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

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654 Comments
  1. Britta Unfiltered says:

    Hmm. I guess I take a little bit of issue with some of their ordering. I am shocked Deadwood wouldn’t be top 10. David Milch is a freaking wordsmith, and that show had amazingly richly written characters. Justified and Homeland should also be much higher, and so should Arrested Development. Downton Abbey shouldn’t be on here at all. I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again. What the hell is up with people’s obsession with that show? I’ve seen every episode. I find it awful. At this point I’m just watching it to hate watch it and to make fun of the characters.
    .
    Some shows I’m just thrilled to see on here, like FNL and Absolutely Fabulous.
    .
    Okay, I think I need to actually try The West Wing one of these days. I’ve never seen a single episode.

    • Brian says:

      I agree about Downton Abbey. What a pile of garbage! I only made it through the first 4 or 5 episodes though. I only saw a couple West Wing episodes as well… Seemed rather boring, but I was relatively young.

  2. The Wire’s on here. So I’m good.

  3. Laura says:

    Hard to take a list like this seriously when The Sopranos is first.

    So I’m not surprised Luther, Parks & Rec, The Closer and Southland aren’t on it.

    Buffy and The Golden Girls should be higher on the list.

    When these lists come out, they seem like someone put together the shows they think people will agree with. If the compliers of the list had watched any of these shows, the list would look different.

  4. Diz says:

    It seems whoever made the list hasn’t watched much of anything in the last 10 years. What a joke as expected.

  5. Fran says:

    Eh, people are always going to be unhappy with these lists. It doesn’t make them invalid, it’s just an opinion. Personally I agree with most of the shows here although I would switch the order around quite a bit.

  6. TL says:

    And I will add, as much as I love most of these, if you REALLY think about it, the writing for The Golden Girls deserves much higher than #69 (although Blanche would be pleased with that number, I’m sure). That show really stands the test of time and was really well done.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Where in the workd is Rescue Me on this list???? Are you kidding??

  8. Derrick says:

    Why are there so many numbers missing??

  9. Al says:

    This is yet another fine example of friends making headlines for friends. Northern Exposure, The Shield, Oz, Homicide: LotS, and even Gilmore Girls were FAR better written than half of the shows mentioned on this list. Of course, the classics have their honorable place in history, but if this is a list of the best *written* shows – Most of the classics mentioned here shouldn’t even be on this list. If you’re talking about best-written, where’s Babylon 5, for example? This list is kind of a joke.

    • Pat D. says:

      Agreed. I’d even take the writing in Oz over The Sopranos any day of the week.

      And I’m not saying The Sopranos was a bad show! Just criminally overrated. When you put it next to other lower ranked classic shows on that list, it falls flat on its face IMHO.

  10. luli says:

    Charmed!

  11. My favorites all made the list except for Veronica Mars & Shameless.

  12. Futurologist says:

    I can’t believe The Shield isn’t on that list. I know part of the reason for these lists is to provoke debate, but there seems to be some trolling going on in that list.

  13. Babybop says:

    I think I speak for me and my family when I say this: NO.

  14. LLA says:

    Friends at #24? Seriously? I can’t understand how Friends even made the list. I know it was a hit–but it was just a mediocre sitcom.
    I would have included Leave it to Beaver. The first show written from the kids’ point of view. I would have included Maude as well. Soap would have been much higher on the list. That show was hilairous!

    • Jay7 says:

      Friends is definitely one of the best written sitcoms to date. The writers were able to successfully give each of the six leads an equal role in carrying out the plot and the jokes of the show. One of the best parts of the writing is that the characters each have their own personalities. You can take any line from the show, and be able to correctly pinpoint which character said it, based on just how distinctive, yet similar they are. So, yes I think friends definitely deserves its spot at 24.

      A side note, which I find somewhat funny, is that from seasons 2-10 Friends was filmed in soundstage 24 at warner brothers. I guess 24 is its lucky number!

  15. Candice says:

    Justified and Breaking Bad should be higher.

  16. I find it difficult to take any list seriously that neglects anything James Duff has written or includes LOST – the inconsistency in the characters is offensive.

  17. Kate says:

    Buffy is only #49….travestyyyy.

  18. mst3k says:

    I would rank Community over Mary Tyler Moore show, which was just another sitcom… But Mary Tyler Moore made the top ten and Community is not on the list? Okay…

    • Terry says:

      You need your head examined and your TV watching card revoked. Could be the stupidest thing I have read in my life. Community a better show than the ground-breaking MTM that featured some of the best comedic actors in history.

