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What's the best TV show of all time? Who knows? This poll is strictly about favorite shows, the programs people in Hollywood hold nearest to their hearts — that remind them of better times or speak to their inner child or inspire their creativity or just help them unwind after a crappy day at the studio — even if one or two of the programs listed here aren't exactly masterpieces of the medium.
Last year, THR published the world's first movie list based on a polling of Hollywood pros. This year's TV survey was handled in a similar fashion. We asked more than 2,800 industry people — including 779 actors, 365 producers and 268 directors, among others — to choose their favorite series of all time (excluding talk shows and news programs). Although the survey was anonymous, some big names were willing to go on the record. "My favorite is Twin Peaks," says Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost (No. 15 on the list, five above David Lynch's mystery). "It quite literally changed the way my brain worked." Mike Hopkins, CEO of Hulu, picks The Sopranos (No. 6). "It's just classic. It had everything," he says. But even when respondents didn't volunteer their own identities for the public, the results of this survey are full of surprises, starting with the show Hollywood chose as its all-time No. 1 favorite.
Read more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Movie Quotes
Read more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films
Watch 'Modern Family' Cast Re-Creates Famous Shots From 'Breaking Bad,' 'Cheers,' and 'Married…with Children'
Creator Marc Cherry originally wrote Desperate Housewives for cable as an homage to Sex and the City. "It was the next part of the story of all those girls looking for Mr. Right," says Cherry, 53. "What happens after you find Mr. Right and you move to the suburbs and you're still unhappy? But when the cable networks got it, they didn't think it was scandalous enough."
This flawlessly structured British sitcom was based on a hotel in England where creator-star John Cleese spent time during his Monty Python days. The real hotel, the Gleneagles in Devon, closed in March but used to be a tourist attraction; guests were served by actors playing Basil, Sybil, Manuel and the others.
Michael J. Fox was not NBC's first choice to play Alex P. Keaton — Matthew Broderick was offered the part — in this Reagan-era sitcom about aging hippie parents with self-involved kids. But it didn't take long to see a star was being born. "I walked into the mailroom during our first season," recalls Michael Gross, 68, who played Fox's TV dad, "and discovered several Santa-sized sacks of mail for Michael J. Fox."
David E. Kelley's quirky, genre-busting series about an adorably abashed young female attorney (Calista Flockhart, now on CBS' Supergirl) broke all the rules but ended up a hit anyway. "We made the pilot," recalls Kelley, 59, "and [then 20th Century Fox TV president] Peter Roth said, 'You've made a lovely little film. But nobody will watch it. Do you want us to air it anyway?' I responded, 'Please.'"
Everybody Loves Raymond
Ray Romano hated the title and called CBS' Leslie Moonves to complain. "Les told Ray, 'Tell you what, when you become a top 10 show, call it whatever you want,' " recalls creator Phil Rosenthal, 55. "Next year, we were a top 10 show and Ray called Les. Les said, 'Can't change it now, it's a top 10 show!'"
Read more THR's 'Everybody Loves Raymond' First Episode Review in 1996
Creator Ronald D. Moore took a cheesy 1970s space show and turned into an existential meditation on what it means to be human. "It was very boldly complex," says Fred Armisen, 48, who became such a fan, he devoted a plotline to it in Portlandia (his character tracks down Moore and demands another episode).
The family drama, loosely based on Ron Howard's 1989 film, had its share of tragedy, starting with the death of NBC development exec Nora O'Brien, who had a brain aneurysm on the set during the filming of the pilot. "Seeing her die was a real life-changer," says star Peter Krause, 50. "That whole night is incredibly vivid to me."
Photos 'Parenthood': Family Bonding With the Bravermans on the Set of the Jason Katims Drama
The Brady Bunch
Sherwood Schwartz's sitcom about a blended family can be seen daily in 122 countries. "Everyone still wants a hug from me," says Florence Henderson, 81, who played the perfect mom, even if she didn't always have perfect co-stars. "There were creative differences with Robert [Reed]," she says, "who'd forget that we weren't doing Shakespeare."
The Bob Newhart Show
"I'm a reactor, not an actor," says Bob Newhart, 86. "So [show creators] David Davis and Lorenzo Music decided to make me a psychologist because they thought a lot of what I did best was in the way I reacted to people. That show was all about me having to treat crazy situations like they were perfectly normal. One [episode] I had a patient who was a ventriloquist — his puppet was Wally — and the ventriloquist said, 'Wally wants to go out on his own.' I had to keep a perfectly serious face."
When showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields came up with a storyline for their '80s-era Cold War drama involving the U.S training Contra fighters in Nicaragua, they worried they might have jumped the shark. So they took the script to an expert, Oliver North, and asked the Iran-Contra figure (who happens to be a fan of the show) his opinion. "We wondered if it seemed unrealistic," says Fields. "But Ollie said, 'Oh no, that really happened.' "
Photos 'The Americans': Exclusive Portraits of Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys on Set
Bruce Wayne has a whole cave of crime-fighting toys, but all Oliver Queen gets is a bow and arrow. "We wanted to make it grounded and real," says Wendy Mericle, executive producer of the DC Comics-based show. "Not just about superheroes but people who are going through real trauma. That's why it resonates."
The Rockford Files
A few years into the private eye series, another show on a rival network came on with a similar theme song. "[James Garner] and I ran into the producer of that show," recalls Stuart Margolin, 75, who played Rockford's rascally sidekick, Angel. "Next thing you know, Jim throws a right hook. The producer gets up and says: 'Did you see that? Did you see him hit me?' Jim looks at me and says, 'You didn't see? I'll do it again.' And he knocks him down again."
Read more THR's 'Rockford Files' Review in 1974
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
After its first season, the sitcom about misanthropic misfits was on the verge of cancellation. "The network said that we needed to bring in someone with cachet," says creator Rob McElhenney, 38. That turned out to be Danny DeVito, who helped the show become the longest-running comedy in cable history.
Photos 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia': The Gang's 10 Most Controversial Moments
Zach Braff nearly blew his first audition to star in this offbeat medical comedy. "He sent a tape," recalls creator Bill Lawrence, 46. "It was horrible. I'm sure he was hungover." He was better in person.
A show about a telepathic waitress dealing with vampires in a small Southern town wasn't the perfect fit for Tony Soprano's channel. "It was not something that made any sense to what our definition of HBO was," says president of programming Michael Lombardo. But its creator was Alan Ball, who'd made Six Feet Under, so the network took a gamble. Blood ultimately pulled in 13 million viewers a week and, says Lombardo, "redefined what we do."
Law & Order
Dick Wolf's cops-and-lawyers show all but invented the procedural crime franchise. It cast huge stars before anybody knew their names (Samuel L. Jackson, Claire Danes, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and employed writers (Arrow's Marc Guggenheim and Treme's Eric Overmyer) who went on to become TV titans of their own. "It was a great show to learn how to craft a story," says House creator David Shore, 56.
J.J. Abrams' spy-fi series put Jennifer Garner in a different wig and clingy outfit every week, but that was only part of its appeal. "It was really about a family that happened to be spies," says Victor Garber, 66, who played Garner's spy-boss father. "That's what made it relatable."
"It was a peak in my career," says co-creator Mel Brooks, 89, of teaming with Buck Henry to write and produce this goofy Cold War satire. "I once got a call from the CIA wanting to know how Buck Henry and I knew so much about the Cone of Silence."
Remember the episode where the castaways almost got off the island? But Gilligan messed it up? Or how about the episode where they almost got off the island, but Gilligan messed it up? The classic sitcom about six stock characters marooned off the coast of Hawaii only ran three seasons but became a TV staple in syndication. Tina Louise, 81, still thinks of Ginger as the role of her career. She says, "It was as if she was just waiting for me."
Read more THR's 'Gilligan’s Island' First Episode Review in 1964
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
The first of many Law & Order spin-offs, SVU expanded the formula to include ever more despicable crimes (gang rape, pedophilia, illegal importation of rare gibbons). But star Mariska Hargitay, 51, knows the true secret of the show's success. "We all know what the cornerstone is of any show's creative direction," she says. "Hair."
The cartoon about a prehistoric family was way ahead of its time — it was the first primetime series to show a couple in bed together (that'd be Fred and Wilma). Fox talked to Seth MacFarlane in 2012 about a reboot, but it never happened. "In a world where there are so many animated fathers on TV, where does Fred Flintstone fit in?" the Family Guy creator, 41, pondered at the time.
The venerable children's show — where the Muppets were born — is heading to HBO. But Big Bird and Oscar still will be available to kids for free, with the HBO episodes repeating on PBS. Says Steve Youngwood, COO of Sesame Workshop, "We are the only television program whose mission is to educate the world's most vulnerable children."
Married… With Children
The subversive family sitcom put the fledgling Fox network on the map. But Katey Sagal, who played Peggy opposite Ed O'Neill's Al Bundy, was careful about who in her family she let watch. "My two kids were born when I was on the show," she recently told THR. "I would never let them see me in the red wig because I thought it was going to scare them."
"I had the privilege of sitting with President Obama and the first lady at the Kennedy Center two years ago," says Shonda Rhimes, 45, creator of TV's most over-the-top political soap opera. "He said, 'The White House is nothing like Scandal.' He thought it was hilarious that a president would have time to do all the pining and loving that [the show's] president does. But I love the vision of them all sitting around [the White House], bingeing through the episodes."
