In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
I probably watch too much television. It’s relaxing, entertaining, and nowadays it’s easier than ever to tune in. When I was growing up, I had to watch what was on one of the 60 or so channels we had from our cable provider. And unless I wanted to set up a VCR timed recording, I had to watch it when it was broadcast or else miss it entirely.
Today, the number of channels has ballooned into the thousands. Recording multiple shows can be done with the push of a button using the DVR. On-demand services like HBO Go, Netflix, the Watch ESPN app, the WWE Network, etc., put TV viewing on my schedule. Plus, mobile devices like my iPad or iPhone give me the ability to watch TV on the go. On the track “BBC” from his Magna Carta Holy Grail album, Jay-Z raps “my whole life is leisure.” With the TV technology available to me today, sometimes I feel that way, especially during the summer, prime time for a teacher to catch up on some of the TV missed during the hustle and bustle of the school year.
My list of all-time favorite TV shows includes some current chart-toppers as well as some childhood classics. My list clearly shows my preference for comedies, and it also has some noticeable absentees. Sorry, fans of Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and INSERT YOUR BEST TELEVISION SERIES EVER THAT I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HERE. I haven’t watched any of them, at least not yet. For what it’s worth, I came up with more than 20 honorable mentions in compiling this list, so kudos to the programs that did make the final cut.
The 1960s live action television series was broadcast daily right as I was getting home from school every day in kindergarten along with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Batman gets the slight edge from me. I’ll never forget the show’s theme music,
the Dynamic Duo of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, respectively, and the familiar refrain to “Tune in tomorrow: same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!” Also, I’m not sure, but I think Catwoman may have been my first schoolboy crush.
29. Mad TV
There was a period during the late 90s and early 2000s when I tuned in to watch Fox’s Mad TV over NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Featuring the likes of Alex Borstein, Mo Collins, Pat Kilbane, Phil LaMarr, Michael McDonald, Will Sasso, Aries Spears, Nicole Sullivan, and Debra Wilson, Mad TV produced a lot of laughs during my teenage years. Sasso’s Kenny Rogers, McDonald’s original “Stuart” character, Borstein’s original “Ms. Swan” character, and later, Frank Caliendo’s John Madden impression stand out years later among my favorites.
28. Chappelle’s Show
Cut short when star and co-creator Dave Chappelle walked away from the show during season three, Chappelle’s Show was a hilarious, groundbreaking sketch comedy show that aired between 2003-2006, just as I was finishing high school and beginning college. Highlights included “A Moment in the Life of Lil’ Jon”, “Wayne Brady’s Show”, and the Rick James and Prince sketches from “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.”
27. Sesame Street
Big Bird was as important as Hulk Hogan in the early years of my life. Cookie Monster shared my taste in sweets. I dressed as Oscar the Grouch for Halloween, and my parents would probably tell you the title fit even better than the costume. As author Malcolm Gladwell has stated, “Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.” It has been many years since I last watched Sesame Street, but as a teacher and hopefully a future parent, I love that children are still singing “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?” after more than 4,000 episodes.
In the early 90s, I was introduced to the concept of an Internet modem through a children’s television series called Ghostwriter. The show was focused around a cast of kids who weren’t much older than me. The character Ghostwriter was an invisible ghost who helped the kids solve neighborhood crimes and mysteries, and because this was a PBS show, it promoted reading and critical thinking skills among the viewers as well. Education plus entertainment plus technology was a winning formula for me!
25. Late Night with Conan O’Brien
Before his ill-fated time as host of The Tonight Show and current gig hosting Conan on TBS, O’Brien was the long-time host of NBC’s Late Night franchise (1993-2009, to be exact). The late night talk show scene has become very busy in recent years, but Conan was my go-to favorite during the time in my life when I was up late enough to be able to watch. Honorable mentions to Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel, and Kilborn. Dishonorable mention to Leno. No mention at all to Craig Ferguson.
