The 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time

Anyone looking for a TV show to marathon-watch this summer? As Kottke wrote, the Writers Guild of America just published their list of the 101 best written TV series, and it’s a great reminder of some oldies but goodies. Here are the first thirty:

1. The Sopranos
2. Seinfeld
3. The Twilight Zone
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

Do you agree or disagree with any of these? And don’t you suddenly want to watch old Mary Tyler Moore episodes? My mom would let me stay up late so we could watch it together when I was in junior high. Also, randomly: My sister, who is a doctor, said that of all the hospital TV series, funnily enough, Scrubs is the most accurate reflection of working in hospitals with its wacky residents and nutty hierarchy.
P.S. Seinfeld posters and funny clips.

(Via Kottke)

  1. Lynn says...

    this list is null & void!

    it does not include Deadwood

    the most exquisitely written television show ever on TV

  2. Marlena says...

    Love this post. How about Mr. Selfridge, The Tudors, Billions and a favorite of mine that I seemed to have watched alone…..Episodes with Matt leBlanc that was written by same writer as friends and as someone from SoCal a fairly accurate discription of the entertainment industry!! Brilliantly funny! Also GoT and Yes, Minister!!! Just realized that quite a few of these are British……

  3. I think Scrubs should have *at least* made the list. Just started rewatching it with my teenagers and am enjoying it as much as the first go-around. I fully support the rest of the list.

  4. Carrie says...

    I LOVE Game of Thrones! I could definitely do without all the sex and nudity but the show is so complex and interesting, it should have made the list for sure!

    And Chuck, yes it may be a bit corny, but oh I just love those characters! It’s what kept me hooked on the show and is what made me cry in the end.

    Still, nothing beats Friends!

  5. Courtney says...

    I LOVE the Twilight Zone! There is always a marathon on New Years Day and I can’t help but DVR a few of my favorite episodes. I’m a little late to the game, but I’m currently watching Dexter on Netflix and I think it should be on this list :]

  6. Ashley says...

    “My So Called Life” should have been muuuuuch higher.

  7. Heather says...

    So many good shows! Seinfeld, FTW. Also, Arrested Development *sigh*. I’ve been thinking of revisiting X-Files (since they’re bringing it back!).

    Also, they need to make the distinction that only the Simpsons episodes from the 1990s were particularly well-written and funny (back when Conan O’Brien and Brad Bird were working on the series) — it started its steady decline in the early 2000s and now it’s just plain terrible.

  8. We have the same top 3 tv series.

  9. Boston Legal, hands down the best writing for this one. Remember St. Elsewhere? Also an excellent one.

    best, teaorwine

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. e says...

    Shouldn’t this list be called “the best AMERICAN tv shows of all time”?? I love some of these but I feel like when it comes to television the Brits do it best … any “best ever” list that doesn’t mention Dennis Potter or Mark Gatis is just playing. PS – Even if limited to the US, how could they have left off Twin Peaks?

  12. Great list. I was mulling it over and kept thinking of new ones to add—-but you had them all!

  13. Great list! I would add Barney Miller, great writing acting and killer comedic timing. Love it!

  14. Great list! I would add Barney Miller, great writing acting and killer comedic timing. Love it!

  15. I never really thought about it but Scrubs totally is the most accurate hospital show. Whenever I watch other hospital shows I’m always thinking “There’s no way that would happen,” but with Scrubs I’m always nodding to myself like “Yep, that’s about right.”

  16. Battlestar Galactica!!! is one of the best shows ever, even if you are not into sci-fi.

  17. Gilmore girls should definitely be on the list, cheesy at times but really well written!

  18. Doctor Who and Game of Thrones are missing, as some have stated before. Other than that I don’t really like mixing Sitcoms with Drama Series. You really can’t compare them on a level that makes sense. I haven’t seen a lot of these shows, so I’m not gonna say much about the ranking itself.

    I only know what people have told me: The Wire is supposedly one of the best shows ever aired and Battlestar Galactica shouldn’t be missing in a Top 30 list like that either.

