The 100 Most Essential Modern TV Programs

Couple ground rules.  For starters, we’ll be using 1990 as the demarcation line for what should be considered modern.  This seemed like a natural cutoff point, as the Cheers generation was giving way to the Seinfeld generation and cable channels were beginning to gain some footing.  When we say 1990, we mean that the first season of a show had to, at its earliest, at least span the turn of the decade.  This means The Simpsons is still good as its first season started in the latter half of 1989 and ended in 1990.  However, this disqualifies still active shows that started any earlier; as great as SNL and 60 Minutes are, you won’t see them on this list.  Tough call but we ultimately decided that we didn’t want to be handing out too many greatness points for longevity alone.  Furthermore, with all apologies to Freaks and Geeks, miniseries or single-season programs will not eligible.  Though we don’t want to over award for longevity, there’s something to be said for sustaining greatness across multiple years.  Beyond that it’s wide open–dramas, sitcoms, talk shows, sketch comedy, British shows–if it comes on the small screen and could be considered essential viewing, it has a spot on this list.

  1.  The Wire (2002-2008, 60 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by David Simon
  2. The Simpsons (1989-Present, 662 episodes over 30 seasons)  FOX  Created by Matt Groening
  3.  Seinfeld (1989-1998, 180 episodes over 9 seasons)  NBC  Created  by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
  4.  Breaking Bad (2008-2013, 62 episodes over 5 seasons)  AMC  Created by Vince Gilligan
  5.  The Sopranos (1999-2007, 86 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by David Chase
  6. The Daily Show (1996-Present, 3000+ episodes)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead
  7. Game of Thrones (2011-2019, 73 episodes over 8 seasons)  HBO  Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
  8.  Mad Men (2007-2015, 92 episodes over 7 seasons) AMC Created by Matthew Weiner
  9. The Office (American) (2005-2013, 201 episodes over 9 seasons)  NBC  Developed by Greg Daniels and based on The Office by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
  10.  The West Wing (1999-2006, 156 episodes over 7 seasons) NBC Created by Aaron Sorkin
  11. South Park (1997-Present, 297 episodes over 22 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  12. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998, 89 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by Garry Shandling and Dennis Klein
  13. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present, 90 episodes over 9 seasons) HBO  Created by Larry David
  14. Friends (1994-2004, 236 episodes over 10 seasons)  NBC  Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman
  15. Deadwood (2004-2006, 36 episodes over 3 seasons + movie in 2019)  HBO  Created by David Milch
  16. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015, 125 episodes over 7 seasons)  NBC  Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Shur
  17. The Leftovers (2014-2017, 28 episodes over 3 seasons)  HBO  Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta and based on the novel The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
  18.  Law and Order (1990-2010, 496 episodes over 20 seasons) NBC Created by Dick Wolf
  19. Arrested Development (2003-Present, 84 episodes over 5 seasons)  FOX/NETFLIX  Created by Mitchell Hurwitz
  20.  ER (1994-2009, 331 episodes over 15 seasons) NBC Created by Michael Crichton
  21.  Lost (2004-2010, 121 episodes over 6 seasons)  ABC  Created by JJ Abrams
  22. NYPD Blue (1993-2005, 261 episodes over 12 seasons) ABC  Created by Steven Bochco and David Milch
  23. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-Present, 144 episodes over 13 seasons)  FX  Created by Rob McElhenney
  24.  The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016-2018, 218 episodes over 11 seasons) FOX Created by Chris Carter
  25. Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017 48 episodes over 3 seasons)  ABC  Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch
  26. Family Guy (1999-Present, 329 episodes over 17 seasons)  FOX  Created by Seth McFarlane
  27. The Shield (2002-2008, 88 episodes over 7 seasons)  FX  Created by Shawn Ryan
  28. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011, 76 episodes over 5 seasons)  NBC  Based on the book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger
