49. The Muppet Show
Simply the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and downright Muppetational variety show hosted by a frog ever made. Kermie and Piggy and their entertaining pals were — are — certifiable stars, and as funny and moving as their flesh-and-blood celebrity guests…often more so.
48. Friday Night Lights
Centered on a Texas high school football team, Friday Night Lights offered an earnest look at the hardships of living in contemporary America. Though it seemed to always be on the brink of cancellation, it was kept alive by a small but passionate fan base, DirecTV — and Tim Riggins’ hair.
47. The Rockford Files
James Garner embodied one of the most likable private detectives on the small screen, breaking with then-standard tradition to present a debt-ridden PI who made mistakes but usually solved his cases.
46. The Rifleman
Chuck Connors had the title role as Lucas McCain, a peaceable homesteader who carried a mean gun on this vivid Western. Its realistic tone was set by writers including film director Sam Peckinpah.
45. Gilmore Girls
43. St. Elsewhere
ABC, 1978-82; NBC, 1982-83
In a most unlikely workplace setting (NYC taxi garage), the most unlikely collection of characters (ex-hippie! actor! boxer! immigrant mechanic played by…Andy Kaufman!) joined forces for a riotous blue-collar comedy that deftly blended wackiness, relatability, and heart.
41. Twin Peaks
40. The Real World
Yes, it’s now devolved into a showcase for tragicomic hot-tub hookups for people with names like Trishelle. But the first several seasons of this groundbreaking reality series were compelling experiments in humanity that showed a generation what it meant to be young and gay/African-American/HIV-positive/conservative/alcoholic, and, most of all, real.
39. The Fugitive
David Janssen’s Dr. Richard Kimble, falsely accused of killing his wife, set off one of the greatest chase dramas ever. The Fugitive‘s series finale was TV’s most watched episode to that date.
38. The Bob Newhart Show
A classic example of the workplace comedy, with Newhart as an affable straight-man of a therapist to a group of superbly nutty patients. Newhart was the best-selling stand-up-comic recording artist at that time; here, he found a vehicle for his deadpan genius. Having smart, no-nonsense Suzanne Pleshette waiting at home as his wife was a draw too.
NBC, 1971-78; ABC, 1989-2003
Peter Falk brought the rumpled, deceptively addled detective to life, while creators William Link and Richard Levinson devised a novel format: reveal the killer to the viewer first, then watch Columbo solve what we already knew.
35. Hill Street Blues
34. The Larry Sanders Show
33. The Carol Burnett Show
Burnett led the funniest troupe in variety-show history. Come for that epic Gone With the Wind sketch, stay for the ”Family” sketches and that Tarzan yell.
32. The Golden Girls
Four old ladies lived together in Miami, sharing cheesecake and a thousand laughs on their lanai. Old gals weren’t this hot again until…star Betty White made her grand comeback 25 years later.
Set during the Korean War, this thinly disguised Vietnam allegory featured irreverent Army medics making wisecracks amid postbattle carnage. Like nothing on TV before or since.