Photos 'Scandal': Everything to Know About ABC's Buzzy Drama From A-Z
"The show was despised by the Hollywood community," says Full House creator Jeff Franklin, 60. "The initial reviews were horrendous." The Hollywood community eventually warmed up to the family sitcom, though; Netflix is reviving the series (without the Olsen twins) next year with Fuller House.
"He's the perfect TV character," says Steven Moffat, 53, showrunner of the new Who, which continues the sci-fi adventures of the longest-running character in TV history, a Time Lord who travels the space-time continuum in a phone booth (airing in the U.S. on BBC America). "You can do anything — high adventure, a love story, a comedy. When you get bored of one Doctor, a new one pops up."
Photos 'Doctor Who' at 50: Peter Capaldi and the 12 Men Who've Played the Doctor
"We were shooting our fourth or fifth episode when the World Trade Center towers went down," recalls producer Howard Gordon, 54. "We thought, 'Well, this is done. Who is going to want to watch this show?' " A lot of people wanted to watch the real-time adventures of federal agent Jack Bauer, including fans like Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh.
Read more THR's '24' First Episode Review in 2001
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The original TV fright fest from the master of horror. "It was a chance each week to get something new," says The X-Files creator Chris Carter, a childhood fan. "Television anthologies are sorely missing on TV today."
Read more THR's 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' First Episode Review in 1955
Mork & Mindy
"There was one time we were waiting backstage," recalls Pam Dawber, 63, who played Mindy opposite Robin Williams' wacky Mork. "I noticed a robe lying around, and I put it on and started dancing, singing, 'Hare Krishna.' Then Robin put on a robe and started dancing, too. He even found a tambourine. Everybody laughed so hard, the whole thing ended up staying in the show."
Saved by the Bell
This high school series was famous for its romantic pairings, but it was the interracial hookup between Zack and Lisa that elicited the strongest fan response. "We got thousands of letters," says exec producer Peter Engel, 55. "But it wasn't, 'How could there be a black and white kiss?' It was, 'How could Zack kiss Screech's girlfriend?' I was proud of that."
I Dream of Jeannie
"The day the show got picked up was also the day I found out I was pregnant," recalls star Barbara Eden, 84. "I went to [creator] Sidney Sheldon to tell him, assuming that they would replace me." Turns out she was irreplaceable. For much of the first season, Eden says "I was draped in so many veils, I looked like a walking tent."
Watch Sarah Hyland Dresses Up as 'I Dream of Jeannie' Character
"It was just taking in stories and spitting them out," is how creator Doug Ellin, 47, wrote the pulled-from-the trades plotlines of his Hollywood satire, which sometimes hit a bit too close to home. The episode in which Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold leads a mass exodus from his agency had the character's inspiration, WME's Ari Emanuel, squirming in his seat. Says Ellin, "Ari told me he watched covering his face."
Read more THR's 'Entourage' First Episode Review in 2004
Photos 'Entourage' Finale: 20 Unforgettable Hollywood Cameos
Joss Whedon's Buffy follow-up was a quirky space Western that got canceled its first season. But in that short time, the show built enough of a cult following for Fox to reassemble the cast for a feature adaptation, 2005's Serenity. "The fact that Firefly was canceled and the fans continue to come — it truly moves me," says star Nathan Fillion.
It was the charming verbal sparring between co-stars Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd that made this PI dramedy such a hit. But some also tuned in for Agnes DiPesto, the oddball receptionist who greeted every caller with a poem. "People still call me Ms. DiPesto," says actress Allyce Beasley, 61. "She seems to have been an indelible character in a lot of people's minds."
James L. Brooks says he got the idea for the show when reading a magazine article about a cab company "where everyone had an ambition to be something else." He visited the company before writing the pilot and observed, he says, "a very short taxi dispatcher being given a bribe." And Danny DeVito's career was born.
Creator Seth MacFarlane, 41, has admitted that he based Peter Griffin, Family Guy's loudmouthed cartoon dad, on a security guard he knew while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. "The guy could read a phone book and make me laugh," he has said. Still unanswered: Who exactly was the inspiration for Peter's English-speaking, Prius-driving, novel-writing dog?
Hugh Laurie, who played the crabby, Vicodin-addicted title character in this quirky medical drama, hated the show's title. "I remember being on the phone for 45 minutes with Hugh convincing him that, no, House was a good title," says creator David Shore, 56. "Hugh felt that by calling it House, we were putting too much of a focus on one character."
Hill Street Blues
"I'd get letters," recalls creator Steven Bochco, 71, of the reaction to his frenetic, envelope-pushing cop show. " 'It's too noisy, there are too many stories, the camera jiggling makes me ill.' Critics loved it, but nobody watched." Emmy voters loved it, too, nominating it for a 21 awards its first season. "It was the lowest-rated show ever to get picked up for a second season," Bochco notes proudly.
