TV’s Most Influential

You won’t see many more subjective lists than this, Adweek’s 100 most influential shows of all time. It’s a decent list for the most part, but a frustrating one nonetheless. I feel for Adweek, they probably took months to put this list together and justify each pick, just like I had to do over the last three months.

Adweek’s list is completely contingent on how you define “influence.” Here’s what I say — it had to make some kind of cultural ripple. Because of a certain TV show’s existence, other people said, “Yeah, now we can do that too.” Then they did in some kind of inferior — or just later — version or tweaked it just enough to make people think, “Hey look we came up with this aaaallllllllllll by oursellllllllves!” like my 2-year-old does. And when you look back in TV history, you have to be able to show that program at that time had some kind of effect five or 10 years later. Judging by that theory, Adweek missed out on a whole bunch of shows.

But the list is only 100 shows long, no more, no less. So for every show I argue for — longtime PopRox readers will definitely see some of my biases — I’ve got to be able to take one out. So here are 11 additions and their corresponding 11 deletions from the mid-80s on. I’m not about to debate the influence of shows from the 50s and 60s, since I have extremely limited interest in anything that came before my lifetime on TV. In chronological order:

The Phil Donahue Show (syndication): It doesn’t seem like there were any other daytime talk shows on at the time tackling weird, obscure, female-based topics. Now, you’ll literally go bonkers trying to count them all. Get rid of: America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC). Cheapness is not influence. The fact that it influenced networks to be cheap and started the phasing out of scripted programming makes it suck.

love it or hate it, you can't debate its influence

love it or hate it, you can't debate its influence

WWE Raw (USA): The longest-running show on cable. People didn’t know where to find USA on the dial before it, now it’s consistently cable’s most-watched show and USA is cable’s most-watched network. Raw was the launching pad for the watchers of USA’s stable of now ratings-dominant original series like Monk and Burn Notice. Get rid of: Keeping Up with the Kardashians (E!). If it stays on this list, I finally may have to pack up and move to some cabin in Alaska and have no human contact whatsoever. And you think I’m kidding.

The Real World (MTV): It’s been on so long and has become such a complete caricature of itself over the last 20-some-odd years that it’s hard to remember this was the first true “reality” show of this generation. You could also argue that Cops belongs on the list as the grandfather of all current reality TV. Get rid of: Freaks and Geeks (NBC): It lasted one season, critics loved it, nobody watched it, it was canceled, and now it’s a cult classic. Congratulations, Freaks and Geeks! That puts you in the same category with about 742 other TV shows over the past 50 years. Seeing as it was obviously influenced by another one-and-done classic — My So-Called Life — it doesn’t belong on a list like this.

you had a crush on kelly bundy. you did.

you had a crush on kelly bundy. you did.

Married … with Children (Fox). I college, I had a bible. It was a six-inch-thick book in the library that chronicled every show in TV history. the times I went to the library, instead of studying I read that book. My friends then got me a copy of the book as a graduation present. In the description for MWC, it said something to the effect of “There were three shows that defined the way family sitcoms were made in the late 80s and early 90s, for better or worse. Simpsons, Roseanne and Married … with Children.” I took that as gospel then, and still believe it now. The really weird part is that Ed O’Neill is now in a bastardized hybrid of all three, Modern Family. Get rid of: Newhart (CBS). Another in the long, undistinguished list of sitcoms that find strange, everyday situations to place proven TV talent into. These shows rarely ever work, and even when they’re successful, they’re still not that good. Yes, I’m looking at you, Becker.  Just because Newhart is an exception to the funny part, we shouldn’t be holding this kind of show up as an example for other networks to copy. That kind of TV should have died 20 years ago. Yet there are still shows like Hank that keep trying it. Just stop.

Saved by the Bell (NBC): OK, follow me here. And maybe this is proof that yeah, you really can make an argument for any show when it comes to influence. But there was nothing but Saturday morning cartoons on when SBTB debuted in 1989. Now there are about 10 SBTB impostors, a scant amount of cartoons or just infomercials. So I ask you — did Saved by the Bell kill the Saturday morning cartoon? I’ve been arguing on the “yes” side for about 10 years now. That’s influential. Get rid of: Everybody Loves Raymond: It was the umpteen zillionth family comedy based on the comedy stylings of a stand-up comic that rode to hit status but didn’t make the Nielsen top 10 until its sixth season. Sooooo … what makes it influential?

it may have lost some juice, but it's still influential

it may have lost some juice, but it's still influential

South Park. This was to Comedy Central the way MTV was to cable in the 80s. If you were between the ages of 15 and 35 in 1997, and you didn’t have Comedy Central, you were missing out on the conversation. Personally, I remember moving to Southcentral Pennsylvania in October of that year, and calling my cable company three times a week to add Comedy Central. By December, we had it. Get rid of: Home Improvement (ABC). See: Raymond, Everybody Loves.

Will and Grace (NBC): Maybe it’s tough to remember now, and I never found it funny, but when it debuted in 1998, there had never been consistent, real-life portrayal of gay characters. Get rid of: Ellen (ABC). Or These Friends of Mine. Or whatever you wanted to call it. The show was remarkably average, and by the time Ellen outed herself, Roseanne had already outed, like, 30 of its characters.

Family Guy (Fox). The ultimate proof that fans do have a say in TV viewing. It was canceled from the Fox lineup in 2002 after being jerked around the Fox lineup like crazy for three years. Then it it developed a rabid cult following on Cartoon Network to the point that Fox put it back on the schedule three years after it was canceled. It’s now in its ninth season and is one of the network’s biggest shows. Get rid of: Life Goes On (NBC). Nice, yes. But influential? Facts of Life had Geri as a recurring character long before Life Goes On had Corky.

The Shield (FX). Before The Shield, basic cable just wasn’t airing quality, scripted programming. Now, it’s the place you go to find quality, scripted programming. Get rid of: Murder, She Wrote (CBS). Seriously?

The British version of The Office (BBC). Admit it. Before this show, you thought British humor started and ended with fat, bald guys looking up the comically short skirts of younger, blond women. Or something to do with Spam. Get rid of: Modern Family. It’s NBC’s The Office at home. It’s an extremely funny version of The Office at home, but still. 

Mad Men (AMC): Gave birth to AMC as a viable player in the basic-cable world. Get rid of: Walking Dead (AMC). It doesn’t exist without the success and quality of Mad Men.

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