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The 10 Most Essential TV Shows - Make Your Choice (1 Viewer)

Brian Himes

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Here’s the scenario: A friend wants to view some classic TV to get a sense of what a particular decade looked, sounded and felt like. They are looking for the 10 most essential TV shows that are available on DVD for any particular period (50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s) and because you have an extensive collection they have asked you to pick out the shows you feel are the most representative of the period requested. What TV shows would you select for them and why? Now the shows must be available on DVD (complete would be best but if not there should be a fairly good amount released to give an accurate sense of the series). The shows should be historically or culturally (pop culture included) significant. Also the shows should have lasted for more than 2 seasons. Saturday Morning series are excluded. While they do have a cultural and historical value, they are a different animal and would deserve their own separate list.


So, since 90% of my TV on DVD collection is 70s TV I’ll take a stab at that decade.


1. All In The Family – Setting aside the historical significance, I believe it goes without saying that All In The Family is very representative of what was happening in the 70s. The issues, the attitudes, the look and the feel of the decade. Growing up in the 70s I saw many a household that looked like the Bunker’s home. The old furniture, the drab faded wall paper, the worn carpet, and the oh so 50s window curtains. In spite of trying not to look 70s, the show managed to look very 70s. Then of course there were the issues. Many of which are still with us today. Yes, All In The Family certainly typified the 1970s.


2. The Six Million Dollar Man – Pure 70s escapism. A pop culture phenomenon that was one of the most iconic shows of the period. An action adventure series that had it all. It was a secret agent show, a sci-fi show, a super hero show, and a few times, an unusual type of cop show. The adventures of Steve Austin are just pure fun to watch. Then of course there is the 70s fashion sense of Steve Austin. No one ever looked better running in bell bottoms and leisure suits.


3. The Bionic Woman – Like it’s parent show but with a bit of feminist power thrown in. This was a hard one to pick. Sure, there were other series with empowered women for viewers to choose from. Police Woman was good but Pepper Anderson just wasn’t quite as memorable as Jaime Sommers. There was Charlie’s Angels. The only real power going on there was jiggle power. It came down to a choice between Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman or Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime Sommers. Both were super hero shows but The Bionic Woman seemed to have just a bit more heart. That’s not to say that Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman wasn’t good. It was. She was honest and sincere in the role, but Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime Sommers was just be bit better.


4. The Brady Bunch – The show that refuses to die. While at the time it was not a ratings winner nor was it even considered relevant it has since become a show that is most identified with the early 70s. True, it is pure fluff but it’s pop culture significance can’t be denied. Like it or not, the Brady’s are here to stay.


5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – The Emmy winning series is a joy to see. The show has a warm feeling from the first episode to the last. It was one of the best series to ever grace the TV screen. The first show about a single, career minded woman rightfully deserves its place in TV history.


6. The Bob Newhart Show – I chose this show over another show (that will be discussed later) mainly because it’s a personal favorite. The Bob Newhart Show was just a well written and well acted series.


7. NBC Sunday Movie Mystery – Ok, I admit it. This was a bit of a cheat. However, since none of the original three shows (Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife) contained within this ‘wheel’ series were ever aired as three individual series, I think the choice is defensible. This series had the best detective/police shows of the period. All three were very distinct. McCloud was pretty much a straight forward police drama. McMillan and Wife was the genuine mystery series. Finally Columbo was a top notch detective series.


8. The Carol Burnett Show – The historical importance of this show is undisputed. Probably the best variety show that ever aired. The first couple of years the show struggled to find the right direction, but from season 3 or 4 through the 10th season represents the series at its very best. The series poked fun at just about everything 70s and more. Also, The Carol Burnett Show is an American TV treasure.


9. Saturday Night Live (Seasons 1-5) – Today it’s hard to understand just how revolutionary Saturday Night Live was when it came on the scene in 1975. Watching those first five years gives you a glimpse into the college age/young adult’s mindset at the time. This show was the 1970s like no other series.


10. WKRP In Cincinnati – Even though only the first year and a half were in the 70s, this show never lost its late 70s sensibilities. The show is also a great time capsule of the late 70s and therefore needs to be on the list. And the series is just plain hilarious.


Now there were four series that were honorable mentions. These almost made the list and are essential 70s shows but I had to pick just 10.


Barney Miller – It came down to a choice between Barney Miler and Bob Newhart and I chose Bob. However, Barney Miller is just as good and just as deserving of its place in 70s TV history.


Starsky & Hutch – Another personal favorite that just about made the list. Not quite as important as others, but the pop culture significance made it a close contender.


