The 50 best TV shows of all time
Posted May 19, 2016
To many of us, television is a daily part of our lives. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American watches 2.8 hours of television per day. There's no denying it, we love to escape to distant worlds, laugh at bizarre cartoons, and hold our breath while our favorite protagonists escape zombies — or just ex-girlfriends with unusually large hands.
Since we choose to spend the majority of our leisure time this way, PrettyFamous, part of the Graphiq network, wanted to find the best television shows out there. We looked at TV shows with over 30,000 votes on IMDb, and then ranked them by our comprehensive Smart Rating. The Smart Rating is a score that takes into account ratings from Metacritic, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and number of IMDb votes, as well as how many Emmy awards the show has won.
Many of these shows are still going strong, and have been renewed for multiple seasons, while one was canceled after only one (fantastic) season. Some animated series made the list — one even ranks in the top five. But it's the intense dramas that rule the television throne.
#50. Family Guy
Smart Rating: 86.39
Debuting in 1999, "Family Guy" is Seth MacFarlane's social commentary cartoon that's lasted 14 seasons. However, the show endured two cancellations, one after season two and another after the third season. In 2003, over 111,000 people signed a petition to bring the show back. It's a good thing "Family Guy" came back, so we can all enjoy scenes like this.
#49. Malcolm in the Middle
Smart Rating: 86.51
"Malcolm in the Middle" is about a dysfunctional family centered around Malcolm, played by Frankie Muniz. Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston were each nominated for Golden Globe awards for their roles as parents Lois and Hal in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Bryan Cranston went on to star in another show on this list.
#48. Boardwalk Empire
Smart Rating: 86.56
"Boardwalk Empire" was created by Terence Winter, the creative mind behind "The Sopranos" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." In 2011, the show won Golden Globe awards for best television series (drama) and best actor in a television series (drama). Audiences enjoyed Steve Buscemi's performance as real-life 1920s politician/gangster Nucky Thompson, who once said "if you want to be a gangster in my town, then you'll have to pay for the privilege."
Smart Rating: 86.59
Some fans are still humming the theme song, "I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me."
In Joss Whedon's dystopian future, Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew travel aboard the Serenity, transporting goods around the galaxy, until some very precious and potentially dangerous cargo comes aboard. To the disappointment of many, Fox canceled the series after only one brief season. Luckily, the 2005 film "Serenity" ties up loose ends from the show, but some fans still feel the cancellation was "geek treason."
Smart Rating: 86.65
"Arrow" is the CW's take on the DC Comic "Green Arrow." Stephen Amell stars as Oliver Green, a mysterious billionaire with an affinity for hooded clothing. To the delight of many fans, the CW has renewed the show through 2017.
Smart Rating: 86.68
The creators of "The Simpsons," David S. Cohen and Matt Groening, designed a futuristic world in which a variety of alien creatures interact with humans. Fry, a pizza delivery boy from 1999, is catapulted to 2999 and gets into various sticky situations around the galaxy. Fox canceled the show during season five, but Comedy Central picked it up for two additional seasons.
Smart Rating: 86.76
Aaron Korch, the creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond," decided to take a more serious turn with the show "Suits," a dark comedy about an unexpected duo teaming up to become a killer law team. In 2011, BuddyTV ranked "Suits" as the second best new show of the year, losing only to "Game of Thrones."
#43. The X-Files
Smart Rating: 86.78
Throughout the '90s, agents Mulder and Scully were there to remind us that "the truth is out there." The show has a cult following and in 2016, after a 14-year hiatus, Mulder and Scully were reunited for a shortened season to bring back some of the magic for those of us who want to believe.
#42. The Wire
Smart Rating: 86.88
In inner-city Baltimore, Detective James McNulty (played by Dominic West) and his colleagues experience the intense underground drug scene and the daily struggle to enforce the law. According to the Huffington Post, "The Wire" is one of President Obama's favorite shows, calling it "one of the greatest — not just television shows, but pieces of art in the last couple of decades."