Erin Murphy was a toddler when she began playing Tabitha, daughter of witch/housewife Samantha Stevens, but the 51-year-old actress vividly remembers her TV mom: "Elizabeth Montgomery had a dirty sense of humor, and she loved horse racing," she says. "She was amazing."
John Goodman became an unlikely star when he landed the role of Dan Connor opposite comedy queen Roseanne Barr in her hit sitcom about a blue-collar family struggling to get by. "I probably got a bit of a swelled head now that I look back on it," says Goodman, 63. "I thought I was handling it well, but I self-dramatize a lot."
Creator Diane English is certain her newsroom comedy would never make it on network TV today. "That was a time when people still respected journalists and journalism," she says. "It's hard to make heroes out of those people today."
Monty Python's Flying Circus
"The only bad thing about the Pythons is that they stopped," says Anne Beatts, an original writer on SNL, a show that probably would not exist if not for the seismic shift in comedy triggered by this gleefully absurdist British sketch show. "SNL, good or bad, has gone on for 40 years. The Pythons didn't give us that much. We were cheated."
How I Met Your Mother
The surprisingly poignant finale of this sitcom framed around a man explaining to his kids how he met their mother had been in the works since the very first episode (spoiler alert: Mom's dead). Showrunners and creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays "had this vision for years," says Cristin Milioti, 30, who played Mom.
Read more 'How I Met Your Mother' Turns 200: Showrunners Talk Time Travel, Penning the Series Finale
The Good Wife
This edgy legal drama starring Julianna Margulies is so smart, and politically charged, it's often mistaken for a cable show instead of a broadcast series. "I've heard that," says co-creator Michelle King, "but a compliment is a compliment. I'm delighted to take it."
The Wonder Years"It was terrifying," Fred Savage, 39, once said about his first kiss, which happened to occur onscreen in the pilot of this sweetly nostalgic series about growing up in the suburbs in the late '60s. Just his luck, it took six takes to get it right. "The one good thing about getting your first kiss on camera," noted co-star Danica McKellar, "is that you know for sure it's going to happen."
Star Trek: The Next Generation
"I'm not going to have a bald Englishman playing the new Capt. Kirk," Gene Roddenberry supposedly said when pitched the idea of Patrick Stewart helming The Enterprise in the space series sequel. According to Chaos on the Bridge, a new William Shatner-directed doc about TNG, Roddenberry insisted Stewart wear a toupee. Stewart had his hairpiece Fed-Ex'd from London before he read for the part along with the other two finalists: Mitchell Ryan and Yaphet Kotto. Stewart was so good, Roddenberry relented: "Hair won't matter in the 25th century."
Photos 'Star Trek: The Next Generation': 10 Most Stunning Moments
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
"In every country in the world, it is the thing that I am most known for," Will Smith, 46, has said of the upbeat family sitcom that first made him a star. "No matter how big the movies get, it's the Fresh Prince."
Read more THR's 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' First Episode Review in 1990
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David's Seinfeld follow-up didn't require a whole lot of writing. It was almost all improv. "If you were a guest actor, you didn't get to read anything," says co-star and EP Jeff Garlin, 53. "We would just tell you what the scene is about."
Nic Pizzolatto's postmodern take on noir cop thrillers sparked a network bidding war that included Netflix and HBO. "I really admire Netflix," says Pizzolatto, 39. "I use it as much as anybody on the planet. In the end, though, it was the model of putting every episode out at once. Some shows are better off having a week in between to digest and anticipate."
Fans weren't the only ones bummed when the mother-daughter dramedy ended its run; creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had to sit out the last season on the sidelines after her contract renegotiations went south. "Shit happens," she philosophizes. "It wasn't like they got Saddam Hussein to come in — they left the show in the hands of our writers. But it's always a bummer when you don't get to end it."
Freaks and Geeks
"People still come up to me and say, 'Your show saved me,'" says Linda Cardellini, 40, who played geek-turned-freak Lindsay Weir in co-creators Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's high school drama. "It was a bittersweet show, and that's probably why it didn't survive for long. I remember executives feeling bad that the characters were always losing. They'd say, 'Can't something good happen to them?' But the show wasn't about the shiny people. It was about real kids."
Read more THR's 'Freaks and Geeks' First Episode Review in 1999
Star Tatiana Maslany, 29, plays multiple characters (but only has been nominated for one Emmy) in this Canada-produced thriller about a conspiracy to reshape humankind with cloning. "The show has resonated with people because the themes are universal — identity, body autonomy, these are things people care about," says Maslany. "And it's just a weird show — that's what I love about it."
