Writers Guild Names 101 Best-Written Shows Ever: What Made the List? What Got Snubbed?

sopranos best show of all timeThe Writers Guild of America unveiled its picks for the 101 best-written TV series of all time over the weekend, and The Sopranos whacked the competition.

HBO’s seminal mob drama snagged the top spot on the highly subjective and sure-to-be-picked-apart list (Sex and the City ahead of Game of Thrones? Dexter ahead of The Shield? Bupkis for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?)

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Review the selections below and then hit the comments with your snappy judgements.

1. The Sopranos
2. Seinfeld
3. The Twilight Zone
4. All in the Family
5. M*A*S*H
6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7. Mad Men
8. Cheers
9. The Wire
10. The West Wing
11. The Simpsons
12. I Love Lucy
13. Breaking Bad
14. The Dick Van Dyke Show
15. Hill Street Blues
16. Arrested Development
17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
18. Six Feet Under
19. Taxi
20. The Larry Sanders Show
21. 30 Rock
22. Friday Night Lights
23. Frasier
24. Friends
25. Saturday Night Live
26. The X-Files
27. Lost
28. ER
29. The Cosby Show
30. Curb Your Enthusiasm
31. The Honeymooners
32. Deadwood
33. Star Trek
34. Modern Family
35. Twin Peaks
36. NYPD Blue
37. The Carol Burnett Show
38. Battlestar Galactica (2005)
39. Sex & The City
40. Game of Thrones
41. The Bob Newhart Show and Your Show of Shows (tie)
43. Downton Abbey, Law & Order and Thirtysomething (tie)
46. Homicide: Life on the Street and St. Elsewhere (tie)
48. Homeland
49. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
50. The Colbert Report, The Good Wife and the UK Office (tie)
53. Northern Exposure
54. The Wonder Years
55. L.A. Law
56. Sesame Street
57. Columbo
58. Fawlty Towers and The Rockford Files (tie)
60. Freaks and Geeks and Moonlighting (tie)
62. Roots
63. Everybody Loves Raymond and South Park (tie)
65. Playhouse 90
66. Dexter and the US Office (tie)
68. My So-Called Life
69. Golden Girls
70. The Andy Griffith Show
71. 24, Roseanne and The Shield 
74. House and Murphy Brown (tie)
76. Barney Miller and I, Claudius (tie)
78. The Odd Couple
79. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Upstairs, Downstairs (tie)
83. Get Smart
84. The Defenders and Gunsmoke (tie)
86. Justified, Sgt. Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show (tie)
88. Band of Brothers
89. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
90. The Prisoner
91. Absolutely Fabulous and The Muppet Show (tie)
93. Boardwalk Empire
94. Will & Grace
95. Family Ties
96. Lonesome Dove and Soap
98. The Fugitive, Late Night with David Letterman and Louie
101. Oz

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Sara says:

    Where the frak is Veronica Mars? And how is Buffy #49? How did Sex and the City beat it at #39?! I loved Sex and the City but Buffy was better written.

  2. Mare says:

    No Sherlock? D:

  3. Darren says:

    No Picket Fences???

  4. hmyers says:

    Even before I ready the list the show that came to mind was SOA, this is not a list without SOA. I may not always like how the show is written, but it is one of the best written shows!

    • Rachel says:

      I have to agree with you. I watched all the seasons available on Netflix in just a few days & never got bored. I think this & (my bones) definitely deserve a spot on the list.

    • Pat D. says:

      Forgot about SoA. Not as great as The Shield, but it has a lot of the great elements in its writing that Kurt’s former show did.

  5. Maria says:

    Happy to see Cheers in the top 10. Except for the whole Sam-and-Rebecca-try-to-get-pregnant debacle, it was one of the funniest, most intelligent shows in tv history!!

  6. Rachel says:

    What about BONES?!?! They have so many real anthropologists & medical/forensic fans that what they write has to be real or make sense or they lose a portion of their fan base. I think the writers, creators, & actors are completely underrated.

    • Jamie says:

      Again, how does Bones do something different with the procedural format?? How is what the writers do truly innovative and groundbreaking like some of the shows mentioned on the list?? Any writers’ room could higher specialists to verify the plausibility of the writing. Doesn’t make it that difficult.

  7. Sarah Noonan says:

    This is a good list – I just wish The Big Bang Theory had made it. Especially with all its references to many of the shows on this list.

    • Ally Oop says:

      I agree. It’s not easy putting all those references into the dialogue. However, my standards for judging good writing (I only hold a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and I’m a TV addict of many years so who am I to judge) must be very different than the ones who made this list. When I judge a show’s writing I judge it on three things: good character development (getting into depth with the character’s back-story, personality and motives), good dialogue (individualistic, consistent, witty or meaningful, creative), and good story lines (consistent, captivating, original or redone in an original way). Obviously, with these things it is exceptionally difficult to rank half-hour sitcoms, one-hour cable dramas, one-hour family dramas, late night shows and everything else together. I would much rather see a Top 50 dramas list and Top 50 comedies list. One other thing I would like to see is more women on the judging panel.

