1–10



1. THE SOPRANOS

Created by David Chase

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Aired: HBO, 1999–2007

"A mobster in therapy, having problems with his mother," was how The Sopranos initially sparked, according to creator David Chase, though he was thinking about the premise for a feature film. Though The Sopranos did indeed become a show about a mob boss with mother problems, it quickly sprawled to comment upon, or observe, innumerable aspects of American life, from the efficacy of psychotherapy to the ways in which a family-run business, even the Mafia, was dying out to a corporatizing culture. For Chase, The Sopranos was a reaction away from everything he had done as a television writer until then. "I was so tired of episodic television. Did I want to make a grand statement? No. But I did want to make films in which the audience had to pay attention."

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2. SEINFELD

Created by Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld

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Aired: NBC, 1990–1998

At the end of Seinfeld's run, Jerry Seinfeld commented that one of the more underrated aspects of his show was the number of its locations and sets, creating a sense of indoor-outdoor movement unusual for a multi-camera sitcom. Seinfeld began life at NBC with an order for only four episodes, the money coming from the network's variety and specials department. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was added to the cast after the pilot, and co-creators Seinfeld and Larry David had to resist efforts to have her play Jerry's love interest.

"Larry and I wrote everything together," Seinfeld recalled in the oral history, Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. "Sometimes the writers would figure out a story while I was rehearsing. Then we'd work on that, and once we had the story, we'd sit at our desks and work on the dialogue."

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3. THE TWILIGHT ZONE

Season One writers: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Robert Presnell, Jr., Rod Serling

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Aired: CBS, 1959–1965

No show in the history of television has lingered in the imagination quite like Rod Serling's anthology series, which could function both as a science fiction chiller and an issues-driven examination of human behavior and moral complexities, with climactic twists. Serling had written for Playhouse 90, where he authored the drama "Requiem for a Heavyweight." The Twilight Zone anticipated the hit writer-driven TV dramas of today, given that the actors - some famous, some not - were less the star of The Twilight Zone than the stories themselves, and the tone Serling conjured, between Cold War paranoia and the dark comedy of life.

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4. ALL IN THE FAMILY

Developed for Television by Norman Lear, Based on Till Death Do Us Part, Created by Johnny Speight

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Aired: CBS, 1971–1983

Asked how he'd been able to be so controversial on All in the Family, creator Norman Lear said to the WGAW Web sitein 2009: "I don't really know how to explain it. It took me three years to get All in the Family on the air. Let me put it that way." Based on the British sitcom Till Death Do Us Part, All in the Family didn't become a hit right away - and then it became a kind of national conversation about the cultural and political fault lines separating baby boomers and those who'd lived through World War II - what Archie Bunker called, "The Big One." During the show's heyday, the living room in the Bunkers' Queens household was a character in itself, complete with Archie's chair, a bully pulpit from which he moaned, lectured, and spewed. This was argument as theater, with Archie establishing the bombastic blueprint for sitcom dads to come.

Norman Lear on his legacy and the state of the modern sitcom

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5. M*A*S*H

Developed for Television by Larry Gelbart

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Aired: CBS, 1972–1983

M*A*S*H remains the only long-running series, comedy or drama, set around a war zone. Based on the iconic film by Robert Altman (who had himself adapted his movie from the Richard Hooker novel), the TV series, developed by writer-director Larry Gelbart and producer Gene Reynolds, found a more TV-friendly tone than Altman's movie without sacrificing bite, that tricky alchemy of antic comedy and casualties of war. As critic F.X Feeney noted in 2009, Gelbart, at 22, had flown to Korea as a writer for Bob Hope just as the war started, which came to inform the tone of M*A*S*H. "I am convinced," Gelbart wrote in The New York Times in 1983, before the two-and-a-half-hour finale, "that we achieved a creative freedom unheard of in the medium before or since." The finale drew 105 million viewers, the largest audience to have ever watched a single episode of television.

A chronicle of the life and career of Larry Gelbart

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6. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW

Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns

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Aired: NBC, 1970–1977

The MTM brand, under Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker, was responsible for an iconic run of comedies (and dramas) in the 1970s, beginning with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, an updating of the workplace sitcom set at a Minneapolis radio station where Mary Richards (Moore) was a news writer and producer. The show mirrored numerous cultural shifts (Mary was a single woman living on her own, dating freely, whose family consisted of her co-workers) and was an important proving ground for writers including co-creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, as well as David Lloyd (author of the famous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode), Ed. Weinberger, Stan Daniels and others who would go on to infuse a similar sophisticated sensibility into MTM sitcoms of the '70s like The Bob Newhart Show, and later, such shows as Taxi, Cheers, and Frasier.

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7. MAD MEN

Created by Matthew Weiner

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Aired: AMC, 2007–Present

Matt Weiner wrote the Mad Men pilot nearly a decade before it found a home as the first scripted drama at AMC, where the series debuted in the summer of 2007 and quickly took hold of the imagination with its evocation of Madison Avenue and the country as the turbulent 1960s dawn. Famously, David Chase hired Weiner as a writer on The Sopranos after reading the Mad Men pilot, and urged HBO to make it. "What I really had was a love of this period, a fascination with the '50s, a fascination with New York," Weiner told Written By in 2008. The show's cocktail culture and eruptive social era make it a period piece, but it's the multi-layered deceptions (characters deceive themselves and others, while working in an industry designed to con the public) that fuel Mad Men's allure.

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8. CHEERS

Created by Glen Charles & Les Charles and James Burrows

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Aired: NBC, 1982–1993

The qualities that made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a seminal sitcom in the 1970s gave Cheers the same importance to the '80s. At the height of the multi-camera sitcom format that would come to make sitcoms feel all the more mass-produced, Cheers conveyed a sense of real place, and the show's jokes came from clearly established characters and relationships Ð the main one being the pas de deux between ex-jock bar owner Sam Malone and his new well-read waitress Diane Chambers. Created by brothers Glen and Les Charles and director James Burrows, Cheers placed 75th in the Nielsen ratings in its first year on the air, before going on to become a cornerstone in NBC's long run of hit "must-see" comedies The Cosby Show, Seinfeld and Friends. According to TV.com, Cheers, over the course of its 11 seasons, saw 58 writers come through its room.

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9. THE WIRE

Created by David Simon

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Aired: HBO, 2002–2008

No series, arguably, is more responsible for the novelistic ambitions possible for television writers now. The Wire was creator David Simon's Baltimore-set follow-up to his HBO miniseries The Corner, but this time he expanded his gaze to the multi-pronged bureaucracies and civic institutions that fed into and mirrored the ghetto drug trade. The Wire had a Dickensian sense of breadth and social relevance; its stories were told as microcosms of larger ills. In 2010, when Simon won a MacArthur "genius" grant, he told the Los Angeles Times: "One thing we were explicit about with The Wire was that the drug war needed to end. Now, the drug war is no closer to ending than it was when we started the series. And I don't expect that we're ever going to get there. But you can't go into it thinking you're going to change anything; you have to go into it based on the story itself."

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10. THE WEST WING

Created by Aaron Sorkin

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Aired: NBC, 1999–2006

"The people who get angry at us on one Wednesday night will be standing up and cheering the next Wednesday night," Aaron Sorkin wrote in Written By before The West Wing premiered. Sorkin's White House will forever be associated with the Clinton presidency, both because it debuted during the end of Bill Clinton's two terms and addressed a certain Camelot magnetism that Clinton evoked (Dee Dee Myers and Lawrence O'Donnell, former Clinton White House staffers, wrote on the show). Sorkin's President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) was different from Clinton in significant ways, including the fact that he was a Catholic from New Hampshire. The world crises the show sampled were believable, while the fanciful beats came via the president's staff, who comprised a winning band of hyper-smart, quick-witted but fallible planners and semanticists, harmonizing the sardonic tones of Sorkin's dialogue like a gospel choir.

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11–20




11. THE SIMPSONS

Created by Matt Groening, Developed by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening and Sam Simon

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Aired: FOX, 1989–Present

The Simpsons is as ineffable as American humor gets. Among the show's landmarks (hitting 100 episodes, then 200, then 500) was the inclusion of Homer's exclamation, "Doh!" in the Oxford English Dictionary ("used to comment on a foolish or stupid action, especially one's own"). As the story of The Simpsons' development goes, producer Polly Platt passed Matt Groening's popular alt-comic strip Life in Hell to Tracey Ullman Show producer James L. Brooks, who wanted to use the strip as brief animated segments for the Ullman sketch show. Instead, Groening created the characters of The Simpsons - or what would become The Simpsons as developed by Groening, Brooks, and Sam Simon. The show's history is also the history of alumni from The Harvard Lampoon flocking to Hollywood to work in TV comedy, George Meyer, Richard Appel Jr., and Mike Reiss (a longtime executive producer with writing partner Al Jean) among them.

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12. I LOVE LUCY

"Pilot," Written by Jess Oppenheimer & Madelyn Pugh & Bob Carroll, Jr.

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Aired: CBS, 1951–1956

Though the show won an Emmy as Best Comedy, the writers were never so honored (in fairness, the Emmy for sitcom writing didn't exist until 1955). The five writers - Jess Oppenheimer, the  team of Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr., and later the team of Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf - churned out 181 episodes. Tom Gilbert, writing in The New York Times after Davis' death in 2011, noted that as the lone "girl writer," Davis had to type up scripts but was also called on to test out some of Lucy's more outlandish stunts (think a chocolate dipping assembly line). Of the relationship between Davis and Lucille Ball, Gilbert wrote: "They were for the purposes at hand the perfect complement to each other."

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13. BREAKING BAD

Created by Vince Gilligan

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Aired: AMC, 2008–Present

Creator Vince Gilligan said he was joking with Tom Schnauz that the two former X-Files writers might have to rent an RV and cook crystal meth if their stalled Hollywood careers didn't turn around. From the quip came a character who wouldn't leave Gilligan's imagination: Walter White, an undone Everyman Ð a high school chemistry teacher in dire health, with money problems, who partners up with an ex-failing student to produce and sell the finest meth in New Mexico. "As we were talking," Gilligan recalled to the WGAW Web site of his conversation with Schnauz, "the idea for this character just kind of popped into my head. It was that proverbial lightning strike. It felt unusual because that doesn't happen for me." Still, the concept met with plenty of resistance. "If I'd spent too much time thinking about how tough it was going to be to sell, I might have psyched myself out of even trying."