Photos On the Set of BBC America's 'Orphan Black' With Tatiana Maslany
The Golden Girls
Betty White originally auditioned for the role of sex-hungry Blanche but was "concerned the part might seem too close to Sue Ann Nivens from The Mary Tyler Moore Show," says the 93-year-old actress. The sitcom about a bunch of older ladies — NBC president Brandon Tartikoff came up with the idea after spending time with an elderly aunt — was anything but stodgy, dealing with such subjects as AIDS and gay marriage.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
"I get great pleasure from kids coming up to me and saying they became comedy writers because of The Dick Van Dyke Show," says Carl Reiner, 93, who based his Kennedy-era classic sitcom on his own experiences as a TV scribe. "Conan O'Brien told me the show made him want to be a writer, and I thought that was pretty great."
Read more THR's 'Dick Van Dyke Show' First Episode Review in 1961
Here's the downside of playing president — or even vice president — on TV: If you're any good at it, people take you too seriously. "I'm just trying to make a funny-as-shit show," says Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 54. "But I get asked questions as if I were running for office."
Read more THR's 'Veep' Season 1 Review in 2012
This dark political drama has an eerie knack for pulling storylines out of headlines before those headlines are even printed. Says co-creator Alex Gansa, "If you look at the news now, a former ambassador to Pakistan is being accused of selling secrets," which happens to be a plot point that played out in the show's fourth season. "It's uncanny and bizarre," he notes, "but it's all serendipity."
Photos 'Homeland': Portraits of the Emmy-Winning Cast and Creators
Sure, it's on PBS. And yes, it's full of Edwardian footmen and snooty butlers. But don't be fooled. "The biggest misconception about our show is that it's a comedy of manners," EP Gareth Neame, 48, recently told THR. "But we have these shocking twists. It always seems to be a shock when the story goes on a big right angle." Creator Julian Fellows is still in awe of the runaway success of Downton. But he speculates it may have something to do with a desire for a show that reached across class lines. "If it had been made in the '50s, the servants would have been there for comedic relief. And if it had been made in the '90s, the Crawley's would have been vile," Fellows notes. "But Downton treated the characters upstairs and downstairs equally. It was a show about social change and democracy that on the surface looked comfortingly familiar."
The Carol Burnett Show
"The network tried to talk me out of doing a variety show, claiming it was a man's game," recalls Carol Burnett, 82. "But because of a special clause in my contract giving me the choice between an hour variety show or a sitcom, they had to give us 30 weeks, pay or play!"
This procedural about a mystery writer moonlighting as an NYPD detective gets solid ratings, if not much love from critics. But being a critical darling isn't everything. "I tend to safeguard how cool Castle isn't," says star Nathan Fillion, 44.
The network had one note regarding Fonzie: Lose the threatening-looking leather jacket. But producer Garry Marshall argued that the jacket was motorcycle safety equipment, and a compromise was reached: Fonzie could wear it when his bike was on the screen. "That's why you saw the motorcycle in Mr. C's kitchen," explains Anson Williams, 65, who played Potsie. "And in Fonzie's apartment and at Arnold's …"
Photos 'Happy Days' Cast Recalls Working With Robin Williams
Kelsey Grammer was hesitant to spin off his Cheers character, so producers Peter Casey, David Angell and David Lee came up with the idea of Grammer playing an eccentric Malcolm Forbes-like billionaire who was paralyzed. NBC hated it, so Frasier Crane it was. NBC was in such a rush to get the show on the air that the network barely had time for notes. "They might have really dissected the thing," says Casey. "Instead they said, 'Let's roll.' "
All in the Family
"In those days, everybody knew an Archie Bunker," creator Norman Lear, 93, told THR last year about his struggle to get a "lovable bigot" on TV. "The network was worried about everything — the tone of the show, the lead character and what he might say. It took three years to get on the air because we made no real concessions."
Read more THR's 'All in the Family' First Episode Review in 1971
Friday Night Lights
Before they signed on for the family drama, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler had one note for creator Peter Berg: "We did not want to be jumping into bed with other people and constantly at odds," says Britton, 48. "There's an old falsity that a working relationship is not going to be interesting to watch."
TV's first serial killer protagonist murdered at least 55 people over the course of eight years, and yet somehow Dexter remained remarkably relatable. "If we were offing kindergartners and grandmas, all bets would be off in terms of the audience rooting for him," admits star Michael C. Hall, 44. "In the end, I suppose, there's a frustrated vigilante spirit in many of us."
Read more 'Dexter' Series Finale: Showrunner Scott Buck Breaks Down How It All Ended
The Muppet Show
It's amazing what can be done with felt. "There's something wonderful about the honesty of the characters," says Jim Henson protege Bill Prady. "What made the characters endearing was that they wore their hearts on their sleeves. They lived life all the way out." They'll soon be living it out again; Prady is producing a revived series (a late-night talk show with Miss Piggy hosting, natch) with all the original characters, coming to ABC on Sept. 22.
"Maybe the special effects weren't great, or they had to make certain costuming decisions, but when you heard that music, you knew you were going to get something wonderful," says screenwriter Robert Gordon, whose love of Trek led him to write the 1999 feature film Galaxy Quest. "Every show was a big idea. An allegory about Vietnam or man's nature in the universe or how power can corrupt."