  19. Gilmore Girls!

  20. Gilmore Girls!

  21. I call shenanigans. The Wire should be rated higher than Mad Men at least – while Jon Hamm is amazing as Don Draper and I love Elizabeth Moss’ Peggy, Omar is one of the best characters ever created on television, “Come at the king, you best not miss.” And the way David Simon envisioned the series, it was perfection. Seriously. Usually you start out with a series that starts off as a good premise and then it never surpasses that first season. Not so with this one. Each season it just builds and builds until you have everything wrapped up in the end. Also, probably one of the most brutal depictions of the inefficiency of institutions and the war on drugs. The social aspect of this series alone should make it as one of the top 5.

  22. Hey girls, how can you not love Sex in the City!

  23. When I saw this was a list for “best written” series, I immediately thought of Gilmore Girls for it’s clever and breakneck speed dialog. I can’t believe it’s not even on the list. Really? Of the top 30, I like 4 or 5. I don’t understand how SNL or Jon Stewart qualify as a series. If it’s a talk show or variety show, it’s not really a series is it? I also think that Parenthood should be on the list. Any writers that can make my friends and I cry with sadness or joy every single episode for an entire season should definitely be on the list!

    I’m glad Frasier, I Love Lucy, and The Cosby Show made the top 30! Classics!

  24. CC says...

    I love 6 Feet Under and Arrested Development. I also used to be a big fan of X-Files. However, I think Breaking Bad is highly overrated and shouldn’t have made the list. I’ve been meaning to start watching Mad Men, looks like this is a good reminder.

  25. I have a feeling people will not let me for saying this but here goes….I never liked Seinfeld. Wow I feel better now that I got that off my chest!

  26. Where is House of Cards?? I can’t believe it did not make it in the top 30. It’s the best!!!

  27. definetly agree on friday night lights !

  28. veronica mars OMG duh! haha. :)

    • Ashley says...

      Yes! One of the most underrated shows of ALL TIME. I mean, LOGAN! COME ON!

  29. My fiancé and I got HOOKED on Lost shortly after our son was born. We watched the entire series within a couple months.

    Also, my sister and friend (both doctors) said the same thing about Scrubs.

  30. Am currently watching binge-watching Sopranos on HBO Go w Curb Your Enthusiasm as a “brain cleanser” before bed.

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  32. And Fringe! Really good sci-fi. And I secretly hated Star Trek. I even got my two teenaged girls hooked!

  33. What about Dexter?? And Suits (with the hottest man ever – Harvey Spector)??

  34. 100% agree re:

    Mad Men – what you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me to sell nylons

    Breaking Bad – science, bitch!

    Arrested Development – there is the woman I am sexually attracted to

    Frasier – All my life I have dreamed of one thing: the day I could go into a library, go to the card catalogue and see my name under “Mental Illness.

    Friends – too many to quote!!!

    Though I haven’t seen The Sopranos and have a feeling I would love that too.

    I loved Lost but not for the writing – it didn’t move me either way. The plot was everything.

    Where is Game of Thrones???

    Great post!

  35. I am kind of surprised to not see Parenthood on there (only because Modern Family is). I completely agree with MASH and Friday Night Lights. And Lost.

    Have you seen MASH? My husband and I have watched the entire series (251 episodes) twice through. It’s seriously great.

    I wish Seinfeld was on Netflix! I’ve never seen a full episode of that but think I would love it.

  36. Scrubs is the best!! That’s coming from a lawyer, though :-)

  37. Family Ties at #95? I am outraged.

  38. What is their criteria? I’m no writer so I have no clue about technicalities or anything like that…but there are some shows that are on the bottom of the list that I would expect to just as likely be at the top, e.g. why is modern family way higher than The Office, Everybody Loves Raymond, Goldon Girls, etc. etc?

  39. Starting with the first episode, I watched all of 30 Rock on my maternity leave while nursing. I returned to my job saying “shut it down” and laughing hysterically. Additional note, my physician husband has always said the same about Scrubs and won’t watch any of the other doctor shows!

