50 of The Best TV Shows of All Time
There was just plain old primetime-television-watching bliss long before there were streaming services. Fan favorites such as The West Wing and The Sopranos kept fans glued to their sofas every week, year after year. Some shows were so good that fans would buy the TV box sets. Today, we live in a golden age of television, with some of the best television series of all time. With cable-channel blockbusters, the rise of distinctive shows from diverse creators, and the arrival of streaming services, the art of television is at an all-time high. Television has always been a great way to tell thoughtful, slow-burn character stories or unfold mysteries.
Breaking Bad is a popular television series that aired from 2008 until 2013 on AMC. The series turned Walter White into an icon and catapulted Bryan Cranston into cult status. Breaking Bad is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time and is the most-watched cable TV show on American television.
The series is about a chemistry teacher who has cancer and turns to a life of crime by producing and distributing crystal meth in order to secure his family's financial future before he dies.
Game Of Thrones
The television series Game of Thrones aired from 2011 until 2019 and was based on George R.R. Martin's series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. It is an award-winning series that inspired licensed merchandise, replica armor, games, and boosted sales of the original novels.
The show was nominated for one hundred and sixty awards and took home fifty-six of them. The cast includes Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, and Lena Headey. The show is full of betrayal, death, laughter, and dragons and includes huge effects sequences and battles with real stakes.
The television series The Sopranos aired on HBO from 1999 until 2007. The series is about an Italian-American mobster who had to balance his family life with organized crime. It stars James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Lorraine Bracco and was nominated for one hundred and twelve Emmy nominations.
The Sopranos is one of the greatest television series of all time, and its success catapulted several of the show's casts' careers. Critics hailed the show as the most groundbreaking television series of all time.
The Office aired from 2005 until 2013 and was based on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit BBC show of the same name. It stars Steve Carell as the awkward boss of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company.
The seemingly mundane lives of a group of corporate drones at a paper company make for an entirely watchable, laugh-out-loud TV show. The series received forty-two Emmy nominations and is one of the greatest television series of all time.
The Disney television show Gravity Falls aired from 2012 until 2016 and is set in the fictional town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. It is a popular TV show by Alex Hirsch that is about twins that are dropped off at their great uncle's house, which eventually leads to hijinks in the strange and supernatural town.
The show is still loved for its charm, animation style, and appeal to all ages. Gravity Falls received critical acclaim and won two Emmy Awards, which included Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation.
The television series Friends aired from 1994 until 2004 and was called 'television magic.' The show followed Rachel, Joey, Ross, Chandler, Monica, and Phoebe in all of their adventures in New York. Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, earning sixty-two Primetime Emmy nominations.
The series launched the TV and film careers of Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, and Matthew Perry. Friends is still just as beloved today as it was when it first aired.
The television series Seinfeld aired from 1989 until 1998 and is often referred to as one of the best TV shows of all time by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and TV Guide. The show's iconic characters, catchphrases, and storylines have become an indelible part of popular culture.
Seinfeld launched the careers of Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jason Alexander. It won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series but was nominated for sixty-eight awards. The audience quickly fell in love with its four self-centered pals whose self-involvement draws them together.
The West Wing
The television series The West Wing aired on NBC from 1999 until 2006 and peered into the workings of a fictional White House under the leadership of a Democratic president played by Martin Sheen. Critics praised the show for its smart writing and brisk walk-and-talk pacing.
It was especially popular among high-income audiences, which made its commercial breaks desirable for advertisers. It remained one of the most intelligent shows on television throughout its run and offered a comforting image of what a more benevolent White House could look like.
The television series Stranger Things began airing in 2016 and is still airing today. It was created by the Duffer brothers and is a 1980s original thriller series for Netflix. The show sparked a cultural revolution that boosted the sales of Eggo waffles and left audiences begging for more after binge-watching sessions.
