It’s been five years since Rolling Stone released its 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list, so naturally, it was time for an update. That’s because TV has changed a lot over the past half a decade. Not only have TV series gotten bolder, but they’ve also started catering to more niche audiences. And with the emergence of so many streaming services, there are more prestige dramas, hilarious comedies and hard-hitting docuseries than ever.
In fact, we’ll go a step further: TV is better and more interesting in 2022 than at any time in history, and some of the world’s greatest storytellers are now working in this medium. With all due respect to the laugh track sitcoms of the past, television has evolved.
So, Rolling Stone’s Chief TV Critic Alan Sepinwall had a big task ahead of him when he and his crew began updating this list months ago. Sepinwall wasn’t with the publication when the 2016 list hit, and he and the team agreed they wanted to throw a broader net to include younger people, women and people of color this time around.
Rolling Stone invited a panel of actors, showrunners, and critics to vote on the 100 best TV shows of all time. The list spans eras (including a show that debuted in 1951 and one from 2021), genres, styles, and a lot more. I wrote about all 100 of them: https://t.co/TUhBTotwwc pic.twitter.com/t2W3yPgB4j
— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) September 26, 2022
To produce The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list, the team reached out to a slew of actors, creators, showrunners, writers, directors, producers and critics to get their hot takes. Everyone was asked to submit their 50 top shows, and each show was awarded points based on where they ranked. The Top 100 Greatest TV Shows is the culmination of that effort.
Of course, with so many series out there, people had their own opinions of the list. Since its publication on September 26, many have shared it online, dissected it on Reddit and complained (or celebrated) the polarizing results. Even Sepinwall wasn’t surprised at the high level of dissection.
“Any time you attempt to do any kind of ranking, or even an alphabetical list, people are going to get upset by what’s included and what’s left off,” Sepinwall tells SPY. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Full Disclosure: Rolling Stone and SPY are both owned by Penske Media Corporation.
What Are the Greatest 100 TV Shows According to Rolling Stone?
The complete list with descriptors can be found here, but in the meantime, here are the highlights:
1. The Sopranos
2. The Simpsons
3. Breaking Bad
4. The Wire
7. Mad Men
10. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
12. The Twilight Zone
14. The Americans
15. The Larry Sanders Show
What Did The Rolling Stone Greatest TV Show Guide Get Right?
1. The Sopranos is still the best TV show of all time
some many have argued online that The Wire should be the top show on this list, The Sopranos was game-changing television. It was also more of a crowdpleaser compared to The Wire. The James Gandolfini-led series also premiered three years before The Wire, paving the way for its complex themes and dark drama.
Some may wonder if Sepinwall influenced that ranking, given his strong history covering the show over the years. However, he says The Sopranos was a clear winner at No. 1, and The Simpsons, which scored second place, was far behind.
2. Casting a Wide Net
Every year TV critics around the globe come up with lists of their favorite or best TV shows, and while many of us trust the opinion of someone who is paid to watch TV for a living, taste is subjective. Sepinwall and his team could have kept this list in-house and ranked shows on their own, but by casting a wider net they incorporated the opinions of many in the industry who just love the medium.
3. There’s a Strong Mix of Old and New
The troublesome thing about making or updating any best-of list is that even though the number of items on your list stays the same, the selection pool only continues to grow. Knowing that, it’s pretty impressive how far back the memories of some of these participants went. Titles like All in The Family, M*A*S*H and Roots made the Top 30 alongside slicker new shows like The Americans, Succession and Atlanta.
What Did The Rolling Stone Greatest TV Show Guide Get Wrong?
1. The Recency Bias is Real
The other problem with making best-of lists is that people tend to remember newer shows faster than they’ll remember older ones. The recency bias in the Rolling Stone list is obvious when you look at the Top 10 alone: the fact that Fleabag and Atlanta made it among some of the other selections has been a head-scratcher for many online.
Look even further down the list; it becomes even more perplexing. Did Girls really define a generation more than The Kids in the Hall? Was I May Destroy You more game-changing than I Love Lucy? Well, again, that’s subjective. But this list does raise those kinds of questions.
2. A Narrow Response
Okay, sure, Sepinwall and his team reached out to many people for this list, and we recognize the work that went into that initiative. According to a follow-up article, there were only 46 participants. So, we have to wonder how much this list might have changed if that number soared to 100 or even 150 respondents. Sepinwall says that some people they reached out to weren’t able to participate because of time constraints, and others they just didn’t hear back from.
“We sent things out far and wide. Some people we heard back from and many people we didn’t, which is just what happens with anything like this,” Sepinwall says. He adds that he also found it funny how the participating creatives voted for (or refused to vote for) their own projects.
“Some people voted for their own work really, really highly, and then some other people said, ‘No matter what, I think the show I did was great, I’m not going to vote for it because that seems obnoxious.’”
3. There Are a Few Glaring Omissions
Not every show could make this list, sure. But there are some strange slights if you stare at it long enough. For example, The Good Wife was missed entirely, but its spinoff, The Good Fight, ranked No. 98. Meanwhile, some fans wondered where the game-changing Mr. Robot was, or why shows like King of the Hill, the original Dallas, Boardwalk Empire or Barney Miller weren’t included.
The lack of reality shows was also surprising. However, Sepinwall reveals Survivor almost cracked the Top 100.
“Survivor was really close and that would have made some sense… You can’t overstate the importance of Survivor,” Sepinwall says. “I don’t know. In terms of the people in Hollywood, we mostly heard back from folks who work in scripted. So I guess they tended to respond to scripted.”
Two other series that were noticeably absent from this list were The Cosby Show and Louie. While both TV series were celebrated back in the day and undeniably influenced the medium, they also featured problematic leads. So, we’re not sure if that makes their exclusion here misses or not.
Check out the full Rolling Stone article here.