June 3, 2013

WGA Names 'The Sopranos' the Best Written TV Show of All Time

sopranosJust as they did in 2006 with their list of the 101 Best Written Screenplays, the Writer's Guild of America has released their list of the 101 best-written TV series. While many screenwriters aspire to see their vision on the big screen, with cable becoming ever more cinematic every year, the hard and fast division between the two mediums, at least in terms of quality, is fast falling by the wayside. Click below for the top ten on the WGA's list!

breaking-bad-live-free-or-die3

Breaking Bad, which, like The Wire, and The Sopranos, stretched the boundaries of what a TV show could do, in terms of writing, directing, and acting, is on the list at #13. Some might even argue that TV is a better medium for telling broad, cinematic stories because the long seasons allow for more complicated story arcs and greater build-up of dramatic tension.

The only show on the list that began its life as a movie is M*A*S*H, adapted from Robert Altman's classic 1970 classic comedy (ironically enough, it was the success of the movie which allowed him to break out of TV, where he had been toiling as a journeyman since the '50s, at a time when the distinction between the two mediums was far greater than it is today.)

The Top Ten

  1. The Sopranos 
  2. Seinfeld
  3. The Twilight Zone 
  4. All In The Family
  5. M*A*S*H (adapted from Robert Altman's classic)
  6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  7. Mad Men
  8. Cheers
  9. The Wire
  10. The West Wing

The rest of the list is an interesting look back at TV history. A few talk shows (The Daily Show, Colbert Report, the first season of Late Night With David Letterman) made the cut, as did a surprisingly small number of shows from TV's so-called 1950's "Golden Era" (I Love Lucy, the aforementioned Twilight ZoneThe Honeymooners and Playhouse 90, where James Dean made his first national appearance).

A lot of screenwriters get their start writing for television, and today more than ever there are quality TV shows that are arguably just as good as many films. What do you think of the list? Did the WGA leave out any of your favorites? What's been your experience with writing scripts (spec or otherwise) for TV, as opposed to screenplays?

Link: WGA's 101 Best-Written TV Series

Your Comment

27 Comments

8. Cheers
9. The Wire

June 3, 2013 at 7:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jime

It's a huge shame that Game of Thrones, Rome, and Deadwood didn't appear in the top ten. Granted Game of Thrones is an adaptation, but to bring such an epic series to television is a feat in itself. The writer's are able to condense characters and plot lines non-existent in the book to make it work onscreen, and it is the best television series ever created. Also worthy of note is Boardwalk Empire and House of Cards, although they're rather new shows. George R.R. Martin did write episodes of the Twilight Zone, so at least there was props on that. Overall, the top ten is questionably subjective at best.

June 3, 2013 at 7:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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gkyoung

Aww, no love for Streethawk, Manimal or Automan? lol

June 3, 2013 at 8:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Neil

Supertrain.

Oh and a bunch of 80's-90's sitcoms like "Night Court", the "Police Squad" and "Newsradio" are way underrated. It's as if coming up with a great joke was easier than to say "foggedaboutit" .

By gosh, it is a popularity contest!

PS. My take is that "Seinfeld" was OK in its first couple of (half-) seasons, absolutely brilliant in the next three, again just OK for a couple more and then downright dismal in the last few. So, if one compared various shows entire runs, shows like "Roseanne", "Home Improvement", "Mad about you", maybe even "Murphy Brown" deserve as many accolades (especially, since Larry Charles did a couple of years on "MAY") as Seinfeld, MASH and MTM.

Also, a few dramas like "30 Something, "My so-called life", "Once and Again", "LA Law", "Columbo", etc. got a short shrift too.

June 3, 2013 at 9:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Agreed on your Seinfeld point. Everyone remembers that middle period when it hit its stride, but it was bookended by a few nearly uninspired, unwatchable seasons.

June 3, 2013 at 10:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hummer

What? No MacGuyver?! How about beating armed villain gangs with simple houshold items in every single episode? Eat that, Tony Soprano!

