My Favorite TV Shows

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Those of you who know me, know that I like making lists. Call it a mental issue if you wish, but I do make them. So, in keeping with my recent list of favorite movies, I am now presenting an accompanying list of my favorite TV shows.

Notice, though, that I could only come up with a "definitive preference" for the first three positions. The rest are shows I love, but the more I tried the more I realized I couldn't rank them. So, they're only sort of in order of preference.

Also notice: there is only one current show on this list. This is my direct and unambiguous comment on the state of modern TV.

1. The Andy Griffith Show – The greatest TV show ever made. It's relaxing while, at the same time, being phenomenally well-written and well-acted. It's also very funny, with enough quotable lines that I almost don't have to think for myself when in conversation. In all honesty, though, it's really two TV series. 5 years with Don Knotts and 3 years without him. Strangely, the last year was its highest rated (but some of that probably has to do with competition that had disappeared).

2. The Rockford Files – There are three shows in the history of TV which, if I stumble across them, I will stop and watch (even though I have every episode of all three shows on DVD now). James Garner and Jim Rockford were made for each other. I think one of the attractions of this show is that Rockford is never particularly successful. Why that works is because all of us who watch the show feel like we could be Jim. And, when he fails—and on those occasions when he succeeds—we feel like we are him. Plus, Garner's just cool. And I love his car.

3. The Dick Van Dyke Show – Perfect cast, perfect writing, excellent direction. One of the things I have always loved about this show were the parties. I was (and am) so disappointed when I grew up and discovered that real life parties with adults don't include a talent show. Also, I have always had a crush on Laura (though not, necessarily, Mary Tyler Moore). Looking back, one of the great things about their decision to end it after 5 years is that there was no decline in the show. Also, it just wouldn't be the same in color.

Matlock – You don't watch this show to learn about legal procedure. You watch this show for Andy Griffith. And it is fun. Basically a detective show. Interesting how many of the former co-stars are now involved in Christian ministry (4 that I know of for sure).

Maverick – The best western to ever air on TV. Jack Kelly was good, but James Garner was great. Lots of humor, some action, and every episode is so well written you think you're watching a short movie.

The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show – I throw this in here as a way to put all the Peanuts specials on this list. I love Peanuts and—while these shows aren't as good as the strips (principally because they decided to keep Snoopy silent)—they are still just about perfect for me.

Gilligan's Island – OK, so I still love Gilligan. It's just funny! What kid—especially a boy—wouldn't want to live on Gilligan's island? As an adult, I still wouldn't mind going there (though I hope the Professor developed indoor plumbing in some hut we never saw).

Green Acres – The original show about nothing. I love the absurdity and how no one except Oliver ever seems to notice there's something wrong. It's really a ground-breaking show in that there was no limit to what they would try.

Home Improvement – One of the rare occasions where a TV show is built around a single stand-up routine and still works. Tim Allen either played this character so well that we have trouble accepting him as anything else … or he doesn't really play anything else. Considering how good he was in "Galaxy Quest", I'd say he was just perfect for this part (and was surrounded by a great cast and good writing). BTW, Debbe Dunning was the prettiest Tool Girl, hands down.

Gunsmoke – The dean of all TV westerns and another show that really went through more than one major period. Started (on TV) as a half-hour show with Dillon and Chester, then went to an hour, then lost Chester and replaced him with (my favorite character) Festus, then became more of an ensemble theater where even Matt and Festus were only occasionally the stars (my least favorite era of the show). Going back and watching them on DVD I am reminded just how grim this show was.

Chuck – One of only two shows on TV today worth watching and the only one good enough to make it onto my list. Hilarious show, well-crafted plots, and maybe the most cheerful color scheme I've ever seen on a primetime show. I hope it can survive at least to it's fourth year, but I'm afraid it's too good for network television.

Get Smart – We forget now that this show was a ratings and Emmies giant when it was on. It's slap-stick and broad humor but I dare you to watch an episode without laughing out loud. Another case, though, where the star did so well in a roll he was never really excepted as anything else. Same for 99.

The Bob Newhart Show – "Hi Bob." Another show that existed and succeeded solely because of the star. The supporting cast was excellent but the show stood or fell on Bob—and he hit homers every week.

The Waltons – I grew up watching this show and watching episodes now is a little like a homecoming. It was never the same after Richard Thomas left, though. Before that, some of the best drama ever on TV.