It channels the era perfectly by mixing up a horror and sci-fi blend that depicts a seemingly quiet Indiana town that becomes a hotbed of terror. Scientific tinkering unleashes an otherworldly dimension lurking beneath the surface. Since premiering, Stranger Things has attracted record viewership on Netflix and has received critical acclaim.
House Of Cards
The television series House of Cards aired from 2013 until 2018 and is often referenced as the case study for Netflix. It was an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, and it earned fifty-six nominations, winning seven awards.
The show stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and deals with themes of ruthless pragmatism, betrayal, manipulation, and power. House of Cards received positive reviews and is the first original online-only streaming series to receive major Emmy nominations.
The television series House aired from 2004 until 2012 and stars Hugh Laurie as a physician. He is a physician who has a poor bedside manner but makes up for it with his diagnostic skills that border on genius. There was a new medical mystery to be solved in each episode, which made for exciting TV.
Critics raved about Hugh Laurie's performance, which earned him Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series-Drama in 2006 and 2007. House was one of the top ten series and the most-watched television program in the world in 2008.
The animated cartoon South Park first aired in 1997 and is still airing today. It is a foul-mouthed animated series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone that pushes the boundaries of good taste to a breaking point.
The series actually makes The Simpsons look tame by comparison, but it was a breakout hit for Comedy Central. In addition, it spawned a big-screen adaptation and two hit video games. It all started as a goofy, weird, rude animation about four friends, Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The television series Curb Your Enthusiasm first aired in 2000 and is still on the air today. The show was created by Larry David, who also plays a fictionalized version of himself. It is an HBO comedy in which David's onscreen persona generates awkward, uncomfortable, and hilarious situations.
Part of the genius of the show is that it's impossible to tell where the real Larry David ends, and the fictional David begins. Curb Your Enthusiasm has received high critical acclaim and has been nominated for forty-seven Primetime Emmy Awards.
The television series Dexter aired from 2006 until 2013 and is about a psychopathic forensic expert who takes his violent urges out on evildoers. Almost three million viewers tuned in for Dexter's finale, which is a record for Showtime.
The series also took home four Emmy Awards and was one of the sharpest shows on television. The overall response to the series Dexter has been positive, and episodes still air today on CBS.
The animated television series The Simpsons first aired in 1989 and still airs today. It is the longest-running animated show and was adapted from a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in the late 1980s.
The continuing misadventures of Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie still find plenty of scope for laughs, commentary, and pop culture nonsense. The show has spawned several video games, comic book series, books, and other related media.
Parks & Recreation
The television series Parks and Recreation aired from 2009 until 2015 and is a workplace comedy about the quirky parks and recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana. It had a shaky start but ultimately found its groove and became a hit for NBC.
The ensemble is faultless, including the sheer brilliance of Amy Poehler, the always optimistic bureaucrat Leslie Knope, and most notable being grumpy libertarian Nick Offerman's alpha male Ron Swanson.
The television series Mad Men aired from 2007 until 2015 and was originally rejected by HBO. However, it was picked up by AMC and redefined the network as a viable destination for prestige television.
The show was set in the 1960s and was praised for its period authenticity, social commentary, and strong performances. Mad Men received one hundred and sixteen Emmy Awards, winning sixteen awards. It is a show of great moments that made an early bid for greatness and maintained it across seven seasons.
The television series The X-Files aired from 1993 until 2002, and then again in 2016 and 2018. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson play Mulder and Scully, a pair of FBI agents that investigate cases involved in the paranormal.
It was a pop culture phenomenon and spawned two feature films. The cult classic was nominated for sixty-one Emmy Awards and won fifteen. The X-Files is a perfect stew of conspiracy theories, romantic drama, monster-of-the-week shocker, and just the right amount of humor.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The television series Star Trek: The Next Generation aired from 1987 until 1994 and received nineteen Emmy Awards and five Saturn Awards. The series is actually the third series in the Star Trek franchise and the second sequel to Star Trek: The Original Series.