June 3, 2013 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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hansd

ROFL

June 3, 2013 at 8:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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moebius22

Deadwood belongs on that list, no question about it. It's an unforgivable sin that the series ended prematurely.

And while I love Seinfeld, I wouldn't consider it to be on a best-written show list.

June 3, 2013 at 9:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hummer

Talk about build up of dramatic tension... Who shot J.R.? While I was young I can't ever recall such hype surrounding a tv show. Not sure if it's worthy of this list but man people still talk about that series.

June 3, 2013 at 11:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Anthony Marino

"Dallas" was a darn good show for its first 4-5 years.

Other worthy candidates - "Taxi" (more original than "Cheers", more of more interesting characters), "Larry Sanders" (more original and subtle than MTM).

In the drama department - "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere" were revolutionary shows for its period, both brought to NBC by Grant Tinker (who replaced Fred "Hello, Larry" Silverman there)

As a side note, I'll mention two soaps : "General Hospital" of the late 1970's and early 1980, which despite being constrained by the format, became a cultural phenomenon of that era with that whole "Luke and Laura" storyline; and "Santa Barbara" which was a cult hit in the US and a mega prime time hit in Europe.

June 4, 2013 at 12:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Oh, fudge - forgot this: I thought David Chase's "Northern Exposure" was superior to the "Sopranos".

June 4, 2013 at 12:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Wow, can't believe Airwolf didn't make the cut.

June 4, 2013 at 12:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Deadwood and The Wire. None better than those.

June 4, 2013 at 4:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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MIkep

Yup.

June 4, 2013 at 8:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Conan

The Wire should be in the top three, no doubt.

June 5, 2013 at 8:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mike F

If LOST hadn't nosedived like it did those last 2-3 seasons I'd put that well up there as well.

Totally agree on the Deadwood, The Wire and Game of Thrones (if you haven't already had it spoiled check that one out asap, episode just gone twas something else!)

June 4, 2013 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Chris Lambert

it might be a bit new for this list, but I'd say Archer deserves at least a nod

June 4, 2013 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Christian Davis

At the time, Twin Peaks had the quirky Lynchian twists that seems groundbreaking for TV.

June 4, 2013 at 11:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

breaking bad deserves the top 5 in my opinion.

June 4, 2013 at 2:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Alex Mand

WGA are fools, Sopranos had its moments but greatest show ever, in the famous words of CHAD OCHOCINCO JOHONSON " CHILE PLEASE"

One of the greatest shows ever with the worst cowardly/ arrogant endings in the history of television.

Does anyone remeber the episode where the russian mobster was kidnapped and escaped and got free in the snow, well everyone except for the writers/director wanted to know how could you neglect what happened with him. The directors answer at a film fetival was that he got away and got a head transplant AKA " WE had writers block and just felt to leave it out and hope no one noticed"

TAKE away the sex scenes alone in SOPRANOS and the remainder part of the show aside from violence is just TONY and his family visiting a shrink

The " WIRE" was the one of the greatest shows ever ever ever, it had everything , appeal to almost any race, gender, political party etc, it didnt matter if you workedf on wallstreet or on the corner in the streets to a teacher, "THE WIRE" makes the SOPRANOS look like a italian mob driven sicilian typical drama series , OPPS. The wire had no box, demographics, or preferences, just harsh reality without all the extra hollywood glamour thats polluted in today's shows.,

