Sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to follow the rules you’ve set for yourself.
I have ground rules for these things. A 10-List has ten entries only. No matter what. It’s not always the “Top 10.” Sometimes it’s the ten most essential items, or the ten things that best represent whatever it is I’m talking about. The ten most-influential, and so on.
But, when I began thinking about writing this 10-List, it was definitely a Top-10 listing of my favorite television series. I have watched many different television series throughout my life, so this was a daunting task. As it turns out, it was a near-impossible task. I’ve been working on this post for months, and I am now convinced that the list will change every time I look at it.
And that’s okay. This list I’m posting is my All-Time Favorite Television Series as of this day. Today. After I post it, I won’t re-edit it. That’s another ground rule.
Here are a couple more.
The television series on this 10-List are all finished, off-the-air. Which means that, even if the new Epix series Pennyworth were in the running to be on this final list (it’s not: at least, not yet), it couldn’t be on it because it hasn’t completed its run. The same still holds true of The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and Supernatural, and so many others. If your favorite television series is still on the air and not represented on this list, don’t be too angry with me. I’m following my own rules.
Also, limited-run series or mini-series are also ineligible. I’m thinking Roots or The Day After here, but a series of TV-movies such as Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone movies would also qualify (or disqualify, in this case).
Live-action or reality programming also didn’t make the cut, not that America’s Funniest Home Videos or Good Eats were likely to beat out the competition. However, anthology series such as The Outer Limits or Alfred Hitchcock Presents were eligible.
Finally, the shows on the list must be series that I’ve actively watched. The West Wing was an excellent series, no doubt, but I’ve never watched a single episode yet. Therefore, it wasn’t up for consideration. Likewise, I’ve only been a casual viewer of the various Law & Order and CSI shows, so I couldn’t seriously consider them either.
All of which means this isn’t a “Top-10 TV Series Ever” list, but, rather, my Top-10.
Now that we have that straight, allow me to discuss my methodology here. The first thing I did was make a list of every television series I could remember with at least some fondness. My original thought was that the first twenty-five or so off of the top of my head would probably be my favorites. As it turns out, five of them ended up on the final list. When it became difficult to think of any additional series, I began looking at various on-line lists by decade and genre, adding those I had forgotten. When this process was finished, I had a comprehensive list of 125 series to winnow down.
If you’re mathematically inclined, you realize this means I had to eliminate 92% of the shows on my list. As Cat Stevens could tell you, the first cut was the deepest. And the easiest, as it turns out. While I have some fond memories of Night Court, The Fall Guy, and Greatest American Hero, they were never seriously in contention for all-time favorites. After the first pass, I had the list down to 57 series.
The second pass was a bit tougher, but trimmed another 25 series off the list, including Mad Men and My Name is Earl. This hurt a little, but I was down to 32 shows.
At this point, I stepped away from the process for a few days, so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. It took three more passes to reduce the field to 15. I would have been marginally happier with a 20-List, but I still wouldn’t have been happy. I’ve heard that the true definition of compromise is a solution that makes no one happy. Once I had the list down to 15 shows, I didn’t look at it for several months. When I got back to it last week, I savagely excised the final five series.
When I opened the file today. I was tempted to change it again but resisted. I don’t even want to tell you what the final five cuts were, because you will think I am insane for omitting them. What’s even worse is that I may even agree with you.
I will point out one apparent anomaly, however. It seems strange that for someone who so clearly loves the Star Trek franchise, not a single Trek series is represented on this list. I know, right?
For better or worse, here it is:
FIREWATER’S TOP-10 ALL-TIME FAVORITE TELEVISION SERIES
(in no particular order) please, don’t make me go through the agony of ranking them.
The Twilight Zone
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
WKRP in Cincinnati
Sons of Anarchy
Okay, I can hear you from here.
“You put WKRP in Cincinnati on the list, but not Mad Men ?!?”
Yes, I did. And, I have my reasons. But, today I am emotionally spent and don’t feel like explaining myself. Make your own list. I’m done.