Vince Gilligan on the unexpected lessons he learned from writing Breaking Bad

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14. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW

Created by Carl Reiner

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Aired: CBS, 1960–1966

Carl Reiner has said he based his first sitcom on his experiences as a writer on Your Show of Shows, working for temperamental star Sid Caesar while also trying to be a husband and father. Reiner, who occasionally played Alan Brady, the Caesar-ish star of the fictional comedy-variety series for whom Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) worked, told the Los Angeles Times in 1999 that he originally wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show "for a Bronx Jew" to play the lead role. "I starred in a pilot we did in New York, and it was OK, and I'm glad it didn't sell," Reiner said. The show's other writers included Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Sam Denoff and John Whedon, father of Joss Whedon.

Carl Reiner on his creative process and what shows make him laugh

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15. HILL STREET BLUES

Created by Michael Kozoll and Steven Bochco

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Aired: NBC, 1981–1987

Low rated in its infancy, Hill Street Blues broke as many TV storytelling rules as its ultimate success helped establish for cop shows. Writing the pilot, Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll insisted on creative autonomy from the brass at NBC and MTM, the result of which was that "we could break away with all kinds of sidebars and sub-stories," Kozoll recalled. Bochco set about bringing writers to the show with points of view untainted by years in TV. One of those was a former aspiring novelist named David Milch. "The level of complexity we were trying to achieve in our scripts under the extraordinary time constraints you deal with in TV made it absolutely clear to me that you had to write these things in an ensemble way," Bochco said. "So I knew that we had to locate really good voices and work together as a chorus."

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16. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

Created by Mitchell Hurwitz

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Aired: 2003–2006

Mitchell Hurwitz offered a glimpse into his take on the family sitcom when he spoke of his own parents' refusal to "quietly disappear into their middle age." This, Hurwitz went on, "made the act of emotionally emancipating from them much more challenging." Hurwitz channeled the dynamic of intra-familial emotional chaos into the nouveau riche Bluths. The peppy venality and plain weirdness of the show's nine central characters helped earn Arrested Development an Emmy for Best Comedy, a passionate fan base, but never enough viewers for Fox to justify more than a limited run. Hurwitz credited executive producer Ron Howard for the documentary-like filmmaking style, shot on digital video that enabled the production to work faster and the writers to think bigger and crazier.

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17. THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART

Created by Madeleine Smithberg, Lizz Winstead; Season 1Head Writer: Chris Kreski; Writers: Jim Earl, Daniel J. Goor, Charles Grandy, J.R. Havlan, Tom Johnson, Kent Jones, Paul Mercurio, Guy Nicolucci, Steve Rosenfield, Jon Stewart

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Aired: COMEDY CENTRAL, 1999–Present

It began as The Daily Show (hosted by Craig Kilborn) in 1996, became The Daily Show (hosted by Jon Stewart) in 1999, and is now just as often referred to as Jon Stewart as its official title, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Though creator Lizz Winstead remained through the transition from Kilborn to Stewart, the show became a home for former writers from the satirical newspaper The Onion. It is hard to believe, but when The Daily Show first aired, there was no Fox News or MSNBC. Steadily, The Daily Show's faux journalism focused less on lampooning small-town provincialism and newsmagazine histrionics and more on the sweet spot of cable news' embrace of partisanship and fevered punditry. Perhaps because of this, the show was won nine straight Emmys for as the best written comedy/variety series.

Behind the scenes with the writers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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18. SIX FEET UNDER

Created by Alan Ball

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Aired: HBO, 2001–2005

Alan Ball pushed dramatic television into uncharted territory with his series about the Fishers and their Los Angeles funeral home. Death - and the rituals thereof left for the living - overlaid each hour, while the principal characters on Six Feet Under dealt with depression, interracial relationships, and the difficult bond of family. Ball had already won an Oscar as the screenwriter of American Beauty and was running his own sitcom, Oh Grow Up, when the concept for Six Feet Under was planted by Carolyn Strauss, then a top programming executive at HBO. As Ball said in Written By in 2002, he had experienced a spate of funerals in his young life, including the death of his sister in a car accident. In some ways, Six Feet Under seemed Ball's response to all that he hadn't been able to say to that point in his TV writing career. The show's tone - it could be witty, heartfelt, morose, and obsessive - reflected Ball's eagerness for his writers to channel their own emotional DNA into episodes.

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19. TAXI

Created by James L. Brooks and Stan Daniels and David Davis and Ed. Weinberger

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Aired: ABC, NBC, 1978–1983

Post-Mary Tyler Moore Show, James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, Ed. Weinberger and David Davis left MTM, formed their own company, and sold Taxi to Paramount (according to TV.com, Brooks and Davis bought back the option to a New York magazine article about night-shift cab drivers from MTM's Grant Tinker). The show won the Emmy as outstanding comedy series three years running, from 1979-1981, when M*A*S*H and All in the Family were in their sunset seasons. Future Cheers creators Glen and Les Charles were part of the Taxi staff, as was director James Burrows. ABC canceled the show after four seasons, at which point it was picked up for one more season by NBC under Tinker, the former MTM chief who had let Taxi go as a concept.

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20. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

Created by Garry Shandling & Dennis Klein

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Aired: HBO, 1992–1998

Having lampooned himself - and sitcoms generally - on the meta It's Garry Shandling's Show, Shandling this time trained his comedic radar onto the fear and self-loathing backstage at a late-night talk show. Much as it had in common with TV of the past (the show-about-a-show concept was hardly new) Larry Sanders, co-created by Dennis Klein and executive produced by Peter Tolan, brought to pay cable a freshly acerbic glimpse into showbiz narcissism. The show came along when Jay Leno's succession of Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show - sending David Letterman to CBS, replaced at 12:30 on NBC by the no-name Conan O'Brien - had made the late-night ratings wars an ongoing backstage drama. Had Shandling wanted The Tonight Show job? In Larry Sanders he gave audiences a doppelganger tease, and a show in which the backstage bile and neurosis made Shandling look like a comedic sage, taking a higher road.

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21–30



21. 30 ROCK

Created by Tina Fey

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Aired: NBC, 2006–Present

Tina Fey's canny take-off on her former life as head writer on Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock was initially viewed as "too inside" for a mass audience, a behind-the-scenes look at a sketch show, with Fey playing showrunner Liz Lemon and Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, the hard-to-control comedy star brought in to juice ratings. Though it never became a ratings hit, the single-camera 30 Rock far outlasted its presumably limiting parameters and racked up awards for both its zany, Simpsons-esque joke-writing and for Alec Baldwin as corporate honcho Jack Donaghy. In later seasons, the show's sense of play - live episodes, a faux reality show within the show within the show - reflected the trust it had earned from its audience.

Tina Fey describes the key to writing comedy successfully

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22. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Developed for Television by Peter Berg, Inspired by the Book by H.G. Bissinger

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Aired: NBC, 2006–2007;DIRECTV, 2008–2011

Peter Berg wrote and directed the pilot of a show that was the second adaptation of H.G. Bissinger's non-fiction narrative about the impact of high school football on the hearts, minds, and lives in small-town Dillon, Texas. The TV series Friday Night Lights, as opposed to the movie of the same name, could sprawl more in its storytelling, arranging itself as "a series of movements" around various characters, executive producer Jason Katims said to the WGAW Web site. Friday Night Lights, aided by its verite style, came to seem like a deeper glimpse into the heartland than most television series. "It's ultimately not really about a small town, it transcends the small town, and it's about people who are not living in a privileged way," Katims said. "That, to me, is what makes it so compelling. You see surprisingly little of that on network television."

Jason Katims on writing Friday Night Lights and why he would never plan a show's arc for an entire season

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23. FRASIER

Created by David Angell & Peter Casey & David Lee, Based on the Character "Frasier Crane" Created by Glen Charles & Les Charles

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Aired: NBC, 1993–2004

The Grub Street Productions team of Casey-Angell-Lee furthered the work they'd done on Cheers by moving psychologist Frasier Crane from Boston to Seattle and giving him a radio call-in show. In the process, the writer-producer trio created the last great spin-off. The pleasure in watching Frasier was in the repartee between Frasier (Kelsey Grammar) and his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce), an equally cultured effete snob. Their banter provided the fizz in a cocktail that included John Mahoney as their retired cop father and Jane Leeves as his home health-care aid de camp. "We hit upon this idea of doing something we didn't think we'd be good at, which was doing a family comedy," David Lee said, of the show's origins. "We thought we were just gang comedy writers."

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24. FRIENDS

Created by Marta Kauffman & David Crane

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Aired: NBC, 1994–2004

Co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane met in the theater program at Brandeis; by the time they created Friends, they had added a third partner, Kevin Bright, with whom they'd worked on the pilot of the HBO series Dream On. "We wanted something that felt over-caffeinated," Kauffman said in Written Byof Friends. The energy of a sitcom about being in New York in your 20s, at loose ends, thrived alongside the chemistry of the show's young, attractive cast. Kauffman said the writers came to realize that Friends worked best when the entire ensemble was onstage. If a character went on a date, for instance, that scene didn't necessarily need to be in the show, since it worked better to have her describing the date to the others. "With Friends, that's where it works best Ð to put them all in a room together," Kauffman said.

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25. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Season One writers: Anne Beatts, Chevy Chase, Tom Davis, Al Franken, Lorne Michaels, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Paul Mooney, Garrett Morris, Michael O’Donoghue, Herb Sargent, Tom Schiller, Rosie Shuster, Alan Zweibel

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Aired: NBC, 1975–Present

In his 2009 memoir, writer-performer Tom Davis conjures the small gang of writers standing outside Lorne Michaels' office at the inception of SNL in July of 1975. "There were Herb Sargent, Michael O'Donoghue (his friends called him Mr. Mike), Anne Beats, Alan Zweibel, Tom Schiller, Chevy Chase, and [Al] Franken and Davis. We were all checking each other out and wondering what to think," Davis writes. In its 37 years, comedy stars have been born, and the show has endured rumors of its imminent demise. What remains, for the writers, is the system - every week dozens and dozens of sketches live or die from the mid-week table read to the moment the guest host says, "Live from New YorkÉ" "Lorne launched into the first of a lifetime series of lectures on comic theory and the history of show business," Davis wrote of that initial writers' meeting.

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26. THE X-FILES

Created by Chris Carter

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Aired: FOX, 1993–2002

Fox's signature drama for most of the '90s, The X-Files, created by Chris Carter, was one of primetime television's all-time great hit science-fiction series, although to call it sci-fi is requires qualifying that it delved into the paranormal and the conspiratorial. Those tones were leavened by the relationship between FBI partners Scully and Mulder, he the dreamer and she the left-brain skeptic; their dynamic gave the show a human, big-tent appeal. "As early as the third or fourth season," recalled Frank Spotnitz, the show's exec producer and Carter's frequent collaborator, to the WGAW Web site, "we started to realize that there were some audiences that knew every detail of the ongoing alien mythology storyline and were waiting for very specific questions to be answered and then there was a much larger audience that was vaguely aware of it and would be lost if you tried to answer these very specific questions. That was a balancing act we were engaged in for most of the life of the series."

Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz on their creative process and the longevity of The X-Files

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27. LOST

Created by Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof

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Aired: ABC, 2004–2010

A pastiche of genres - sci-fi, James Bond movies, action, adventure, and thriller - co-mingled to intoxicating effect on Lost. Creators Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof, working with veteran showrunner Carlton Cuse, pushed the idea of how much narrative ground you could cover in television, creating two dual tracks of storytelling - the action and mystery of his characters' present limbo state on a tropical island versus the more grounding reveal of their pasts, done via flashback. This ingenuous structure worked both as drama and metaphor. The emotional and psychological mapping of the characters conversed with the show's more elusive map - the one that would get the castaways off the island.

Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on the challenges of writing Lost

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28. ER

Created Michael Crichton

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Aired: NBC, 1994–2009

The show that launched George Clooney's career had a 20-year gestation period between the time Michael Crichton first wrote the pilot in 1974 and John Wells guided it to the top of the ratings in the mid-1990s. Crichton, when ER first got on the air, said he was adamant that the show reflect his own medical training in an emergency room. "The actors were very uncomfortable talking so fast, at first," Crichton said to Written By of his edict that the show mirror the chaotic environment of triage work. "I was insistent on their being able to rattle off the tech talk, which is even more difficult." The show lasted 15 seasons, through cast departures and new arrivals, becoming the most signature medical series in television history.

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29. THE COSBY SHOW

Created by Ed Weinberger & Michael Leeson and William Cosby, Jr., Ed. D.

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Aired: NBC, 1984–1992

Bill Cosby's return to network television caused a new vogue for sitcoms based closely on the act of a stand-up comedian, a trend that dominated primetime into the ensuing decades. Cosby's homespun, discursive and anecdotal storytelling style onstage made re-creating that approach, in sitcom form, a particular challenge. Cosby Show writer Erich van Lowetold Written Bythe star's advice to his writers was, "Don't write jokes; write humor." "It took me a while to figure that out," van Lowe said. "Listen to his records and listen to him speak - it's all humor." Cosby's belief in the immutability of family and an elder's wisdom had to be infused into the Huxtable household, down to using proper grammar in the scripts. "No contractions," said writer Adriana Trigiani. "Respect the parents. Comedy without humiliation or degradation. No cheap laughs." The show was number one from 1985 to 1990.

How The Cosby Show changed the way we saw and wrote family TV

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30. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

Created by Larry David

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Aired: HBO, 2000–Present

Having co-created Jerry Seinfeld's roman a clef of a sitcom, Larry David has turned himself inside out on Curb. The pilot involved David returning to his standup comedy roots ahead of filming an HBO special that he eventually chickened out on doing; as we saw him do sets, friends attested to the parallels between him and Seinfeld's George Costanza. Yet the show's eight seasons have made him ineffably Larry, at large on the Westside of Los Angeles and bumping against any number of societal rules, written and unwritten. Before the latest run of acclaimed sitcoms, including Modern Family, The Office and 30 Rock, Curb was a game-changer in the industry, seeming to show a new way to approach the half-hour comedy. It's as though David is making a series of short films about himself, post-Seinfeld, while using the same conflating and intersecting story form math that Seinfeld used.

Watch Larry David's classic Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award acceptance speech

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31–40




31. THE HONEYMOONERS

Season One writers: Herbert Finn, Marvin Marx, A.J. Russell, Leonard Stern, Walter Stone, Sydney Zelinka

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Aired: CBS, 1955–1956

The standard by which all working-class sitcoms are still measured had a fitful beginning. Harry Crane and Joe Bigelow are credited with creating Ralph Kramden, a Brooklyn bus driver, as a sketch character for Jackie Gleason in 1951, when Gleason was hosting the Dumont network's Calvalcade of Stars variety show (two other writers on that show, Coleman Jacoby and Artie Rosen, brought in Art Carney for a different sketch). The Honeymooners took further shape on The Jackie Gleason Show in 1952 and Toast of the Town, a variety series hosted by Ed Sullivan. It was in 1955 that the 39 episodes of the now-classic sitcom were filmed, with a writing team of six: Leonard Stern, Marvin Marx, Walter Stone, Herbert Finn, Sydney Zelinka and A.J. Russell. The Honeymooners earned Emmys for Gleason and co-stars Carney and Audrey Meadows, but not for the writers who gave words to the battle.

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32. DEADWOOD

Created by David Milch

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Aired: HBO, 2004–2006

After a dozen years as the bard of NYPD Blue, David Milch's first created series was a strange, brilliant, and rococo Western set in a Gold Rush town in the Dakota territories, circa the late 1800s. Outwardly, the show portrayed the frontier West's physical indignities and ruthless chicanery. Within that Milch explored, once again, moral, spiritual and psychological dissolution and redemption. The show's most ornate feature was its language, the way the characters spoke with a sometimes Shakespearian flourish, soliloquies profane and poetic intermingling with the muck-filled place Milch conjured. After three seasons and 36 episodes - and a devoted audience that didn't reach the numbers HBO was getting at the time for The Sopranos or Sex & The City - the network canceled Deadwood before the series could resolve itself, citing the cost of its sprawling cast.

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33. STAR TREK

Created by Gene Roddenberry

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Aired: NBC, 1966–1969

As creator Gene Roddenberry wrote to science fiction author Isaac Asmiov two months after the first Star Trek series premiered in 1966: "Star Trek almost did not get on the air because it refused to do a juvenile science fiction, because it refused to put a 'Lassie' aboard the space ship, and because it insisted on hiring Dick Matheson, Harlan Ellison, A.E. Van Vogt, Phil Farmer, and so on." Matheson and Vogt did write for the show extensively, and Ellison briefly. Months before his death and during the run of Star Trek: Next Generation, Roddenberry told the Los Angeles Times: "It has become a crusade of mine to demonstrate that TV need not be violent to be exciting. I'd often felt that no one was catching on. But if the Dalai Lama likes us, I suppose the message is getting out."

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34. MODERN FAMILY

Created by Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd

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Aired: ABC, 2009–Present

The sweet spot on Modern Family, done as a mock documentary, is in exposing the growing pains for a culture confronting the fluid meaning of the mainstream family unit. Sitcom veterans Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan wrestled with how best to capture this in developing the series, knowing that audiences might find it difficult to follow three separate families each half-hour. That is, Lloyd said, until they arrived at a solution - what if everyone in this peek into modern American family life was related? The mini-melting pot resonated with viewers, and earned Modern Family an Emmy as best comedy for its debut season, as well as writing honors for Lloyd, a longtime Frasier writer, and Levitan, creator of Just Shoot Me.

Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan on what's the hardest part of writing Modern Family

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35. TWIN PEAKS

"Pilot," Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch

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Aired: ABC, 1990–1992

"When Blue Velvet Meets Hill Street Blues," read the New York Times headline in 1990, describing Twin Peaks. It was a reference to the show's two creative forces, former Hill Street Blues writer Mark Frost, and director David Lynch. As in his moody and bizarre Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks took a picture postcard and flipped it over to expose a creepy underbelly. "We developed the town before the people," Frost told the Times of Twin Peaks, their fictional town in the Northwest. "We drew a map. We knew it had a lumber mill." In its first season, the style and serialized intrigue of who killed homecoming queen Laura Palmer had created a frenzied following, but after ABC moved the show in season two to Saturday nights, the ratings proved too low to continue. Though acclaimed filmmakers routinely direct television now, Lynch's involvement at the time was seen as a coup.

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36. NYPD BLUE

Created by David Milch & Steven Bochco

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Aired: ABC, 1993–2005

Steven Bochco made more creative elbow room on network television with NYPD Blue, which debuted amid "viewer discretion" hype before settling into what it was - one of the last important primetime cop series. Over 12 seasons, NYPD Blue came to seem a bellwether for the more sophisticated storytelling emerging on cable. David Milch, an executive producer following his work with Bochco on Hill Street, was the series' conscience, poring aspects of himself into the characters while also trying to stay true to his organic sense of the writing process. Speaking of an Emmy-winning episode in which a father is revealed to have molested and killed his son, Milch said his own experience as a victim of sexual abuse played into the writing. "I was able to find a kind of forgiveness for the perpetrator of the murder in that script which turned out to be a real blessing for me, as well."

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37. THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW

Season One: Written by Bill Angelos, Stan Burns, Don Hinkley, Buz Kohan, Mike Marmer, Gail Parent, Kenny Solms, Saul Turtletaub; Writing Supervised by Arnie Rosen

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Aired: CBS, 1967–1978 (1979 on ABC)

The kind of beloved series that television executives abandoned long ago - comedy-variety, with an infectiously multi-talented comedian as host, aided by a small band of merry pranksters, Burnett's show was part of the era that also included Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, The Flip Wilson Show, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The show was loose-feeling, if not strictly loose, featuring a down-to-earth star and an ensemble of regulars, who seemed to be having so much fun they couldn't resist breaking character and laughing during sketches (see Korman, Harvey). The writers' room was a mixture of established gag men (Gene Perret, Roger Beatty, Arnie Kogen, and Gary Belkin, among them) and younger voices including the future filmmaker Barry Levinson, Tom Patchett (creator of Alf), and Jay Tarses, author of numerous off-beat sitcoms, including The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.

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38. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2005)

Developed by Ronald D. Moore, Based on the Series Battlestar Galactica, Created by Glen A. Larson

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Aired: SCI-FI, 2005–2009

Having written for the series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, Ronald Moore arrived at his remake of Battlestar Galactica determined to bring the "space opera" genre out of its fusty cartoon past. Moore wanted to make "naturalistic science fiction," to "use the genre for what it was initially intended to do," providing commentary "on the human condition from a different point of view," he told Written By heading into his show's final season. Battlestar Galactica, conjured the monotheistic Cylons, at once alien and able to take on the form of humans, who have declared war on the twelve human Colonies, wiping out billions in the process, and leaving all aboard the battlestar Galactica on a desperate quest to find the mystical 13th colony known as Earth. During its four seasons, Battlestar Galactica was one of the most praised series on television, lauded as a timely allegory of post-9/11 fears and geopolitics.

