added a whole lot of entries to our lexicon of catch phrases and terminology. Who doesn't know "Yadda, yadda, yadda", "Not that there's anything wrong with that", "Master of my domain", "No soup for you!"? For a show about nothing, it became a whole lotta something.

SESAME STREET let the classroom into the living room and became the babysitter of generations of kids while setting the standard for educational programming. Its fuzzy puppets with their distinctive personalities have been part of every American household since. It debuted in 1969, meaning that it has been bringing smiles to our kids for 41 years, making it the longest-running program on television aside from news shows and soap operas (I think). Not even the death of Jim Henson could stop it, and it has the distinction of being the most widely watched children's program in the world. And no, the Cookie Monster will never be replaced with the Veggie Monster.

STAR TREK broke so much ground I can't begin to list it all. Not only that, it also set the stage for countless spin-offs and movies. It is undoubtedly one of the most successful franchises of all time. And let's not forget the first interracial kiss on television.

THE DAILY SHOW is another one that doesn't care who it makes fun of. But aside from that, it is done with so much intelligence that politicians regularly pop in to try to curry favor and ask for Jon Stewart's opinion. What other fake news/comedy show can claim that?

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was the first to really focus on a successful single woman. There were no husband & kids to define her character, and the program centered around her job, not her family or her hobbies or her boyfriends. Probably the first real feminist program.

THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW took a chubby black woman and turned her into one of the richest and most influential people in television. She paved the way for countless knockoffs, none of which could match up. If Oprah endorses it, it sells. Period.

THE SIMPSONS always surprises me when I realize how long it has been on the air - since 1987. It successfully skewers aspects of American society, some of which we are a little uncomfortable admitting hit a little too close to home.

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON didn't start it. Jack Paar was the first host, but Johnny Carson became the face of the Tonight Show and he left a whole lot more people with a whole lot more memories during his tenure than his predecessor or his successors. He paved the way for the successes of Letterman, Leno, and Conan.

So, that's my dashed-off list. No doubt tomorrow I'll want to add or delete or change the wording and make it sound as good as Brother M's, but if I keep thinking about it too much, I'll never finish. What would you add or delete?


Brother said...

Star Trek and M*A*S*H were on my list, too! My list wasn't a list of the greatest, but my favorites... Your list is awesome! ... except for Seinfeld. To me, it was fun when it was on, but I can't get through the repeats... they feel like jokes that you can only hear once...

Rosie Hawthorne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosie Hawthorne said...

Blogger Rosie Hawthorne said...

The Waltons.
Little House On The Prairie.
The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Ed Sullivan.
Marlin Perkins and Wild Kingdom.
Andy Griffith.
Bob Newhart. (Both)
Carol Burnett. (Just for the "I saw these in the window.")
Laugh In

Hang on.
Lemme think.

PS And That Girl was a precursor to MTM. And after that Murphy Brown.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

And that was me up there that deleted since I had unfinished sentences.

My word verification is tranass.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

The Twentieth Century with Walter Cronkite defined my early life.

My word verification is nariblu.
That sort of defines me.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges.

WV: colsybow

Kathy said...

I almost put Andy Griffith on my list too. But I must disagree about That Girl. I watched it all the time - loved it. And yes, she was a single girl in NYC, but it rarely showed her at work and had too much focus on her boyfriend. So I couldn't count it. I think MTM had more of an impact.

The Waltons & Laugh-In are good additions.

Anonymous said...

You thought about Andy and left it off??!! Your list is deemed incorrect! I watch very little tv, so coming up with 10 would be tough, but I know Andy and gang belong on any list of best tv shows.

Sista G said...

Here are some additions - I'm not going to recreate the wheel, though:

-The Wonderful World of Disney/Color
-Wide World of Sports
-60 Minutes
-Twilight Zone/Outer Limits