by Jalexson c. 2003
originally published at mediard.com
TV Guide decided to celebrate its 50th Anniversary by publishing
various lists including what it considered the best, and worst, television
shows Unfortunately, TV Guide is better at publishing schedules than rating
The turn of the millennium produced a lot of such lists of what were
supposedly the best, most important, etc. of things in various categories.
A common characteristic of those lists was a tendency to overrate more
recent events. For example, MTV’s list of the century’s top music videos
ignored the early movie music videos.
TV Guide’s list of the “Best” programs followed this pattern with
an overabundance of recent programs, particularly recent sitcoms that follow
the overused format of a show about a bunch of urban white folks with the
same basic storylines as all the other shows about urban white folks.
The shows “Seinfeld”, “Cheers”, “Frazier”, “The Larry
Sanders Show”and “Friends” don’t belong on a list of television’s
greatest shows. They’re not bad shows, but they lack any distinguishing
characteristic that makes them great. They would be well down a list of
Another yuppie program “Thirtysomething” is also unqualified for
a list of greatest programs.. The people responsible for the list seem
to have confused the idea of favorite programs with great programs. One
of my all time favorite programs is “The Dukes of Hazard”, but I would
not suggest that it is a great program.
If “Seinfeld” is the greatest show as TV Guide claims then a hamburger
and french fries from McDonald’s is a great meal. The greatest show should
have more substance than comedy programs, including a truly great comedy
like “I Love Lucy”.
A drama like “Lou Grant” would be a much better choice for the greatest
program. The program used various controversial issues to show how an urban
newspaper operated. Ed Asner successfully converted his comedy character
Lou Grant from the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” into a dramatic character.
The list should have been billed as the “greatest American programs”
because it ignored the great British dramas like “Masterpiece Theater”
and “Upstair, Downstairs”. “The Avengers” with Patrick McNee and
Diana Rigg is far more deserving of being on the list of greatest shows
than the contemporary “X-Files”. The “X-Files” principle characters
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully aren’t close to being in the same league as
John Steed and Emma Peel. Darren McGavin was more convincing as someone
chasing strange beings in “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” like the “X-Files” has its cult following,
but if Buffy is one of the greatest television shows, the “Rocky Horror
Picture Show” is one of the greatest movies. The principle character
isn’t particularly distinguishable from”like, you know” all the other
anorexic blonde valley girl types on televison including the examples on
“Friends”. Buffy is funny at times, particularly during the obviously
phony fight scenes with obviously phony ghouls and goblins. It would be
funnier if the fight scenes included large printed words on the screen
like “POW”, “BAM”, “BIFF”, “SOCKO”, etc.
In fairness to both programs, they are different from most other programs,
unlike the afore mentioned contemporary comedies which are merely better
than many of the other substantially similar programs. The writing isn’t
necessarily any better, but someone did a very good job of casting the
programs with people who appear to belong together, or have good “chemistry”.
A great program should some unique qualities that cause it to stand
apart from other programs or be innovative. “I Love Lucy” featured
comic genius Lucille Ball and established a pattern for the way sitcoms
A great sitcom about urban white folks should have some distinguishing
characteristics. For example, “The Beverly Hillbillies” is one of the
greatest programs of the last 50 years and should rank above most of the
comedies on the list. The program didn’t originate the idea of a rural
family moving to the big city. “The Real McCoys” did that. “The Beverly
Hillbillies” did a great job of using the cultural differences to see
the humor in everyday matters. Many critics have never understood how the
show made fun of the more dominant culture by looking at it through the
eyes of people with a different background.
“Barney Miller” is more deserving of being on the list than other
comedies like “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi”. I like the “Mary
Tyler Moore Show”. I still occasionally watch it, but it really isn’t
sufficiently distinguished from other programs.
“Taxi” which has a better mix of characters than “Mary” including
comic genius Andy Kaufman might qualify to be among the greatest programs.
“Barney Miller” accomplishes the difficult task of producing a humorous
cop show while relying almost exclusively on a single set. Early shows
featured Barney’s home, but that set was eventually abandoned. The writing,
performances and costumes allowed the actors to effectively communicate
what happened outside the office. The show also featured a diverse mix
of well differentiated characters.
