Lets just get to it…
25. MAGNUM P.I. (1980-1988 CBS)
For the first 4 seasons of MAGNUM P.I. it was one of CBS’ most watched shows. The idea of the show is that Thomas Magnum is a P.I. living in the guest house of a multi-millionare (who we never see) and offering his services to the locals of Hawaii. Magnum gets to drive around in a Ferrari he doesn’t own and solve cases. The cases early on were very strong (strong enough to win an Edgar Award). The latter seasons, while not the same quality were still better than most of the tripe that was on TV at the time.
Just how big of a show was MAGNUM P.I.? Consider that the character of Magnum was used to boost viewership for MURDER, SHE WROTE. Also consider that the show SIMON & SIMON was almost canceled, but the network decided to move it to after MAGNUM P.I. So they decided to have a crossover there as well (the mystery started on MAGNUM and ended on SIMON & SIMON).
The acting on the show was phenomenal most notably that of Tom Selleck and Johnathon Hillerman. Hillerman to the surprise of many wasn’t even English but rather Texan. The two characters of Magnum and Higgins and their interactions made the show. Sure the mysteries were there, but it was the characters that made everyone tune in.
The show was hit in 84-85 in the ratings by the massive success of the NBC Thursday Night lineup. CBS had been the network for a number of years, but it couldn’t withstand the programming NBC came up with and which would propel NBC to number 1. However, despite that, the quality of MAGNUM P.I. was still top notch.
The show is currently remade as the show ROYAL PAINS on USA, and instead of being a P.I. the main character is a doctor. Watch the show and tell me you can’t see the similarities!
24. 24 (2001-???? FOX)
I knew this would be a top 30 show, but where to put it? No better place than 24 right? A show referred to by many fans as the Jack Baeur Power Hour, this show has delighted many terrorist hating viewers for 8 years now. Created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran the series follows the trials and tribulations of Jack Baeur (Kiefer Sutherland) an agent of the fictional CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) in a 24 hour period. This is where the show was unique. It was all supposedly in real time.
This unique “it’s happening all in a 24 hour period over 24 episodes” nature made the show an instant hit and classic. While the premise is totally absurd in the way it plays out (Jack doesn’t have to deal with things like eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, traffic). In fact, one of the most amusing aspects of the show for me is Jack’s ability to travel from 1 spot to another that is 30 miles away in the time of a commercial break. However if you can suspend your disbelief for that, the show is top notch and amazing with plenty of twists and turns.
Sure the latter seasons haven’t been as great as others, but the show is still better than a lot on TV and still unique. What has the show brought us? Well it did a damn good job of showing a competent, capable, smart Black President of the United States. It also has now shown us a female president. Sure, it may be pro-torture and other things, but it asks an important question: How far is too far to save the lives of millions or even thousands?
23. ER (1994-2009 NBC)
Here is a perfect example of a TV show that was on the air way, way, way, way, way, way, way too long. If it had wrapped things up in 2000 or 2001 this show would have been a sure thing top 5 show on my list. However I can’t forget or forgive the last 8 years. It has to be remembered for the whole and not the part right? In fact the last 8 years were so awful, that if just those 8 years were rated, and the first years hadn’t existed this show likely would have been rated in the 80s or 90s. That shows just how strong the first seasons of ER were.
ER was created by Michael Crichton who at the time was riding a high as a novelist. His JURASSIC PARK novel had flown off the bookshelves and been turned into a massive summer blockbuster film. So when he approached Steven Spielberg to help make ER a reality it was a no-brainer. The result was a medical drama unlike any other before it, and unlike many after. The amusing thing is that Crichton had tried to sell the idea before, some 20 years before hand. He couldn’t get any bites then, but after his dinosaur success he could sell anything.
The pilot was virtually the same as the original screenplay written 20 years before. There were a few changes including Hathaway living (she died in the original screenplay) a decision made by Spielberg. Spielberg would stop having his hands involved early on, but the decision of Spielberg to hand the show to John Wells was the right one and one of the best decisions made in the history of TV.
The flow of the show was entirely different than anything before it, with some of the longest scenes in TV history. The camera would track back and forth from one even in the ER to another without ever cutting away. This made the actors have to step up their game, as one mistake could force a 3 or 4 minute scene to be reshot. This technique helped make the show seem more intense like a real ER would be.
The producers were also brilliant in their ability to see the weaknesses of their cast. Acting isn’t easy, and some actors just aren’t good at certain types of scenes or dialogue. Due to the nature of ER relying on perfect deliveries from multiple people over long takes, the producers and directors had to make sure that the cast was only being given the type of lines they could truly deliver. This would cause some actors like George Clooney to shine. Having the scenes he was poor at totally removed, just let him do what he did well and that caused his character to chew up scenery like nobodies business. The show made Clooney a super star.
Do I have to mention the impact of this series? For 9 straight seasons it was ranked in the top 4. A feat no other TV show can match. For 10 straight seasons it was a top 10 show, something only FRIENDS I believe can match in modern times. However when it fell it fell big. The 11th season would be its last in the top 20 (at 16) and the remain seasons would be ranked lower than 30. The 14th season was the worst at 55th.
22. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2000-???? HBO)
Here is a show that is hurting itself by not finding closure. However, we’ll ignore that and move on. Larry David originally intended the show to be a one time thing for HBO. However he likely needed money or something, so he was able to be convinced into making it into a series (note that was sarcasm). The series is a mockumentary look into the real life of Larry David. It obviously isn’t his real life because it’s not.
What the show is, is a better stab at the industry than even ENTOURAGE. The shots this show makes are generally spot on, and the fact that it doesn’t rely on that aspect is what makes the show great. The show relies on Larry David being Larry David. It shows how Larry can alienate anyone, and that Larry is his own worst enemy.
A brilliant show, and it has even exonerated a convicted murderer (footage of the show, showed the man was at a baseball game while supposedly he was murdering someone).
21. HOUSE (2004-???? FOX)
Yeah, HOUSE beats ER. Of course if HOUSE stays on the air for 15 seasons it will drop like a rock too. It’s looking like it might be past its “fresh date,” as it is. HOUSE is unique in that it’s a medical drama about a jerk doctor who just happens to be one of the most brilliant diagnosticians alive (if not the most). In fact the show is just a re-imagining of SHERLOCK HOLMES in a medical procedure. Holmes was also an ass, and one who was usually totally indifferent to his clients and just cared about the case itself. The comparison are many: both use similar methods to get to solutions, both are drug addicts, both are musicians, etc.
How can a show go wrong when it finds a truly unique way to tell a Sherlock Holmes story? You’ve already got one of history’s greatest heroes as your main character. However, it would be easy and the reason the show is such a huge success is Hugh Laurie. His take on the character is absolutely amazing. While this wasn’t a surprise to the people of the UK, he seemed to come from nowhere for the American viewership. That may have helped too, because he just swept in and captivated audiences with his portrayal of Gregory House.
Also of nearly equal importance is the work of Robert Sean Leonard who is the Watson to House’s Sherlock as the character Wilson. Leonard has long been an underused talent in the film industry, and Universal landing him for the role was brilliant. You just can’t have Holmes without Watson. Leonard’s Wilson is one of the series extreme strong points and the interaction between the characters is priceless.
One thing the show has already proven is that the other people don’t really matter. They can bring in anyone to be part of House’s team because the show just revolves around House and Wilson, the rest just don’t matter.
How big is HOUSE? Well with AMERICAN IDOL it has boosted the long 4th running Network into 1st place in viewers in the prized 18-49 demo, which isn’t a small feat at all. It spent 3 strong seasons in the top 10 before last seasons fall to 19th.