24. Full House
Full House was a part of the original TGIF lineup on ABC. I enjoyed growing up with the Tanner family. Bob Saget as Danny Tanner was a personal favorite of mine. I can relate to his cleanliness and sense of humor. Who could ever forget Uncle Jesse and the Rippers or Joey Gladstone’s cartoon voices? As for the daughters, I never cared too much for DJ, but I was all in on Stephanie’s “how rude!” and everything Michelle did used to just floor me back in the day.
23. Family Matters
Family Matters joined the TGIF family a year for the 1989-90 season. The show’s unofficial title was “Urkel”, who quickly became one of my favorite characters. Perhaps I related to the nerdy, oversized glasses? In any case, his famous “Did I do that?” catchphrase provided endless entertainment over the next several years as did his persistent, unsuccessful attempts to woo neighbor Laura Winslow.
Based on his sense of humor, his taste in music, and the subject matter in his films, I feel like Zach Braff and I could be friends in real life. He played Dr. John Michael “J.D.” Dorian, the lead role in Scrubs, a medical comedy-drama that ran for nine seasons. The show is told from the unique perspective of J.D. and features frequent introspective voiceovers from Braff commenting on hospital life and life in general. The combination of good laughs and good life lessons worked for me on a consistent basis. Bonus points for Lazlo Bane’s “Superman” as the show’s theme song.
Community is one of the smartest and most unique shows I’ve ever watched. The show regularly plays with common television tropes. Parodying a genre sometimes becomes the focus of an entire episode. It’s meta-humor storytelling forces the viewer to approach the show in a different way than the average sitcom. The tremendous cast will be back again next season, too, after Yahoo! announced they are picking up the show that was canceled by NBC after last season. Hooray! It’s not the darkest timeline after all. (See Season 3, Episode 3 “Remedial Chaos Theory”)
20. Orange Is The New Black
Many people were skeptical when Netflix got into the original programming business. After two seasons, Orange Is The New Black has proved all the critics wrong. A gripping tale of life inside a low-security women’s prison, Orange is equal parts drama, comedy, and social critique. Although the inmates provide no shortage of humorous situations and snappy one-liners, as soon as you get caught up in the comedic aspects, the show will turn and hit you in the face with a dose of reality that makes you realize all of these imprisoned women are real people with real histories. Prejudices are on full display throughout the series, including those of the viewer. Sometimes the reasons these women end up in prison make you question if they’re actually much more similar to you than different.
19. American Gladiators
I’m talking about the original iteration of the show, which ran from 1989-1996. I can remember re-enacting events in my basement with my dad playing the role of gladiator. Season five winner Wesley “Two Scoops” Berry was the best athlete this side of Bo Jackson. His eliminator comeback, led by an insanely fast cargo net climb remains one of the most impressive athletic feats I’ve ever watched. Fun fact: the concept for American Gladiators was created by Dan Carr and John C. Ferraro of Erie, who held the original competition at Erie Tech High School, before selling the idea.
18. All That
Clearly I’m a fan of sketch comedy. Nickelodeon’s All That was essentially its attempt at producing an SNL for kids. Debuting in 1994, my 10-year-old self would say they did an excellent job. With a cast that included future SNL veteran Kenan Thompson, All That was all that a 10-year-old could want on a Saturday night. Famous skits/segments included “Repairman,” “Earboy,” “Everyday French with Pierre Escargot,” “The Loud Librarian,” and “Good Burger,” which would go on to become a movie.
17. Kenan & Kel
Building on their success on All That, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell got their own show as part of the SNICK (Saturday night Nickelodeon) lineup. Kel loves orange soda. Kenan has a proclivity for getting into trouble. And the combination was comedy gold for four seasons from 1996-2000.
16. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
I was late to the party on this one, probably because it aired on FX, a channel that I otherwise never watched. Once I started watching though, I was hooked. Based (obviously) in Philadelphia, the show is based around a group of self-centered friends who run a bar. They’re constantly getting in each other’s way and manipulating each other, using to humorous, absurd ends.