TOP FIVE TV SHOWS/SERIES

1. THE WIRE
2. THE SHIED ( Greatest TV ending of all time, MACKEY)
3. ROME / DEAD WOOD

June 4, 2013 at 2:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jay clout

Agree with you completely. THE WIRE tops ALL! The Wire was some serious Sheakespearian shit. It elevated the craft of screenwriting to a whole new level. It was not only about Baltimore and its wretched politicians or atrocious education system, it was more of a reflection of the whole of the US and the failure of the American Dream. I am not American, but I lived in the US for a decade (when the show was running on HBO), so I can honestly say I can relate to a degree to some of the socio-economic issues portrayed in the show. I lived in an economically deprived area in the NorthEast, and quite frankly, to me The Wire was gospel. The things they portrayed, were basically things that happened and where happening where I lived. I can also apply many aspects of the Wire to lots of places in Europe. Particularly in Eastern Europe, where I am from... I respect The Sopranos as a really good show and one of my favourites, but I do feel The Wire is on a completely different level. Seems like the WGA are scared of acknowledging the truths written by David Simon and the rest of the writers of The Wire.

1.

June 4, 2013 at 5:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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k0bayashi

@kobayashi great point, but its not just a WGA thing its an american and hollywood thing that some people in the industry are biased of.

Im not saying that the SOPRANOS was not a good , show indeed it was a very good show at time, but at times and for about 3 seasons it was just dragged along and milked.

At the of the day, can you honestly say that if majority of the actors in SOPRANOS show were switched and were black, with the same script writting and formula, same theme, crime , sex, scandel etc but just with a majority BLACK cast , do you still think it would be regarded as a great show, well i the short answer would be NO. It would be regarded as just another criminal driven and sex hollywood gang show.
'
Im far from a SPIKE LEE and i'm fair across the boards no racisism no biased opinions, but there is still a prominent undertone and non love towards certain aspects dealing with blacks and some minorites.

June 4, 2013 at 7:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jay clout

THE SHILED too - such an underrated show. THE WIRE & THE SHIELD should be 1 and 2.

June 4, 2013 at 5:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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k0bayashi

I would bet that the Sopranos best moments - now that I have beaten up on it a little, let me give it some well deserved due - or at least the ones more appreciated by the prominent writers are not the sex and the whackings but scenes like the comatose Tony dreams of being on a horse in his own kitchen. If you understand psychoanalysis somewhat, this was David Chase (I believe he wrote that episode himself) showing the subliminal Tony with the Napoleonic complex as the root of his personality.

That said, the "Northern Exposure", which David Chase ran prior to the "Sopranos", had even more quirky characters with major psychological issues.

June 4, 2013 at 8:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Interior:

Guy 1: Quick, what was the lead actors name in real life?
Guy 2: James Gandolfini

Guy 1: What was the lead writer's name? Heck, what were any of the writer's names?
Guy 2: Who gives a shit.

END SCENE

Writer:
Shaking my Head

June 5, 2013 at 3:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robert Thorpe

McGyver was okay, but it's a stretch to call it great TV. It was just entertaining.

July 15, 2013 at 3:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fantomex

I'm completely adcdetid to LOST. But I usually end up renting the seasons afterward because there's too much information to take in the first time around. Survivor was always one of my favorites too, but I got sick of all the backstabbing and stuff. I just wanted to see them survive. I love the idea of being stranded on an island and having to survive. I always wanted to be a contestant on that show, but there's no point because I'm too honest and I would get voted off right away. I want to drop about fifty pounds though, and I don't think The Biggest Loser would take me. I'm not quite THERE yet. lol. I'm also a big fan of AI and have been since it began. I can't wait to see who wins this season!

March 18, 2014 at 1:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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No wonder most of the crap that comes out of Hollywood is crap. If the consensus of the WGA is that the Sopranos is the best written TV show of all time then there is absolutely no hope for the future of entertainment. You might as well just shut it all down now. Are you kidding me? Has anyone gone back to watch the sewage from season 1? It comes off as freshman writing class 101, first draft garbage. It's unwatchable. Try it. Go back and watch it. If you can stomach it. It doesn't pass the test of time. No idea how it lasted as long as it did. Mainstream viewing standards must have been pretty low back then. Jesus H Christ. Best of ALL TIME? What are you smokin' son?

September 16, 2016 at 6:50PM, Edited September 16, 6:50PM

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Echo Bravo
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