Friday, December 07, 2007

The Top 100 Shows of All-Time: How I made the list

When creating a "top 100" anything list, you have to decide if you're going to rate based on favoritism, sheer greatness or level of influence. I decided to throw all of that out and rate everything by some weird combination of the three -- in this manner, shows that I don't horribly like that were incredibly influential crept onto the list in the bottom 25, and shows that I really do like that weren't influential at all sit next to those series in the bottom 25.

What doesn't help is that series TV is the easiest artform to overrate, simply because we spend so much time with it that the flaws become less noticeable with time and blend into the background.

The rankings are sort of arbitrary. I wrote out a list of almost 500 series I thought deserved consideration for one list or another, then whittled down at it. First, I ranked all series on a scale of 1 to 10, based on how much I thought they DESERVED to be on the list -- an influential series I didn't like would get a score of, say, seven, while an influential series I DID like would get a score closer to 10. From there, I took everything with a score of five or higher and ended up with a master list of around 200 programs (all of which appear on one or another of these lists).

At this point, I removed the ten programs I consider my favorites of all-time, then ranked them by a combination of influence and critical acclaim, with my own preferences entering in every so often. With the top ten set in stone, I set about ranking the other 190 against each other, simply by putting things I liked more ahead of things I liked less. These initial rankings were a little weird, so I weighted for influence and critical acclaim, then ran them by some other people to make sure nothing stuck out TOO much. After a few minor tweaks, I arrived at the list.

This is why, outside of the top ten, you shouldn't be too concerned with where things rank. I certainly think show #15 is better than show #95, but I'm not so sure it's that much better than show #16 or even show #25. I tried to place shows in "tiers," reserving space in the bottom 25 for a LOT of very recent series I thought deserved a little exposure.

Insofar as recent series go, I decided to err on the side of overpraise than complete caution. We've had enough time with something like Leave It to Beaver to accurately assess it, I think. We haven't had that much time with, say, How I Met Your Mother. But I tend to be someone who is really impressed by ambition, even if that naked ambition falls flat, so I'm more likely to enjoy a modern series that shoots for the moon than an older series that hits its formula consistently but rarely steps outside of the box. Obviously, I tried to make room for older shows, but there are quite a few 2000s shows on the list, which may strike some of you as strange but strikes me as necessary.

But I needed some additional ground rules. So here they are.

1.) Only series. I decided early on that comparing TV series of different genres to each other was hard enough. Grouping in things that were designed to run a specific amount of time made things too odd for me, plus I am not nearly as well-versed in the history of TV movies and miniseries as I am in the history of series. There will be a supplemental list of miniseries, made-for-TV movies and specials that will go up soon.

2.) I ultimately ended up including ONLY shows that debuted on American television, despite having to bump my #2 show to do so. I will go into more detail on this when I do a list of 10 foreign series that I like. I know that such a thing would be impossible in the worlds of film or literature, but the U.S. gets such an incomplete picture of foreign TV (with much of it historically airing sporadically on PBS) that for now, it seems better to exile it. In ten years time, when everything is readily available on DVD, this probably won't be the case.

3.) Anything that started out as a movie in the U.S. was not included. Fanny and Alexander is one of my favorite films of all time, but I came to know it as a film, not a television series.

4.) A show had to have aired one complete season for consideration. Hence, Mad Men was eligible, but not Pushing Daisies.

5.) How bad a show got only affected the show's ranking if it greatly outweighed how good the show was at some point or if a bad season pointed out flaws inherent in the show's template. I cut no shows that I genuinely loved simply because they got awful at some point (as you'll see several times). This has led to some shifting around by shows that are having currently trying times, but that's the nature of serialized television.

6.) I TRIED to limit myself to two shows per creator. Obviously, this isn't exactly fair to them, but I wanted the list to offer up ideas for rentals and such, so there you go. So if you really like one series by Bochco, you might like others by him.

7.) I've tried to gather as much information as possible, but if you have questions, please ask.

8.) I tried to limit myself to shows that I've seen enough of to have an opinion on. There's one VERY highly ranked show that I've only seen a handful of episodes of, but we'll deal with that when we come to it. There will be a list of blind spots I have coming up later.

On with the list!

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