Ron Moore on what writers should try to avoid when writing science fiction

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39. SEX AND THE CITY

Created by Darren Star, Based on the Book by Candace Bushnell

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Aired: HBO, 1998–2004

Is the show over? Because the movies aren't. Creator Darren Star based his series on Candace Bushnell's book, adapted itself from her columns in the New York Observer. The recipe for the TV series - show enough of the female anatomy to keep guys watching, make the relationship angst palpable, add a generous helping of uptown shopping with a pinch of female empowerment - proved to be pay cable ambrosia. The first season was more of a referendum on urban singlehood (with people-on-the-street interviews), but under executive producer Michael Patrick King, subsequent seasons crackled with double-entendre and became more unapologetically about the culture's shame reflex toward sex. Whether or not this made the show daring or gratuitous was an ongoing debate, as was the notion that Sex and the City was a gay man's riff on the straight lifestyle; what couldn't be disputed was that audiences were deeply involved with the characters.

Showrunner Michael Patrick King on why comedy can be harder to write than drama

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40. GAME OF THRONES

Created by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, Based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

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Aired: HBO, 2010–Present

Medieval (or thereabouts) fantasy is not a TV genre with a particularly exalted tradition, which is why Game of Thrones, in its lavish production values and depth of mythology, feels so unprecedented in television. Co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss adapted the first of George R. R. Martin's series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, into a gold-standard example of the epic fantasy, with an international cast, global locations and the sort of power grabs and struggles among characters that transcend the epochs. Before the show aired, Benioff promised reporters that Òcharacters that you might think are going to go on for six seasons meet an early end.Ó And so, a key protagonist did meet his end as season one concluded.

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41–50




41. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW - TIE

Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music

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Aired: CBS, 1972–1978

Talking about the success of The Bob Newhart Show on the podcast "Bullseye" recently, Newhart told a story about Jack Benny. At the end of a table reading of The Jack Benny Show during which Benny had instructed the writers to parcel out various big laughs to others cast members, guest star Ronald Coleman said to the comedian afterward, "Jack, you gave away your best lines," to which Benny responded, "Yeah, but I'll be back next week." That was evident on The Bob Newhart Show, a shining example of a sitcom at its most functional. The show, created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music, expanded the success MTM had with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Newhart's standup's persona - those one-sided phone conversations for which he was famous, coupled with his droll delivery - played off of the eccentrics surrounding Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley, at work and at home.

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41. YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS - TIE

Season One: Written by Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Max Liebman

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Aired: NBC, 1950–1954

If you journeyed from Vaudeville to Saturday Night Live, you'd want to stop awhile at Your Show of Shows. Comedy partners Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca anchored 90 minutes of live comedy every week, while behind the scenes the war room of gag writers included Neil Simon, who based his hit Broadway play Laughter on the 23rd Floor on his experiences in the Your Show of Shows room. Also on hand were Simon's brother Danny, Carl Reiner, the two Mels (Brooks and Tolkien) and the lone female, Lucille Kallen. "She was the only one who could write and talk at the same time," Caesar was quoted saying of Kallen in her 1999 New York Times obituary. "The rest of us were all crazy. It was all being made up at that moment: 'Put it in!' 'Take it out!' 'You've got to put it back!' So it was a very, very frustrating job."

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43. DOWNTON ABBEY - TIE

Created by Julian Fellowes

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Aired: PBS, 2010–Present

Series creator Julian Fellowes' lavish period piece is also a pace-driven soap opera, set on a spectacular estate out in the English countryside of Yorkshire, home of the aristocratic Crawleys and their staff. Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park, which was set between the wars, here examines England and the classes on the brink of World War I. Unsure whether Downton Abbey would last more than a season, the show's renewal, he wrote, enabled him to examine how the outbreak of world war affected not just those who were in it, "but also, and mainly," those who stayed behind. "We would examine how the order and the old certainties were shaken, how some people would hate the changes and bow under their weight, and others would start to sense new beginnings and changing roles, which once had been defined by sex or class, but which were now relaxing."

Julian Fellowes on how a family tragedy helped inspire Downton Abbey's second season

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43. LAW & ORDER - TIE

Created by Dick Wolf

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Aired: NBC, 1990–2010

The son of an advertising executive, Dick Wolf went into the ad business himself before moving into film and television. He wrote on Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice before, well, creating "the brand." The show's success, certainly, has something to do with the simplicity of it structure (cue our narrator), coupled with its New York sensibility and storylines mirroring recent news-making issues and events. Cast members came and went, spinoffs were spun off, but behind all this was an idea, and a style of execution, that seemed ineffable. As TV changed around it, Law & Order remained what it was - a mostly straightforward dramatization of a crime, the detectives investigating that crime, and the people in the D.A.'s office who would ultimately prosecute the accused and try to get something like justice in the end.

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43. THIRTYSOMETHING - TIE

Created by Marshall Herskovitz & Edward Zwick

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Aired: ABC, 1987–1991

Since this sensitive ensemble drama burst onto the scene at the end of the "greed is good" '80s, many have tried and just as many have failed to replicate a show about...well, ennui-riddled, upwardly mobile strivers, encountering speed bumps or ruptures in their relationship lives. Back then the characters were called yuppies. Creators Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz would go on to shepherd My So-Called Life and Once and Again onto the air, before network television went the way of vampires, mentalists, criminologists and what have you. Meanwhile, the term "thirtysomething" (or twentysomething, or fortysomething) lives on as a self-identifying shorthand - and as a metaphor for the weightless feeling of being less than fully formed in life. "As far as we're concerned, television very rarely had people who sounded like we did," Zwick told L.A. Times television critic Howard Rosenberg when the show went on the air.

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46. HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET - TIE

Created by Paul Attanasio, Based on the Book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

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Aired: NBC, 1993–1999

Homicide was based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, written by David Simon from his time as a crime reporter at The Baltimore Sun. The book was given to Barry Levinson for a possible feature adaptation; Levinson, in turn, gave it to Tom Fontana to make into a TV series. Simon would go on to create The Wire, a more strictly serialized crime series set in inner-city Baltimore, but he cut his TV writing teeth working under Fontana on Homicide. "I think we're more schlub-like than most shows and I think there's something crudely appealing about that," Simon noted in Written By, back when Homicide was in its second, critically acclaimed season.

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46. ST. ELSEWHERE - TIE

Created by Joshua Brand & John Falsey, Developed by Mark Tinker/John Masius

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Aired: NBC, 1982–1988

Like other important shows from the 1980s MTM stable, St. Elsewhere, which twice won Emmys for its writing, featured a writing staff whose future series appear elsewhere on this list. Creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey went on to make Northern Exposure, while Tom Fontana created Oz. Bruce Paltrow, another St. Elsewhere executive producer, had already done The White Shadow. Other writers on St. Elsewhere - John Masius, Mark Tinker, John Tinker, Charles Eglee and Channing Gibson - have since created or written on shows as varied as Touched By An Angel, Murder One, and Dexter. That said, the series, set in a South Boston hospital called St. Eligius, was lauded in its day for its tougher-than-usual storytelling approach. The series finale, in which viewers discovered it was all a figment of the imagination of the chief of staff's autistic son, puzzled those wanting a more heartwarming conclusion.

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48. HOMELAND

Developed by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, Based on the Original Israeli Series Prisoners of War by Gideon Raff

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Aired: SHOWTIME, 2011–Present

Homeland is a more humanist and psychologically disturbing version of 24, a show on which co-creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa were writers. If 24, which debuted soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, represented the hardline zeitgeist approach to counter-terrorism work, Homeland's view is different. "Even on 24 we met with interrogators who would insist that the way that you got the most actionable intelligence from people was to establish a human connection," Gansa said. At the center of this is "an unreliable narrator and an ambiguous protagonist." The protagonist is a kidnapped U.S. Marine returning home as a sleeper Islamic militant, and the unreliable narrator is a mentally ill CIA agent trying to expose him before he carries out his deadly mission. The pilot was influenced by the Israeli TV series Prisoners of War, created by Gideon Raff, who is also an executive producer on Homeland.

Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon on what Homeland says about terrorism 10 years after 9/11

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49. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

Created by Joss Whedon

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Aired: WB, 1997–2003

Part of the fun, and influence, of Buffy was in the way it mixed and matched genres while maintaining the integrity of its comedy and its heart. If high school was a peer-pressure fright night, it just might require the figurative jujitsu skills of a vampire slayer. "Buffy really changed the landscape," said Bryan Fuller, creator of the ABC series Pushing Daisies. "It demonstrated to networks and studios that you can meld genres in a unique way and create something that is altogether new yet very powerful and resonant. It's vampires, but it's emotionally honest, and that's what makes it work." Joss Whedon (who became the first third-generation Writers Guild member when he was hired on the sitcom Roseanne) adapted his Buffy the Vampire Slayer screenplay into the series, which became an integral piece in the WB network's brand as a youth-centered network.

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50. THE COLBERT REPORT - TIE

Season One writers: Mike Brumm, Stephen Colbert, Rich Dahm, Eric Drysdale, Peter Gwinn, Jay Katsir, Laura Krafft, Allison Silverman

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Aired: COMEDY CENTRAL, 2005–Present

"Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you." That was Stephen Colbert's mantra when The Colbert Report debuted, and he has hardly wavered. Spun off from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where Colbert was a star correspondent, The Colbert Report is of a piece with The Daily Show, except that Colbert is more deeply in character than Stewart. Segments like "Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger," or "The Word" require the writers not only to inhabit Colbert's faux-reactionary voice but conform to his character's twisted logic. "Everything we do on the show, they're all arguments," Rich Dahm, the show's co-executive producer, told Written By. "We don't just do monologue jokes, obviously. We're hashing out an argument."

A look inside the writers' room of The Colbert Report

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50. THE GOOD WIFE - TIE

Created by Robert King & Michelle King

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Aired: CBS, 2009–Present

Leading roles for women on TV don't grow on trees, much less leading roles as layered as Alicia Florrick, played by Juliana Margulies. Alicia's story, as it opened, seemed a direct reference to the still-fresh sex scandal that drove former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer from office. Alicia, like Silda Spitzer, was a "good wife" - carrying on in the teeth of public disgrace. Since then, the show has earned wide praise as a topical legal and political drama, and for Alicia's post-scandal journey as a character. "What is interesting is that everyone feels entitled to an opinion about what these women should do," Michelle King told TheNew York Times in 2009, after three episodes had aired. "I think it's just an incredibly uncomfortable place to be in. How do you go on with your life and try to make a change, and yet still constantly be confronted with that?"

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50. THE OFFICE (UK) - TIE

Created by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant

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Aired: BBC, 2001–2002

Early in the 2000s, the buzz began moving west across the Atlantic: There was this quirky and very funny faux-documentary comedy series out of England called The Office. It starred a guy named Ricky Gervais, whom no one knew. Soon, we would learn, he had a writing partner, Stephen Merchant, whom Gervais had met while both were working at BBC Radio. On The Office, Gervais was David Brent, a mid-level office manager and benign menace who wants to be both boss and comedian. In the process he is highly - and, as it happens, hilariously - un-self-aware when it comes to both. As much as American TV comedy has been influenced by iconic shows out of England (e.g. Monty Python and Fawlty Towers) Gervais was taking a creative cue from the mock-documentarian Christopher Guest in his deadpan approach. This style worked but the way the characters were drawn, and portrayed, worked even better.