M.A.S.H. – Probably on most critics list of one of the all time best TV shows it just didn’t make my list. Not that I don’t love M.A.S.H., I do. And I’m not disputing its historical and cultural value, it just came down to a choice between this one and All In The Family. I felt All In The Family was just a tiny bit more important.


The Midnight Special – Before MTV there was The Midnight Special. Some might argue that Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was a better series, The Midnight Special was first. It was a great look at the music of the 70s. The only thing that kept this off my list was the really poor representation on DVD. There isn’t one complete unedited episode on DVD. Therefore watching just the highlights of the series really doesn’t give you a good sense of what this series was really like. It was a mix of American Bandstand, Soul Train and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert all rolled into one. It’s a shame that we will never see the complete series as it aired again.


Well, there is my list for the 70s. Anyone want to tackle the 50s, 60s or 80s? Or do you have a different take on the 70s? It should be fun to see what others feel are essential shows for their favorite period.
 

Joe Lugoff

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I was going to do the 1950s, but you said the shows had to be available on DVD, so the list wouldn't really be representative of the decade. I say that because no one can get a real feel of the 1950s without the live dramas (like Studio One), the variety shows (like Your Show of Shows) and the (rigged) quiz shows (like The $64,000 Question). Also, a lot of the most popular shows are not only not on DVD, but barely remembered (like December Bride).


It's obvious to say I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, etc., but they in no way give a true or complete picture of the 1950s.


I'm sorry to throw cold water on your request, so don't pay any attention to me. I'm a killjoy from way back.
 

davidHartzog

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60s: Route 66, The Fugitive, Hawaii 5-0, Naked City, Gunsmoke, The Avengers, Star Trek, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jetsons, The Twilight Zone, all provide some idea of how people lived and worked,their concerns and dreams, values.
 

Frank Soyke

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I'll try my favorite decade, the 60's. Legitimate releases only, huh? Ok, Here goes. Not all personal favorites but essential decade shows IMO.


1) The Fugitive

2) Dick Van Dyke

3) Star Trek

4) Route 66

5) Mission Impossible

6) Mannix

7) Jeannie

8) Get Smart

9) Hogan's Heroes

10) Beverly Hillbillies


Alts - My 3 Sons, Family Affair, Mchale's Navy, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, Munsters, My Favorite Martian, Wild Wild West
 

Ron Lee Green

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davidHartzog said:
60s: Route 66, The Fugitive, Hawaii 5-0, Naked City, Gunsmoke, The Avengers, Star Trek, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jetsons, The Twilight Zone, all provide some idea of how people lived and worked,their concerns and dreams, values.
I agree with the above selections for the 1960s, but I would add Bewitched because it started in 1964, and it was still on at the end of the decade (actually ended in 1972), so you really got to see the changing styles and fashions of the sixties by the way Samantha dressed and wore her hair, the furnishings, the appliances, etc. if you're looking for what the 60's looked, sounded and felt like (magic aside).
 

LouA

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I was going to do the 1950s, but you said the shows had to be available on DVD, so the list wouldn't really be representative of the decade. I say that because no one can get a real feel of the 1950s without the live dramas (like Studio One), the variety shows (like Your Show of Shows) and the (rigged) quiz shows (like The $64,000 Question). Also, a lot of the most popular shows are not only not on DVD, but barely remembered (like December Bride).

It's obvious to say I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, etc., but they in no way give a true or complete picture of the 1950s.

I'm sorry to throw cold water on your request, so don't pay any attention to me. I'm a killjoy from way back.
[/quote
Have Gun Will Travel, Sea Hunt , Howdy Doody ,Lone Ranger, Lassie , Disneyland would help give a picture of the decade, but JOE LUGOFF is 100 % correct. There are shows that like the one's Joe mentions, and People's Choice (talking bassett hound !), Beat The Clock. Dragnet , Andy's Gang (Froggy the Gremlin),Arthur Godfrey ,The Millionaire, which really give you a feel for the programming of the 1950's , but are not available .
 

William T. Garver

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I wasn't born until 1968, but I'm going to attempt the 50's and 60's just the same.


1950's:
  1. The Ernie Kovacs Show -- Television's original genius.
  2. The Honeymooners -- The blueprint for most sitcoms that followed. (Although it could be argued that Gleason stole some of the format from his time on The Life of Riley)
  3. The Colgate Comedy Hour -- The best showcase for Martin & Lewis, the 50's most popular comedy duo, outside of nightclubs. Plus Abbott & Costello, Eddie Cantor, Donald O'Connor, etc.
  4. The Phil Silvers Show -- Nat Hiken's writing and Silvers' timing still hold up tremendously well.
  5. Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- The movies' most recognizable director does anthology TV.
  6. Studio One -- Despite previous comments, many episodes of this landmark live, drama, anthology series are available on DVD.
  7. Your Show of Shows/Caesar's Hour -- Two separate shows, usually lumped together, which served as a template for future live sketch comedy, especially SNL.
  8. You Bet Your Life -- The one... the only... Groucho!
  9. Maverick -- It wouldn't be the 50's without a Western, and I hated the TV incarnation of Gunsmoke (The radio version is my favorite radio drama).
  10. The Mickey Mouse Club -- "Y," because we like you.