15. The Colbert Report
Colbert’s commitment to the faux-conservative character he plays as host of the political satire is top notch. The writing on this show is consistently among the best in television, but without Colbert’s mastery as an oblivious buffoon, it wouldn’t work as well as it has for so many years. Sadly, the show and the character will be put to rest with the real Stephen Colbert takes over the Late Show on CBS next year, replacing David Letterman. Here’s hoping he picks up the pace to finish the final 300+ installments of his 434-part “Better Know a District” series.
14. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
It’s important to include Stewart in the title here because while the show previously existed with a different host, it is Stewart who made it THE place for many people (including yours truly) to get news coverage, albeit slanted, satirized, humor-filled news. Still, I wouldn’t have had much of a clue about current events in high school or college without Stewart’s smart comedic take on things. He proved that you can be smart, funny, and into politics, a conclusion I never would’ve believed previously.
13. New Girl
Zooey Deschanel’s foray into television proved to be a win-win as her show was one that my wife Jessie and I both laughed at, usually at different points. The rest of the cast is great too, even Winston, though I was very excited when they brought back Coach. The relationship stuff between Nick and Jess is questionable, but nothing’s perfect. Nick’s heartfelt monologues with the old Asian guy were laugh-out-loud funny, and Schmidt’s douchebag jar is a great running gag that never gets old.
12. Happy Endings
Happy Endings tops the list of shows that were canceled too early for my liking. Based around six friends living in Chicago, no show made Jessie and I laugh more on a week-in, week-out basis than Happy Endings. Whether it was Brad and Jane’s crazy-fun married relationship, Dave and Alex’s awkward on-again, off-again relationship, Max being anything but a gay stereotype, or Penny saying or doing pretty much anything, Happy Endings was really funny. The dialogue was fast-paced and witty and the storylines weaved the characters lives together in the way that friends’ lives often do. Unfortunately the ratings never matched the quality of the show, and it was canceled after three seasons. That’s anything but a-mah-zing.
11. Family Guy
The referential humor and random cutaways are what I’ll always remember most about Family Guy. And Peter fighting the giant chicken. And the talking baby Stewie hell-bent on world domination or at least taking out his mother Lois. And the talking dog who is also an aspiring author with a drinking problem. Bottom line, the show and creator Seth MacFarlane are funny, plain and simple.
10. Modern Family
This is another show that I was late to get on board with. Fortunately, through syndication, I’ve caught up on the laughs I missed the first time around. The writing on Modern Family never disappoints. Each episode is packed full of great lines, and the storylines are pieced together flawlessly too. From Cam and Mitch as America’s favorite gay couple to the wit of Phil Dunphy to the cyncism of Jay (and his love of Barkley the Butler!) to the squabbles between the sisters there’s something and someone for everyone to enjoy about Modern Family.
9. The Simpsons
Admittedly, I have fallen off The Simpsons bandwagon the past few years, a casualty of a busier schedule. However, I have seen every episode from the first 20 seasons or so. I used to own Homer Simpson slippers. The show was and is a cultural phenomenon. It’s staying power is unheard of in primetime television. Like its characters, the show hasn’t shown any aging and remains funny to this day. An all-time classic, without a doubt.
8. Pardon The Interruption (PTI)
Since debuting in 2001, PTI has aired thousands of episodes, primarily with the shows original two hosts, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, yelling at each other about the hottest sports topics of the day. The format set the standard for a bevy of copycats over the years, but none has been able to replicate the on-screen chemistry of Wilbon and Kornheiser, two friends who have made an artform out of the barroom sports argument. With quick-paced, timed segments and a rundown of what’s on tap, the show’s format is perfect for the short attention span of the 21st-century viewer.
7. Saturday Night Live (SNL)
The SNL cast members Wikipedia page reads like a who’s who of comedy. I wasn’t alive when the likes of Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray were on SNL. I was too young to stay up late and laugh with the likes of Sandler, Farley, and Myers. But by the time, Ferrell, Fallon, and Fey were rocking Studio 8H, I was fully invested. There are too many sketches and performers to note favorites. To this day, if my Saturday night plans take me away from home, SNL is a high DVR priority.
