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Television's best

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Television’s best

So many reruns, so little time. Here’s our super-duper list of the top 101 prime-time series in TV history. We’ve ranked them by factoring in their timelessness (how well they’ve held up through the years; post-1980 shows don’t rate yet), their nostalgia value (how well they capture the spirit of their day), and their TV significance (how much ground they broke in their genres). We’ve also included the total number of episodes (when available), the years they aired, the cable channels, if any, that still show them (check local listings for syndicated airings), and whether any episodes are out on video (marked by a V).

1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (168; 1970-77)
The most highly evolved, brilliantly executed TV show of all time. It can still take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. (Nick, V)
2. The Dick Van Dyke Show (158; 1961-66)
The first sitcom for grown-ups is as hip as ever. Plus, it’s got Mary Tyler Moore. (Nick)
3. The Honeymooners (107; 1952-57)
The Great One’s greatest show (below, with Audrey Meadows) — with the greatest sidekick, Art Carney’s Ed Norton. (TNT, V)
4. I Love Lucy (180; 1951-57)
Best episode: The Vitameatavegamin bit. Or the candy factory. Or the grape stomping. Or the… (TBS, V)
5. The Andy Griffith Show (249; 1960-68)
Andy, Opie, Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Goober, Otis — what’s not to love about the denizens of Mayberry, TV-land’s most famous tiny town? Just try not to whistle during the show’s opening theme song. (TBS, V)
6. The Fugitive (120; 1963-67)
When David Janssen finally caught up to the one-armed man, 72 percent of America’s viewers tuned in. Harrison Ford should be so lucky. (A&E, V)
7. Star Trek (79; 1966-69)
The Enterprise‘s so-called five-year mission launched the most fanatical cult movement in the history of entertainment — not to mention two sequel series, a Saturday-morning cartoon, and six motion pictures. (V)
8. The Twilight Zone (151; 1959-1964)
Rod Serling’s spookarama proves there is a fifth dimension-and it’s still pretty creepy. (V)
9. All in the Family (1971-79)
Norman Lear’s breakthrough sitcom introduced TV’s most politically incorrect character, Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker, still a classic no-class act. (TBS)
10. The Odd Couple (114; 1970-75)
Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as the world’s worst-matched roomies turned out to be one of the tube’s most dynamic duos.
11. M*A*S*H (251; 1972-83)
TV’s most socially redeeming sitcom. Lasted nearly four times as long as the Korean War, had lots more yuks. (V)
12. The Rockford Files (1974-80)
He was seldom paid ($200 a day, plus expenses) and was often beaten up, but that’s what makes James Garner’s regular guy private eye so utterly endearing. (A&E)
13. The Bob Newhart Show (142; 1972-78)
Newhart perfects the liveliest deadpan on the air, playing a Chicago shrink with a schoolteacher wife (Suzanne Pleshette), a dimwit neighbor (Bill Daily), and an office full of nutcakes. (Nick, V)
14. Dragnet (1952-59, 1967-70)
Just the facts: Jack Webb’s stone-faced Sgt. Joe Friday always gets his, ma’am. (Nick, Nostalgia, V)
15. Taxi (1978-83)
Scripts so good even Tony Danza can’t ruin them. And Danny DeVito before he got big. (V)
16. Batman (120; 1966-68)
Adam West doesn’t have Michael Keaton’s machine-tooled pecs, but he does have that Batrope, Robin, Batgirl, and Julie Newmar’s frisky Catwoman.