1960's:
  1. The Prisoner -- It was a single season, limited-run series, but it was so excellent and groundbreaking that it has to make the list.
  2. Get Smart -- Would you believe... no show has ever created as many memorable catch phrases as this one. SNL, you say? Sorry about that, Chief. Missed it by that much.
  3. The Dean Martin Show -- The coolest variety show of them all.
  4. The Andy Griffith Show -- Small town nostalgia in the face of changing times.
  5. Star Trek -- Where no man has gone before.
  6. Twilight Zone -- Television's most loved anthology series.
  7. Car 54, Where Are You? -- Nat Hiken again.
  8. The Avengers -- The other British invasion.
  9. The Dick Van Dyke Show -- A little peak into Sid Caesar's writer's room.
  10. Batman -- Comic book camp at its best, and a who's who of celebrity guest stars.
 

Silverking

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William T. Garver said:
I wasn't born until 1968, but I'm going to attempt the 50's and 60's just the same.


1950's:
  1. The Ernie Kovacs Show -- Television's original genius.
  2. The Honeymooners -- The blueprint for most sitcoms that followed. (Although it could be argued that Gleason stole some of the format from his time on The Life of Riley)
  3. The Colgate Comedy Hour -- The best showcase for Martin & Lewis, the 50's most popular comedy duo, outside of nightclubs. Plus Abbott & Costello, Eddie Cantor, Donald O'Connor, etc.
  4. The Phil Silvers Show -- Nat Hiken's writing and Silvers' timing still hold up tremendously well.
  5. Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- The movies' most recognizable director does anthology TV.
  6. Studio One -- Despite previous comments, many episodes of this landmark live, drama, anthology series are available on DVD.
  7. Your Show of Shows/Caesar's Hour -- Two separate shows, usually lumped together, which served as a template for future live sketch comedy, especially SNL.
  8. You Bet Your Life -- The one... the only... Groucho!
  9. Maverick -- It wouldn't be the 50's without a Western, and I hated the TV incarnation of Gunsmoke (The radio version is my favorite radio drama).
  10. The Mickey Mouse Club -- "Y," because we like you.

1960's:
  1. The Prisoner -- It was a single season, limited-run series, but it was so excellent and groundbreaking that it has to make the list.
  2. Get Smart -- Would you believe... no show has ever created as many memorable catch phrases as this one. SNL, you say? Sorry about that, Chief. Missed it by that much.
  3. The Dean Martin Show -- The coolest variety show of them all.
  4. The Andy Griffith Show -- Small town nostalgia in the face of changing times.
  5. Star Trek -- Where no man has gone before.
  6. Twilight Zone -- Television's most loved anthology series.
  7. Car 54, Where Are You? -- Nat Hiken again.
  8. The Avengers -- The other British invasion.
  9. The Dick Van Dyke Show -- A little peak into Sid Caesar's writer's room.
  10. Batman -- Comic book camp at its best, and a who's who of celebrity guest stars.
Good list but I think any 50's list should include 'I Love Lucy' & 'Dragnet'.
 

benbess

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Great lists, everyone. My favorites for the 1960s are:


1. Star Trek

2. The Twilight Zone

3. The Virginian

4. Mannix

5. Gilligan's Island

6. The Dick van Dyke Show

7. Get Smart

8. Gunsmoke

9. Bonanza

10. The Big Valley


But there are many iconic shows from this decade I still haven't seen, such as The Fugitive.
 

David Weicker

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I'm just going to add a few entries,rather than a full list. I agree with most of the prior entries.

Although it's not fully represented on disc: Walt Disney show (under whatever name it happened to go by). Also not sure which decade to put it in, since it spanned

60's
Dark Shadows

70's
The Rockford Files (IMO one of the greatest shows ever)

80s
Dallas
Dynasty
Moonlighting
Hill Street Blues
Remington Steele (personal favorite)
 

Walter Kittel

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I am not as big of a classic TV guy as some on the forum, so my lists wouldn't be nearly inclusive so I'll just add a few comments.


I really like David's inclusion of The Rockford Files, easily one of my favorites from that period.


