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, 625 episodes over 29 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-Present, 67 episodes over 7 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. South Park (1997-Present, 277 episodes over 20 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  10. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998, 89 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by Garry Shandling and Dennis Klein
  11. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present, 90 episodes over 9 seasons) HBO  Created by Larry David
  12.  The West Wing (1999-2006, 156 episodes over 7 seasons) NBC Created by Aaron Sorkin
  13.  Law and Order (1990-2010, 496 episodes over 20 seasons) NBC Created by Dick Wolf
  14. Arrested Development (2003-Present, 68 episodes over 4 seasons)  FOX/NETFLIX  Created by Mitchell Hurwitz
  15. 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
  16. Louie (2010-2015, 61 episodes over 5 seasons)  FX  Created by Louie CK
  17. Friends (1994-2004, 236 episodes over 10 seasons)  NBC  Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman
  18. Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006, 28 episodes over 3 seasons)  Comedy Central.  Created by Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan
  19.  ER (1994-2009, 331 episodes over 15 seasons) NBC Created by Michael Crichton
  20.  Lost (2004-2010, 121 episodes over 6 seasons)  ABC  Created by JJ Abrams
  21. NYPD Blue (1993-2005, 261 episodes over 12 seasons) ABC  Created by Steven Bochco and David Milch
  22.  The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016-Present, 210 episodes over 11 seasons) FOX Created by Chris Carter
  23. Deadwood (2004-2006, 36 episodes over 3 seasons)  HBO  Created by David Milch
  24. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015, 125 episodes over 7 seasons)  NBC  Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Shur
  25. Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017 48 episodes over 3 seasons)  ABC  Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch
  26. 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
  27. The Colbert Report (2005-2014, 1447 episodes over 10 seasons.  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Stephen Colbert, Ben Karlin, and Jon Stewart
  28. Family Guy (1999-Present, 296 episodes over 16 seasons)  FOX  Created by Seth McFarlane
  29. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-Present, 134 episodes over 12 seasons)  FX  Created by Rob McElhenney
  30. The Shield (2002-2008, 88 episodes over 7 seasons)  FX  Created by Shawn Ryan
  31. 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
  32. Black Mirror (2011-Present, 19 episodes over 4 seasons)  CHANNEL 4/NETFLIX  Created by Charlie Brooker
  33. Key and Peele (2012-2015, 53 episodes over 5 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele
  34. Six Feet Under (2001-2005, 63 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by Alan Ball
  35.  Oz (1997-2003, 56 episodes over 6 seasons) HBO Created by Tom Fontana
  36. Frasier (1993-2004, 264 episodes over 11 seasons)  NBC  Created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee
  37. 30 Rock (2006-2013, 138 episodes over 7 seasons)  NBC  Created by Tina Fey
  38. 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
  39.  24 (2001-2014, 204 episodes over 9 seasons) FOX Created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran
  40. Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1993-2009, 2,725 episodes over 14 seasons)  NBC  Created by Conan O’Brien
  41. Fargo (2014-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  FX  Created by Noah Hawley
  42. Atlanta (2016-Present, 10 episodes over 1 season)  FX  Created by Donald Glover
  43. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003, 144 episodes over 7 seasons)  THE WB/UPN  Created by Joss Whedon
  44. The Office (British) (2001-2003, 14 episodes over 2 seasons)  BBC  Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
  45.  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
  46. The Americans (2013-Present, 65 episodes over 5 seasons)  FX  Created by Joe Weisberg
  47. Real Time with Bill Maher (2003-Present, 400+ episodes over 15 seasons  HBO  Presented by Bill Maher
  48. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996, 148 episodes over 6 seasons) NBC  Created by Andy and Susan Borowitz
  49. Sex and the City (1998-2004, 94 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by Darren Star
  50. 30 for 30 (2009-Present, 97 episodes)  ESPN  Created by Bill Simmons and Connor Schell
  51. Mr. Robot (2015-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  USA  Created by Sam Esmail
  52. Pardon the Interruption (2001-Present, 3500+ episodes)  ESPN  Starring Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon
  53. Veep (2012-Present, 58 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO  Created by Armando Iannucci
  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. Rick and Morty (2013-Present, 31 episodes over 3 seasons)  ADULT SWIM  Created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
  58. Modern Family (2009-Present, 196 episodes over 9 seasons)  ABC  Created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan
  59. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-2015, 337 episodes over 15 seasons)  CBS  Created by Anthony E. Zulker
  60. In Living Color (1990-1994, 127 episodes over 5 seasons)  FOX  Created by Keenan Ivory Wayans
  61. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present, 213 episodes over 10 seasons)  NICKELODEON  Created by Stephen Hillenburg
  62. Last Week Tonight (2014-Present, 119 episodes over 4 seasons)  HBO  Presented by John Oliver
  63. Master of None (2015-Present, 20 episodes over two seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
  64. Beavis and Butthead (1993-1997, 2011, 222 episodes over 8 seasons.  MTV  Created by Mike Judge
  65. Sherlock (2010-present, 13 episodes over 4 seasons)  BBC  Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
  66. Hannibal (2013-2015, 39 episodes over 3 seasons)  NBC  Developed by Bryant Fuller
  67. Chicago Hope (1994-2000, 141 episodes over 6 seasons)  CBS  Created by David E. Kelley
  68. The Knick (2014-2015, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  CINEMAX Created by Jack Ariel and Michael Begler
  69. The Real World (1992-Present, 602 episodes over 32 seasons)  MTV  Created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray
  70.  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.
