Friday, March 23, 2007

The Greatest Show In The History Of Television?

Currently on news stands is the latest issue of Vanity Fair, which features "The Sopranos" on the cover. The story, by excellent Hollywood writer Peter Biskind, is titled "How the Greatest Show in the History of Television Got Made."

The title is certainly and provocative. On the one hand, of course, there is no way to quantify the greatest show, the greatest movie, book, album, etc. It's a matter of choice.

But how would one quantify the greatness of a show? Ratings? Longetivity? Content? How does one compare a comedy like "Seinfeld" to a drama like "The Sopranos?"

Here are the factors I would use to make such a determination:

--Longetivity: Did the show in question last for a significant amount of time? Did it stay on the air too long, or leave before a big dropoff in quality? As Jerry Seinfeld said when he ended his sitcom, "Always leave them wanting more."

--Critical/commercial success: We know quality when we see it. Sometimes, the media goes overboard in its praise of a show or doesn't get a show and therefore is critical of it. And ratings need not be a huge factor - "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI" are pretty much the top-rated dramas on TV and I wouldn't say either show is one for the ages. But popularity while the show is on the air, as well as years later, should be a factor.

--Innovation: Did the show change the way we view television? Shows like "Seinfeld," "NYPD Blue," "M*A*S*H" and others changed the TV landscape in some way. "Blue," for example, showed how far writers could push the limits of broadcast standards to maintain a level of realism; without "Blue," there is probably no "Shield," for example. "M*A*S*H" showed how to incorporate drama into a sitcom; without it, there is probably no "Scrubs."

--Pop culture effect: Certain shows have transcended TV and become a part of American society. When one hears a character being imitated or a catch-phrase being used, even after the show is off the air, you know it has permeated the national consciousness.

--Variations of the show: Did the original series lead to spinoffs, sequels and movie adaptations? Most of the time, the spinoffs water down the memory of the original (e.g. "Joey" to "Friends"), but in some cases, they enhance the original instead ("Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Frasier").

--Defining the actors/producers of a show: Certainly, Joss Whedon's reputation has been enhanced by "Buffy" and "Angel," while Aaron Sorkin will be remembered for "West Wing" and "SportsNight."

Actors, like "Sopranos" stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco have defined their careers by their roles as Tony and Carmela. Kelsey Grammer will always be remembered first and foremost as Dr. Frasier Crane on two hit shows.

What other factors should be considered to measure a show's greatness? What shows make up your all-time lists? If you had to pick one show as the all-time greatest, what would it be?

My choice is coming Monday.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: A pretty quiet Friday, thanks to the NCAA basketball tournament, though ABC has a new "Six Degrees" at 9 p..m., which will square off against Fox's "The Wedding Bells." If basketball isn't your brand of competition, you may try the Miss USA pageant (NBC, 9 p.m.)

Also of note, if you haven't caught "The Dresden Files," Sci-Fi is running a marathon of the first six episodes beginning at 5 p.m., while a new episode hits the air Sunday at 9 p.m.

Basketball will continue throughout the weekend as the NCAA pares down to the Final Four on Sunday.

A couple of finales mark Sunday night. "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci-Fi, 10 p.m.) wraps up its season as the trial of Baltar continues. "Rome" (HBO, 9 p.m.) wraps up the entire series as the armies of Octavian and Marc Antony square off.


Zodin2008 said...

My pick for the best series of all time is unquestionsably, "Buffy".

1. Pop culture affect. Maybe the ratings were small on the small screen, but a rapbid fan base that has spread the dialogue and Buffy has gained new legions of fans on DVD.

2. Critically acclaimed across the board. You can't find a TV critic in America that doesn't put Buffy in their top ten list.

3. The writing. ot only was the writing and character dialogue brilliant, but the various show writers were quickly snapped up by everything from "Lost" to "24" to "Grey's Anatomy".

4. Successful spinsoffs. "Angel" got 5 seasons so it was a hit and now succeeds in syndication and "Bones" wouldn't have become a current day success without a lot of David oreanez's fan base following him over to the Fox show. "Firefly" was a terrific show, completely mishandled by Fox, and likely would have worked had Fox aired the episodes in their appropriate order.

5. Humor and Drama. This show was both the funniest and most heartbreaking at the same time. If "Buffy" hadn't combined those elements as well as they had, you would see a lot of what FX and HBO are doing. Buffy opened more doors. I see a lot of "Buffy" in the brilliant "Rescue Me".

Anyway, this is all rather subjective but no show has combined so many elements so perfectly without missing a beat for 7 consecutive years. A bad Buffy episode was still better then most of Television.

Anyway, my vote is for "Buffy".

Jonathan said...

Great post. I'm not sure what to add to your guidelines because I think that's as good a list as any. I find a lot of it relative too because obviously I wasn't alive to enjoy what I'm sure were the highs of shows like Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, I Love Lucy, etc. Thankfully with DVD now we can go back and watch a lot of those shows in the order they were originally run and understand why they were so popular.

As far as my favorites, I look at it mostly as shows I took the time to follow from the beginning until their final episode. So, these would include most definately "Buffy." Also, Cheers, Friends, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, X-Files, and The Practice are a few that are off the top of my head.

I was also thinking about shows that didn't last a very long time but were more than instrumental in paving the way for other shows. Two that came to mind were Twin Peaks and My So Called Life. While those might not be able to be put up on a "Best Shows of All Time" List," I would think they deserve their own recgonition maybe on a different list.

Phillip Ramati said...

Some interesting contributions so far, keep them coming in guys.

BTW, forgot to put this on the blog:

R.I.P. Calvert DeForest: The actor who played Larry 'Bud' Melman on David Letterman's show died earlier this week. He was often a scene-stealer during his time on Letterman's show, one of the unique cast of characters he used to make the show unique.

Hotspur said...

Comedy - "Mash" or "Seinfeld" In my opinion a toss-up.

Drama - "NY PD Blue"

Jonathan said...

Another show that popped in my head that would follow your guidelines pretty well is "Hill Street Blues," a show I've had the luxury to catch up on with the DVD releases. I was a pretty small kid when it first hit the airwaves. This would pave the way for a grittier style cop show, and "NYPD Blue" would only up the ante. And also, "Blues" was one of the first shows, at least that got the ratings behind it, that went away from the stand-alone episodes that most television viewers were accustomed to. So, you could in essence say that without it we might not have "Lost," "Buffy," "24," etc. Worth mentioning.

Reel Fanatic said...

My vote goes to Homicide ... It's simply the best cop show ever, and in my opinion also the best overall ... It had the longetivity at five years or so, and the critical acclaim, and although you can't really count The Wire as a spinoff, it does continue the saga of the losing war on crime in Baltimore

Phillip Ramati said...

Great comments, guys. Keep them coming!

And don't forget to tune in to tomorrow's posting.