Read more THR's 'Star Trek' First Episode Review in 1966
Read more Star Trek: 10 Spock Quotes to Remember Leonard Nimoy
George Clooney probably is the man most responsible for getting Matt Stone and Trey Parker's R-rated cartoon on the air. When a primitive prototype "Christmas episode" started making the rounds on VHS in Hollywood in the mid-'90s, the star loved it so much that he supposedly had 300 VHS copies made and passed them out to friends. Clooney has done voice work on the show.
Bringing the 19th century sleuth into the 21st century was, um, elementary, according to co-creator Steven Moffat, 53. "There's a harmony between the two eras. Back then, people wrote journals; now they write blogs. People sent telegrams; now they're called texts …"
Read more 'Sherlock': TV Review
Parks and Recreation
Chris Pratt came back for the sixth season with a new career as a movie star, and now Aziz Ansari has a show on Netflix while Amy Poehler has become the embodiment of Joy (in Inside Out). "In 50 years, it's going to be mind-blowing that this cast was all on the same TV program," says showrunner Mike Schur, 39.
Read more THR's 'Parks and Recreation' Season 1 Review in 2009
The Office (U.S.)
Adapting Ricky Gervais' workplace sitcom for American TV was "nerve-racking," says EP Greg Daniels, 52. Especially because all of Daniels' friends were huge fans of the British version. "It was every single intelligent comedy person I respected," he says. "I had dreams that I would be brought up in front of comedy court and they would say, 'What have you done?!'"
Read more THR's 'Office' First Episode Review in 2005
It's not just one of Hollywood's favorite shows but also that of a certain resident of Washington, D.C. "I'm a huge fan," President Obama said in March, when he invited creator David Simon to the White House. "I think it's one of the greatest, not just television shows, but pieces of art in the last couple of decades."
Six Feet Under
Every episode of the funeral home drama opened with a shocking death — getting struck by lightning, getting cut in half by an elevator — but that wasn't cable-edgy enough to satisfy HBO. Recalls creator Alan Ball, 58: "The note I got — probably my favorite note ever — was, 'It feels a little safe. Can you just make the whole thing a little more f—ed up?'"
Read more THR's 'Six Feet Under' First Episode Review in 2001
The smash hit medical drama made household names out of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies. But at first, NBC hated it. "They were very vocal about that fact," says EP John Wells, 59. "We were telling 10, 12, 13 stories in an hour — it was too much. But we tested it, and NBC put it on the air. By November, we were the No. 1 show in America and on the cover of Newsweek."
Read more THR's 'ER' First Episode Review in 1994
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Nearly 20 years since its debut, Buffy remains ahead of its time for making a female superhero the star of the show. So far ahead of its time that creator Joss Whedon, 51, jokes about what the network notes might look like if he pitched the show today: " 'Can't we make her more passive?' " he chuckles.
Read more THR's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' First Episode Review in 1997
Orange Is the New Black (No. 26)
"She does not follow anybody's ideas about what she should be," says Shonda Rhimes of Jenji Kohan, 46, creator of this groundbreaking women's prison drama. "I see Orange Is the New Black and I think, 'I never would have thought of that in a million years.' I can't stop watching."
Read more THR's 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 1 Review in 2013
Photos 'Orange Is the New Black': Meet the Ladies of Litchfield
The Big Bang Theory
"There's a childlike quality to our physicists," says co-creator Chuck Lorre, 62, theorizing on what makes his sitcom about nerdy scientists such a huge hit. "These characters are in need of protection."
The Walking Dead
"An apocalyptic Western" is how Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson describes AMC's original zombie series, cable's highest-rated show. "There was such humanity in something so monstrous … this strange balance of grotesque and human. That's one of the reasons the show has been successful."
Read more THR's 'Walking Dead' Season 1 Review in 2010
NBC's first choice to play Sam Malone? "Bill Cosby," remembers co-creator Les Charles, 72. "We declined because it would have meant doing the Bill Cosby Show." Cosby, of course, did get his own show, which turned NBC's Thursday nights into a ratings juggernaut. "We were worried because the ratings were so dismal," says George Wendt, who played Norm. "But The Cosby Show premiered, and it lifted the whole night."
Read more THR's 'Cheers' First Episode Review in 1982
Photos 'Modern Family' Cast Re-Creates 'Cheers' Ensemble
Photos 'Cheers' 30th Anniversary Party Reunites the Iconic Series' Stars
Will & Grace
Vice President Biden credited this sitcom about a single woman and her gay best friend with paving the way for same-sex marriage. But not everyone was thrilled with the idea of openly gay characters. "The run-through went well," recalls co-creator Max Mutchnick, 49. "But that night, our agent asked me if I would consider making the Will character straight. I have a new agent now."
