While struggling a bit with what subject I should address in a new Top Ten list, it occurred to me that since I’ve already posted on my ten favorite films, I may as well move over to the small screen and address TV shows.
These are not my picks for the ten best shows ever; although a few of them would also make that list. They are simply series that I’ve loved over the years.
And before starting, just a warning that there is bad language in a few of these clips; the HBO shows in particular.
10. Dallas-Dynasty-Knotts Landing-Melrose Place
Both day and night-time soap operas were hugely popular beginning around the late 70s, through the 80s and into the early 90s. I became a General Hospital fan just in time to catch the escapades of Luke and Laura. And I always seemed to have a strong devotion to one of the night-time soaps during that period, starting with Dallas. Eventually, I moved on to Dynasty, followed by the Dallas spin-off, Knott’s Landing, and finally, Melrose Place. Rather than giving them each a spot on the list or picking one from among them, I decided to group those into one listing, as they all seemed to satisfy the same entertainment itch during my teens and twenties.
Here is what had to be one of the most watched scenes in television history, when Dallas‘ many fans finally found out who shot J.R., after an entire summer of obsessing over it.
9. The Odd Couple
Although I probably have a bias in favor of The Odd Couple because Jack Klugman was related to me (he and my maternal grandmother were first cousins), Tony Randall did more to get this show on to the list. He was nothing short of brilliant as the neurotic neat-freak, Felix.
I’m including the opening credits instead of a scene for this show because it features my favorite TV opening theme song and the video montage captures the two main characters extremely well.
8. The Beverly Hillbillies
This was one of a handful of 60s shows that most kids my age – just about all of the ones with whom I grew up – watched in re-runs during the 70s. Bewitched and The Munsters were a couple others. The Beverly Hillbillies is my favorite of that lot. It has an endearing premise that was pulled off extremely well by the very good cast.
Here is one of my favorite scenes from an early episode.
7. Firing Line
We’re currently in an age when it’s increasingly rare for people on opposite sides of the American political divide to sit down together and have a civil discussion about the issues of the day; be it on television or otherwise. But things were different during the long run of William Buckley’s Firing Line. Buckley was arguably the founder of the pre-Trump conservative movement in the United States. Yet he never shied away from inviting guests who saw things differently than he did; sometimes radically different, as was the case when Black Panthers’ leader, Huey Newton, sat down with him.
This is the beginning of the interview. It’s virtually impossible to imagine leaders of the hard right and left sitting down and having this sort of discussion today.
6. The Sopranos
I haven’t been an HBO subscriber since long before The Sopranos made its debut on the network. But maybe 6-7 years ago, our cable company gave us a free summer of the network just for being such good customers. I took advantage of the opportunity by binge-watching a few of the shows I had been curious about, including The Sopranos. I’ve had an on-again-off-again interest in the Mafia for many years, having read books and watched documentaries on the subject of the American Mob. So this series was a natural for me. I did wind up liking it very much, although I was getting a little tired of it by the final season. The fact that I watched every episode in a relatively short period of time may have had something to do with that.
Here is a classic scene that captures what the series was about nicely.
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
I was such a big Seinfeld fan, that I had to try Curb Your Enthusiasm. When I did and discovered how much I liked it, I wound up buying each season upon its release on DVD, at least through the first seven or eight seasons. I still haven’t watched the last season or two.
If this show isn’t as good as Seinfeld, it’s close. And you can see the resemblance between Larry’s character and that of George Castanza. Here is Larry with his manager, Jeff, from what is justifiably one of the show’s best known episodes.
This was another show I watched during that summer when we had free HBO. I had been a big Westerns fan for some years by then, so it was another no-brainer for me to at least give it a shot. I wound up absolutely loving it, at least once I got past the unbelievably profane language. That probably took a few episodes. I figured that in those sorts of old-west towns, the language was probably terrible. Cursing back then wasn’t anything like it is now, so the show’s writers updated it. And they didn’t hold back! Deadwood had some extremely strong characters; none more so than Al Swearengen, played by Ian McShane.
Here he is giving a dose of wisdom to one of the series’ side characters.
I mentioned in the Curb Your Enthusiasm blurb that I was a huge Seinfeld fan. I eventually watched most of the episodes so many times that I burned out on it and haven’t watched much of the show in recent years. But I have every season on DVD should the mood strike me again at some point. Each of the four characters is brilliantly portrayed in this show about nothing.
Here is a memorable scene in which Jerry gets an ear-full from one of the many guest characters who also made the show so worthwhile.
I devoted a post to Gunsmoke a few months back. It’s the king of the classic TV Western. And Westerns dominated television ratings until the late 60s, when tastes started to change. Marshall Dillon was a great character. In twenty seasons, he never did the wrong thing. That usually meant following the law. On extremely rare occasions, it meant not following the rules in the interest of a greater justice. Miss Kitty, Chester, Doc and Festus also made this such a popular and memorable show. The Marshall and Kitty never took their relationship to the next step, much to the consternation of the show’s many fans.
Here is the climactic final scene of one of the series’ most highly regarded episodes, from Season One. It features Charles Bronson in a guest role.
- All in the Family
All in the Family was the most popular show on American television during the early to mid 70s. As a fairly young child during that period, I have fond memories of sitting in front of the TV to watch it every week with my parents. It was obviously groundbreaking for the time because of the subjects it addressed. And while Archie always came off as ignorant, the Meathead’s own hypocrisy often shined through in its own right.
Here is Archie stuck in a jail cell with a bunch of hippies after getting arrested while trying to find the Meathead at a protest that was raided by the police.
As an honorable mention, I also gave serious consideration to including Saturday Night Live, but limiting their place on the list to only the years that featured the original cast. It was a tough call, but these lists always involve difficult decisions.