  19. David Garrett says:

    50 years from now people will say “What’s the Sopranos?” Great shows pass the test of time.

  20. JB says:

    A pretty good lust of the”usual suspects”…critic’s darlings.

    Many are waaaaaaay overrated.
    Also, it ignores anything older than 1960…forgetting the “golden age” of TV..including the live dramas.

  21. Blake says:

    How did American Dreams not make this list!?

  22. Anna says:

    Personally, I don’t think some of these shows should be compared to each other. How is the writing for something like ‘The Colbert Report’ the same as the writing for ‘The Wire’ and then that would be different compared to ‘Modern Family’, same goes for ‘Saturday Night Live’. All those writing styles are different, I don’t like how they are all just lumped in there together.
    Also how are number one shows like ‘NCIS’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’, and ‘The Walking Dead’ not on this list?

  23. Temperance says:

    Wow, do I have some problems with this list. Seinfeld and taxi in the top 20? Pffft, the bottom 20 maybe…

  24. Jay7 says:

    I honestly think Revenge should be somewhere on this list. Maybe because it is a relatively young show. I know it had a sub-par second season, but that was because the bar was set so high in the first. The writing for that show is incredible, especially how they intricately weave in all of the character developments. I know that most of these shows are much better written than it, but it should’ve at least deserved something in the 90’s. Overall, the characters (with the exception of Ashley) are so strongly written and very intricate. The characters, in my opinion, drive a show, and this is what the writers did with the characters.

    On another note, Ally McBeal should also be on the list for similar reasons.

  25. Chelle says:

    In addition to Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls, Everwood strikes me as the biggest omission. In terms of writing, Berlanti kills it and deserves to be on the list. Same goes for Rob Thomas and Amy Sherman-Palladino. All three show runners were absolute geniuses at plotting, at clever dialogue, at crafting big, emotional punches as well as a million little heartbreaks. All had missteps, but so did several other entries on the list, including The Wire (my pick for best written show ever), FNL, Buffy, Lost, even Seinfeld (everyone hated the last episode when it aired…)

  26. Kent says:

    I think everyone is focusing too much on each shows ranking. It doesn’t mean one show is better than another if its higher on the list. The shows are ranked by number of votes. Think of all 101 shows as interchangeable depending on what you like. All these shows are equally well written. So, where is Party Of Five? Certainly better written than Gunsmoke.

    • Jay7 says:

      Yes! I agree with you. The ranking is merely subjective and based on the WGA’s opinion. This is just their personal list, which obviously differs from everyone else’s. But for the most part, highly educated people in the TV industry will choose at least 90 of these for their own list, albeit slightly different orders.

  27. EL says:

    Gilmore Girls, The Big Bang Theory and so many others should have been on this list!

  28. Hector Zumwalt says:

    I think Buffy should have been higher not even too 20 more like top ten. It was never recognized and I will say I am happy the WGA did recognize it, of course Bufdy made the list. The writing was impeccable. Sarah did wonderful as Buffy and I do not think w her it would not be where it was. Joss Whedon put The Avengers into more than a super hero movie he mad it into something more. I never got into Angel so I can’t say anything about the writing but Joss brought so much life into Buffy and her gang where it was not you seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar playing a role….she was Buffy. The last season I was not a fan of, but still watched to see how it all ended. Sarah and him put Buffy in the map where it will not be forgotten years down the road and I think that deserves something! I do applaud the WGA for putting it on the list bf all the episodes you could see the heart they put into it. I hope “The Crazy Ones” is a success she needs something new and honestly she chose the right project bc it will either be a huge hit or a gigantic flop and from all the message boards I’m leaning more towards hit and maybe, just maybe, she will get the recognition she deserves after putting what she did w Buffy no matter how matter how many times her, the other cast mates and Joss were snubbed.

  29. Hector Zumwalt says:

    Also no Psych? It is a really awesome show! I think the writing on it is from the heart…in some ways I want to see True Blood but in some ways I don’t. Last season I could not finish and now trying to watch before the next season starts.

  30. Janice says:

    Boston Legal – topical, sharp and funny every week! China Beach and Cagney and Lacey both featured strong female leads and gritty stories. Father Knows Best and The Andy Griffith Show both entertained and promoted wonderful family values..

  31. Masako says:

    Where’s Brideshead Revisited? Deserves to be in the Top 10.

