The worst best list in television history
Olivia Schatz | Friday, February 10, 2023
I would like to preface this article by saying that I am in no way a television critic. I have no history in film, television or art for that matter. However, I watch an absurd amount of TV. That is the only qualification I have for writing this article, and I think that is good enough. If you disagree with me, then you can go enjoy the Rolling Stone list that I am standing against in the following few hundred words.
In September, the Rolling Stone released an article “Best TV Shows of All Time,” which was an updated version of their 2016 “best” list. While I do believe that this is an impossible task to create the perfect list, I do believe there is much improvement than what the Rolling Stone put out.
To figure out how to fix their list, we must first look at their problems. I believe a majority of their issues can be identified by how they curated the list. The Rolling Stone contacted a group of around 50 individuals in the industry to rank their 50 “best” TV shows of all time. But there was not much more instructions than that. The list of voters ranged from Ben Stiller — the executive producer of “Severance” as they defined him — to podcasters and TV critics.
The Demographics of the Voters
The age of the voters are all pretty close together. The youngest voter I could find was 32, and she was the youngest by a lot. A majority of the voters were in their 50s, and it is obvious by the list. Trust me, I am a sucker for nostalgia. However nostalgia is different for everyone. Anyone under the age of 40 does not have a major connection to “Cheers” growing up, and many people under that age haven’t seen “NYPD Blue”. While these shows are both influential by their own rights, I do not believe that many people in the younger audience would put either of these shows on their list. That is to not say they are not good, just to prove how the voters affected the results.
There are plenty of younger critics and workers in the industry that I am sure would have loved to participate in this list making, and would have brought a more diverse outlook on the list system.
Talking about younger workers in the industry, that is my other issue with the demographics of the voters. Although I love all my FTT friends, I find that many people in the industry can have some pretentious picks. Rather than choosing what they really think is the “best” show, they chose what they think should be the best show, despite their actual opinions.
My favorite example of this is in the movie sphere. I simply can not believe that everyone’s favorite movie is “Citizen Kane”. To fight against this, my mom came up with her own way of ranking everyone’s best flix. For a movie to be in your top five, you must turn on to watch it if you see it as you flick through channels (this isn’t as applicable with streaming services now), you must be able to quote the movie and you must actually enjoy watching it. When you ask for favorites in this way, even the most critical movie watchers change around their order.
Sometimes I think those in the industry need to take a step back from what they think is the best and see if they actually believe it. Plus, television was created for the everyday person, not just for those in the industry to consume.
Some shows should not be on this list at all, and others are ranked excessively high
I personally believe that if a TV show is not finished, it should not be ranked. I am the biggest fan of “The West Wing” and I think it is top tier TV. If you ranked the West Wing during seasons one through four, it would be top 15 TV, no debate. Sadly, Aaron Sorkin’s unfortunate coke habits forced the show to change writers after season four, and anyone who watched the show could see the drastic quality shift.
I do believe there are some shows that get a pass on this rule: “The Simpsons”, “Jeopardy!”, “SNL” and “Sesame Street” (as well as others that I am missing) have been on TV for long enough for people to include them in their rankings. In saying this, “Succession” being ranked at 11 is too much for me. Yes, “Succession” is a really good show that will probably have a cultural impact. However, it is not finished yet! I do not think a show that is not near to ending deserves a top 11 spot on the best TV shows of all time.
There are also other shows that I was shocked to receive such high bids for. My first issue being “Watchmen” at 23. “Watchmen” had one season, which ended on a cliffhanger, and the show writer and HBO ultimately decided not to move forward with it. In a similar vein, “Freaks and Geeks” at 24 is absurd to me. The show had a very cult following, and was not popular at the time. After one season, it was canceled. I can not see a world where a show that had mediocre cultural influence, and was canceled due to unpopularity, deserves a spot in the top 25 best shows of all time. Yes, this show gave us the start to some very influential actors. But that does not do enough for me to give it top 25 status.
This is probably my biggest issue with the rankings. The rankings seem completely random. Most of that has to do with forcing a subjective list to be objective. The word “best” – for TV shows anyways – is subjective. Nostalgia and other facts play a huge role in each person’s individual best. And as we have spoken about with the age of the voters, this has a major influence on the final outcome.
“Squid Games” got a nod, but “Stranger Things” and “Euphoria”, both shows with major followings and influence over the past few years did not. Different talk shows throughout the ages were peppered in throughout the list without any real reason. Some voters appeared to take influence as a higher standard than entertainment, other voters did the opposite. Rather than creating a cohesive ranking, Rolling Stone created a modge podge of TV shows that many times just influenced early television.
How would I fix it?
I don’t think you can make a solid “best” list. I think the Rolling Stones should have defined best for their voters: is it the most influential or the most enjoyable? Or, do you have your voters pick the top 25 most influential and then another 25 of most entertaining and average it out. While there are definitely shows that are both, other more influential shows have not stood the test of time. For me I don’t find “M*A*S*H” to be enjoyable to watch, but I can not deny the insane influence it has had on television and culture. There are other shows that I find to be so entertaining, but has had little influence on media and culture (ie. “Justified”).
I think the biggest argument for why this list should not exist is the fight I had with my friends about 30 minutes ago as I was writing this article. With all five of us intaking vastly different media, we were fighting about the semantics of this list, and altering it to our own individual taste.
Rolling Stone, a magazine that prides itself on creativity, simply dulled down decades of television history into a mediocre list at best.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.