If Police Story had a comprehensive DVD release that would be an automatic selection for a '70s list from me. Unfortunately only season one has been released.


I would add The Wild Wild West to my '60s list if for no other reason than the circumstances surrounding its cancellation as it pertained to culture at that time.


- Walter.
 

Gary OS

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Silverking said:
Good list but I think any 50's list should include 'I Love Lucy' & 'Dragnet'.

I concur, especially with Dragnet. It's a tired meme that 50's TV didn't represent "true" America like 60's or 70's TV did. It's all about where in America one lived, imho. For instance, I know a lot of people from middle America that actually did live like, and could identify with, the shows that are often lambasted by urban dwellers as unrealistic. Shows like Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best, Lassie, and Leave it to Beaver. It seems like those who inhabited the giant metropolises simply can't comprehend that average Americans actually did identify with those simpler shows because that's how they lived their lives. They didn't lock their doors at night and their neighbors and neighborhoods were decent - even kind.


So while I'd include shows like Dragnet and Highway Patrol, and probably one of the live stage shows that broadcast from Broadway just to allow for some understanding of what it was like to live in one of those large cities, I'd also include the simpler, family-oriented shows to demonstrate how Americans in rural areas lived life as well.



Gary "not everyone was cynical and depressed in the 50's" O. :D
 

TravisR

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Gary OS said:
It's all about where in America one lived, imho. For instance, I know a lot of people from middle America that actually did live like, and could identify with, the shows that are often lambasted by urban dwellers as unrealistic. Shows like Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best, Lassie, and Leave it to Beaver. It seems like those who inhabited the giant metropolises simply can't comprehend that average Americans actually did identify with those simpler shows because that's how they lived their lives. They didn't lock their doors at night and their neighbors and neighborhoods were decent - even kind.
Yeah, I grew up in the suburbs in the 1980's and Leave It To Beaver was/is relatable to my experiences as a kid. Some situations were different just due to it being different eras but overall, it was similar. I never climbed into a soup billboard though.
 

Rob_Ray

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TravisR said:
Yeah, I grew up in the suburbs in the 1980's and Leave It To Beaver was/is relatable to my experiences as a kid. Some situations were different just due to it being different eras but overall, it was similar. I never climbed into a soup billboard though.
I grew up in the working class suburbs of Houston in the '60s and those shows were very relevant to my life. We did lock our doors at night, of course, but not while we were at home during the day. Everybody knew one another, we bummed around the way Beaver and Wally did and got into the same sort of mischief. I like to think that this world still exists even if it moves further and further into the exurbs as time marches on. This is why people move to the suburbs in the first place.
 

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From the low-brow side of the 1980's (and early 1990s). Mostly cheesy action shows.


(In no particular order).


- Knight Rider

- Airwolf

- Miami Vice

- MacGyver

- Sledge Hammer!

- Magnum PI

- The A-Team

- Dukes of Hazzard

- Beavis and Butthead


In place of a 10th entry above ^, a runner up list of semi-low-brow semi-cheesy 80s action shows:


- Hunter

- Hardcastle & McCormick

- Riptide

- The Fall Guy

- Simon & Simon

- TJ Hooker
 

Regulus

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1950s:


I Love Lucy


The Twilight Zone


Highway Patrol


Sea Hunt


Dragnet (Original)


Bonanza


Gunsmoke


The Lone Ranger


The Adventures of Superman


and of course, Lassie


1960s:


Flipper


Star Trek


Dragnet


Adam 12


The Addam's Family


The Munsters


The Dick Van Dyke Show


Gilligan's Island


The Brady Buncn


and would you believe, Get Smart


Children's Shows


1950s


Space Patrol


Sky King


Captain Midnight


Alvin and the Chipmunks


Annie Oakley


1960s


Thunderbirds


The Flintstones


Space Ghost


Fantastic Voyage


Hot Wheels/Skyhawks


and a Boatload of others, too many to mention!
 

Susan Nunes_329977

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There are a lot of worthy television programs, but three absolutely essential television series for any collector would be I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, and The Fugitive.



The best period for television was from the fifties into the seventies, when, strangely or not so strangely enough, viewers had fewer choices.
 

Susan Nunes_329977

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benbess said:
Great lists, everyone. My favorites for the 1960s are:


1. Star Trek

2. The Twilight Zone

3. The Virginian

4. Mannix

5. Gilligan's Island

6. The Dick van Dyke Show

7. Get Smart

8. Gunsmoke

9. Bonanza

10. The Big Valley


But there are many iconic shows from this decade I still haven't seen, such as The Fugitive.


The Fugitive is one of the greatest television shows ever made. Many consider it THE greatest. I just love that show. Make sure you see it.
 

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