House of Cards
"People thought we were crazy when we made the Netflix deal," says Kevin Spacey, referring to the $100 million the streaming service reportedly paid for two seasons of the political drama — season one of which it then rolled out, all 13 episodes at once, in a risky binge-viewing strategy. "But I'm kind of used to people thinking I'm a bit nuts."
Read more THR's 'House of Cards' Season 1 Review in 2013
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It only lasted two seasons, but David Lynch's surreal crime series built enough of a cult following that Showtime is bringing it back for a revival in 2017. That cult includes big names, like Lost's Carlton Cuse, who says he's constantly paying homage to Peaks with his creepy A&E series Bates Motel: "Twin Peaks was like a shot of Everclear straight to your subconscious," he says. X-Files creator Chris Carter is a big fan, too. "Sui generis" — Latin for "one of a kind" — is how he describes it.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Initially, Mary Richards was supposed to be a divorcee. "But networks at the time didn't want divorcees, Jews or men with mustaches," half-jokes creator James L. Brooks, 75. Brooks didn't win all his battles with network censors, but he won more than most. The newsroom sitcom was the first to make references to casual sex and birth control and to have gay characters.
Read more THR's 'Mary Tyler Moore Show' First Episode Review in 1970
Tina Fey's backstage sitcom — based on her years writing for SNL — never was a ratings bonanza. But it struck a chord with the industry. "I remember the first year [at the Emmys]," Fey, 45, told THR. "It was one of the years the Emmys were in the round, and we were seated behind the stage — we just saw people's butts all night. We lost everything, but we won best series. Alec Baldwin was so sure we weren't going to win that he was in the bathroom. He missed it the first time. We're lucky [it was] repeated."
Read more THR's '30 Rock' First Episode Review in 2006
Photos '30 Rock': Behind the Scenes
The Twilight Zone
"An honest, intense, ambitious fellow" is how actor Noah Keen, 94, remembers creator and host Rod Serling. Keen starred in two episodes of the trippy anthology series (1961's "The Arrival" and 1962's "The Trade-Ins"), but the experience continues to haunt him today. "After all these years, people still tell me, 'I saw you on TV last night.'"
Read more THR's 'The Twilight Zone' First Episode Review in 1959
Proving cancellation isn't forever, the comedy about the dysfunctional Bluth family that Fox shut down in 2006 came back on Netflix in 2013. But with one change: The show now focuses on one character per episode. "I like to think of it as chapters in a book," says creator Mitchell Hurwitz, "or spokes in a wheel."
Read more THR's 'Arrested Development' First Episode Review in 2003
Showrunners Damon Lindelof, 42, and Carlton Cuse, 56, didn't think viewers would notice the "Dharma Initiative" logo — the emblem for the fringe-science group that wouldn't become important until season two — stuck on the side of the crashed plane in the pilot of their castaway mystery. "But [the logo] exploded across the Internet," recalls Cuse. "It really inspired us to be complicated — people wanted that, even though it was certainly not what the network wanted."
The show's casting director saw 1,400 actors; 400 of them auditioned for creators Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd. But even as the cast was whittled down to eight, tweaks were made. "Jesse Tyler Ferguson came in for the part of Cam, but he didn't feel right," recalls Levitan. "So we asked him to come back for Mitchell. He said, 'Thank God, because I'm really more of a Mitchell.'"
Read more THR's 'Modern Family' First Episode Review in 2009
Robert Altman famously dissed the TV adaptation of his 1970 film set in a Korean War mobile Army hospital. But "Altman was making only one movie — we were making a whole show," says Jamie Farr, 81, who played cross-dressing corporal Klinger. "We were groundbreaking. We were the first series to show blood on the screen. We were always pushing to see how far we could go." Its finale is still the highest-rated TV episode, with 125 million viewers.
Sex and the City
What do Carrie Bradshaw and Don Draper have in common? The Mad Men pilot was shot down the hall from SATC's longtime home at Queens' Silvercup Studios, so Matthew Weiner would pay visits to the women next door. "I would sit at the table, and they would say funny shit," recalls Weiner. "[Showrunner] Michael Patrick King would say things like, 'Oh, you're here on the perfect day. We all finally got our periods in sync.'"
Read more THR's 'Sex and the City' First Episode Review in 1999
The West Wing
Sidney Poitier was the first star approached to play President Bartlet in the political drama, but "those talks didn't get far," recalls creator Aaron Sorkin, 54. "Next was Jason Robards, but he was in bad health. We read some other actors — Hal Holbrook and John Cullum — but then one day [producer] John Wells called and said, 'What about Martin Sheen?'"