Star Trek: The Original Series – I've watched the subsequent Treks pretty faithfully, but it wouldn't bother me if I never saw any of them again. I have all three seasons of this show on DVD and still enjoy them. Plus, I grew up seeing them on a black and white TV, so the vibrant colors are a turn-on for me. Also, I have the DVDs of the original broadcasts. Those new disks with the "upgraded" special effects drive me nuts because the "upgraded" SFX scream CGI so loud it's as if they decided to try and capture their sense of the old show by doing new crappy effects. Part of what makes this so great even now was that it was over the top and the sets looked like sets—making it kind of a "Masterpiece Theater" for the sci-fi set.

The Muppet Show – A musical variety show with the Muppets, great guest stars, and some of the most ridiculous humor ever foisted on the public. Didn't get to last as long as it should have, but I imagine it was such work that maybe they couldn't have done any more (on a weekly basis, anyway).

Coach – Throw out the Florida years (which still had a few zings left) and this show is one of the best comedies ever. Craig T. Nelson created a character you'd hate to know in real life, but loved to watch other people deal with. And Jerry Van Dyke finally found a show that suited his talents.

Lois and Clark – If "Superman Returns" had had this cast, it would have made it onto my favorite movies list. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher were great together and the show explored a side of the Superman mythos we'd never seen before. Cain, especially, brought a humanity and sense of humor to Superman that I don't think anyone else ever has.

Sanford and Son – Take the people who wrote "The Andy Griffith Show" and the director from "The Dick Van Dyke Show", add in a very funny older comedian, and you have a recipe for gold. I'm surprised when I watch it now to see what a great job they did of skewering the stereo-types whites had/have of blacks by having blacks hold those stereotypes about whites. There's an episode where the Sanfords are suspicious of a white maid (with no reason) that's priceless!

The Addams Family (the original) – It's hard to believe there were only 66 episodes of this show. Watching them, though, that's probably about enough. Towards the end, they were starting to repeat themselves. (They should have taken the family out of the house now and then.) I love the fact that the Addamses are always so accepting of their neighbors.

Salvage One – A little-remembered Andy Griffith show about a junk man who will go anywhere (even the moon) to find a bargain. Didn't last long enough (sniff).

Alf – The Gilligan of the '80s. You'd hate to have Alf in your home, but it was fun to see him in the Tanner's home.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. – Another short-lived show that should still be on. Bruce Campbell's best work!

The Beverly Hillbillies – The first three or four years of this show are almost good enough to make it into my numbered list, but the last three or four are poor enough to drag the series down here. After 7 or 8 years, the Clampetts should have figured out Beverly Hills (or it them). Those first years are TV gold, though. Jethro was great but, (IMHO) the show went downhill as it became more and more about Jethro (and he became dumber and dumber).

Sledge Hammer – A fairly short-lived show (two years) that was way better than it's given credit for, especially as it spoofed other shows and movies of its day. I think their decision to go without a laugh track was genius, but it left too many (not-too-bright) members of the audience unsure of whether it were a comedy or not. And then winding up against "The Cosby Show" didn't help!

Early Edition – Who wouldn't want to get the paper a day early? But it was hard to believe Gary had the self-control to not abuse that privilege. A show (like "Lois & Clark") that I was very disappointed to see get cancelled but I now concede—watching them on DVD—that maybe they had done all they could. To have gone on further, the show might have gone downhill.

Dinosaurs – An excellent spoof of modern family life that could get away with a lot just because they were dinosaurs and not people. The baby's still the best character. Another show that lasted just as long as it should have. And you have to admire a "Family Comedy" who, when then they found out they were being cancelled, decided to kill off all the characters in the series finale!

Due South – Back before Paul Haggis was afflicted with an inability to write a non-profane sentence, he created an excellent show about a Mountie who is "exiled" to Chicago. Made fun of both Canadians and Americans and also managed to do some very impressive homages to famous stories from literature and the movies.

Other shows that come very close to making it onto this list: The Jack Benny Show; F-Troop; Seinfeld; Newhart; How the West Was Won; Quincy M.E.; Speed Racer; HR Puffnstuff; Magnum P.I.; Legend; Battlestar Galactica (original); Alias Smith and Jones; The Slap Maxwell Story; The Simpsons; Daniel Boone; Newhart.