  40. What about the The Office!?! Omg I’m in love with that show!!

  41. Gilmore Girls is my #1, they’re good for the soul!

  42. I’m kind of shocked that Community didn’t make this list!

  43. I absolutely love The Killing, and hoped to see it make the list. I thought perhaps it wasn’t because it’s a remake of a Scandinavian show, but The Office made the cut. Friday Night Lights is also amazing and Connie Britton will forever be Tami Taylor.

  44. Breaking Bad should most definitely be above Mad Men…I love both but the writing (and everything) on Breaking Bad makes me feel like a non-mortal is in charge on that show. So remarkable.

  45. Friday Night Lights was so wonderful and good for the soul. I wish more people had given it a chance.

  46. As someone in the medical field as well, I must say that your sister is correct when it comes to Scrubs being th most accurate medical television show. It’s not about the actual medical details, but the personalities. One of my favorite shoes, and a medical show I can watch without screaming at the tv and correcting all of their stupid mistakes!

  47. And we are just finishing up with the available Breaking Bad episodes, and I agree it is phenomenal.

  48. I would say that’s fairly in line the best-written American TV shows of all time… Netflix is introducing me to some AMAZING foreign shows which blow even some of the best American shows out of the water… Prime Suspect, Cracker, Wire in the Blood, the original House of Cards trilogy, Swedish version of Wallander, etc…. oh, then there’s Doc Martin (which is played on PBS here) and some others which also have made their way to PBS.

  49. Six Feet Under changed my life! Only series I’ve bought from start to finish..except for Sex and the City of course :)

  50. Ally McBeal, Prison Break, SATC, Beverly Hills 90210… love them all.

  51. I’m happy to see the X Files on there! What a great show.

    • Ahhh, I LOVE Frasier. Glad to see someone mention it. I started watching it on Netflix as I was a kid when it was on. I couldn’t believe how awesome it was!

  52. Friends!

    My favorite show growing up though (still is)…The Dick Van Dyke Show! I remember as a little girl having such a crush on him…haha even though he’s not exactly in my general age bracket…

  53. The Wire is so much better written than Mad Men! And so is the West Wing. I love Mad Men, but there are some truly cringeworthy writing moments.

  54. The West Wing is the top of my list. Incredible show. Friday Night Lights also has a special place in my heart.

  55. Friday Night Lights!!!

  56. AV says...

    Homeland should definitely replace Lost in the top 30!!!

  57. I’m very surprised Numb3rs did not make the list, especially considering some of the shows that did.

  58. Gilmore Girls!

  59. What a great, and very accurate list! I am a little disappointed to not see Gilmore Girls on the list, as I always thought there was very insightful beat to the writing, and it really portrayed a relationship that for so long was pretty ignored by popular shows. I’ve not been incredibly impressed with Amy Sherman-Palladino’s newest show Bunheads, but Gilmore Girls was in a league of its own! However, I’m thrilled to see Frasier (obviously!) and also Buffy on there!

  60. We’ve been watching Seinfeld with our son who is almost two. It seems to be the right pace for him. And every time he sees George on screen he says “oh george” in a really cute way. I have been trying to get it on video. Watching it reminds me what a great and funny show it was.

  61. Totally agree with #1 – The Sopranos was amazing!

  62. My husband is OBSESSED with West Wing!

    Also, I just want to point out that although not super cool it’s become acceptable (and in some instances cool) to live with parents!

    And the baldness. It caught on when VIn Diesel and the like shaved their heads!

  63. LOL, I totally agree with your sister about Scrubs! (I am a nurse at a children’s hospital.) While some of the crazy surreal things that happen on that show wouldn’t actually happen, they evoke EXACTLY the kind of feelings you feel while on the floors/units. You can tell the person who wrote it had a medical background. I think the most dead on is the sassy front desk lady. :)

  64. so glad to see six feet under on the list. that’s my number one show of ever.