The series was extremely popular and was listed at number seven in the '25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years' by Entertainment Weekly. The Star Trek franchise is massive and continues to spawn spin-offs.
Friday Night Lights
The television series Friday Night Lights aired from 2006 until 2011 and was adapted from the non-fiction book Friday Night Lights. It focuses on a high school football team in a small town in Texas and tackles several contemporary American societal issues.
The series also kick-started the careers of Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Michael B. Jordan, and Taylor Kitsch. The series includes young, realistically flawed players who don't always win, which makes it much more watchable.
Sons Of Anarchy
The television series Sons of Anarchy aired from 2008 until 2014 and revolved around a motorcycle gang based out of Central California. It stars Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal and deals with crime, ambition, and violence all bleeding together.
The series went through leadership challenges, rival gang attacks, and trouble from corrupt cops. Sons of Anarchy was so successful that it spawned a spin-off show called Mayans MC. It received very favorable reviews and received several nominations and awards.
The television series Shameless aired from 2011 until 2021 and is a remake of a British series. It is about the struggles of a Chicago family headed by a deadbeat patriarch whose only concerns are what his next scheme will be and where his next beer will come from.
William H. Macy stars in the series and won three Screen Actors Guild Awards. The show ran for a decade and took home four of its sixteen Emmy Award nominations.
The television series Outlander first aired in 2014 and is still airing today on Starz. It is about a World War II nurse that gets transported back to 18th-century Scotland, where she becomes a key player in the Jacobite rebellions.
The show was adapted from a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon and has received four Emmy nominations. Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire and Sam Heughan as Jamie, and it has become an extremely popular show.
How I Met Your Mother
The television series How I Met Your Mother aired from 2005 until 2014 and is a very popular sitcom. The series ran for nine seasons and introduced with it a unique narrative style and blend of humor and romance to millions.
In the future, Ted Mosby tells his children how he met their mother when he was younger and living in New York with his friends. The show stars Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, and Neil Patrick Harris, and it received thirty Emmy Nominations, winning ten.
The television series Prison Break revolved around two brothers, where both are in prison, and one has been sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. Michael Scofield comes up with a plan to break his brother out of jail.
The show received positive reviews and several award nominations. It was loosely based on Donald Hughes, who planned and successfully broke his brother out of juvenile detention; he was innocent of the crime.
The television series ER aired from 1994 until 2009 and was based on a film script by Michael Crichton. It is the most renowned medical drama series to ever hit television and is set in the fictional County General Hospital.
It follows the lives of the staff and physicians working in the emergency room and was applauded for its acting and ensemble cast. The show ran for fifteen years and took home twenty-three Primetime Emmys, one Peabody Award, and several other accolades.
The television series Frasier aired from 1993 until 2004 and was a spin-off of the series Cheers. In fact, it is the most successful spin-off of all time, and its appeal continues to endure. It stars Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney, and David Hyde Pierce.
The series continues the story of psychiatrist Frasier Crane, a radio show host, who reconnects with his father and younger brother. It was critically acclaimed and won thirty-seven Primetime Emmy Awards.
The Walking Dead
The television series The Walking Dead first aired in 2010 and still aires new episodes today. The series is about flesh-eating zombies and is as much a show about survivalists and ethics as it is about gore and cool makeup.
It gave the post-apocalyptic concept time to carry on and stars Andrew Lincoln. The numbers have gone down over the years slightly, and the critics aren't the biggest fans. However, it is still offering shocks and major reinventions for loyal viewers and remains a monster hit.
Saturday Night Live
The television series Saturday Night Live began airing in 1975 and still airs new episodes today. It is a late-night variety show that features a new guest celebrity with the cast each week. In addition, each episode features two performances by a celebrity musical guest and comedy sketches.