Smart Rating: 87.01
The ultimate bro show, "Entourage" stars Adrian Grenier as Vince Chase, an actor who has just made it big in Hollywood, but keeps his hometown friends close even as his fame skyrockets. The show is loosely based on the success story of Mark Walhberg, who was a producer, and guest stars throughout the series.
Smart Rating: 87.09
Since 2005, the WB (now the CW) has produced "Supernatural," a show about Sam and Dean, brothers destined to fight supernatural beings. The show is now in its 12th season, but according to IMDb, "none of the cast or crew members ever expected for the show to last as long as it has." "Supernatural" now holds the title as the longest running consecutive sci-fi television series.
Smart Rating: 87.25
The FX series "Fargo" is loosely based on the 1996 Coen Brothers film starring William H. Macy. Locals in the chilly town of Fargo, North Dakota seem to have a particularly murderous case of cabin fever. "Fargo" won the Golden Globe for best miniseries or motion picture made for television in 2015.
#38. Prison Break
Smart Rating: 87.26
Brothers Lincoln and Michael teach us that "prisons were meant to be broken" throughout four seasons of outsmarting the corrupt system that wrongfully put Michael (played by hunky Wentworth Miller) on death row. Fans are delighted that after a seven-year hiatus, a fifth season is in the works.
#37. Band of Brothers
Smart Rating: 87.36
This ten-episode miniseries depicts the true story of a brave group of soldiers and the horrors they faced throughout WWII. Executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg worked diligently to be as accurate as possible, putting the actors through a 10-day bootcamp, and sharing the script with real soldiers who survived.
Smart Rating: 87.64
"Once lucky. Twice smart. Three times charmed." The three Halliwell sisters discover they are witches — the good kind — who fight evil creatures while also navigating their love lives as beautiful twentysomethings in San Francisco.
Smart Rating: 87.66
A group of everyday people realize they have supernatural powers, and must band together to save their powers — and their lives. "Heroes" was created by Tim Kring, also known for the series "Crossing Jordan" and "Touch." As a follow-up to this show, he also created "Heroes Reborn" in 2015, but it did not go over well and was canceled after one season.
#34. The Office
Smart Rating: 87.75
Based on the British sitcom of the same name, "The Office" lasted for nine glorious seasons on NBC. The mockumentary-style show follows Dwight, Jim, Pam and the rest of the crew at Dunder Mifflin.
Steve Carell plays Michael Scott, the dimwitted boss who gives his team insightful knowledge: "Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information."
#33. Downton Abbey
Smart Rating: 87.79
The only show from PBS on our list, "Downton Abbey" follows the Crawley family in 20th century aristocratic Britain as they struggle to maintain their status among Britain's elites. In 2012, the show won the Golden Globe for best miniseries or motion picture made for television. It was subsequently nominated in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the best television series (drama) award, but lost to "Breaking Bad," "The Affair" and "Mr. Robot," respectively.
#32. Burn Notice
Smart Rating: 87.8
Jeffrey Donovan plays Michael Weston, a talented spy given a "burn notice" from the United States government and forced to do nefarious underground work in Miami. According to one LA Times review, "Burn Notice" is "fast paced, bullet-pocked and extremely clever" and "profoundly altered the television landscape."
#31. The King of Queens
Smart Rating: 87.97
For nine seasons, Kevin James and Leah Remini played Doug and Carrie Heffernan, a couple living in Queens, N.Y. The show got its name because Doug Heffernan is a deliveryman in their neighborhood and his nickname is "The King of Queens."
#30. House of Cards
Smart Rating: 88.06
In 2013, Netflix premiered "House of Cards" to great success. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey both give stellar performances as Francis and Claire Underwood, a couple maniacally manipulating their way through Washington. Robin Wright took home a Golden Globe in 2014 for her performance, and Kevin Spacey won the award in 2015.
#29. Saturday Night Live
Smart Rating: 88.37
"Live from New York...it's Saturday Night!" By far the longest-running show on our list, "Saturday Night Live" has been making us laugh for a whopping 41 seasons. Many famous comedians including Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got their start here.