  29. Black Mirror (2011-Present, 19 episodes over 4 seasons)  CHANNEL 4/NETFLIX  Created by Charlie Brooker
  30. Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006, 28 episodes over 3 seasons)  Comedy Central.  Created by Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan
  31. Six Feet Under (2001-2005, 63 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by Alan Ball
  32.  Oz (1997-2003, 56 episodes over 6 seasons) HBO Created by Tom Fontana
  33. Sex and the City (1998-2004, 94 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by Darren Star
  34. Frasier (1993-2004, 264 episodes over 11 seasons)  NBC  Created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee
  35. 30 Rock (2006-2013, 138 episodes over 7 seasons)  NBC  Created by Tina Fey
  36. Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999, 122 episodes over 7 seasons)  NBC  Created by Paul Attanasio and based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
  37.  24 (2001-2014, 204 episodes over 9 seasons) FOX Created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran
  38. Veep (2012-2019, 65 episodes over 7 seasons)  HBO  Created by Armando Iannucci
  39. Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1993-2009, 2,725 episodes over 14 seasons)  NBC  Created by Conan O’Brien
  40. The Americans (2013-2018, 75 episodes over 6 seasons)  FX  Created by Joe Weisberg
  41. Fargo (2014-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  FX  Created by Noah Hawley
  42. Key and Peele (2012-2015, 53 episodes over 5 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele
  43.  Succession (2018-Present, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  HBO  Created by Jessie Armstrong
  44. Atlanta (2016-Present, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  FX  Created by Donald Glover
  45.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003, 144 episodes over 7 seasons)  THE WB/UPN  Created by Joss Whedon
  46. The Colbert Report (20052014, 1447 episodes over 10 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Stephen Colbert, Ben Karlin, and Jon Stewart
  47. The Office (British) (2001-2003, 14 episodes over 2 seasons)  BBC  Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
  48.  Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009, 75 episodes over 4 seasons)  SCI-FI  Based on TV series Battlestar Galactica by Glen A. Larson and developed by Ronald D. Moore
  49. Real Time with Bill Maher (2003-Present, 500+ episodes over 17 seasons  HBO  Presented by Bill Maher
  50. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996, 148 episodes over 6 seasons) NBC  Created by Andy and Susan Borowitz
  51. 30 for 30 (2009-Present, 156 episodes)  ESPN  Created by Bill Simmons and Connor Schell
  52. Mr. Robot (2015-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  USA  Created by Sam Esmail
  53.  Pardon the Interruption (2001-Present, 3500+ episodes)  ESPN  Starring Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon
  54. Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000, 293 episodes over 10 seasons)  FOX  Created by Darren Star, Aaron Spelling, and E. Duke Vincent
  55. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (1992-2014, 4,610 episodes over 22 seasons)  NBC  Presented by Jay Leno
  56. Justified (2010-2015, 78 episodes over 6 seasons)  FX  Developed by Graham Yost and based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard
  57. Last Week Tonight (2014-Present, 161 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Presented by John Oliver
  58. Rick and Morty (2013-Present, 31 episodes over 3 seasons)  ADULT SWIM  Created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
  59.  Modern Family (2009-Present, 232 episodes over 10 seasons)  ABC  Created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan
  60. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-2015, 337 episodes over 15 seasons)  CBS  Created by Anthony E. Zulker
  61. In Living Color (1990-1994, 127 episodes over 5 seasons)  FOX  Created by Keenan Ivory Wayans
  62. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present, 244 episodes over 12 seasons)  NICKELODEON  Created by Stephen Hillenburg
  63. The Walking Dead (2010-Present,  131 episodes over 9 seasons)  AMC  Developed by Frank Darabont and based on the comic book series The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  64.  Gilmore Girls (2000-2007, 153 episodes over 7 seasons)  WB/CW  Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino.
