Monday, March 26, 2007

The Greatest, Part II

So I got some good responses to Friday's post over the criteria I'd use to evaluate the best show of all time. Please feel free to continue to post on this subject.

I also said I would throw in my suggestion, which I will in a little bit. First, though, let's look at some of the contributions of you the viewer.

Let's first start with the show that started this argument - "The Sopranos." It fulfills a lot of my criteria listed and has certainly provided many great hours of TV. But in my view, "The Sopranos" lacked a lot of consistency needed for the truly great show. There were many seasons that were all over the place in terms of quality, and the 18 months or so off between seasons certainly don't help the viewer stay close with the characters.

Frequent contributor Zodin2008 went into detail using my criteria for his pick of "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer." In fact, he was so detailed, I really don't need to re-iterate what he said.

Do I love "Buffy?" Of course. Do I think it's a great show? Undoubtedly. Would I bestow the best-ever upon it? No. Here's why: For a show to be the best-ever, it has to have some sort of mainstream appeal. Those who watched "Buffy" remained huge fans of the show and the critics loved it, but I think too few people watched it overall to give it the best-ever title.

Many contributors went with cop shows as their top picks. Frequent contributor Jonathan mentioned "Hill Street Blues," Hotspur went with "NYPD Blue" and fellow blogger Reel Fanatic chose "Homicide."

Of the three, I'd go with "Homicide" as my pick for the best, in that it carried what "Hill Street Blues" did to the next level and inspired a lot of what was done on "NYPD Blue," "The Shield" and "The Wire," among others. But like "Buffy," "Homicide" lacked a large viewership during its time.

Hotspur also mentioned "Seinfeld" among comedies. That might be closer to the mark as the greatest, because it meets all the criteria. Sitcoms are always a tough call, because humor is so subjective.

I thought about going with "M*A*S*H" as my pick for top all-time show. It meets all of the criteria, it's held up well over the years and its finale is the highest-rated program of all time. Why I didn't go with it in the end was that "M*A*S*H" got a bit too preachy over its final few years; it's OK for a show to have something to say, but there were several episodes where I didn't like how it was said. Still, "M*A*S*H" ranks high on the list.

The show I picked is one that I actually haven't seen every single episode of. It wouldn't be on my Top 10 list of personal favorites, but that isn't the category we're exploring.

This show is recognized as a classic by both the critics and the general viewership; it spawned many other versions of itself, including sequels, a movie, books, comics and so forth; it has many classic performances and collected some of the best writers in the history of TV; it was unquestionably innovative, years ahead of its time, but still holds up well today. And its effect on pop culture is undeniable.

My choice is:


"The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's classic anthology series led to other similar shows such as "Outer Limits" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." It's influence can even be felt in such modern shows as "The X-Files" and "Supernatural." There hasn't been a show before or since in the Sci-Fi genre that has been as popular among both fans and critics.

Each "Zone" episode has a mix of comedy, horror and great drama, and was written with a tremendous amount of intelligence. That we still speak of "The Twilight Zone" with such respect nearly 50 years after its debut speaks volumes to its quality.

Anyway, that's my argument. Feel free to tell me how right or wrong I am.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: The penultimate "Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) airs tonight, and something tells me it won't be included in the greatest-ever TV show argument 50 years from now. It's followed by a new "24," in which a CTU traitor has been discovered. What an exciting, original concept for "24!"

ABC continues its quest for "American Idol" ratings with a two-hour "Dancing With The Stars" at 8 p.m., followed by a new "What About Brian?" at 10 p.m.

NBC counters with "Deal or No Deal" at 8 p.m., followed by rerun of "Heroes" at 9 p.m. Yes, "Heroes" is a rerun, but it's also the best episode of the season, the one that examines HRG's past. It's followed by a new "Black Donnellys," which has done NBC a great service, by showing how good a show "Studio 60" really was in that same timeslot.

Finally, TV's most irritating show (for me) is "The Riches" (FX, 10 p.m.) Each scene with Eddie Izzard has been nothing short of brilliant. Each scene without him has been nothing short of excruciating. Do they employ two sets of writers on the show, one for Izzard and one for everyone else? I'm giving the show one more chance to get back on course.

It's preceded by the movie version of "Friday Night Lights" at 7:30 p.m., made by the same people who make the series, but a lot closer to the book in its tone and scenes.


Jonathan said...

So weird, I was actually watching episodes of TZ on DVD this weekend while I was playing on-line poker. Not a bad choice at all based on the criteria you've set up. And, I personally would probably put it in my top ten of all time, so not a bad pick at all.

Phillip Ramati said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I also caught an episode last week.

It's a tough show to argue against.

Zodin2008 said...

I don't see why a show being 'mainstream' is a criterior for 'greatest of all time', so I stand by "Buffy" for its sheer pop culture impact.

That said, "Twilight Zone" is a great show but if you are going for a show from that era, how about the original, "Star Trek".

Zodin2008 said...

By the way, Phillip, 100% agree on "The Riches". They should just fire the rest of the cast and have Izzard in every scene. It might make this show more tolerable.

Phillip Ramati said...

Mainstream is important in the sense that if its going to be the greatest show of all team, a significant share of the populace should have at least watched it.

Again, it's not as if I don't love Buffy, but even at its height it struggled for ratings on two mediocre networks that don't even exist anymore.

The original "Star Trek," as much as I love it, was wildly inconsistent in its quality. For every "The Menagerie," you seemed to have a "Spock's Brain" to go with it. The original series was also surpassed by its sequels, "Next Generation" and "Deep Space 9," so it really can't lay claim to the greatest ever.

Anonymous said...

Twilight Zone is a fine choice for best show of all time. MASH also would be high on anyones list. In the days before cable competition these shows drew huge audiences and covered all demographics. Buffy rarely drew a two rating nationally and appealed to under 24 year old men and women. Hardly a classic across the board.
Another vote here for Hill Street Blues which was ground breaking at so many levels including camera work and quirky characters. Had Hill Street been a cable show and been allowed to have the script freedom of the 90's there would be no doubt as to it being the greatest show of all time.
Classic shows should also wear well in reruns. Twilight Zone marathons still draw great audiences. MASH and Seinfeld along with Andy are still beloved by masses. Goodtimes holds up very well in reruns and was really out there in the 70's.

Phillip Ramati said...


I don't think eras have much to do with whether or not a show is a classic. Most of the shows you cited would be classics in any era (except for Good Times, which doesn't belong on the list).

It's the perception of Buffy that it's only a show for 20-somethings which is why it never found the mainstream acceptance, and therefore a larger fanbase.

Hill Street Blues might have gotten to push its boundaries even more had it come out a decade later, we'll never know. Though I never really watched it, it's probably the closest to the title among all cop shows, though my personal favorite remains Homicide.