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53–60




53. NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Created by Joshua Brand & John Falsey

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Aired: CBS, 1990–1995

The series' classic fish-out-of-water premise involved Joel Fleischman, a New Yorker fresh out of Columbia Medical School who is sent to run a clinic in frigid, off-the-grid Cicely, Alaska. Northern Exposure had the markings both of a Hollywood romantic comedy and an indie film's fond and slightly jaundiced look at the way small-town eccentrics behave. Though the world of the show is the creation of Brand and Falsey, who took home the Emmy for a drama in 1992, the series also became known for the fact that David Chase was the showrunner for two later seasons - during which he worked with the writing teams of Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green, as well as Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, all of whom later worked for Chase on The Sopranos.

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54. THE WONDER YEARS

Created by Neal Marlens & Carol Black

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Aired: ABC, 1988–1993

Created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, this sweet, intelligent confection of a half-hour comedy functioned as a looking glass into a late '60s suburban childhood. "In a sense, the series is one long flashback," Marlens told The Miami Herald at the time. ABC thought highly enough of the pilot to air it after the Super Bowl. That episode revolved around a first kiss between adolescents Kevin and Winnie, who learns that her brother has been killed in Vietnam. The show's use of voiceover narration by Daniel Stern (whose performance in the 1982 Barry Levinson movie Diner still resonated) grounded the series in an adult's wry, wistful sensibility. "It is an adult whom we'll never see," Black said, "talking about his childhood."

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55. L.A. LAW

Created by Steven Bochco & Terry Louise Fisher

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Aired: NBC, 1986–1994

Over its eight seasons, L.A. Law racked up 15 Emmys in various categories (including two as outstanding drama). For every legal show that soared to the top of the ratings in the last two decades, you can refer back to L.A. Law, in no small measure for the way it brought lawyers out of the realm of caricature (they were neither crusaders nor crooks, strictly) and made their lives (in the courtroom and the bedroom) the stuff of high melodrama and cheeky wit, all while pointing to the social issues of the day. The show's unstoppable writing force was a former lawyer himself, David E. Kelley, who, with William Finkelstein, another ex-lawyer, wrote many of the series' episodes. For executive producer Steven Bochco the show bridged his acclaimed run as a hit-maker, coming after Hill Street Blues and before NYPD Blue.

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56. SESAME STREET

Created by Joan Ganz Cooney

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Aired: PBS, 1969–Present

Simply put, the show's continual inventiveness and impact as an educational tool - forged via the runaway popularity of the Muppets - changed the landscape of children's television. Joan Ganz Cooney was a children's television producer in New York City when, with government funding, she founded the Children's Television Workshop. Sesame Street was born of her belief that kids programming ought to be more forward-thinking and fun. "I wanted this show to jump and move fast and feel and sound like 1969, because kids are turned on visually!" Cooney is quoted as saying on the show's Web site. Cooney's creative team included Frank Oz, Jon Stone (a former producer on Captain Kangaroo who became the show's first head writer), and the master puppeteer Jim Henson. Sesame Street, when it debuted, was banned from the air in Mississippi due to its interracial cast.

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57. COLUMBO

Created by Richard Levinson & William Link

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Aired: NBC, 1971–1976; ABC, 1989–1993

As a writing team, Richard Levinson and William Link were an anomaly, given that they started writing together in junior high. "I think we were the oldest team in Hollywood," Link told The New York Times, shortly after Levinson's death in 1987, at age 52. The duo was responsible for the series Mannix, Ellery Queen, and Murder, She Wrote. With Columbo, they gave audiences arguably the most beloved detective in the history of series television - a character as inwardly canny as he was outwardly muddled. Asked in 1995 by radio interviewer Terry Gross what the part of Columbo was like when he first read it, star Peter Falk said: "It was very good. It was somebody that I immediately wanted to play. The basic thrust of a guy appearing less than he actually is, that was always there. That disarming quality of not ever appearing formidable was always there."

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58. FAWLTY TOWERS - TIE

Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth

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Aired: BBC, 1975–1979

In a TV interview, John Cleese called Fawlty Towers "just little 30-minute farces that start very, very low-key and finish up absolutely frantic." Farce, of course, is among the trickiest of art forms to pull off; the performers need to be fully committed and the situations engineered to escalate just so. The setting of this jewel of a show was a bed and breakfast in the English countryside, where the proprietor, Basil Fawlty, was more or less bothered by all the vagaries of hospitality. Cleese was coming off of Monty Python's Flying Circus when he created the show with his then-wife Connie Booth. If hitting syndication with 100 episodes became the goal for American sitcom creators, Fawlty Towers was a show that comedy writers grinding out 22 episodes a year would point to wistfully as the model that ensures quality - two seasons of six episodes each, broadcast over four years.

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58. THE ROCKFORD FILES - TIE

Created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell

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Aired: NBC, 1974–1980

As smooth as Columbo was rumpled, private eye Jim Rockford, an ex-con, lived and worked out of a trailer at the beach in Santa Monica. To a certain extent the character was the creation, as Columbo was, of the personality of its star, James Garner. But on the page it came from Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Cannell, the prolific writer-producer, had worked for Huggins on the detective show Toma (which in its second season would become Baretta). Cannell, according to his obituary in The New York Times, came up with the Rockford character while writing a Toma script. In their work, Cannell and Huggins are credited with leavening the TV detective with irony and humor. As Cannell told the Times in 1999: "Culture changed, and as that happened, so did our need for a hero. That square-jawed good guy began to look like an idiot to us."

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60. FREAKS AND GEEKS -TIE

Created by Paul Feig

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Aired: NBC, 1999–2000

The title itself was an ironic statement about the pejoratives that get attached to those kids who don't quite buy into the aspirational idea of fitting in. Or, as creator Paul Feig described the experience of high school: "You dump all these kids into this cinderblock building and hope they'll socialize. The odds are pretty much against it." Feig, one such outsider, had been a comedian, an actor, and a filmmaker before his spec script for Freaks and Geeks was guided to primetime by his friend Judd Apatow. At the time, Apatow was coming off of writing on The Larry Sanders Show. Feig and Apatow's series was instantly embraced by critics and a legion of fans for taking their high school world seriously enough to make it thoughtfully funny, but NBC cut the run at the end of season one for lack of a critical mass of viewers.

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60. MOONLIGHTING - TIE

Created by Glenn Gordon Caron

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Aired: ABC, 1985–1989

Nominally a comedic detective series, the show's originality came from the electrifying chemistry between stars Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd, whose verbal jousting earned the duo, and the series, comparisons to Howard Hawkes comedies like His Girl Friday, or William Powell and Myrna Loy of The Thin Man series. In 1986, as the show was rising in popularity to a fever pitch, creator Glen Gordon Caron told Newsweek that what made Moonlighting different was that the stakes facing his partners in crime-detection involved the emotional risk of acknowledging their true feelings for each other. "It's, 'If I care for you, and I suspect that maybe you don't care as much for me, what do I do?' I think the audience sees this and says, 'OK, now something is at stake here. Your heart is on the table.' There's always a little ache running underneath everything."

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62–70




62. ROOTS

Written by William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, Ernest Kinoy, James Lee; Based on the Book by Alex Haley

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Aired: ABC, 1977

Roots, from executive producer David L. Wolper, and produced by Stan Margulies, was more than a miniseries - it was a spectacular - and unprecedented - example of television's power as a storytelling medium, one that could simultaneously direct the national conversation and prod its conscience. Adapting Alex Haley's epic autobiographical look at his ancestry (called Roots: The Saga of An American Family) into script form fell to William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, James Lee, and Ernest Kinoy. If the historical accuracy of the story was challenged in some circles, the 12-hour miniseries - aired in 90-minute installments over eight consecutive nights, to huge ratings - had a deeply visceral impact on a nation confronting a part of its history that broadcast television had never shown on such a grand scale. Some 100 million viewers tuned in for the final chapter.

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63. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND - TIE

Created by Philip Rosenthal

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Aired: CBS, 1996–2005

There was always something deceptively simple on display, in both its straightforward concept and skillful execution. Ray Romano had a well-developed sense of his comedy from years as a standup when he teamed with Phil Rosenthal, a former actor who had written for series like Baby Talk and Coach. Together they made if not TV history then something like it - an intelligently done, four-camera family sitcom during an era when the rest of the sitcom business seemed to be doing cartwheels to figure out what people wanted to watch. Rosenthal, describing the kind of show he wanted to do, referred to how he'd read that Carl Reiner, on The Dick Van Dyke Show, would get story ideas by asking his writers, "What happened at your house this week?" "I thought that Everybody Loves Raymond could be the perfect vehicle for such thinking," Rosenthal said.

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63. SOUTH PARK - TIE

Created by Matt Stone & Trey Parker

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Aired: COMEDY CENTRAL, 1997–Present

From "The Spirit of Christmas," an animated holiday card made for Fox executive Brian Graden that got passed around Hollywood like comedy samizdat, to The Book of Mormon, their current Broadway smash musical, no comedy writers have been on quite on such a run of wrongness as Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is difficult to quantify what South Park did for Comedy Central, besides grow it from a cable network with a comedy footprint comedy to a worldwide brand. The cut-out crudeness of the animation has been, from the beginning, a kind of Trojan horse for the show's scatology and more pointed comedic aims. Over the years, Stone and Parker have seen their network pull episodes for poking fun at the Prophet Muhammad and Tom Cruise. Such controversy is what makes the series more than a lark, giving it the well-deserved reputation of offending where others fear to tread.

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65. PLAYHOUSE 90

Season One writers: Edna Anhalt, Edmund Beloin, Harold Jack Bloom, Marc Brandel, George Bruce, James P. Cavanagh, Whitfiled Cook, Helen Doss, Scott Fitzgerald, Devery Freeman, Frank Gilroy, Helen Howe, Speed Lamkin, Ernest Lehman, Herbert Little, Jr., Don Mankiewicz, Elick Moll, Paul Monash, Dean Reisner, Norman Retchin, Selma Robinson, William Sackheim, Rod Serling, Leonard Spigelgass, Leslie Stevens, Brandon Thomas, David Victor, Charles M. Warren, Hagar Wilde, Cornell Woolrich

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Aired: CBS, 1956–1961

"One cannot imagine the joy one had as a professional viewer of this windblown medicine show called television to be able to deal every week for four years with the depth, the quality and sometimes the disaster that was the weekly Playhouse." So wrote former Los Angeles Times television critic Cecil Smith, 40 years after Playhouse 90. Has there ever been a TV series around which so much creative talent coalesced? John Frankenheimer, George Roy Hill, and Arthur Penn are on the list of directors. Rod Serling wrote the teleplay "Requiem for a Heavyweight" for Jack Palance to great acclaim, while J.P. Miller and Abby Mann wrote the teleplays for "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Judgment at Nuremberg," respectively. So-called for the 90-minute duration of the work, Playhouse 90 burned brightly, ambitiously against the grain: a live, though eventually videotaped, weekly mounting of a theatrical production.