#28. True Detective
Smart Rating: 88.39
"True Detective" premiered on HBO in 2014. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson starred in the first season as detectives in Louisiana uncovering a bizarre string of murders. Although the second season was not as highly rated as the first, HBO confirmed that there will be a new mystery for a different set of detectives to solve in season three.
#27. How I Met Your Mother
Smart Rating: 88.41
Many fans agree that "How I Met Your Mother" is legen... wait for it... dary. Legendary. The show went through nine seasons following Ted's search for his one true love. What was better than Ted's love life was the friendship between Lily, Marshall, Robin, Barney and Ted.
#26. Criminal Minds
Smart Rating: 88.45
Since 2005, "Criminal Minds" has depicted bizarre cases in the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. One fan-favorite character is the neurotic Dr. Spencer Reid, played by Matthew Gray Gubler. According to IMDb, he was initially turned down multiple times for the role.
#25. 30 Rock
Smart Rating: 88.49
In 2006, Tina Fey left her comfortable domain on the SNL stage to create "30 Rock," a mockumentary-style show about television writer Liz Lemon and her adventures writing for a successful TV series called "The Girlie Show." Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin each won two Golden Globes for their performances and "30 Rock" won the Golden Globe in 2009 for best television series (musical or comedy).
Smart Rating: 88.51
Before Rachel, Ross and their friends settled into Central Perk, or Ted and Barney got a drink at McClaren's, the original New York crew was sitting at Monk's Cafe — probably discussing their last awkward encounter or misunderstanding. See our ranking of the 50 best Seinfeld episodes of all time.
#23. Arrested Development
Smart Rating: 88.59
"Arrested Development" follows the comical downfall of the Bluth family, a formerly wealthy clan in Orange County, who are forced to move into an empty model home when most of their assets are frozen. Despite having a large fanbase, Fox canceled "Arrested Development" after four seasons. In 2013, Netflix picked it up after a seven-year hiatus.
Smart Rating: 88.64
Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison, a bipolar CIA agent investigating prisoners linked to Al-Qaeda while simultaneously trying to control her disease. Both Claire Danes and costar Damien Lewis have won two Golden Globes each for their dramatic roles.
#21. Lie to Me
Smart Rating: 88.64
In this series, Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert at reading facial cues and catching people in a lie. The show aired on Fox for three seasons, from 2009 to 2011 and many later lamented that it was canceled too soon.
#20. Mad Men
Smart Rating: 88.95
For seven seasons, suave Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) was there to teach us that "what you call 'love' was invented by guys like me. To sell nylons." Jon Hamm won the Golden Globe for best actor in a television series (drama) in 2008 and then again in 2016. This is the first series from AMC to appear on our list, but not the last.
#19. Everybody Loves Raymond
Smart Rating: 89.3
Ray Romano played Ray Barone, the comical sports writer from Long Island, for nine seasons. Audiences liked Ray, but everybody truly loved Ray's parents, played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle.
#18. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Smart Rating: 89.48
"So, you saw me eat that Hot Pocket I found in the garbage?"
Four friends in Philadelphia struggle to run an Irish pub, and hilarity ensues. According to IMDb, FX wanted to cancel the show after one season, but decided to give it another chance. FX has now renewed the show until 2019, for a whopping 14 seasons.
Smart Rating: 89.67
"Dexter" takes you inside the mind of a serial killer as he tries to feed his thirst for blood by only killing bad guys. According to the "Dexter" Wikia page, Dexter kills about 117 people throughout the series and in the end comes to the dark realization "I destroy everything I love."
Smart Rating: 89.74
In 2010, the BBC revived the classic tale by Arthur Conan Doyle. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, the brilliant duo solving crimes in 21st century London.
#15. Will & Grace
Smart Rating: 89.81
Eric McCormack and Debra Messing are best friends Will and Grace, living together in New York. The show navigates their careers and love lives, which both happen to be with men. "Will & Grace" was one of the first shows on a major cable network to have a gay leading character, paving the way for other shows on this list.
Smart Rating: 89.92
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happy hour." The oldest show on our list, M*A*S*H ran for 11 seasons, from 1972 to 1983. It features a group of hospital workers from the U.S. Army, stuck in Korea during the war.
