The Best Shows Left Off The WGA 101 Best-Written TV Series List

?????????????????????????????????????????????The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has revealed their list of the 101 best-written television series.

First, let me say that in general, I’m not fond of lists. Rankings and what gets included can seem very arbitrary, and certain things like “recency-bias” (bias in favor of recently-made shows) and personal preference can skew the results.

That said: it’s a pretty good list.

Here it is:

1. “The Sopranos”
2. “Seinfeld”
3. “The Twilight Zone” (1959)
4. “All in the Family”
5. “M*A*S*H”
6. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7. “Mad Men”
8. “Cheers”
9. “The Wire”
10. “The West Wing”
11. “The Simpsons”
12. “I Love Lucy”
13. “Breaking Bad”
14. “The Dick Van Dyke Show”
15. “Hill Street Blues”
16. “Arrested Development
17. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”
18. “Six Feet Under”
19. “Taxi”
20. “The Larry Sanders Show”
21. “30 Rock”
22. “Friday Night Lights”
23. “Frasier”
24. “Friends”
25. “Saturday Night Live”
26. “The X-Files”
27. “Lost”
28. “ER”
29. “The Cosby Show”
30. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
31. “The Honeymooners”
32. “Deadwood”
33. “Star Trek”
34. “Modern Family”
35. “Twin Peaks”
36. “NYPD Blue”
37. “The Carol Burnett Show”
38. “Battlestar Galactica” (2005)
39. “Sex & The City”
40. “Game of Thrones”
41. (tie) “The Bob Newhart Show”; “Your Show of Shows”
43. (tie) “Downton Abbey“; “Law & Order”; “Thirtysomething”
46. (tie) “Homicide: Life on the Street”; “St. Elsewhere”
48. “Homeland”
49. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
50. (tie) “The Colbert Report”; “The Good Wife”; “The Office” (UK)
53. “Northern Exposure”
54. “The Wonder Years”
55. “L.A. Law”
56. “Sesame Street”
57. “Columbo”
58. (tie) “Fawlty Towers”; “The Rockford Files”
60. (tie) “Freaks and Geeks”; “Moonlighting”
62. “Roots”
63. (tie) “Everybody Loves Raymond”; “South Park”
65. “Playhouse 90”
66. (tie) “Dexter”; “The Office” (US)
68. “My So-Called Life”
69. “Golden Girls”
70. “The Andy Griffith Show”
71. (tie) “24”; “Roseanne”; “The Shield”
74. (tie) “House”; “Murphy Brown”
76. (tie) “Barney Miller”; “I, Claudius”
78. “The Odd Couple”
79. (tie) “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”; “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”; “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; “Upstairs, Downstairs”
83. “Get Smart”
84. (tie) “The Defenders”; “Gunsmoke”
86. (tie) “Justified”; “Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show)”
88. “Band of Brothers”
89. “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”
90. “The Prisoner”
91. (tie) “Absolutely Fabulous” (UK); “The Muppet Show”
93. “Boardwalk Empire”
94. “Will & Grace”
95. “Family Ties”
96. (tie) “Lonesome Dove”; “Soap”
98. (tie) “The Fugitive”; “Late Night with David Letterman”; “Louie”
101. “Oz”

My one major quibble?

The high ranking for Downton Abbey over several far superior British shows. This is the most blatant example of recency-bias. Downton Abbey is an entertaining show, but is it particularly WELL-WRITTEN?  Especially compared to I, Claudius or Fawlty Towers?

I don’t think so, but that may be an example of my own personal bias.

Still, like I said, it’s a pretty good list.

Oh, there are a few shows included that I never saw what everyone else saw in them. But I’m thrilled to see recognition for Soap and The Odd Couple, two of my all-time favorite sitcoms.

Of course, there’s always going to be something that seems unfairly left out of these types of lists. Here are a few that I feel deserve at least an honorable mention:

1. WKRP In Cincinatti: this omission is the biggest shock. WKRP belongs right up there with the best of the best work-place comedies, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. The writing was phenomenal. It brought together a brilliant mish-mash of characters and made them a cohesive ensemble. It has one of the classic holiday-themed sitcom episodes of all time, Turkeys Away. It totally deserves to be in the top 101.

2. The Practice or Boston Legal: this is another shock—L.A. Law was the only David E. Kelley show (and he didn’t even create it, he was only the showrunner) to make it into the list. Some might vote for Ally McBeal, but in my opinion, these two were his finest legal shows, and at least one of them should have been included. Kelley created some indelible (as well as problematic) characters, and his shows grappled with many cutting-edge issues.

3. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show: when I was a kid, they used to show Rocky and Bullwinkle on Saturday morning because it was an animated show. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really got the humor. In fact, it was a brilliant satire of the Cold War era. It also had other ingenious segments like Fractured Fairy Tales, Peabody’s Improbable History (about a talking dog and his “pet boy” Sherman traveling through time) and, of course, Dudley Do-Right. Current animated shows like The Simpsons owe a lot to Rocky and Bullwinkle, and it should be on the list.

4. The Monkees: this show may seem to belong entirely to its own time, but when MTV reran it in 1986 it still held up and I think it would today, too. The show was almost experimental, influenced by the “new wave” of foreign films during the 1960s. There were a lot of complaints at the time that it was just piggy-backing on the massive popularity of The Beatles (it was) but it introduced entirely new storytelling techniques to the sitcom genre. And the music still holds up pretty well, too!

5. Brideshead Revisited:  Adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s novel, and starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, it chronicles the friendship of middle-class Charles Ryder and his aristocratic friend Sebastian Flyte during the period between the two world wars. Charles becomes fascinated not only by Sebastian, but by the entire Flyte family, who also happen to be Catholic. Yeah, they’re a bunch of snot-heads and their attitude towards anyone not like them is kind of abominable, but it’s O.K. because they suffer a lot. In spite of that last assessment, it’s actually far less soapy than Downton Abbey, and based on the quality of the writing is far more deserving of a spot on the list.

6. Ballykissangel: so you think the ninth episode of each season of Game of Thrones is brutal? Watch Season 1 of Ballykissangel, a dramedy set in a small Irish town. While it’s utterly charming and often very funny (and speaking of Game of Thrones, Lena Heady guest-stars in one  episode) it could also gut-punch you with unexpected tragedy. Oh, and this has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, but a very young Colin Farrell was a regular during one of the later seasons. So there’s THAT.

7. Kids In The Hall: This Canadian sketch show ran from 1988 – 1994  and starred young up-and-coming comics (including Dave Foley of NewsRadio—another great work-place comedy). It holds up next to SCTV and Saturday Night Live, in fact, I think it was far more consistent than the latter. It featured one of my all-time favorite skits, “Girl Drink Drunk,” about a guy who becomes addicted to “girl drinks” and ends up blending pina coladas in the supply room at work.

Were any of your favorites left off the list? Are there some on the list that you don’t feel belong on it? Let us know in the comments section!

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2 thoughts on “The Best Shows Left Off The WGA 101 Best-Written TV Series List

  1. Yes, I used to love Cincinnati, and Brideshead was compulsive viewing… There was also an amazing series called ‘Jewel in the Crown’, abut India…about the same time as Brideshead…with a cast which included many English greats like Charles Dance and a host of others…,

    1. YES—I remember Jewel In The Crown. Excellent series. British miniseries had a kind of golden age during the 70s and early 80s.

      So agree about Charles Dance. He is amazing in Game of Thrones, and anything he does is elevated by his presence.

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