  65. Forgot Ab Fab and the Office (both UK and US) which should be higher on the list. Love those shows!

  66. I strongly agree with Gilmore Girls (ah, Lorelei and Rory.. and Luke) It’s brilliantly written!
    i also love Breaking Bad, amazingly well directed and photographed, and the cast is phenomenal (ok, it’s violent and raw, but still, awesome-right next to the Sopranos)
    One missing is Justified, (4 seasons so far) and season 2 particularly is spectacular. Check it out! (it doesn’t hurt that Timothy Olyphant is soooo good-looking!)
    House is fantastic (at least the 5 first seasons) and I love Nurse Jackie, (with Edie di Falco, formerly Tony Soprano’s wife) check her out!!!
    Scrubs is hilarious, it’s scary to hear that it’s kind of accurate!
    Love Tv series, often more than movies-oops!

  67. I strongly agree with Gilmore Girls (ah, Lorelei and Rory.. and Luke) It’s brilliantly written!
    i also love Breaking Bad, amazingly well directed and photographed, and the cast is phenomenal (ok, it’s violent and raw, but still, awesome-right next to the Sopranos)
    One missing is Justified, (4 seasons so far) and season 2 particularly is spectacular. Check it out! (it doesn’t hurt that Timothy Olyphant is soooo good-looking!)
    House is fantastic (at least the 5 first seasons) and I love Nurse Jackie, (with Edie di Falco, formerly Tony Soprano’s wife) check her out!!!
    Scrubs is hilarious, it’s scary to hear that it’s kind of accurate!
    Love Tv series, often more than movies-oops!

  68. The West Wing deserved to be higher up in that list. In my opinion, it’s unimaginable to place it below Mas Men, for example. Studio 60 on the Sunset strip, despite only lasting for a season, was brilliantly written, too.

    I just noticed Lost is in there too! Oh, those years! Also, Gilmore Girls should be there! It’s light and girly — which somehow prevents everyone from taking it seriously — but is so absolutely amazing when it comes to writing. So, so brilliant.

  69. I recently came across the actualy diner, located in Bloomfield, NJ, where the last scene of The Sopranos was shot! Due to the fact that I absolutely loved this show/thought that the writing was brilliant, I was beyond thrilled to find out about this little piece of TV history. Please check out my blog my these pics/commentary:

  70. Six Feet Under should be closer to the top of the list! It’s my favorite series and has the best series finale ever!

    • I agree!!! LOVED Six Feet Under!

  71. I saw this and felt so validated in my television watching. M*A*S*H, West Wing and Battlestar Galactica (ignore the fact it takes place in space – there are no aliens, it’s pure brilliance) are epic television programs and everyone should watch them.

  72. I don’t know about “best written” – all of these shows seem to be picked from the mainstream pool.
    Firefly and Farscape were incredibly well written sci-fi shows that boggled the mind and dealt with tough issues while keeping the humor in, but obviously, they are not going to pick a sci-fi show, because OMG sci-fi is not a “real” genre. (X Files and Twilight Zone were awesome, but they are “paranormal” genre, in case anyone wondered).
    Also, like so many people said, Scrubs should have made the list, because it was very clever and funny while staying accurate to the subject matter.

  73. Joanna you have totally made me wish it was the middle of winter so I could use “snowed-in” as an excuse to binge watch some of these series! Maybe all the rain we get this weekend here in PA will be a good enough excuse… ;)

  74. what about “Dr.House” “the Closer” “Grace anathomy ” id love them

  75. I LOVE the west wing! Glad to see it made the top ten. But, I agree, where is Gilmore Girls?! I also really like the Big Bang Theory and wish it was added to the list. As a scientist, I love how they make jokes that can be understood on multiple levels! Also, my husband is a general surgery resident and agrees that scrubs is the most accurate!

  76. I was so obsessed with The X-Files when I was a teenager. Seriously, I scheduled my weekends around that show. lol

  77. I’m surprised that ‘The Wire’ isn’t in the top five. ‘Mad Men’ too, actually. I loved ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Friday Night Lights,’ and remain deeply committed to ’30 Rock’ as the greatest show ever. :)

  78. Golden Girls really should be higher that #69. it is a classic, well written show with great comedic timing. its been on constant syndication for the past 20 yrs. that should account for higher than #69. Can you tell I’m a fan and still watch it daily, HA!