Read more THR's 'West Wing' First Episode Review in 1999
There was a recent near-disaster (Harry Shearer almost walked over a contract dispute), but the longest-running scripted series in TV history — 573 episodes and counting — looks set for another 27 seasons. Two things you'll never see no matter how long it's on the air: "Homer and Marge will never break up," promises showrunner Al Jean. "And Bart and Lisa will never age."
Read more THR's 'Simpsons' First Episode Review in 1989
If creator Matthew Weiner's former reps had their way, his ad agency drama wouldn't have gone to AMC. The message he recalls hearing: "You're coming off The Sopranos. I know you love this project, but don't go there. It's really low status. No money. And even if they do it, they've never made a show before. You don't want to be their first." Fortunately, Weiner didn't listen.
Read more THR's 'Mad Men' First Episode Review in 2007
Read more The Uncensored, Epic, Never-Told Story Behind 'Mad Men'
I Love Lucy
Its influence continues to be felt today (without Lucille Ball, there'd be no Amy Poehler, Tina Fey or Amy Schumer), with Lucy popping up where least expected. "I have it on in the background [of my trailer] constantly," says Guillermo Diaz, who plays the former Black Ops assassin on ABC's Scandal. "It keeps me from going to the dark side."
Saturday Night Live
It's been good and not so good, but SNL has remained a reliable comedy fix for 40 years. "My tombstone should say 'uneven' because [the show] has never been described any other way," says creator Lorne Michaels, 70. "You can't possibly be perfect for 90 minutes. But you can have a certain other kind of magic."
Read more THR's 'Saturday Night Live' First Episode Review in 1975
"New Jersey is beautiful even in its industrial wasteland-ness," says creator David Chase, 70, of his epic mob drama's signature setting. "My edict was that all location filming had to take place in Jersey, not in Queens, where the soundstages were. I felt that Jersey gave the show a different look from previous organized crime [dramas]."
"Milton Berle once told me that if you can't make a character funny, make him interesting," says Michael Richards, 66, who turned Kramer, Jerry's screwball next-door neighbor, into the quintessential sidekick on the decade-defining sitcom that was famously "about nothing."
Read more THR's 'Seinfeld' First Episode Review in 1990
Game of Thrones
The biggest hit in HBO history — it has surpassed this list's No. 6 The Sopranos — keeps fans hooked with the bloodiest, most shocking cliffhangers on TV (say it ain't so, Jon Snow!). But co-creator David Benioff sees the dragon-and-swords series as less a thrill ride than a sociopolitical parable. "Ultimately, it's not just about good versus evil," he says. "It's about people of good intentions who come into conflict with each other because they have very different views of the world."
Read more THR's 'Game of Thrones' Season 1 Review in 2011
The creepy title music. The endless conspiracy theories. The tapeworm guy living in the sewer. "There was nothing like it on TV," says creator Chris Carter, 57, of the paranormal thriller, one of Fox's first home runs. "We were taking a genre that had been unloved for a long time and super heating it. I think we opened up an opportunity for a different kind of storytelling, the kind of saga storytelling that's become a staple of cable TV."
Read more THR's 'X-Files' First Episode Review in 1993
HBO, Showtime and, ultimately, FX passed on this dark drama about a disillusioned chemistry teacher turned meth dealer. "It was dead as a hammer," says creator Vince Gilligan, 48, when his agent at ICM sent it to AMC, which was desperate for original series. "Why don't you send it to the Food Network? It's a show about cooking, after all," Gilligan recalls saying. In 2006, AMC picked up the series and approached John Cusack and Matthew Broderick to star. But Gilligan, a former writer of No. 3 on this list, remembered an X-Files episode with Bryan Cranston and cast the actor as his lead.
Read more THR's 'Breaking Bad' First Episode Review in 2008
Watch 'Breaking Bad' Duo Reenacted by 'Modern Family' Actors
On May 6, 2004, more than 52 million people tuned in to the final episode of Friends, making it the fourth-most-watched finale in U.S. history when it aired. But it's the show's lingering hold on the zeitgeist that creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman find so gratifying — and a little baffling. "It's completely surreal," says Crane, 58. "From the way the show got on the air, to the fact that we had 10 amazing years, and that kids today are embracing it. You'd think they'd be like, 'This is tired, old TV.' "
On the contrary. Even Taylor Swift is a fan; she recently performed "Smelly Cat" with Lisa Kudrow onstage in Los Angeles. Crane and Kauffman laugh today when they reflect on some of the notes that preceded the series' 1994 premiere. Former NBC chief Don Ohlmeyer thought viewers would think Monica was "a slut" for sleeping with a guy on the first date, and others felt the gang's coffeehouse couch was too "fleshlike" (it was swapped for something less "downmarket"). "But overall, there were very few notes by today's standards," says Kauffman, 59. "Our own personal mantra was, 'Let's do a show we would actually watch.' And we stuck to it."
Read more THR's 'Friends' First Episode Review in 1994
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