  32. Glenn T says:

    Where’s Boston Legal and Weeds?

  33. chase says:

    BUFFY should have been MUCH HIGHER – TOP 10 at least

    MISSING – Supernatural should be on there no doubt about it

    with shows like BUFFY and SUPERNATURAL I don’t think people even get the DEPTH and how hard it is to write when you “plant” a plot device (A line, a prop, a situation) in season 1 that is relevant to a story line 4 seasons down the road…BOTH of those shows do that real well – it is the intricate nature of those shows that should place them high on the list

  34. Al says:

    I’m sorry, but if you’re letting in the David Letterman writers, then where the heck are Conan O’Brien’s?

  35. John Taylor says:

    Where the heck is MIAMI VICE? Some of these shows I have neer seen and glad to have never seen.

  36. Jan says:

    I disagree with most of the ratings on this list. Firefly is not even listed but Buffy is- also why so many outdated shows in top 10? Cheers, Seinfeld, All in the family , I love Lucy should all be way down in the 40s. Why is Lost rated so low and also The Prisoner at 90–give me a break!!

  37. Hannah says:

    What about Desperate Housewives?

  38. Pat D. says:

    I realize the Sopranos was considered revolutionary when it premiered, but I watched the entire series from beginning to end a couple years ago for the first time, and was singularly unimpressed. I also find it hard to fathom than ANYBODY would say The Wire and The Shield are not far, far superior shows in just about any area.

    The Sopranos was a solid series, but honestly, nothing about it lingers in my mind (other than the interesting end of the finale) . The Shield still haunts me to this day. And I’ll always remember the detectives standing on I-895 (I think that was the highway) at the end of The Wire, along with the shocking ending of a certain cult hero. The level of character depth and smart writing in the Wire TROUNCES anything the Sopranos came up with on their best days, IMHO.

    Oh, and whoever cast Steve van Zandt in the series should have been fired after his first appearance. What a terrible performance.

    • JK says:

      Well said. I’m ok with the argument that it is not 1, but the Wire is definitely the gatekeeper of this discussion.

  39. Kris says:

    WALKING DEAD!!

  40. TV Watcher says:

    Late to add a remark…but how about Golden Girls, The Jeffersons, and Monk?

  41. Terry says:

    The guy who doesn’t like Seinfeld shouldn’t be allowed to post. By far, the best comedy of all time. Star Trek Next Generation belongs in the top 10 based on writing. So they are saying that Friends was a better written show than Monty Python’s Flying Circus or the Bob Newhart show? Just checking. Hawaii Five-O with Jack Lord should have been on this list. Where is Entourage? Second best show on HBO next to Sopranos. I still love Hogan’s Heroes, very clever writing and just as much a drama as a comedy. X-Files, NYPD Blue should be much higher. Where is Happy Days? Magnum PI? And the most outrageous of all shows missing FAMILY GUY!!!

    • Pat D. says:

      Next Generation was highly inconsistent through its run….the first season was terrible, and the later seasons had lots of filler. 3-4-5 are the golden seasons I would think. I *believe* they were trying to grade series as a whole.

    • Douglas Moore says:

      Why, it was a stupid show. Like friends. They had no depths, writng sucked.

  42. Leonessa says:

    Amused but happy that Soap made the list. I was cheesy deliciousness! I know Scandal has only been on for a short time, but I can’t believe it’s not on the list. The uniqueness of the storylines is what keeps us hanging on for just one more click of the shutter!

  43. poz says:

    Picket Fences should be on there.

  44. I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore. Gunsmoke. Twilight Zone,
    Most of the comedies that came after sex jokes were allowed weren’t so good because a lot of writers didn’t have to be creative. But Friends and Seinfield are good example of how sex jokes could be creative, instead of just juvenile.

  45. Pete says:

    The Walking Dead didn’t make the list?

  46. TV Watcher says:

    Not on the list… MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. How can that be. The most complex story line in TV history has to in the top 10! Also missing, the original Outer Limits. Great plots…poor special effects.

  47. Thomas says:

    Boardwalk should have been in top ten in my opinion, glad to see sopranos # 1 but iv recently watched stargate sg1 it should have made the list at least

  48. How the hell is Scandal not on here

  49. Rocky Lum says:

    Where is Wiseguy,especially the Sonny Steelgrave and Mel Profit arcs?
    Even the Knox Poolly episodes are relevant in today’s political climate.