17. I Spy (1965-68)
The Cold War was never cooler than when Robert Culp and Bill Cosby teamed up as tennis-playing supersleuths. (V)
18. The Beverly Hillbillies (274; 1962-71)
A searing indictment of the class struggle in post-Eisenhower America. (TBS, V)
19. Get Smart (138; 1965-70)
Ah, yes, the old secret-agent-with-the-shoe-phone trick. A sublimely silly espionage spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. (Nick)
20. The Jack Benny Show (343; 1950-65)
Nobody could misplay the violin more magically than the maestro of comic timing. (Comedy, V)
21. Your Show of Shows (1950-54)
Saturday Night Live‘s great-grandparent, starring TV’s first couple of comedy, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. (V)
22. Bewitched (252; 1964-1972)
The perfect premise for a sitcom: Boy meets witch, boy marries witch, mother-in-law turns boy into newt. (TBS, V)
23. Perry Mason (271; 1957-66)
Old Ironside, Raymond Burr, was once TV’s finest mouthpiece. He lost only two murder cases in nine years. (TBS)
24. Bonanza (1959-73)
TV’s best Western, although the Cartwright boys don’t look like brothers. (Family, TBS, V)
25. The Partridge Family (96; 1970-74)
A time trip to the Have a Nice Day decade. Susan Dey before she became a lawyer, Danny Bonaduce before he needed one, and David Cassidy when he still made little girls swoon.
26. The Brady Bunch (117; 1969-74)
Three girls, three boys, a father, and a mother. Nah. It could never work. (TBS)
27. Leave It to Beaver (234; 1957-63)
A chilling trip into the Heart of Whiteness. The horror, the horror… (TBS, V)
28. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73)
A trend-setting psychedelic gag-a-go-go. Sock it to us.
29. Mission: Impossible (1966-73)
TV’s curviest plot twists, niftiest disguises, and snazziest theme song (also the easiest to play on the piano).
30. Gilligan’s Island (98; 1964-67)
Which episode is your favorite? The one where Gilligan and the gang (below) try to get off the island? Or the one where Gilligan and the gang try to get off the island? (TBS)
31. You Bet Your Life (1950-61)
This game show let the master zinger do his stuff; Bill Cosby’s recent flop revival proved that Groucho’s cigar-chomping shtick wasn’t as easy as it looked. (V)
32. The Monkees (58; 1966-68)
MTV evolved from these prehistoric musical apes. So did Madonna’s lip-synching. (V)
33. Lost in Space (84; 1965-68)
Star Trek‘s competition features the tube’s cutest robot. Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! (Sci-Fi)
34. Kojak (118; 1973-78)
Telly Savalas shows bald is beautiful in this grittiest of New York City cop shows.
35. I Dream of Jeannie (139; 1965-70)
You can’t see Barbara Eden’s navel, but Jeannie is still the sexiest sitcom of its time. Yes, master! (TBS)
36. Charlie’s Angels (115; 1976-81)
Freeze, turkey! And check your brain at the door for the ultimate jiggle show of the ’70s. (TNT)
37. Gunsmoke (635; 1955-75)
TV’s first adult Western and still longest-running prime-time drama. Check out a rugless Burt Reynolds (1962-65). (Family, V)
38. Maude (141; 1972-78)
The feminist era’s brassiest broads, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan, before they turned into Golden Girls.
39. Soap (1977-81)
Daytime drama skewered at night. Billy Crystal opens up the network closet as the first gay regular character.
40. The Burns and Allen Show (1950-58)
George Burns gives TV a surreal twist, breaking the fourth wall with his offbeat commentary on the action. Say good night, Gracie. (V)
41. Columbo (1971-77)
The guy in the rumpled raincoat is still making TV movies, but the original episodes pack more punch. (V)
42. Maverick (1957-62)
This sophisticated Western was James Garner’s first show — and first contract dispute (he walked during the third season). (V)
43. Father Knows Best (203; 1954-60)
Before pushing Sanka in commercials and pills on Marcus Welby, M.D., Robert Young played the quintessential TV-land dad. (Family)
44. Barney Miller (170; 1975-82)
The cops of New York City’s 12th Precinct are more low-key than Keystone, but they’re still a hoot. Spawned the spin-off Fish.
45. Car 54, Where Are You? (60; 1961-63)
Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, sans Munster makeup, play Officers Muldoon and Schnauzer in the grandpa of all cop comedies. (V)
46. Happy Days (1974-84)
Ron Howard’s post-Opie opus. Brought ”cool” back into vogue, thanks to Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli. (TBS)
47. The Patty Duke Show (104; 1963-66)
Duke does double duty as identical cousins in TV’s first Twin Peek. (Nick)
48. Green Acres (170; 1965-71)
Hee-Haw as it might have been written by Jean-Paul Sartre and directed by Luis Buñuel.
49. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (132; 1964-68)
Bond-age comes to the small screen (David McCallum with Marlyn Mason, above). Acronym alert: United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. (TNT, V)
50. Hawaii Five-O (1968-80)
Jack Lord’s hair should go to the Smithsonian — when he’s done with it. Book ’em, Danno.
51. Love, American Style (1969-74)
The sexual revolution was never smarmier. (Comedy)
52. Good Times (133; 1974-79)
Maude’s maid (Esther Rolle) gets her own show, an inner-city All in the Family. Dy-No-Mite!
53. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63)
Where else does Warren Beatty costar with Bob Denver (as TV’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs)? (Nick)
54. Ernie Kovacs (1952-57)
The original David Letterman and the first to master stupid camera tricks (in fact, Dave’s NBC announcer, Bill Wendell, was a regular in the 1956 season). (Comedy, V)
55. Little House on the Prairie (1974-82)
Michael Landon totes a wife, three kids, and a California ‘do to the 1870s frontier in the most wholesome family drama in TV history. (TBS, V)
56. Hogan’s Heroes (168; 1965-71)
A wacky sitcom peek into the Nazi war machine. Talk about chutzpah.
57. My Three Sons (369; 1960-72)
Single-parenting never looked so simple as when Fred MacMurray raised Mike, Robbie, Chip, and Uncle Charley. (Family)
58. Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79)
This high school sitcom introduced the word sweathog — not to mention John Travolta — but it made our list anyway. (USA)
59. The Donna Reed Show (276; 1958-66)
Problems were never more serious than a pulled ponytail, but this chestnut still has cornball charm. (Nick)
60. The Untouchables (1959-63)
Yes, there was a time when Robert Stack actually solved mysteries. Triggered the first debate on TV violence. (V)
61. That Girl (1966-71)
Marlo Thomas turns ditziness into high comedy in this model single-girl sitcom.
62. Make Room for Daddy (161; 1953-65)
That Girl‘s dad, Danny Thomas, masters the art of the spit-take. (V)
63. The Mod Squad (1968-73)
Hippies hit prime time, fighting crime and feeling groovy in L.A. (V)
64. Sanford and Son (1972-77)
Foul-mouthed comic Redd Foxx cleaned up his act for TV, but his put-downs still have bite. (BET, TBS)
65. The Six Million Dollar Man (108; 1974-78)
Back when the U.S. government knew how to spend 6 mil in style. Inspired a sister cyborg series, The Bionic Woman. (V)
66. Mork & Mindy (95; 1978-82)
My Favorite Martian on speed. Made Nanu! Nanu! a national catchphrase. (Nick)
67. The Phil Silvers Show (138; 1955-59)
A.k.a. Sergeant Bilko. Proved barracks life could be gay long before Clinton took office. (Comedy)
68. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (150; 1964-69)
The few, the proud, the rock-stupid: Mayberry’s Jim Nabors — gawlllllly! — becomes America’s most lovable leatherneck. (TBS, V)
69. Starsky and Hutch (1975-79)
The ultimate supercops (Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul). And that Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) was one cool stoolie.
70. Peyton Place (514; 1964-69)
Soapdom’s most sprawling cast, including Mia Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, Leslie Nielsen, Gena Rowlands, and Ruby Dee.
71. Julia (1968-71)
TV breaks the color barrier, with the first nonstereotypical black sitcom character.