#13. The Walking Dead
Smart Rating: 90.34
Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, "The Walking Dead" follows ex-sheriff Rick Grimes through a post-apocalyptic south where walkers roam the earth, looking for juicy brains to snack on. Of course, these walkers are also known as zombies, but the show chooses not to use that terminology because they do not want to be grouped into the "zombie genre."
#12. South Park
Smart Rating: 90.55
Since 1997, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been offending just about everyone in pop culture. Stan, Kyle, Eric and Kenny manage to get into some sort of adventure in every episode, and run into celebrities, as well as memorable characters like Cthulhu, Mr. Hankey, Beezleboot the Canadian Devil, Towelie and Manbearpig.
#11. The Big Bang Theory
Smart Rating: 91.09
"The whole universe was in a hot, dense state..." Creator Chuck Lorre had previous success with other sitcoms including "Two and a Half Men," "Mike & Molly" and "Dharma & Greg." "The Big Bang Theory" is by far his most beloved, and hugely profitable. According to Forbes, the cast is the highest paid on television. Jim Parsons took in $29 million in 2015, followed by Kelly Cuoco with $28.5 million and Johnny Galecki at $27 million.
Smart Rating: 91.54
Kelsey Grammar plays Dr. Frasier Crane (the same character he played on "Cheers"), a successful psychiatrist who moves from Boston to Seattle and decides to share his wisdom on a radio show. In its 11 seasons, "Frasier" won a record 37 Emmys.
Smart Rating: 91.76
Throughout the '90s, six friends living in Manhattan were there for each other, even when "your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's D.O.A." Unlike "The Big Bang Theory," the cast always agreed upon the same salary for everyone. They each began making $22,500 per episode and ended up making $1 million per episode by season 10.
Smart Rating: 91.96
A plane crashes on a seemingly deserted island, and the survivors struggle to survive. What appears to be a simple plot becomes increasingly complicated throughout six seasons. Creator J.J. Abrams went on to make sci-fi favorites "Star Trek" and most recently "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
#7. The West Wing
Smart Rating: 92.63
"The West Wing" explores the life of fictional staffers in the White House. In 2001, Martin Sheen won a Golden Globe for best actor in a television series (drama) for his portrayal of President Josiah Bartlet and the show won the award for best television series (drama).
Smart Rating: 93.24
"Cheers" was about a bar in Boston "where everybody knows your name." The show was a precursor to other comedies about a group of thirtysomethings like "Seinfeld" and "Friends."
#5. The Simpsons
Smart Rating: 93.84
Since 1989, Homer and his family have given us valuable words of wisdom. "Let that be a lesson to you sweetie. Never love anything," or "no matter how good you are, there's always a million people better" is Homer's way of thinking. Fox has renewed the show through 2017, making it "the longest running prime-time comedy series as well as the longest-running prime-time animated series in U.S. TV history."
#4. Modern Family
Smart Rating: 94.37
"Modern Family" is about three unusual families living in Los Angeles and how their unconventional relationships play out. In 2012, the show won the Golden Globe for best television series (comedy or musical) as well as the Primetime Emmy for outstanding comedy series (and also won the award in 2013 and 2014).
#3. The Sopranos
Smart Rating: 94.79
James Gandolfini is Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss who believes "we're soldiers. Soldiers don't go to hell. It's war. Soldiers kill other soldiers. We're in a situation where everyone involved knows the stakes and if you are going to accept those stakes, you've got to do certain things. It's business." According to IMDb, HBO was concerned that the title might make people believe the show was about musicians, thus why the gun is in the logo.
#2. Game of Thrones
Smart Rating: 96.82
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." Now in its sixth season, "Game of Thrones" shows more dying than winning thus far, and audiences cannot get enough. The successful show is based on the book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin and recently, PrettyFamous ranked each episode of the first five seasons.
#1. Breaking Bad
Smart Rating: 100.00
Bryan Cranston came a long way from his days as Hal on "Malcolm in the Middle" to Walter White, the chemistry teacher with a unique side job that takes over his life. The show spawned a well-received prequel, "Better Call Saul," and turned Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston into A-list celebrities.
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