“Hogan’s Heroes” which TV Guide erroneously included on its list
of worst programs belongs on the list of greatest programs. TV Guide refers
to it simply as a zany program, but it was more than that. Hogan was a
dramady, that is a combination drama and comedy, like “M*A*S*H”, although
not nearly as good. As on “M*A*S*H” people sometimes died on Hogan.
There was always a threat that Hogan’s men could die. Some of the people
they worked with did die. Sometimes Hogan’s men killed people such as
when they blew up trains. On one episode Hogan killed a Gestapo officer
by putting an exploding pen in his staff car.
“Hogan’s Heroes” played a major role in integrating television
casts. It debuted in 1965 the same week as “I Spy”. Prior to these
two shows regular tv casts were usually lily white except for an occasional
Asian, hispanic or American Indian.
Some of the variety shows chosen are also questionable. “The Ed Sullivan
Show”, “The Carol Burnett Show”, and Sid Caesar’s “Your Show
of Shows” belong on the list as does “The Tonight Show” with Johnny
Carson. However, David Letterman’s show doesn’t belong there. Neither
he nor rival Jay Leno are close to meeting the standard set by Johnny Carson.
I also question the choice of “Saturday Night Live” and “Laugh-In”,
particularly considering the failure to include the “Red Skelton Show”
which was second only to “The Ed Sullivan Show” as the longest running
prime time variety show.
I cannot say for sure if some of the other variety programs belong
on the list of greatest programs because its been too long since I saw
the ones I watched when they were originally broadcast. Some certainly
would be worthy of consideration, particularly the great stone face’s
(Ed Sullivan) rival. Steve Allen’s Sunday night program was opposite
Sullivan’s show. Comedian Allen was joined by several future tv comics,
including Bill “Jose Jimenez” Dana, Don Knotts, Tim Conway and Tom
Poston. All of them eventually had successful roles on other programs.
Bill Dana got his own sitcom in the sixties. Great comedians Milton Berle
and Ernie Kovaks also had successful variety programs.
“The Bell Telephone Hour” presented a wide range of fine music during
The quality of “Saturday Night Live” is too uneven to qualify as
a great show. Besides it has often been a parody of itself. “Laugh-In”
started out well, but ran out of ideas. “That Was the Week That Was”
aka “TW3" was a better satire even though it didn’t stay on the air
The list is short on documentaries and news related programs. “60
Minutes” made the list at #6, but the far better “See It Now” hosted
by Edward R. Morrow is missing. Murrow occasionally interviewed celebrities,
but the important contribution of the show was his willingness to deal
with controversial issues including a verbal essay criticizing the activities
of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The program’s successor “CBS Reports” also
deserves to be on the list. Both should seriously be considered for the
10 greatest programs. “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” also
belongs on the list. “The National Geographic Specials” was not a regular
series, but is more worthy of inclusion in the list of greatest shows than
the 90's comedies the TV Guide people think so highly of.
Documentaries and dramas are the gourmet meals of television. Comedies
and action adventure shows are more like fast food. TV Guide’s list is
too long on comedies and short on the great dramas, particularly the family
“Life Goes On” should rank high on the list. The show about a Chicago
family was willing to tackle tough issues. The son, Corky, who had Down
Syndrome was played by actor Chris Burke who had Down Syndrome. Corky eventually
married Amada(Andrea Friedman) who also had Down Syndrome. The youngest
daughter, Becca played by Kellie Martin, eventually fell for Jessie, played
by Chad Lowe, who was HIV positive as the result of a previous heterosexual
I’ve run out of room for discussion of dramatic programs that deserve
consideration so I’ll turn that into part II.
Of the two programs “Hogan’s Heroes is the more important. “I
Spy” featured Bill Cosby in part to take advantage of his celebrity status.
Ivan Dixon who played Ivan Kinchloe on Hogan wasn’t a celebrity.
A previous effort to include a black character in 1963 on “East Side/West Side” had ended when the unpopular, but great, show was cancelled because of poor ratings. The show dealt a little too realistically with the problems of the inner city. One of the members of Sgt. Bilko’s platoon was black, but he generally didn’t have any lines. Black actors like Greg Morris and Ivan Dixon had occasionally appeared in episodes of other shows, particularly the “Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Have Gun Will Travel”.The former potentially belongs on the list although farther down than TV Guide rates it. The later should have been on the list, possibly in the top ten.
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