ken's top tv
Didn’t Rolling Stone publish its 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list just a few years ago? Yeah, it was 2016, and the Top 5 were:
No. 5: Seinfeld.
No. 4: Mad Men.
No. 3: Breaking Bad.
No. 2: The Wire.
No. 1: The Sopranos.
Now, just a handful of years later, Rolling Stone is back with an updated 100 Greatest TV Shows compilation. This time, the Top 5 are:
No. 5: Fleabag.
No. 4: The Wire.
No. 3: Breaking Bad.
No. 2: The Simpsons.
No. 1: The Sopranos.
Rolling Stone explained that it needed to do another 100 Greatest list because we’re in the middle of a truly “Peak TV” era, with more “radical change” in the past eight years than between the arrival of TV after World War II (the “big one,” according to Archie Bunker) and 2016.
Why a new list now?
The magazine describes the current state of TV as “game-changing, side-splitting, tear-jerking, mind-blowing, world-building, and genre-busting.”
They left out limousine-riding, jet-flying, kiss-stealing, and wheeling-dealing. Also bar-arguing and click-baiting, which I suspect this exercise was really all about. Everybody has their (TV’s preferred pronoun) own personal list of greatest TV shows. There’s no accounting for taste.
While I’ve given up on the Academy Awards, I rarely have seen any of the nominees for Best Picture, I am all about TV. I watch a lot, I mean it’s on constantly in my house. It’s on all night in my bedroom.
True story: one year my friend Sean and I, plus a few friends, decided to ride the MS150 weekend charity bike ride. We had two rooms reserved for Saturday night in La Grange. We decided to have one room for psychologically disturbed people dependent on keeping the TV on all night, and the other room for normal people.
Sean, a guy named Jeff, and I said goodnight and went into the all-night TV room. Then the unspeakable happened. Around midnight, Jeff got out of bed, walked to the TV and hit the off button. Oh no, what just happened?
Sean and I sprung up in our beds like The Undertaker. We had a look of panic on our wide awake faces. It was a restless night in a silent room, alone with our thoughts. That’s never good, and we had 80 miles to pedal the next day.
Rolling Stone claims that they polled dozens of TV producers, actors, critics, and editors to compile its “one hell of a list.” What do they know about TV? I’m a pure, cold-blooded TV watcher and I’ve never heard of some of these shows. And I was the newspaper’s daily TV columnist for several years in Houston.
Now just because I’ve never watched a show or never heard of it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on this list. There’s only so many hours in a day, and there are 500 different shows currently in production on American TV. Bruce Springsteen has a song, "57 Channels (And Nothing’ On)."
Supposedly, you can buy a cable package with 120 channels but you really only watch five most of the time. Here’s mine in no particular order: ESPN, news (I flip between CNN, Fox and MSNBC), AT&T SportsNet (Astros and Rockets), Tennis Channel, and HBO.
If YouTube is a channel, that makes my list. I get ready for bed around midnight and think I’ll watch youtube for 20 minutes to fall asleep. I type in “Karen” or “first amendment audit” and next thing it’s 7 am.
Head-scratchers in the Greatest list
Here are some of the shows that made Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest but are a mystery to me: I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002 on BBC), Party Down (2009-10 on Starz), and Halt and Catch Fire (2014-17 on AMC).
I disagree with some of the rankings, too. Rolling Stone has Roots at No. 29 (should be higher), 30 Rock at No. 20 (lower), All in the Family at No. 21 (higher), Saturday Night Live at No. 18 (should be higher, but after this year’s opener, maybe lower), Parks and Recreation at No. 30 (lower), The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson at No. 91 (much higher), and Halt and Catch Fire at No. 55 (lower).
Ken's true Top 5
I shouldn’t argue about Rolling Stone’s Top 5 because they’re acclaimed shows, just not one of them makes my Top 5. Here’s mine:
No. 5: Astros games
Bruce Springsteen is wrong. There can’t be nothin’ on when the Astros play 162 games a year, plus the post-season. I’ve got a feeling that Mattress Mack is going to be cutting a lot of refund checks this year. Astros 2022 World Series champs!
No. 4: Late Night (and the Late Show) with David Letterman
Mostly the early savage years, before he had a child and before his heart surgery. Fun fact, I once read a feature about him (happened to be in Rolling Stone) that said Letterman’s office walls were bare except for one framed newspaper review of his show. I asked Jeff Martin, a Late Night staff writer and Kinkaid High School grad, is that true? He said yes.
I wrote that review.
No. 3: The Office
Note: The American version with Steve Carell. When Comedy Central runs an Office marathon … there goes my Saturday afternoon.
No. 2: Seinfeld
I used to think I was weird because I’ve pretty much memorized entire scripts from Seinfeld. Then I discovered so have my friends. It’s the best network comedy ever. Favorite episode: "Festivus." Favorite character: George Costanza.
No. 1: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Nothing, not a movie or book or play or standup comic, has ever made me laugh as much as Larry David’s brilliant comedy on HBO. When Curb arrives with a new season, I am in front of the TV at 9 pm on Sunday nights. Then I call friends and we discuss the show. Then I watch the episode again on DVR because I missed some jokes because I was laughing too hard the first time.