      • lyn says:

        On which list would you place M*A*S*H?

        • Ally Oop says:

          Comedy. It would be at the top of the list. The best comedies are the ones that deal with dramatic themes. And even if I don’t find the jokes funny, I appreciate them and I know people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations still find the jokes funny. M*A*S*H was was good TV and I do think it should have been at the top of this list for several reasons. Sopranos is good but I wouldn’t put it at the top of this list for several reasons, too complex to explain in one commentary here.

  8. Ella says:

    Shame (Showtime) is incredible. Both UK & US and never gets the recognition it needs. But great list overall!

    • Miranda says:

      Do you mean Shameless? Because I would honestly have to agree (with the US one at least, haven’t watched the original). The writing on that series is top notch. What I want to know is how often they redo this list?

  9. Jacqi says:

    Seinfield really?! What about Scandal or Greys Anatomy the first few seasons at least?

    • Belle says:

      Grey’s Anatomy has never been groundbreaking in any way. I watched 15 minutes of the pilot back when it first aired and it didn’t take me long to see that it ‘stole’ from SATC, Friends, ER. Not original at all. I turned the channel back to The Sopranos on A&E since I never had HBO during its original run. The Sopranos is the best show EVER.

  10. Spencer says:

    A little disappointed Parks and Rec isn’t on here…. I guess I’m the only one that thinks that show is perfect in literally every sense of the word.

  11. Michele says:

    Twilight Zone at number 3, YES!

  12. Michele says:

    Friends and Will and Grace have no place on this list.

  13. hershey says:

    Why am i not surprised that Fringe isn’t here.

  14. rflairfan says:

    So so happy that Homicide: Life on the Street was on the list. It was/is a great show that was underrated.

    • Brian Arsenault says:

      Agree completely. NBC messed with it’s time slot way too much and it ended up on friday night if I remember right. Got the complete box set as a gift a few years back…best XMAS gift ever .

    • Pat D. says:

      Agreed. Frank Pembleton was one of the most awesome TV detectives ever. Always must see TV when he was in “the box”. Its a travesty that Andre cant get a consistent TV job since.

  15. Jason says:

    No Felicity? epic fail.

  16. Another more recent show, though with only one season under its belt, is The Americans, on FX. Might be in consideration if they can keep up the quality of the 1st season.

  17. PSzymeczek says:

    The Prisoner should have been far higher than #90! And where is My World and Welcome to It? When Thurber does your writing…Well it doesn’t get much better than that!

  18. Jenny says:

    Twin Peaks doesn’t belong anywhere on that list. The show was a mess after part of season 1.

  19. David says:

    Where is Babylon 5? It was head and shoulders above any scifi show on this list!

  20. Annie-Claude says:

    I think House should have been higher than 74 but since I haven’t seen most of those shows I can’t really judge or anything.

  21. Swift says:

    Where is Damages?

    • Pat D. says:

      Oh hell yeah….completely forgot about that show (and it just ended recently too!). I cant BELIEVE it didnt make this list. Matter of fact, it was one of the most flawless shows I’ve ever seen throughout its entire run.

  22. Todd W in NC says:

    Babylon 5. Not on the list? List immediately invalidated. As others have pointed out, no Firefly, no Gilmore Girls, no Parenthood, no Community, no Ally McBeal, etc… List even further invalidated. Oh, and how about Boston Legal?

    It seems like a lot of the shows on this list are famous and classic shows that some people put on every list for everything because they feel they have to, like it’s some kind of crime to leave certain shows off a list just because they’re mainstream or got a lot of ratings back in the 3 or 4 channel days.

    But, of all the lists that Babylon 5, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, and Community deserve to be on… For writing. And, they’re missing?!? Writing was a requirement of the list, correct? This is just sad.

    • Pat D. says:

      Having run though the excellent “The Practice” a few years ago, then the even-better Boston Legal, I tried giving Ally McBeal a try, being it was another David Kelley show. I’m sorry, but I couldnt make it past season 2…it was just too silly and I didnt really give a damn about the characters or the story arcs. I think its easily the weakest of the Kelley “Big 3”.

      Boston Legal was an all-time classic though. Still cant believe they cancelled that show.

  23. Tahoe Mike says:

    Still no love for TREME, one of the most original things ever on TV.

  24. Courtney says:

    First reactions: Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be higher, much higher. The emotional depth and creativity is some of the best, my personal favorite, ever to be on television. Gilmore Girls is definitley missing –incredibly heartfelt and witty. Veronica Mars, S1 is one of the television’s masterpieces. I also think that Angel deserves to be on here. Many always overlook for Buffy, I mean I like Buffy more too, but Angel is wonderful. Parenthood, Felicity, and Community I would also add.