  71. Northern Exposure (1990-1995, 110 episodes over 6 seasons)  CBS  Created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey
  72. Orange is the New Black (2013-Present, 65 episodes over 5 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Jenji Kohan
  73. Broad City (2014-Present, 40 episodes over 4 seasons)  COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Illana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
  74. Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006, 151 episodes over 7 seasons)  FOX  Created by Linwood Boomer
  75. Better Call Saul (2015-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  AMC  Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould
  76. Vice (2013-Present) 56 episodes over 5 seasons HBO  Created by Shane Smith
  77. Transparent (2014-Present, 30 episodes over 3 seasons)  AMAZON  Created by Jill Soloway
  78. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014-Present, 800+ episodes over 5 seasons  Presented by Jimmy Fallon
  79. That 70’s Show (1998-2006, 200 episodes over 8 seasons)  FOX  Created by Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill.
  80. Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014, 56 episodes over 5 seasons)  HBO  Created by Terence Winter
  81. Community (2009-2015, 110 episodes over 6 seasons)  HBO/YAHOO  Created by Dan Harmon
  82. The Walking Dead (2010-Present,  107 episodes over 8 seasons)  AMC  Developed by Frank Darabont and based on the comic book series The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  83. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005, 210 episodes over 9 seasons)  CBS  Created by Phillip Rosenthal
  84.  King of the Hill (1997-2010, 259 episodes over 13 seasons)  FOX  Created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels
  85. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-Present, 98 episodes over 5 seasons)  FOX  Created by Dan Goor and Michael Shur
  86. Futurama (1999-2013, 140 episodes over 7 seasons)  FOX/COMEDY CENTRAL  Created by Matt Groening
  87. Homeland (2011-Present, 72 episodes over 6 seasons)  SHOWTIME  Based on the Israeli drama Prisoners of War by Gideon Raff and developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
  88. House of Cards (2013-Present, 65 episodes over 5 seasons)  NETFLIX  Created by Beau Willimon and based on British series and novel of same name
  89. In Treatment (2008-2010, 106 episodes over 3 seasons)  HBO  Developed by Rodrigo Garcia and based on the Israeli series BeTipul
  90. Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014, 92 episodes over 7 seasons)  FX  Created by Kurt Sutter
  91. Jackass (2000-2002, 25 episodes over 3 seasons)  MTV  Created by Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, and Jeff Tremaine
  92. Silicon Valley (2014-Present, 35 episodes over 4 seasons)  HBO  Created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky
  93. Newsradio (1995-1999, 98 episodes over 5 seasons)  NBC  Created by Paul Simms
  94. Picket Fences (1992-1996, 88 episodes over 4 seasons)  CBS  Created by David E Kelley
  95. Animaniacs (1993-1998, 99 episodes over 5 seasons)  FOX/THE WB  Created by Tom Reugger
  96. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995, 52 episodes over 5 seasons)  NICKELODEON  Created by John Kricfalusi
  97. Eastbound & Down (2009-2013, 29 episodes over 4 seasons)  HBO  Created by Ben Best, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride
  98. Party Down (2009-2010, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  HBO  Created by John Enborn, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd.
  99. How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014, 208 episodes over 9 seasons)  CBS  Created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas
  100. American Crime Story (2015-Present, 20 episodes over 2 seasons)  FX  Developed by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

 
Honorable Mentions: Gilmore Girls, The Good Place, Succession, Enlightened, The Deuce, True Detective, Bojack Horseman, Stranger Things, Halt and Catch Fire, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Scrubs, Girls, Mr. Show, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Dejus & Mero, Better Things, Sports Night, House, 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, Family Matters, Flight of the Conchords, Nathan For You, American Crime, Melrose Place, Nurse Jackie, The Man Show, High Maintenance, Rectify, Da Ali G Show, Grey’s Anatomy, Prime Suspect, Survivor, Mindhunter

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