The series has received over two hundred Primetime Emmy nominations, winning sixty-five Primetime Emmy Awards. Each episode begins with a cold open sketch that ends with someone saying, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
The television series Oz aired from 1997 until 2003 and was HBO's first one-hour drama. The show was set in a maximum-security prison, and it rewrote all the rules of television and set the stage for the network's future as the go-to destination for prestige television.
J.K. Simmons gives a standout performance as an alpha-male inmate. Oz blended humor and pain behind bars and took a much darker look at prison life. The series is very popular and is highly recommended.
The Twilight Zone
The television series The Twilight Zone aired from 1959-1964, 1985-1989, 2002-2003, and 2019-2020. The series tackled subjects like prejudice, government, war, and morality and several of the themes and lessons from the memorable storylines resonate today.
The first installment began airing in 1959 in black and white and quickly gained recognition. Each episode immerses the audience in a world of fantasy, science fiction, horror, or suspense and puts it all together at the end of the episode with a twist ending and a moral lesson.
I Love Lucy
The television series I Love Lucy aired for six seasons, from 1951 until 1957. It was an extremely popular sitcom that showcased the life of a working-class American housewife played by Lucille Ball. The series became the most-watched American show, and its timeless gags continue to entertain audiences today.
I Love Lucy was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings and the first to feature an ensemble cast. In a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine, I Love Lucy was voted the 'Best TV Show of All Time.'
All In The Family
The television series All In The Family aired from 1971 until 1979 and followed the life of a middle-class family. The series revolutionized American television by introducing topics such as abortion, racism, menopause, homosexuality, and rape for the first time on American TV.
In addition, it is one of the only series in history in which all the lead actors secured a Primetime Emmy Award for their performance. All in the Family spawned the spin-off show Archie Bunker's Place and is often referred to as one of the greatest television series in history.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The television series The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired from 1970 until 1977, and it stars Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards. The sitcom was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns and follows an unmarried, independent woman focused on her career.
Having the main character be an unmarried and independent woman was a rarity on television in the 1970s, which led to the series being a groundbreaking series. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is loved for complex, realistic characters and storylines, and it received consistent critical praise and high ratings.
The Ed Sullivan Show
The television series The Ed Sullivan Show aired from 1948 until 1971 and was hosted by Ed Sullivan. It is one of the few entertainment shows to have run in the same weekly time slot on the same network for more than two decades.
The show features almost every type of entertainment and is known for introducing popular musicians such as The Beatles, Elvis, The Supremes, The Animals, and The Jackson 5. The Ed Sullivan Show ended at number thirty-one in TV Guides Magazine's '60 Best Series of All Time.'
The television series Cheers aired from 1982 until 1993 and was a massive smash success. Cheers is one of the most famous sitcoms of all time and made household names of Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Kirstie Alley, John Ratzenberger, Rhea Perlman, Shelley Long, and Woody Harrelson.
The series is known for its finely-tooled gags, well-sketched characters, and familiar rhythms delivered with clear panache. It was based in Boston and followed a group of friends who drink and socialize in a bar named Cheers Beacon Hill.
The television series M*A*S*H aired from 1972 until 1983 and was based on Robert Altman's 1970 film M*A*S*H. It was an exploration of how the doctors and nurses of the 4077th used humor to get through the atrocities they were faced with on a daily basis.
It was one of the highest-rated shows in the history of American television and received over one hundred Primetime Emmy nominations and several Golden Globe Awards.
The Cosby Show
The television series The Cosby Show aired from 1984 until 1992 and was co-created by and stars Bill Cosby. It follows an upper-middle-class African American family living in Brooklyn, New York.
It spent five seasons as number one and is one of the only two sitcoms in the history of the Nielsen ratings to be the number-one show for five seasons. It was TV's biggest hit in the 1980s and is credited with reviving the sitcom genre and NBC's ratings fortunes. In addition, it led to the spinoff show A Different World.
The television series Roseanne aired from 1988 until 1997 and was later revived for a couple of months. The series was created by Matt Williams and Roseanne Barr and is centered on the Conners, which are an American working-class family struggling to get by on a limited income.
