Monday, January 14, 2019

25 Greatest Classic TV Series

In 2012, I became one of the founding members of the Classic TV Blog Association (CTVBA), a fabulous group of bloggers who celebrate classic television. This year, the CTVBA embarked on its most ambitious project to date: a list of the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series.

Our definition of "classic" was any prime-time TV series that began broadcasting prior to 1990. Each member applied his or her own criteria in nominating series. My criteria were quality, enduring popularity, and social influence. Over 55 shows were nominated in the first round of voting, but only 29 made it to the second and final round.

Here is the final official list of the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series (for more details, check out the CTVBA web site):

1.    The Twilight Zone
2.    I Love Lucy 
3.    The Mary Tyler Moore Show
4.    Columbo
5.    All in the Family
6.    Dragnet
7.    Monty Python’s Flying Circus
8.    Star Trek
9.    The Prisoner
10.  M*A*S*H
11.  The Dick Van Dyke Show
12.  The Fugitive
13.  Dallas
14.  Doctor Who
15.  The Andy Griffith Show
16.  The Defenders
17.  The Golden Girls
18.  Perry Mason
19.  SCTV
20.  The Honeymooners
21.  Alfred Hitchcock Presents
22.  Hill Street Blues
23.  The Odd Couple
24.  The Outer Limits
25.  The Avengers

Honorable Mentions:  Get Smart, The Ed Sullivan Show, Leave It to Beaver, and WKRP in Cincinnati.

I think it's a pretty strong list overall, but there were some definite surprises. I can't argue with The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy in the top two spots. Both were landmark TV series that are just as good today as when they debuted.

David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble.
However, my choice for #1 spot was The Fugitive. I can think of no other TV series that was as uniformly strong for a three-year period (and the fourth season was also good). This modern-day Les Miserables turned Dr. Kimble and Lieutenant Gerard into iconic characters. The two-part series finale was a national phenomenon, with the last episode earning the highest Nielsen rating of any regular TV series until M*A*S*H eclipsed it.

The Defenders belongs in the Top Five. It boasted superb writing and acting, plus it explored some of the most complex social issues of the 1960s. Indeed, many of its episodes seem just as timely today. I suspect its too-low ranking may have been a case of not enough voters having seen The Defenders.

Beaver and his father.
Leave It to Beaver, which is relegated to an honorable mention, is one of the finest family sitcoms. The dialogue and plots are remarkably realistic and many of my favorite episodes are the ones in which Ward Cleaver admits to one of his shortcomings as a parent. There were many good family sitcoms, but Beaver was one of the best.

While I watched Dragnet (the 1967-70 version mostly), I wouldn't rank it among the greatest classic TV series. Yes, it was one of the first radio hits to make a successful transition to television, the music remains recognizable, and there were some famous quotes. But the repetitious formula caused me to lose interest quickly.

Peter Falk as Columbo.
Likewise, Columbo seems ranked too high. Don't get me wrong, Peter Falk is a fine actor and he makes Lieutenant Columbo one of the great TV characters--but the show's formula also wore thin despite the production of fewer episodes than most series. I suspect I'm in the minority here since Columbo is still in heavy rotation on cable television thanks to Falk and his guest star murderers.

Finally, The Odd Couple was a good show with a funny premise, strong characters, and two terrific actors--but it doesn't belong among the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series.

Of course, any "greatest" list is bound to stir some debate...and that's part of the fun! What do you think of the Classic TV Blog Association's 25 Greatest Classic TV Series list?


  1. No westerns! Particularly, no Gunsmoke breaks my heart.

    It is not my list, but I don't think I would have considered The Odd Couple, Dallas, The Andy Griffith Show or perhaps even The Outer Limits.

    I don't agree with Honourable Mentions when compiling such a list. If you have given yourself a specific number, stick to it. Otherwise, increase the number on the list.

    1. One could certainly make an argument for including GUNSMOKE, a quality show that was the longest-running prime time drama for many years. I don’t have an issue with ANDY GRIFFITH nor DALLAS, though I didn’t vote for either one. The former has been in constant reruns since the 1960s, a testament to its enduring popularity. As for DALLAS, it reignited the popularity of nighttime soaps and the “Who shot JR?” and Bobby’s year-long shower caught the fancy of a nation.

  2. That's a pretty poor list. I'll second Caftan Woman's point about avoiding "honorable mentions". Also, why were British shows included?