  65. Master of None (2015-Present, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
  66. Beavis and Butthead (1993-1997, 2011, 222 episodes over 8 seasons.  MTV  Created by Mike Judge
  67. Louie (2010-2015, 61 episodes over 5 seasons)  FX  Created by Louie CK
  68. Sherlock (2010-present, 13 episodes over 4 seasons)  BBC  Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
  69.  Hannibal (2013-2015, 39 episodes over 3 seasons)  NBC  Developed by Bryant Fuller
  70. Chicago Hope (1994-2000, 141 episodes over 6 seasons)  CBS  Created by David E. Kelley
  71. The Knick (2014-2015, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  CINEMAX Created by Jack Ariel and Michael Begler
  72. The Real World (1992-Present, 602 episodes over 33 seasons)  MTV  Created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray
  73.  Dexter (2006-2013, 96 episodes over 8 seasons)  SHOWTIME  Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay an developed by James Manos Jr.
  74. Northern Exposure (1990-1995, 110 episodes over 6 seasons)  CBS  Created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey
  75. Orange is the New Black (2013-Present, 78 episodes over 6 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Jenji Kohan
  76. Broad City (2014-2019, 50 episodes over 5 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Illana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
  77. Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006, 151 episodes over 7 seasons)  FOX  Created by Linwood Boomer
  78. Better Call Saul (2015-Present, 40 episodes over 4 seasons)  AMC  Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould
  79. Transparent (2014-Present, 40 episodes over 4 seasons)  AMAZON  Created by Jill Soloway
  80. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014-Present, 800+ episodes over 5 seasons  Presented by Jimmy Fallon
  81. That 70’s Show (1998-2006, 200 episodes over 8 seasons)  FOX  Created by Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill.
  82. Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014, 56 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by Terence Winter
  83. Community (2009-2015, 110 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO/YAHOO  Created by Dan Harmon
  84. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005, 210 episodes over 9 seasons)  CBS  Created by Phillip Rosenthal
  85.  King of the Hill (1997-2010, 259 episodes over 13 seasons)  FOX  Created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels
  86. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-Present, 130 episodes over 6 seasons)  FOX/NBC  Created by Dan Goor and Michael Shur
  87. Futurama (1999-2013, 140 episodes over 7 seasons)  FOX/COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Matt Groening
  88. Homeland (2011-Present, 84 episodes over 7 seasons)  SHOWTIME  Based on the Israeli drama Prisoners of War by Gideon Raff and developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
  89. House of Cards (2013-2018, 73 episodes over 6 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Beau Willimon and based on British series and novel of same name
  90. In Treatment (2008-2010, 106 episodes over 3 seasons)  HBO  Developed by Rodrigo Garcia and based on the Israeli series BeTipul
  91. Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014, 92 episodes over 7 seasons)  FX  Created by Kurt Sutter
  92. Jackass (2000-2002, 25 episodes over 3 seasons)  MTV  Created by Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, and Jeff Tremaine
  93. BoJack Horseman (2014-Present, 61 episodes over 5 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
  94. Silicon Valley (2014-Present, 46 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky
  95. Newsradio (1995-1999, 98 episodes over 5 seasons)  NBC  Created by Paul Simms
  96. Picket Fences (1992-1996, 88 episodes over 4 seasons)  CBS  Created by David E Kelley
  97. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995, 52 episodes over 5 seasons)  NICKELODEON  Created by John Kricfalusi
  98. Eastbound & Down (2009-2013, 29 episodes over 4 seasons)  HBO  Created by Ben Best, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride
  99. Party Down (2009-2010, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  HBO  Created by John Enborn, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd.
  100. How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014, 208 episodes over 9 seasons)  CBS  Created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas

 
Honorable Mentions: Barry, The Good Place, Fleabag, Enlightened, The Deuce, Killing Eve, True Detective, Stranger Things, Halt and Catch Fire, Mindhunter, Survivor, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Scrubs, Girls, Glow, Mr. Show, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Dejus & Mero, Better Things, Animaniacs, Vice, Sports Night, House, American Crime Story, The Practice, Veronica Mars, Black-ish, Portlandia, Rescue Me, Saved by the Bell, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Home Improvement, The O.C., Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Alias, Big Mouth, Family Matters, Flight of the Conchords, Nathan For You, American Crime, The Big Bang Theory, Melrose Place, Nurse Jackie, The Man Show, High Maintenance, Rectify, Da Ali G Show, Grey’s Anatomy, Prime Suspect

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