Critics considered the series to be one of the first sitcoms to realistically portray a blue-collar American family with two working parents. Roseanne was successful right from the beginning and was even ranked number one during its second season.
The television series Bewitched aired from 1964 until 1972 and stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. The story is about a witch who marries an ordinary mortal man and vows to be a typical suburban housewife.
It was a popular show that finished as the second-rated show in America. The show is still beloved and watched all over the world in syndication. The series was well-known for Samantha's nose twitching.
Sex And The City
The popular television series Sex and the City aired from 1998 until 2004 on HBO. The series features Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones, Kristin Davis as Charlotte York, and Cynthia Dixon as Miranda Hobbes.
It includes several storylines that tackle relevant and modern social issues such as promiscuity, femininity, and sexuality. The HBO series is an adaptation of Candace Bushnell's newspaper column and 1996 book of the same name.
The television series Angel aired from 1999 until 2004 and is a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series constantly shifts identity, and its ensemble cast varies from season to season.
They got the formula just right with a bold and dramatic story arc, the perfect combination of side characters, and a wrenching climax. There were five seasons, and it was created by Buffy's creator, Joss Whedon, with David Greenwalt. Angel developed into a darkly entertaining show.
The television series Fargo began airing in 2014 and is still airing new episodes today. It is based on the Coen brothers' film of the same name, which is a darkly comedic show about quirky characters in small towns. Noah Hawley used the movie's faux true-crime trappings and small-town setting while weaving his own story into them.
The cast includes Martin Freeman, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Billy Bob Thornton, and several others. The series has received top marks from critics, has won six Emmy Awards, and is a massive hit.
The television series 30 Rock aired from 2006 until 2013 and allowed Tina Fey to have free reign to indulge in all the craziness she and her team could conjure up. The show stars Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan, Tracy Jordan, and Jack McBrayer.
Tina Fey is the heart of the series as comedy writer Liz Lemon, and the show was based on her own experiences as a writer on Saturday Night Live. It was praised by critics for its humor, writing, and acting.
The television series Deadwood aired from 2004 until 2006 and was created by David Milch. The series features poetic dialogue and standout performances from Timothy Olyphant as the sheriff and Ian McShane as a brothel owner.
The series was short and left the fans wanting more, which spawned the film Deadwood in 2019. The series presented a world where every act, noble or not, has repercussions and introduced one of television's most complex and interesting characters in Al Swearengen.
The television series Happy Days aired from 1974 until 1984 and was created by Garry Marshall. It was one of the most successful series of the 1970s and presented an idealized vision of life in the 1950s and 1960s.
It stars Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, and Tom Bosley, and it became the number-one program in television in 1976 and 1977. It also spawned several spinoffs, such as Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy.
The Golden Girls
The television series The Golden Girls aired from 1985 until 1992 and stars Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. It follows four older women that live together in Miami, Florida, and touched on several controversial issues.
The series received critical acclaim, won several awards, and ranked among the Nielson ratings' top ten for six of its seven seasons. The show still airs reruns and continues to attract new fans.
The Wonder Years
The television series The Wonder Years aired from 1988 until 1993 and is a coming-of-age sitcom. It follows a teenager growing up in a suburban middle-class family in the 1960s and 1970s.
It stars Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Jason Hervey, and Danica McKellar. The Wonder Years is considered a classic with a huge impact on the industry over the years. In addition, the series inspired several other shows and how they are structured.
The Andy Griffith Show
The television series The Andy Griffith Show aired from 1960 until 1968, and it originated partly from The Danny Thomas Show. It stars Any Griffith as a widowed sheriff, who said that despite a contemporary setting, the show evoked nostalgia.
He stated, "Well, though we never said it, and though it was shot in the 1960s, it had a feeling of the 1930s. It was when we were doing it, of a time gone by." The series never placed lower than number seven and spawned the spinoff Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and Return to Mayberry.