    1. All the British shows aired in the U.S. Plus, it’s not a greatest American classic TV series list.

  3. I think "The Simpsons" was one of the best shows ever at its peak, checked the start date, and it was December of 1989, so technically I suppose it would qualify, but probably not in the spirit of old time tv shows. Would have liked to see the Bob Newhart show in there somewhere (the first one).

  4. What about variety shows? Most importantly, the great Carol Burnett Show. As for westerns, as has already been noted, they should not be overlooked. My choice is Bonanza.

  5. This is a good list, but having recently watched the series of both Dr. Kildare and Route 66, I was reminded of how well-written the drama's were in the early 60's. Maybe they will make the next list.
    Love this blog by the way. :)

    1. I'm a fan of both ROUTE 66 and DR. KILDARE. I will say that ROUTE 66 was best with George Maharis; he and Martin Milner were a great team. I like Glenn Corbett well enough, but the episodes with him aren't the same. I recently watched the first season of DR. KILDARE and, if this has been a Top 50, it would have received my vote (along with ROUTE 66, HAVE GUN--WILL TRAVEL, and GUNSMOKE).

    2. I, too, am a fan of many of the dramas of the 60s. There were some phenomenal writers and actors at that time.

  6. These lists are always tough to not only compile, but to critique, yet I will. I wholeheartedly agree that The Fugitive was a landmark show, it could well be #1 certainly in the Top 10. While I love both the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, I think fans of these shows tend to remember the highlights (A Game of Pool, Demon With a Glass Hand, Etc) and forget the turkeys. I think Columbo is definitely a top 10 show, it's still fun to watch today. My big beef is the high ranking of The Mary Tyler Moore show, both of Bob Newhart's shows and Barney Miller were better sitcoms, but somehow MTM always gets rated higher.

    1. I think MTM gets the high ranking because it was a successful show about a single, independent, working woman. It was the first show of that kind and it was largely an ensemble show, but it had a social impact and spun off other shows.

  7. And yes, Westerns should be on the list. Gunsmoke, Maverick, The Virginian, and Wagon Train are all worthy.

  8. As someone who participated in the voting I must say I was surprised by the British entries as well. I assumed we were focusing on prime-time network series. That said, I love Python and Doctor Who and The Avengers.

    1. I would have placed THE AVENGERS higher if it was only the Emma Peel years. The quality was variable with the Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson episodes.

  9. And I am partial He wasto Raymond Burr's second act, "Ironside". Before "Ironside", there were no main characters using a wheelchair and a show that featured Chinese, Hispanic, and Asian actors. Not many shows at the time featured a variety of people from ethnic groups. And Don Mitchell was one of first African-Americans in a starring role. Many of the TV shows in the list I do like, but "Ironside" has a place in my heart.

    1. While I was not a big IRONSIDE fan, you raise some good points. It did precede JULIA and ROOM 222 by a year, though in the early shows, I think Don Mitchell’s character was more of a supporting one.

  10. Almost no shows from 1980s are on the list. Perhaps for good reason. Also absent are the ABC mega-hits of the 1970s — Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Three’s Company. Again, perhaps for good reason.

  11. I'm surprised no one has mentioned a show that I would have easily put in the Top Ten. James Garner's great show THE ROCKFORD FILES, really you have to have some pretentiousness about you to rate The Prisoner over THE ROCKFISH. Garner is a strong candidate for the Best Actor in this period with Rockford, Maverick, and the under appreciated Nichols.

  12. I agree that The Rockford Files is a glaring omission.

  13. An interesting companion to this "greatest" list would be a list of long running hits that were not at all great and made no lasting impression despite their longevity. I'd start this list with "Empty Nest" and "Benson." Seven seasons each. That's longer than many, if not most, of the great shows.

  14. As a Canadian, I was VERY pleased to see SCTV on the list.

  15. I really just love reading your blog! Always enjoy it when it shows up on my feed!

  16. Dallas and The Golden Girls are certainly fun, but I don't know if I'd put them on the list. Totally agree about Columbo - I love Peter Falk in certain movies (The In-Laws, The Great Race) but Columbo had a way of making me feel bad for the villians. Lastly, if we're including westerns, The Rifleman should certainly make the list!

  17. I agree with a lot of the list but definitely shocked the omission of The Rockford Files, Barney Miller and like many said Gunsmoke. I also will argue that The Honeymooners, Andy Griffith and Perry Mason are top 10 material. I'm also stunned that the original Mission Impossible and Carol Burnett weren't anywhere. Personally I would've added Soap, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Hogan's Heroes and Green Acres on the list. All that said this is a great list and I love all the appreciation for the classics.