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66. DEXTER Ð TIE

Developed for Television by James Manos, Jr., Based on the Novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

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Aired: SHOWTIME, 2006–Present

The movement toward dark characters on TV had grown dark enough to make possible a series, albeit on pay cable, about a Machiavellian serial killer whose targets are other serial killers. Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. In a 2008 interview in Written By, former executive producer Clyde Phillips compared Dexter to such icons of modernist noir as Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, a sociopathic anti-hero just as driven by his demons as the bad guys. "Within the noir confines, Dexter is coming from the place of the baddest of the bad guys, and is slowly but surely becoming more human, questioning how he can become more attached to the world around him, rather than less attached, like many classic noir heroes."

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66. THE OFFICE (U.S.) ÐTIE

Created by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, Developed by Greg Daniels, Based on the BBC Series The Office

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Aired: NBC, 2005–Present

Adapting the British comedy by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Greg Daniels gathered around him writer-performers B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling, and Paul Lieberstein. "I love the idea of hiring writer-performers, whether I use them or not, because so much that's wonderful in comedy, like Monty Python or early Saturday Night Live, is that people wrote and performed," Daniels said during the show's second season. Unlike Gervais' lovably horrible boss David Brent, Steven Carrell's horrible boss Michael Scott was not strictly horrible. "I know mentally I was so concerned about not betraying the English show in the adaptation, that the first season of our show was maybe a little colder, because I felt that was the tone," Daniels said. "And now I'm writing more tonally, like King of the Hill, where it's very human people, and all the different characters sometimes have moments of doing the right thing."

Greg Daniels on scripting Steve Carell's final episode on The Office

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68. MY SO-CALLED LIFE

Created by Winnie Holzman

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Aired: ABC, 1994–1995

"I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother. It just means too much to her," the searching teenager Angela, played by Claire Danes, says in voice-over in the pilot of My So-Called Life, which lasted 19 episodes before being cancelled by ABC. To watch the pilot now is to feel as though you've discovered a lost portal into the last known intelligent record of what late adolescence was like before the advent of smart phones. Series creator Winnie Holzman had been a story editor on thirtysomething under Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who encouraged her to write her own pilot. With My So-Called Life, Holzman said, "I ignored the fact that it was a television show. I didn't want to think of it in terms of teenagers on television because that leads you down a whole garden path that I didn't particularly want to walk on."

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69. THE GOLDEN GIRLS

Created by Susan Harris

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Aired: NBC, 1985–1992

The sitcom that stormed the gates of prevailing wisdom about TV and the over-50 set. Susan Harris, with husband Paul Junger Witt, had become a proven hit-maker thanks to Benson and Soap; this time she created a sitcom about four retirees in Florida and didn't pussyfoot around the premise. Estelle Getty, quoted on the Paley Center for Media's Web site, said of Harris: "She has a way of writing things people want to say, but don't say. I tell people it's like when you look in a refrigerator and there's only a little left. You don't pour it in a glass, you drink it from the bottle. She does that with her writing. She goes straight to the bone." The actresses dispensing the zingers were deeply skilled at comedy. Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Getty played the script as if conducting a continuous roast.

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70. THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW

Episode 1, "The New Housekeeper," Written by Jack Elinson and Charles Stewart

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Aired: CBS, 1960–1968

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle upon the death of Andy Griffith, David Wiegand pointed out that Sheriff Andy and the good folks of Mayberry, N.C., found wide appeal in primetime in an era when "the sexual revolution, the divisiveness of the Vietnam War and the general rejection of 'traditional values' by younger Americans had an impact on TV. Some sitcoms tried to adapt to the cultural changes and ended up looking ridiculous for trying. Others simply threw in the towel." Aaron Ruben, one of the show's longtime producers, told the Archive of American Television that the show struck a chord because it conjured "a grown-ups' Oz." Ruben and Sheldon Leonard are credited as the show's driving creative forces, as well as Danny Thomas. Thomas was already a sitcom star thanks to Make Room for Daddy, and it was his production company that developed the Griffith series.

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71–79




71. 24 - TIE

Created by Joel Surnow & Robert Cochran

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Aired: FOX, 2001–2010

Heading into its debut, the challenges facing this intriguing new thriller were narrative ones - namely, the ability to attract, and hold, a large audience through a story that unfolded by the hour, in weekly installments. By November 6, 2001, the show's premiere date, a series about a counter-terrorism agent trying to foil an assassination attempt had been thrown into an entirely different context. In subsequent seasons, as the shock of the 9/11 attacks began to dissipate and 24 settled into its status as a bona fide hit, the series became a flashpoint for the larger, and mostly political, discussion going on about the effectiveness and justification of the use of "advanced interrogation techniques." In the hands of Jack Bauer, anyway, extra-legal torture worked, as did 24's winning storytelling formula; viewers were plainly hooked, and serialized dramas in the mode of a thriller were suddenly the rage.

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71. ROSEANNE - TIE

Created by Matt Williams, Based on a Character Created by Roseanne Barr

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Aired: ABC, 1988–1997

In 1985, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, America met a comedian named Roseanne Barr. Three years later she had a hit sitcom that furthered her inimitable persona as the housewife sardonically self-identifying as a "domestic goddess." Roseanne was a so-called "blue-collar" show, far from the milieu of a Bob Newhart Show or Seinfeld, but its success earned it a place in any conversation about the need for a standup to develop a voice before being given a show. Producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, and co-creator Matt Williams, packaged Roseanne's comedic matter-of-factness in a working-class, two-parent household in the Midwest. Yes, Roseanne and Dan were obese, and difficult things might happen in the Conners' world - an incident of domestic violence, a teenage pregnancy - but the characters were who they were, and the humor grew out of their struggle, without pretension or cartoonish pre-judgment.

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71. THE SHIELD -TIE

Created by Shawn Ryan

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Aired: FX, 2002–2008

You could argue that no series in the history of television left a greater imprint on its network than The Shield, which enabled FX to branch out into grittier, R-rated dramatic fare while also keeping its dignity intact. The Shield was a cop show about a specific time and place - Los Angeles, with a police force still mired in a reputation for brutality and corruption left by the Rodney King beatings and the Rampart scandal. "I moved to Los Angeles just before the most interesting eight-to-ten-year stretch any American city has had in the last century, I think," series creator Shawn Ryan told Written By. The Shield, in style, put the accent on verisimilitude - both in terms of its editing style and in its fine multi-ethnic cast, with a complicated figure at the center - Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) who headed his department's rogue, anti-gang Strike Team.

Shawn Ryan on scripting one of The Shield's most disturbing and controversial episodes

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74. HOUSE -TIE

Created by David Shore

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Aired: FOX, 2004–2011

Creator David Shore's series came along a decade after ER and gave the medical drama a jolt, basing a show on a physician who didn't have a God complex so much as a complex that was vociferously godless. Gregory House, played by the British actor Hugh Laurie, was at once an omniscient and irascible figure, priding himself on the lack of comfort he gives. The idea for the procedural was brought to Shore by executive producer Paul Attanasio, who'd been reading a column in The New York Times Magazine called "Diagnosis" by Dr. Lisa Sanders, who became a consultant on House. Shore, at the end of his series' run, told Written By that he never thought of House as a medical drama. It was more an "exploration of philosophical issues. What is reality? What is true?" The rest, he said - the office romances, the stubborn mystery of a diagnosis - was "just the colorful ribbons we wrap around it."

David Shore on how to keep a show fresh and scripting the end of House

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74. MURPHY BROWN -TIE

Created by Diane English

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Aired: CBS, 1988–1998

Series creator Diane English left after four popular and award-winning seasons to create new shows, just as Murphy Brown's decision to become a single mother was blasted as morally irresponsible by then-Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle was just the sort of figure who was supposed to be threatened by a Murphy Brown. The show debuted as the Reagan '80s gave way to the Republican presidency of George H.W. Bush. "I was just trying to level the playing field," English said in 2006. "So I felt pretty justified, and somehow in the body of that actress, Candice Bergen, we got away with it. I give Candice a lot of credit for that, because people completely embraced her." Helped by Quayle's confirmation of Murphy as a political lightning rod, 70 million viewers tuned in to the fifth season opener.

Watch Candice Bergen present Diane English with the WGA Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television

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76. BARNEY MILLER -TIE

Created by Danny Arnold & Theodore J. Flicker

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Aired: ABC, 1975–1982

The air of world-weary sadness that hung over the denizens of the 12th Precinct made Barney Miller feel different from other sitcoms, quieter in personality and more offbeat - cops in action via inaction, dragging themselves around the squad room like drones in an office otherwise made colorful by the perps coming in off the street. "It was a radio drama," Franken Dungan, one of the show's writers, told The New York Times recently when the DVD collection of the series was released. "Wojo curling that paper into the typewriter was what police related to - the lack of action." Co-creator Theodore J. Flicker was nominated for aWriters GuildAward in 1968 for his original screenplay The President's Analyst. The show's other co-creator was its larger-than-life showrunner - Danny Arnold, whose writer-producer credits included That Girl, Bewitched and the Emmy-winning My Worldand Welcome To It.

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76. I, CLAUDIUS - TIE

Written by Robert Graves and Jack Pulman

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Aired: PBS, 1977–1978

ÔTwas the year of the miniseries: In January of 1977 Roots premiered on ABC; in March the network's scandalous hit Rich Man, Poor Man concluded, and in November, public television's Masterpiece Theater waded into the muck - albeit the rarefied muck - by airing the 13-hour I, Claudius from the BBC. Jack Pulman adapted the Robert Graves' novels to the small screen, with direction by Herbert Wise. The cast featured British royalty - Derek Jacobi as Claudius, John Hurt as Caligula, and Sian Phillips as Livia (the name, coincidentally or not, of another cold-blooded matriarch 30 years hence, on The Sopranos). In his review for The Washington Post, Tom Shales took American producer Joan Sullivan to task for excising out some of the nudity and gore endemic to the doings in Ancient Rome while concluding, "Despite the meddling of a nervous and presumptuous American producer, I, Claudius remains a rich and respectable sensation."

