Since we are now beginning to approach televison May sweeps and season finale time for the spring TV season, I wanted to look back over the years at the excellent shows that received acclaim from critics and audiences alike, high ratings, Emmy attention and spots in television history.
I only scratch the surface here, as there were many more shows that could have been added, but we'd be here all day if I did.
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
1. "The Wire," HBO
Arguably the best show in TV history, "The Wire" took place in Baltimore. It portrayed a different establishment each season, and how law enforcement played a part in it. Some of these included education, news media and the illegal drug trade.
It received much acclaim by critics for its accuracy and realism, and while it was only nominated at the Emmys twice for writing, it received multiple acting and writing nominations as well as wins at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awards, and the Writer's Guild of America awards.
"The Wire" ran for five seasons from 2002-2008.
2. "Six Feet Under," HBO
Co-starring a pre-"Dexter" Michael C. Hall and the always amazing Frances Conroy, the show was about the Fishers, a family who owns a funeral home, and whose patriarch gets killed in the first episode.
At first, it seemed like a typical family drama, focusing on issues like infidelity, religion and personal relationships. But the overarching theme is death, and each episode began with a death, which then sets up the theme for that particular episode.
"Six Feet Under" received widespread acclaim and consistently high ratings for HBO. It won many awards, including Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild.
3. "Breaking Bad," AMC
"Breaking Bad" began airing on AMC in 2008. It focused on a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who decides to start cooking and selling meth to secure his family financially after he dies. He takes on a partner, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who was a former student of his, and the two learn to navigate the criminal world.
Widely viewed as one of the greatest series of all time, "Breaking Bad" was considered one of the most watched shows on cable by the time the show ended. It received 16 Emmy Awards for acting and writing, two Golden Globes and two Critic's Choice Awards, among others. In 2014, it was entered into the "Guinness World Records" for being the most critically acclaimed show of all time.
Sir Anthony Hopkins himself was a big fan, and wrote a letter to Cranston praising him and the rest of the cast for being the "best actors he's ever seen."
The series finale aired Sept. 29, 2013, watched by approximately 10 million viewers. In 2015, a spin-off, "Better Call Saul," premiered.
4. "Lost," ABC
Part of the fun of "Lost" was the speculation. It was about a commercial plane that crashed onto a mysterious tropical island, and the survivors had to fight polar bears, murderous smoke, the natives and each other in their attempts to get home. Mysteries and twists were added into the plot, bringing back its (on average) 13 million viewers each week.
As it was the early 2000s, a lot of online fan communities dedicated to the show and its characters sprung up everywhere on the Internet, which included theories, previews, trailers, pictures and interviews
It aired from 2004-2010 and received Emmy awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG Awards.
5. "The Sopranos," HBO
"The Sopranos" was the story of a fictional, New Jersey-based, Italian-American mobster by the name of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), as well as his family. It portrayed the trials he encountered between balancing his home life and his criminal life.
It was nominated for and won various awards, which include 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes. It has also become subjects of parody, analysis and controversy. Books and video games based on the series have been released, as well.
The show concluded in June 2007, with a cut to black ending that confused many viewers. Show creator David Chase gave no clear answer when asked whether the mob boss was alive or dead. It seems fans will never truly know whether Tony is alive enjoying onion rings somewhere or lying in a ditch.
6. "I Love Lucy," CBS
This is still regarded as one of the greatest - and most influential - sitcoms ever. When "I Love Lucy" premiered in 1951, it was the first show on television to feature an ensemble cast. It took place in New York City and centered on Lucy Ricardo (played by the iconic Lucille Ball), an ambitious housewife who had a knack for trouble, and her husband, Ricky (Desi Arnaz).
During its run, it won five Emmy awards, and later was the first show to end with the highest Nielsen ratings. Upon its conclusion in 1957, it launched 13 one-hour specials called "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour."
Today, it airs in syndication in many languages around the world and is watched by approximately 40 million Americans each year.
7. "Star Trek," multiple networks
By this, I mean "The Original Series," "Next Generation," "Voyager" and "Deep Space Nine." I lumped them all together because the franchise overall made an impact on TV and film. They all centered on a group of humans and aliens aboard the USS Enterprise (or Voyager, or another depending on which you're watching), a space exploration ship in the 23rd century.
The original began airing in 1966, and the others started airing over various years, beginning in 1987. The series itself has overall won 31 Emmy awards.
The franchise has also spawned movies throughout the decades, most recently with a new reboot, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.
8. "Mad Men," AMC
I couldn't put "Breaking Bad" on this list without also including this show. They were both responsible for essentially putting AMC on the Emmy map.