  79. There was actually a study done on the “accuracy” of hospital TV and Scrubs came out the winner. I read an article that said the head writer on the show (I think?) is friends with a doctor and he acts as a consultant for story ideas, etc. Definitely makes more sense than the crap they put on Grey’s Anatomy!

  80. Arrested Development–the first three seasons, as opposed to the atrocity that’s on Netflix now :( It’s a totally different, not-nearly-as-awesome show.

  81. Love MAD MEN! And I was obsessed with the X-Files in high school, LOL :)

  82. Friday Night Lights is the best show ever.. miss watching it!!

  83. Whither the Doctor Who? There’s a reason it’s run over 60 years…

    • Actually this year ist the 50th birthday of Doctor Who and I also wanted to say: what about him? The show has everything: action, drama, costumes, humor, love and friendship! I think it’s the best show showing friendship and solidarity and it brings tears to my eyes almost every episode =)

  84. The Wire is number 9?! No way. It’s at LEAST in the top 5. And definitely above Mad Men.

    • I totally agree, I would probably put The Wire at the very top of the list.

  85. I love Homeland. I’ve also been watching The Killing on Netflix – it’s not good enough to make a “Best of” list but it’s entertaining with lots of twists. It’s dark & if you like crime drama/mystery, you’ll like it.

  86. I totally do want to go watch Marry Tyler Moore , and Dick Van Dyke too!

  87. we weren’t allowed to watch much TV, but my mom always let my sisters and i watch “i love lucy”! i loved that show–even as a working adult, i have a lucy coffee mug from the vitameatavegamin episode (my favorite one!).

  88. yes! the west wing! fantastic. and of course, seinfeld is the best.

  89. jm says...

    These are some of my favorite shows and I love TV marathons. Did one watching the whole 1st series of Homeland.

  90. Have you seen the “Seinfeld today” twitter? HILARIOUS.

    a snippet: “Elaine hates Arrested Development. Everyone judges her like she killed someone. J:”There are some things you’re just not allowed to say.””

    — Emma

  91. I’m only just beginning to understand the humour of Seinfeld, I think it’s quite different to typical English comedy but some of the eps I’ve watched recently have been hilarious. Frasier’s on here every single morning though and it’s definitely one of the best! – Holly (

  92. Friday Night Lights was really under appreciated in it’s time- I’m so glad to see it made the list! The book is also fantastic.

    • I agree! I watched the whole series of Friday Night Lights this past year and thought it was so good. Even when I watch Nashville now, I still see what’s her name as Tami Taylor :)

  93. Golden Girls!

    • Bless your heart. YES.

  94. where is breaking bad??!?! or mad men maybe? but seriously, where is breaking bad?!

    • #13 & 7.

  95. My faves made the list: I Love Lucy, Golden Girls, Roseanne, Downton Abbey and Frasier! I’m kind of old school, with the exception of Downton.

  96. that’s so funny, becky! i’m going to tell my sister :)

  97. Northern Exposure, anyone?

    • YESSSS.

  98. Even though it’s such a cheesy show, I thought My So-Called Life was brilliantly written. It so perfectly depicted the inner monologue of a teenage girl.

    • MC says...

      loved that show

    • aaah! my so-called life! so, so great.

    • My so called life is in the list at number 68. this is just the first 30 shows in the list!

  99. This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Agreed. No Gilmore Girls? Also Veronica Mars. Nice to My So Called Life included though.

  100. I never watched the Soprano’s the first time around but ever since I lived in Newport, Jersey City this last year I’ve been obsessed! Some of my fave shows on this list, especially the Cosby Show, Frasier, Cheers and Friends.

    • SO TRUE! Medical student over here- those shows are like a more entertaining version of our medical ethics courses!

  101. I’m a nurse and have always said that Scrubs is the medical show most like how hospitals really are! I’m glad someone agrees!! Hahaha!!

    Seinfeld should be #1!