72. The Addams Family (1964-66)
The 1991 movie had better sets, costumes, and cinematography — but the sitcom has better jokes. (V)
73. The Munsters (1964-66)
Frankenstein goes suburban, with Fred Gwynne as the incredibly huggable hulk, Herman. Eddie Munster’s hair could be the scariest thing on TV ever. (V)
74. The Waltons (1972-81)
An uplifting look at the Great Depression. John-Boy sported a facial mole way before Cindy Crawford made it chic. (Family, V)
75. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (265; 1955-62 half hour, 1962-65 hour)
Even when the episodes are less than terrifying, Hitch’s macabre intros are always dead on target. (Nick, Sci-Fi, USA, V)
76. Room 222 (1969-74)
Racism, drugs, Vietnam, acne — no social problem is too great for the teachers of Walt Whitman High to solve in a half hour.
77. The Jeffersons (1975-85)
With Jeffersons references in movies like Basic Instinct and CB4, this pivotal pre-Cosby black comedy continues to pop up in pop culture.
78. Mister Ed (143; 1961-65)
He was bigger than Trigger. He was bigger than Silver. He was the biggest horse on TV. And he never shut up.
79. The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (436; 1952-66)
The ”adventures” weren’t gripping — Ricky spills a milk shake on his date! — but this was one of TV’s longest-running sitcoms. (V)
80. F Troop (1965-67)
How the West was fun, thanks to Cap’n Parmenter and pals. Jane, not in front of the men! (Nick)
81. The Flying Nun (82; 1967-70)
Sally Field as TV’s original sister act. We like her, we really like her!
82. Kung Fu (1972-75)
David Carradine teaches America Eastern philosophy — and kicks some serious butt in the process. (V)
83. The Lone Ranger (221; 1949-57)
CHiPs on horseback. Had millions humming the William Tell Overture. (V)
84. Lassie (1954-71)
The great canine communicator. ”What’s that, girl? Gramps fell down a well and needs 35 feet of double-coiled rope?” (Nick, V)
85. Quincy, M.E. (1976-83)
Death becomes him: Jack Klugman is the first sawbones to catch crooks by cutting corpses.
86. This is Your Life (503; 1952-61)
Didn’t you always wonder what Ann-Margret’s gym teacher looks like? (AMC, V)
87. Adam-12 (1968-75)
Two cops even Ice-T could love — Martin Milner and Kent McCord protect and serve L.A.
88. The Adventures of Superman (104; 1951-1957)
George Reeves is still the seminal dude of steel, even if you can see the strings during the flying sequences. (Nick)
89. McHale’s Navy (138; 1962-66)
Ernest Borgnine, Tim Conway, Joe Flynn, and Gavin MacLeod are TV’s motliest crew in this World War II South Seas send-up. (Comedy)
90. Family Affair (138; 1966-71) A bitchin’ New York pad, a suave English butler, a semi-comatose uncle: What more could three orphan kids ask for?
91. Daniel Boone (1964-70)
Where Ed Ames first learned to chuck a tomahawk.
92. Ben Casey (1961-66)
The Ur-TV doctor; young, handsome, brilliant…and he has never been sued for malpractice! (Nostalgia)
93. The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77)
Basic Instinct without the sex. Michael Douglas busts scum in Frisco — and you never see Karl Malden’s naked buns.
94. Mannix (1967-75)
As a private dick, Mike Connors had TV’s slickest pistol posturing.
95. Flipper (88; 1964-67) Free Willy without the $7.50 ticket. (Nick, V)
96. Medical Center (1969-76)
Chad Everett as TV’s swingingest surgeon — and we don’t mean on the golf course.
97. Combat (1962-67)
Any war starring Shecky Greene and Vic Morrow can’t be all bad. (Nostalgia, V)
98. Dennis the Menace (146; 1959-63)
Forget that Macaulay Culkin clone in theaters — Jay North was, and always will be the genuine Menace. (Nick)
99. The Big Valley (1965-69)
Bonanza sans the Ponderosa, but with Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, and Linda Evans. (Family, V)
100. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (110; 1964-68)
Underwater stuff Jacques Cousteau never saw, including orchid monsters and subterranean Nazis. (Sci-Fi)
101. Cannon (124; 1971-76)
William Conrad as TV’s least photogenic crime fighter — and an inspiration to balding, middle-aged fat guys everywhere.

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