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78. THE ODD COUPLE

Episode 1, "The Fight of the Felix," Written by Peggy Elliott & Ed Scharlach

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Aired: ABC, 1970–1975

Neil Simon's hit Broadway play was directed by Mike Nichols and starred Walter Matthau and Art Carney. The hit film, directed by Gene Saks, again starred Matthau but this time opposite Jack Lemmon. The sitcom, developed by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, was never a hit in its five seasons. But hearing the names "Oscar and Felix" today, you picture Jack Klugman drying his hands on the kitchen curtains while Tony Randall gives the camera a weary stink eye. If decades of syndication explain why the TV series has overshadowed the stage play and movie, it also suggests the premise was marvelously suited for the sitcom form: Two adult male friends, veterans of their foibles, coming together in beautiful disharmony. The series had masterful old-soul joke writing and the kind of chemistry between its stars that seldom develops. Opposite Klugman's hangdog notes, Randall's fussbudget body language was both hilarious and poetic.

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79. ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS - TIE

Season One writers: Gwen Bagni, Samuel Blas, Robert Blees, Ray Bradbury, Richard Carr, James Cavanagh, Eustace Cockrell, Francis Cockrell, Marian Cockrell, John Collier, Robert C. Dennis, Mel Dinelli, Stanley Ellin, Fred Freiberger, Irwin Gielgud, Gina Kaus, Terence Maples, Richard Pedicini, Louis Pollock, Joseph Ruscoll, A.J. Russell, Stirling Silliphant, Andrew Solt, Harold Swanton, Victor Wolfson, Cornell Woolrich

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Aired: CBS 1955–1960; NBC, 1960–1962

Some of Hitchcock's most memorable films came out while he was hosting his anthology TV series, including Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho; Rear Window had come out the previous year. This helped, considering the airwaves at the time also offered The Twilight Zone, as well as the lesser-known horror/sci-fi/mystery programs One Step Beyond and Thriller, the latter hosted by Boris Karloff (The Outer Limits premiered in 1963, and Dark Shadows in 1966). Hitchcock's show, on which works by John Cheever, Roald Dahl and Ray Bradbury were adapted into teleplays (Robert Altman, George Stevens and Arthur Hiller, who also worked on Thriller, directed episodes) began of course with the man himself. The way Hitchcock intoned, "Good evening" turned it into a catch phrase. Today, prominent filmmakers direct pilots and lend their names to shows, but how many would have the chops to tape a cheeky cold open, week after week?

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79. MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS -TIE

Conceived and Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Neil Innes, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

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Aired: PBS, 1969–1974

Greatest comedy in the history of television? You wouldn't get an argument in some quarters. Though it didn't invent the comedic topography in which it played - sketch, slapstick, absurdist, cross-dressing - Python did, like anything with the atmosphere of being the first of something, excite, inspire, and dare comedians and comedy into new risks. Beyond its most popular sketches and oft-repeated lines ("Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?") the show seemed almost illegal for its frenetic energy and the way in which its wit careened from the historical to the quotidian. Though Python debuted on BBC One in England in 1969 and ran for four seasons, the series did not make it across the Atlantic - Dallas was the first public television affiliate to air it - until 1974, its growth in popularity coinciding with the group's first feature, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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79. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION -TIE

Created by Gene Roddenberry

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Aired: SYNDICATED, 1987–1994

For his follow-up to a sci-fi series phenomenon roughly the size of the cosmos, Gene Roddenberry wanted to demonstrate, as he put it in a 1991 Los Angeles Times Magazine article, "that TV need not be violent to be exciting." The article noted that Roddenberry's show bible for the future Peabody-winning Star Trek: Next Generation contained an entire list of 'thou shalt nots'" and the proviso: "Beware of spaceship battles: They cost enormous amounts of money and are not really as interesting as people conflicts." No longer helmed by Capt. Kirk but by Capt. Picard (the British actor Patrick Stewart), The Enterprise was still boldly going but its crew were less other-directed and more self-examining. SNG vets Rick Berman, Michael Spiller and Jeri Taylor would go on to co-create Star Trek: Voyager; another SNG writer, Rene Balcer, became one of the driving creative forces in the Law & Order franchise.

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79. UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS -TIE

Created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins

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Aired: PBS, 1974–1977

Long before the sotto voce buzz and chatter at Edwardian era Downton Abbey, there was 165 Eaton Place, London, and the Bellamy family. First aired on London Weekend Television (now ITV), Upstairs Downstairs put Masterpiece Theatre and the show's recumbent host, Alistair Cooke, on the map in the U.S. The show won the Emmy for producers Rex Firkin and John Hawkesworth from 1974-76. Upon his death in 2005, The Guardian newspaper noted that the chief writer and script editor of Upstairs, Downstairs, Alfred Shaugnessy, encouraged the producers to develop the series not as "a comedy series about two sparky maids in a grand household," but to encompass the grandees upstairs as well. "What he contributed was, literally, a class act," The Guardian wrote. "His stepfather, the Hon Sir Piers 'Joey' Legh, was equerry to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and master of the household to George VI."

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83–91




83. GET SMART

"Pilot," Written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry

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Aired: NBC, 1965–1970

Not having seen Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove - or Woody Allen in What's Up, Tiger Lily, for that matter - I didn't read Get Smart as a take-off on Cold War-esque, mutually assured destruction; I'm just now realizing the CONTROL vs. KAOS dichotomy. Discovering it in syndication, I more intuited the show as the B-side to the comic book machismo of superheroes, and I liked the old Jewish humor that lurked behind the show's Bond-like exterior. Buck Henry, who wrote the pilot with Mel Brooks, told the Los Angeles Times that it was executive producer Leonard Stern who came up with the opening title sequence in which Maxwell Smart so memorably arrives at the office, passing through a series of automatic doors before finally dropping through the bottom of a telephone booth. Rare, too, is the sitcom that can claim to have given guest starring roles to both Johnny Carson and Second City founder Del Close.

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84. GUNSMOKE - TIE

Episode 1, "Matt Gets It," Written by Charles Marquis Warren & John Meston

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Aired: CBS, 1955–1975

Already a hit on radio starring William Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke, starring James Arness, became the most popular Western in TV history and one of the longest running shows ever. John Meston and Norman MacDonnell are credited as creators of this "adult Western" on radio, which was adapted three years later into the TV series by Charles Marquis Warren. Warren, a novelist and screenwriter, had once been a young protŽgŽ of F. Scott Fitzgerald (according to Warren's obituary in the Los Angeles Times, an in-his-cups Fitzgerald, having met Warren in a Baltimore theater, formally adopted him as his godson and sent him to Hollywood to look into a film treatment for Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night). Warren left Gunsmoke after one season to do movies, but as Westerns enjoyed their TV heyday in the '50s and '60s, Warren would return to do Rawhide and The Virginian.

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84. THE DEFENDERS - TIE

Created by Reginald Rose

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Aired: CBS, 1961–1965

Reginald Rose won two Emmys for his writing on The Defenders, which continued in the vein of the work for which he was most known for writing, Twelve Angry Men. The Defenders was based on a two-part episode Rose had written for the 1957 live NBC anthology series Studio One, in which Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner portrayed a father-and-son defense team whose client, played by Steve McQueen, is on trial for murder. In doing The Defenders, Rose and producer Herbert Brodkin (Studio One, Playhouse 90) fashioned a series in which the cases of the father and son (co-stars E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed) sometimes asked complex moral questions of the audience. In the infamous episode called "The Benefactor," for instance, their client was a doctor who'd performed an abortion. It made The Defenders as much a pioneer of the social issues drama as the legal series.

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86. JUSTIFIED - TIE

Developed by Television by Graham Yost, Based on the Short Story "Fire in the Hole" by Elmore Leonard

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Aired: FX, 2010–Present

Graham Yost, after working on two major miniseries for HBO, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, segued into something entirely different in Justified. A sort of hard-boiled Western, the series is based on a character, U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, who appeared in several Elmore Leonard novels, and the pilot was based on Leonard's short story, "Fire in the Hole." The series is set in a specific place, a hardscrabble, coal mining region of eastern Kentucky where the locals are battling meth addiction and corporate mining concerns and now Givens, the lawman reassigned from Miami and sent back into his rural roots. Leonard's tonal palette is a guiding light; behind the scenes, bracelets were made up with the letters W.W.E.D Ð What Would Elmore Do. "They're trying to stay in my mind, you know, and write offbeat lines and hard lines and do what I do, and I think it's great," Leonard said.

Elmore Leonard on why he doesn't outline and what he does when he gets stuck

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86. SGT. BILKO (THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW) - TIE

Created by Nat Hiken

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Aired: CBS, 1955–1959

In a New York Times article in 1996, when the movie version of Sgt. Bilko was to be released, David Everitt, author of the book King of the Half Hour: Nat Hiken and the Golden Age of TV Comedy, paid homage to one of early TV's great overlooked comedy writer figures, dating back to Fred Allen on radio. "An informal 1956 poll of comedy writers published in Time Magazine named Nat Hiken as the 'finest writer in TV today,'" Everitt pointed out, "a striking tribute considering the fact that television comedy staffs at the time included such future luminaries as Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen." Hiken's collaboration with the hilarious comedy king Silvers produced the character of Ernie Bilko, an Army sergeant embroiling himself Ð and his men Ð in various schemes, often in the pursuit of fast cash (the series was called You'll Never Get Rich when it debuted).

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88. BAND OF BROTHERS

Written by Erik Bork, E. Max Frye, Tom Hanks, Erik Jendresen, Bruce C. McKenna, John Orloff, Graham Yost; Based on the Book by Stephan E. Ambrose

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Aired: HBO, 2001

The television miniseries had traditionally gone to war, but Band of Brothers did so with a budget that reportedly stretched to $120 million. This had not a little to do with HBO's expansive branding ambitions after the twin successes of The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks teamed up to make Band happen, working from the book by Stephen E. Ambrose, who had been a consultant on Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The harrowing opening sequence of that film depicted the invasion of Normandy Beach on D-Day. The miniseries revisited D-Day but by air, instead of sea, as the members of Easy Company became the first Americans to parachute in behind enemy lines to repel German forces. The 10 installments gave viewers a lavish, personalized history lesson by following the men of Easy Company from their training to the liberation of the concentration camps.