    Also, what do people have against Sex and the City? I have watched a lot of television, a lot of incredibly well written television, and I find Sex and the City to be one of the best written shows. Many people judge it because it appears shallow. But those are the people that only watch a couple episodes and quit. Imagine if someone only watched random S1 episodes of Buffy? SATC was about friendship, about finding yourself. It had so emotional moments and it really changed culture. So many great episodes. And people forget that it has one many, many Emmys, including Best Comedy Series several times.

  25. bobbie says:

    Veronica Mars, of course, and Psych, which has all kinds of brilliance in every episode! Every episode, brilliant. It’s one of those gems that remains undiscovered (or so it seems when Hollywood talks).

  26. Bob says:

    No China Beach, or Picket Fences, or Northern Exposure? No credibility.

  27. ally says:

    hmm… no Veronica Mars, really?

  28. Rach says:

    Haha the only one of these that I’ve ever seen is M*A*S*H. And I’m 17. And I watch crime dramas almost exclusively.
    Also, Flashpoint should have made this list. Perhaps it would have if it was more mainstream.

  29. Brian Arsenault says:

    Homicide should have been much higher on the list. Incredible character development throughout, as every cop had his/her flaws exposed at some point. I believe that writing a true serial drama with ongoing storylines is much more impressive than simply creating new stories every episode.

  30. Jerri says:

    Friends and Frasier were better written then Battlestar Galactica? What the frak?! BSG should at least be in the top ten, it is a great example of how to do a sci-fi show right.

  31. lariet50 says:

    Wow. Are we basing this on the entire life of the show? Because I call BS on “ER.” Sure, the first few seasons were awesome, but there was some true crap in there.

  32. Tyler W. says:

    House of cards anyone? Maybe they don’t count Netflix originals yet…

  33. Matt says:

    The Sopranos continues to be the most overrated show of all time. The first couple of seasons were really good. The rest are self indulgent garbage.

    Deadwood belongs much higher.

    • Pat D. says:

      I’ll agree about it being overrated immensely—but I never found it a chore to sit through. Always pretty enjoyable and solidly written and acted. But #1, hell no. I’ll agree with you there.

  34. John Moshier says:

    wheres st elsewhere

  35. TL says:

    Pretty happy with the list, but yeah…Gilmore Girls and Felicity for sure are missing.

    And I’m gonna throw in some Knots Landing.

  36. LaurenMC says:

    Shows that are missing: Fringe, Gilmore Girls, Parenthood

  37. Timmah says:

    Better Off Ted!

  38. jsfithaca says:

    probably biggest ommissions for me are parks and rec and community. props for including south park though, even if it was ranked pretty low. a lot of critics are snobby and dismiss it as toilet humor and fail to recognize it’s brilliance. i think the top 4 dramas should be sopranos, wire, mad men and breaking bad without a doubt with probably the wire at number one (seriously number 9?) i know most of those beating it were comedies but i feel like the best dramas are better than the best comedies when it comes to television. i would have liked to see boardwalk higher but i think the fact it made the list is good enough, as i like it more than most people/critics. also props on the high ranking for friday night lights.

  39. Ally Oop says:

    TVLine, you should create an article “The 101 Shows that the Should Have Been On the WGA List of Best Written Shows of All Time”.

  40. Razzy9 says:

    Happy with the list although The X Files should have been higher up on the list.

  41. Ally Oop says:

    For me, the 12 most glaring omissions on this list are: Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, Alias, Veronica Mars, Jericho, Dr. Quinn, That 70s Show, Big Bang Theory, Joan of Arcadia, Life, Prison Break and Sons of Anarchy.

    • Pat D. says:

      Prison Break’s first and second seasons were incredible (unlike many, I actually slightly prefer season 2). But after that….wow, the dropoff. For those atrocious last 2 seasons, I’d have to leave it off the list. Its like they completely ran out of ideas.

    • Pete says:

      Thank you! Life was a truly amazing show. Expertly written with a healthy balance of comedy and intensity. The true failure was in the poor advertisement of the show. Once you saw 1 episode you were hooked.

  42. Angela says:

    “The Twilight Zone”, “Daily Show”, “Colbert Report”, “Frasier”, “Roseanne”, “Get Smart”-some of my particular favorites, pleased to see them in the list. I’ve got no complaints with this setup overall :).

  43. ajintexas says:

    I would rank The Shield, The X-Files, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and Seinfeld in my top 5. I don’t see Oz on the list but maybe I overlooked it. That show was well written.

  44. The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson–for sheer humor and entertainment should be in the top 20!

  45. Miranda says:

    I wonder if any of the people voting ever watched Queer as Folk…. Now that was groundbreaking television that was truly spectacular (until the last episode).

  46. Glen says:

    Where’s Cagney and Lacey and Doctor Who?

  47. Jason says:

    No way is The Cosby Show better written then Dallas!!

  48. Jimmy says:

    Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead… Why aren’t they on the list?!

    • C Lo says:

      Sons of Anarchy fell off…and started to become unrealistic…they were losing members without replenishing their crew, yet still beating up and killing top end gangs…