"Mad Men" arguably made the advertising business "cool." It centered around Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director of a fictional New York ad agency, Sterling Cooper, in the 1960s. The show was applauded for its historical accuracy, in terms of the events it portrayed (Cuban Missile Crisis, the JFK assassination, etc.), as well as its less-than-positive portrayal of gender and race.
It garnered a lot of attention, not only from critics and awards (Emmy and Golden Globes) but its fan base - and fashion critics - praised the costuming and soundtrack used on the show.
The show aired from 2007-2015.
9. "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," The WB/UPN
"Buffy" was another show that spawned spinoffs, comic books and video games. It focused on Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a teenage girl who is fated to be a "slayer," in other words, to fight vampires and demons. She just wishes to live a normal life, but eventually accepts her fate.
Through its run from 1997-2003, it won three Emmy awards, though it was nominated for many more. Plus, it was a subject of study for many scholars in popular culture. Books and essays based on themes portrayed on the show were also widely published.
In 1999, "Buffy" launched a spinoff, "Angel," as well.
10. "The Golden Girls," NBC
"Golden Girls" was essentially "Friends" except the characters were around 40 years older and all women. It was a sitcom that portrayed older women in their everyday lives, which included their careers, their romantic/sex lives and their conflicts with each other.
Some issues that the show dealt with were same-sex marriages, AIDS, immigration and assisted suicides. For the mid to late 1980s, these were extremely controversial topics, especially to portray on television.
During its run, "The Golden Girls" received over 60 Emmy nominations, 11 Emmy wins and four Golden Globe wins. It aired from 1985-1992, though it began running in syndication soon after, and still does on various channels today.
You should check it out if only because Betty White is everyone's honorary grandma.
11. "The West Wing," NBC
Before "Scandal" and before "House of Cards," there was "The West Wing." Beginning in 1999, it was a political drama set in the White House during the term of fictional Democratic president, Josiah "Jed" Bartlett (Martin Sheen).
Its left-leaning slant and legitimacy garnered much discussion during and after its run. Several past real White House staffers compared it to working in there and said that the show really captured what it was like. Political science classes at various universities use it as a tool, and Duke University even had a class dedicated to studying the show.
In 2006, "The West Wing" was said to be partly responsible for the killing of a bill put forth by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when some members of the Torie party "hid out" during a crucial vote. This was a technique that was successfully used during the WW episode, "A Good Day."
Overall, it won 16 Emmys, two Golden Globes, and two SAG awards by the time it concluded in 2006.
12. "Oz," HBO
In this prison drama about rehabilitation, "Oz" was the nickname for Oswald State Correctional Facility, where the show takes place. As the word "Oz" makes most people think of "The Wizard of Oz," various elements of the movie were put into the show.
The show was praised for its realistic depiction of the incarcerated, but also panned for its graphic brutality and sex scenes. It was nominated for two Emmy awards and won several American Latino Media Awards.
It ended its run in Feb. 2003, after six years on the air.
13. "The Simpsons," Fox
"The Simpsons" earns a spot on this list mainly because it is the longest-running sitcom in American TV history, as well as the longest-running animated American show. It is a satirical look at working-class life in small town, America.
It debuted in 1989 and has since won many awards, which include 31 Emmy Awards. It has also influenced networks to create adult-oriented animated shows, and some phrases from the show, most notably "D'oh!" have been immortalized in the "Oxford English Dictionary." The term "Flanderize" has also come into popular use to describe how fictional characters on TV shows devolve over time into just one trait... the term comes from "Simpsons" character Ned Flanders.
In January, 2000, the family received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
14. "The Twilight Zone," CBS
This became a franchise after it first started airing in 1959, and was Rod Serling's most famous project. It was an anthology series, each episode presenting a self-contained science fiction/horror story in which the characters are faced with handling paranormal, disturbing or futuristic events. Each episode had an overall message to it.
Much like some other shows, "The Twilight Zone" launched a radio show, a film, a magazine, various spin-offs and a comic book.
During its five year run, the original series was nominated for four Emmys and won two. It also won one Golden Globe.
15. "Game Of Thrones," HBO
"Thrones" is the adaptation of "A Song Of Ice And Fire," a series of fantasy novels written by George R. R. Martin. It is set in the fictional kingdoms of Westeros and Essos and has many different story arcs. It portrays a violent dynastic struggle among various noble families of these kingdoms. Meanwhile, other families are fighting for independence from the throne.
It has already won around 38 Emmy Awards and five SAG Awards. It now has the record for most Emmy awards for a scripted show. Its ratings average out to around 14 million viewers.
"Game of Thrones" has also received valid criticisms for showing a lot of sexual violence, nudity and violence against women, especially for the context with which these scenes are portrayed. Martin, as well as the show writers, have brushed it off as "human nature" or "historical accuracy."
It premiered in April 2011, and its final season is set to air in 2019.