6. Mad Men
As the series nears its conclusion next season, Mad Men has the attention of television critics everywhere. This series sits at or near the top of what many are calling the “Golden Age” of television. Jon Hamm as Don Draper is one of television’s best complex characters, and the rest of the cast is not far behind. This series dove head first into the decade of the 1960s and the world of advertising, and after six and a half seasons navigating muddy waters, most of us still aren’t ready to come up for air.
The “show about nothing” turned out to be the biggest sitcom of the 90s. Although, I was too young to catch most of the episodes when they were originally broadcast, I now own the entire series on DVD. Between the discs and Seinfeld‘s ever-present existence in syndication, I have watched every episode and most episodes more than once. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Double dipping the chip, “The Contest”, Kramer driving the bus and still making all the stops, the close talker, yada-yada-yada. I could go on and on. Seinfeld definitely earned its spot in the top five.
4. The Office (U.S. version)
I watched every episode of The Office as it aired and, like Seinfeld, the series is incredibly rewatchable on DVD or in syndication. The show’s single-camera fake documentary style of filming was a new technique that I hadn’t seen before. It was scripted comedy presented like reality television. The antics of Steve Carrell as Dundler Mifflin’s Scranton regional manager Michael Scott were hysterical, and the relationship of Jim and Pam ranks number two on my list of television couples (see Boy Meets World entry on this list for my number one). Jim and Pam’s wedding episode “Niagara” from Season 6, featuring the cast’s version of the epic Chris Brown “Forever” wedding dance is one of my personal favorites, along with the Yankee Swap “Christmas Party” episode from Season 2.
3. Boy Meets World
When Boy Meets World debuted in 1993, young Cory Matthews was in 6th grade in Philadelphia, and I was in third grade in Erie. As Cory was meeting the world, so was I. As Cory was falling for Topanga, I was developing my first crushes on girls. We both learned life lessons from the wisest character on the show, Mr. Feeny, and we both followed in his footsteps by becoming teachers—me in real life and Cory in Disney’s new show Girl Meets World, which sees Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel reprising their roles as Cory and Topanga. The episode when Cory and best friend Shawn Hunter try to navigate between a pro wrestling match between Vader and Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the school dance is a personal favorite of mine. And there are countless lines of dialogue that Jessie and I still reference today: “You made me quit my ukelele lessons!” “Hey banana boy, ya wanna be a star?” “They want you to take the rolls!” “My hosiery is bunching!” And of course Eric’s Feeny call: “Fee-hee-hee-heen-ay!” The list could go on and on, but at the heart of the series was the relationship between Cory and Topanga. What can I say, I’m a romantic, always have been. And for many years growing up, that love is what I aspired to.
2. WWE Monday Night Raw
When Monday Night Raw debuted on Jan. 11, 1993, I’d like to say that I was watching, but I was not. The original Hulkamania era of the then WWF was at its tail end and my interest was waning. A few years later though I was back, fully invested for what became known as the Attitude Era of the late 90s and early 2000s. My fandom has ebbed and flowed over the years, but all it takes is the right match or promo to reel me back in. On June 27, 2011, CM Punk delivered such a promo at the conclusion of Raw, a “pipe bomb” that had the world debating whether it was real (a shoot) or scripted (a work). Punk brought me back, and I don’t know if I have missed an episode of Raw since. After well over 1,000 episodes, Raw is still going strong.
As impressive as some of these other shows are, none of them can hold a candle to ESPN’s franchise program, SportsCenter. Debuting on Sept. 7, 1979—five years to the day before I was born—SportsCenter has been a staple of both ESPN as a network and me as a person. Since first grade, my daily routine has involved waking up in the morning and watching SportsCenter to catch up on the scores and highlights from the previous day/night in sports. Over the years ESPN had broadcast more than 50,000 unique episodes of SportsCenter, and that figure doesn’t even include the late night repeat episodes. I wish I knew how many episodes I’ve watched, but I can guarantee it is in the thousands if not tens of thousands. From Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann to Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen to Stan Verrett and Neil Everett, the SportsCenter anchors have been my go-to hosts for sports information, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Bonus points for their hilarious “This Is SportsCenter” advertisement campaign.