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89. ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN

Season One: Written by Chris Beard, Phil Hahn, John Hanrahan, Coslough Johnson, Paul Keyes, Marc London, Allan Manings, David Panich, Hugh Wedlock, Digby Wolfe

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Aired: NBC, 1968–1973

Unlike other landmark comedy variety series, most notably Saturday Night Live, It's impossible to talk about Laugh-In without viewing it through the lens of its times, the late 1960s and early '70s. On Laugh-In, there were pratfalls galore, zany recurring sketches and a drumbeat of one-liners, all of it pitched to a new zeitgeist. The whole thing suggested a cocktail party where the open bar had been humming for hours, with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin your lubricated hosts. Producer George Schlatter has credited Digby Wolfe, who in his native England had written for the BBC's satire That Was The Week That Was, as the man who not only came up with the name for the show but served as the its de facto minister of comedy. Among those who passed through as writers were Lorne Michaels, a Canadian transplant testing out his comedy chops with then-partner Hart Pomerantz.

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90. THE PRISONER

Premiere Episode: Written by George Markstein and David Tomblin

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Aired: CBS, 1968

A strange, psychedelic amalgam of Cold War spy fiction, sci-fi and Kafka-esque anti-authoritarianism, The Prisoner starred Patrick McGoohan as Number Six. The first of the series' 17 hours sees McGoohan's character resign angrily from his spy job, whereupon he goes home to pack for vacation, is drugged, and wakes up on a mysterious island village. ÒThe VillageÓ is at once bucolic and cookie-cutter, almost like a theme park. That all of this happens during the opening title sequence is an indication that the story has yet stranger turns to make. Number Six becomes a sort of rat in a maze, surveilled to prevent escape Ð that is, not without giving up information. McGoohan was a principal collaborator in getting The Prisoner to air and on its subsequent scripts, working with producer David Tomblin and script supervisor George Markstein. AMC tried a recent remake, but the original is, well, original.

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91. ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS (U.K.) - TIE

Episode 1, "Fashion," Written by Jennifer Saunders, Based on an original idea by Jennifer Saunders & Dawn French

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Aired: BBC, 1992–2004

Jennifer Saunders was already known in the U.K. as part of the comedy double act French and Saunders when she created "Ab Fab," which featured the besotted exploits of middle-aged gal pals Edina (Saunders) and Patsy, played by Joanna Lumley. Absolutely Fabulous did earn a strong cult following in the U.S. with its satirical outrageousness, and in certain ways, it spoke to a durable double standard in comedy: Why can men commit all manner of depravity and still be considered likable but not women? The drinking, drugging, shagging, and other women-behaving-badly-like antics of Edina and Patsy now seem like one teetering step forward for, say, a character like Samantha Jones on Sex and the City, or even the wonderful misadventures of the cast of Bridesmaids.

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91. THE MUPPET SHOW -TIE

Season One: Written by Jack Burns, Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Marc London

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Aired: SYNDICATED, 1976–1981

Behind Jim Henson's genius and generosity of spirit were writers who shared his vision for puppetry that could tickle kids while delighting adults. They had worked with Henson going back before Sesame Street and followed him as the Muppets multiplied, springing to richer and richer life. On The Muppet Show, the characters were in showbiz now Ð with Kermit the Frog the impresario of a kind of variety show that peered at itself backstage, had a house band (The Electric Mayhem), a diva ingŽnue (Miss Piggy), balcony hecklers (Statler and Waldorf) and a human celebrity guest star. On the writing side, Henson's collaborators included head writer Jerry Juhl (winner of five Writers Guild Awards), Jon Stone (who wrote one of two pilots for the series, called "Sex and Violence with the Muppets"), Marc London (Laugh-in), and Jack Burns, of the comedy team Burns and Schreiber, head writer during the first season.

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93–101




93. BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Created by Terence Winter, Based on the Book Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

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Aired: HBO, 2010–Present

As a writer on The Sopranos, Terence Winter's name is on some of the show's most iconic episodes, including "Pine Barrens," and "Long Term Parking," in which a mobster's fiancŽ was taken out. His first series as showrunner is a kaleidoscope of Prohibition-era Americana, set in Atlantic City, where corrupt politicians intermingle with mob bosses for control of black market liquor. Winter's show is based on the book of the same name, by Nelson Johnson. "I started with the book Boardwalk Empire and then immersed myself in the history of Atlantic City, World War I, the temperance movement, Prohibition, pop culture," Winter recently told Wired magazine. "I even read the news and magazines of the period just to soak in it. That was before I even started thinking of the story."

Terence Winter on working with Martin Scorsese and the real history behind Boardwalk Empire

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94. WILL & GRACE

Created by David Kohan & Max Mutchnick

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Aired: NBC, 1998–2006

The season prior to Will & Grace's debut had seen TV history, when Ellen Degeneres' sitcom alter ego came out as a lesbian in a two-part episode of ABC's Ellen. Not only did the sky not fall, but along came Will & Grace. The show, in the end, didn't do much for gay rights, but nor did it intend be anything other than a sharp, witty, and fast comedy about urbanites with luxurious problems, a little more adult than the milieu at Friends but equally about the familial bonds of friendship. By virtue of its success, the show did create serious elbow room for gay characters in the not-quite-real world of the network situation comedy, so long as they remained as charmingly fey as Jack (Sean Hayes) or as discreetly sexual and put-together as Will (Erik McCormack).

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95. FAMILY TIES

Created by Gary David Goldberg

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Aired: NBC, 1982–1989

In 1986, The Washington Post reported that at a White House ceremony honoring 141 high school students selected as presidential scholars for achievement in academics, the arts and leadership, President Reagan called Family Ties his favorite TV show, pointing to how "the wider culture is once again beginning to respect, even to celebrate, family life." Evidently, the President hardly minded that the main butt of the show's jokes was a buttoned-down young Republican. Alex P. Keaton was something of a Frankenstein monster - at once a likeable young man, a know-it-all, and a lobbyist for Big Business (star Michael J. Fox was good enough to endear us to all three parts of the character). That his parents were ex-hippie peaceniks whose nostalgia for the free-loving '60s was also gently mocked is now proof that back in the '80s, at least on this classic sitcom, partisanship wasn't a zero-sum game.

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96. LONESOME DOVE - TIE

Teleplay by Bill Wittliff, Based on the Novel Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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Aired: CBS, 1989

"It was so big, and at that moment, Westerns were dead," Bill Wittliff, who adapted Larry McMurtry's novel into the acclaimed miniseries, told the San Antonio Express-News in 2007. The only thing deader were miniseries, and here we had both. So it was a miracle it got made at all. The movie god really did look out for us." It helped, too, to have a cast that included Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Angelica Huston and Diane Lane - not to mention McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative, his facility with the iconography of the Old West, its characters and mythic journeys. Wittliff had already written the screenplay for the 1984 film Country, and he would later adapt Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm to the big screen.

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96. SOAP - TIE

Created by Susan Harris

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Aired: ABC, 1977–1981

What more could you want from a primetime satire of daytime soaps? The comedy, centered around the extended family circus of the wealthy Tates and the middle-class Campbells, hit all the soapy plot points and then some Ð extramarital affairs, major crimes, spells of amnesia, a guy abducted by aliens and cloned, another guy who talks only through his puppet, transvestitism, incest, asexuality, homosexuality, a demon spawn, and the butler who had to put up with all the shenanigans. Pre-debut, the bawdiness made some ABC affiliates red-faced, but the series was the highest rated new comedy of the 1977-78 season. Soap also established the highly fruitful partnership between creator Susan Harris and producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, whose production mantle, Witt/Thomas/Harris, turned out a steady diet of sitcoms throughout the 1980s and into the '90s, from the Soap spinoff Benson to It's a Living, Empty Nest, and Golden Girls.

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98. LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN - TIE

Season One: Writing Supervised by Merrill Markoe, Writers: Andy Breckman, Tom Gammill, David Letterman, Richard Morris, Gerard Mulligan, Max Pross, Karl Tiedemann, Steve Winer

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Aired: NBC, 1982–1993 (Late Show with David Letterman); CBS, 1993–Present

The sort of irony that David Letterman popularized on his show involved, for starters, calling attention to the fact that he was doing a talk show. If Carson at 11:30 was so polished you couldn't see the gears moving, Letterman an hour later wanted to start by calling attention to the gears, then work his way toward integrating them into the world of his show. All of this conceptual nonchalance required writing to make it look unscripted. Letterman played with the cameras, turned assorted oddball guests into minor celebrities, called his mother at home and spoke to his producer in the control room (repeatedly mispronouncing his name). Two of the most popular segments that Letterman and his writers came up with had "Stupid" in the title. Letterman and his collaborator Merrill Markoe had been here before, but in morning TV, having created the short-lived David Letterman Show.

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98. LOUIE -TIE

Season One: Written and Directed by Louis C.K.

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Aired: FX, 2010–Present

The show, about a bemused comedian and divorced father of two girls, has the feel of honest autobiography. It's also told differently - less as a running comedic idea that builds to combustion than as loosely connected vignettes, almost like short films, about a lonely man in New York City. It's sad, in a real and funny way. For C.K. the series comes after decades as a stand-up, during which he wrote for The Chris Rock Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien and created the short-lived sitcom Lucky Louie on HBO. The construct of Lucky Louie was to think outside the box from within the old box, parodying the family sitcom by making the language harsher and the atmosphere darker. Louie is much more heartfelt and grounded, and it has real grace notes. C.K., who scripts and directs the shows himself, won an Emmy for writing the episode "Pregnant."

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98. THE FUGITIVE -TIE

Episode 1, "Where the Action Is," Written by Harry Kronman

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Aired: ABC, 1963–1967

The series finale set a ratings record with a 72 percent share, and went down as history-making for the way it gave audiences a climax to all the tension it had built up over four seasons. Structurally, the show captured the imagination both as an ongoing saga (wrongfully accused man escapes custody, goes on quixotic quest to clear name by searching for the illusive One-Armed Man) and an episodic one, given the various characters and situations Dr. Richard Kimble encountered along the way. The executive producer was Quinn Martin of The Streets of San Francisco fame. The Fugitive and its good-guy outlaw themes are still oft-imitated, not just literally (a feature film and recent big-budget Fox remake of the series), but metaphorically as well.

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101. OZ

Created by Tom Fontana

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Aired: HBO, 1997–2003

Before The Sopranos, or The Wire, there was Oz, the first dramatic series produced by HBO (HBO had produced comedies, including The Larry Sanders Show, but not a drama). As Tom Fontana told The New York Times in 2001, then-HBO president Chris Albrecht liberated him to make a show without over-regard for audience sympathy. Coming from writing for honest network drama (St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street), HBO's dramatic license gave him the freedom to break from the expectation of false uplift or redemption - crucial, given that Fontana's series was set inside the brutal world of a maximum-security penitentiary, and inside the minds of some disturbed individuals. "It's like Shakespeare or Greek tragedy," Fontana said. "All the characters are bold in their action. It's all rooted in my Latin and Greek from the Jesuits. I loved Edith Hamilton, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Shakespeare. They were my boys."

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