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What's Missing From The WGA's '101 Best Written TV Series Of All Time' List?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 3, 2013 3:09 PM
37 Comments
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The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced their list of the 101 Best Written TV Series, of all time. 

The list was determined through online voting by WGAW and WGAE members.

At their core, all of these wonderful series began with the words of the writers who created them and were sustained by the writers who joined their staffs or worked on individual episodes,” said WGAW President Chris Keyser and WGAE President Michael Winship in a joint statement. “This list is not only a tribute to great TV, it is a dedication to all writers who devote their hearts and minds to advancing their craft.

I scanned the full list of 101 titles, and counted just 3 *black series*: The Wire (#9), The Cosby Show (#29), and Roots (#62). 

That's it!

So let's have some fun, shall we. Are there any black TV shows (in TV history) that you think deserve to be on this list?

Maybe Frank's Place (remember that show?); or how about Roc (Charles S. Dutton's series)? Sanford and Son, which was actually nominated for Primetime Emmy awards several times, as was Julia, the Diahann Carroll series. 

And since the list includes sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, shouldn't In Living Color also be included? Or Chappelle's Show?

I could probably name a few more that I think should've been given some consideration - especially on a long list of 101 titles.

But what do you guys think? 

Here are the first 20 series on the list; to see the full list of 101, click HERE.

1. The Sopranos – HBO – Created by David Chase

2. Seinfeld – NBC – Created by Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld

3. The Twilight Zone (1959) – CBS – Season One writers: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Robert Presnell, Jr., Rod Serling

4. All in the Family – CBS – Developed for Television by Norman Lear, Based on Till Death Do Us Part, Created by Johnny Speight

5. M*A*S*H – CBS – Developed for Television by Larry Gelbart

6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – CBS – Created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns

7. Mad Men – AMC – Created by Matthew Weiner

8. Cheers – NBC – Created by Glen Charles & Les Charles and James Burrows

9. The Wire – HBO – Created by David Simon

10. The West Wing – NBC – Created by Aaron Sorkin

11. The Simpsons – FOX – Created by Matt Groening, Developed by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening and Sam Simon

12. I Love Lucy – CBS – “Pilot,” Written by Jess Oppenheimer & Madelyn Pugh & Bob Carroll, Jr.

13. Breaking Bad – AMC – Created by Vince Gilligan

14. The Dick Van Dyke Show – CBS – Created by Carl Reiner

15. Hill Street Blues – NBC – Created by Michael Kozoll and Steven Bochco

16. Arrested Development – FOX – Created by Mitchell Hurwitz

17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – COMEDY CENTRAL – Created by Madeleine Smithberg, Lizz Winstead; Season One – Head Writer: Chris Kreski; Writers: Jim Earl, Daniel J. Goor, Charles Grandy, J.R. Havlan, Tom Johnson, Kent Jones, Paul Mercurio, Guy Nicolucci, Steve Rosenfield, Jon Stewart

18. Six Feet Under – HBO – Created by Alan Ball

19. Taxi – ABC – Created by James L. Brooks and Stan Daniels and David Davis and Ed Weinberger

20. The Larry Sanders Show – HBO – Created by Garry Shandling & Dennis Klein


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37 Comments

  • Carter | June 16, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    What about The Boondocks, people?!

  • Reg | June 5, 2013 10:38 PMReply

    I'm surprised that any show with a black was on the list. The WGA is mainly a bunch of white individuals who got into the guild because of a personal contact -- an uncle or family friend who owns a production company -- very few have actually ever had a deal of any real merit. Third rate white writers can get option deals over the phone while a talented black writer has to have damn near an act of God get him or her in a conversation about an option with these production companies, studios and networks! My agent who was one of the top lit agents at CAA told me that.

  • Monique a Williams | June 5, 2013 11:16 AMReply

    It's easy to say what's missing and wish to expand the list, but what about what is there? I don't see a show on there that I'm familiar with that doesn't deserve to be acknowledged for fine writing. Perhaps we need to say, is my show well-written or just a good Black show?

  • Diakonos | June 4, 2013 10:33 PMReply

    The problem with people who make these selections is that they know only about the recent history of television. That's what accounts for the absence of "The Goldbergs" and "Mama," both of which were better in all ways than many of the shows in this ranking. A more recent show that outstripped many of these in terms of quality writing and acting was "Brooklyn Bridge."

  • Curtis Caesar John | June 4, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    Wow, Richard Wesley weighing in! Now you know this post has gotten some attention. Mr. Wesley is absolutely correct that "distinctions were made concerning the quality of the writing AND the social and cultural impact of many of those listed" obviously from a European-minded standpoint, knocking out shows many of us have listed. I personally read this list last night and scoffed at most of it, esp. with Seinfield being number two. I also agree with most of what everyone has said, especially for shows like A Different World and In Living Color getting totally passed over/disregarded, though I never find Sanford & Son funny (must be generational). That 'Everybody Hates Chris' was passed over is blasphemy.

    And to Carey Carey, while its pretty undeniable that Amos n' Andy was pretty funny, there's NO WAY it could make this or any list and not catch more heat than its already catching, just for its origins and the shiftless nature of the characters alone. If history and culture, as Mr. Wesley points out, was not a determinant, then maybe it could.

  • CareyCarey | June 4, 2013 2:01 PM

    *ugh* I'd pick up the dinner "tab".

  • CareyCarey | June 4, 2013 1:54 PM

    Curtis, you're right. First, I knew Richard's name was familiar, but it didn't stick until you gave him a shout-out. I would pickup the tap for a night out with him and his wife. Come on now, can you imagine the depth of conversation?

    Anyway, in reference to Amos n' Andy, I agree. It was banned from television for several reasons that I won't get in, but it was loved by many. Btw, I believe the ban has been lifted.

  • Richard Wesley | June 4, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    The list reflects the tastes of a union that is overwhelmingly white and male, which says more about hiring practices than it does about "quality television." Certainly, many of the shows that are on this list deserve to be there, but since distinctions were made concerning the quality of the writing and the social and cultural impact of many of those listed, it is significant that a show like FRANK'S PLACE, or others like, SANFORD and SON or IN LIVING COLOR, did not make the cut. With a larger representation of writers of color and women writers, the list would have been far more eclectic, and that brings us back to the issue of hiring practices in the entertainment industry, doesn't it?

  • Reggie | June 4, 2013 12:11 AMReply

    'Homicide' is on the list.

  • Curtis Caesar John | June 4, 2013 1:19 PM

    Homicide wasn't created or had a showrunner that was Black, though at one time yes it was the Blackest show in TV

  • Edwina | June 3, 2013 10:55 PMReply

    FRANK'S PLACE. Too good for it's own good.

  • CareyCarey | June 3, 2013 8:43 PMReply

    What's Missing From The WGA's 101 Best Written TV Series?

    That's easy, they're called BLACK FOLKS. I jest but I'm serious, who missed the memo saying "Your blues ain't like mine and Ain't no fun when the rabbit's got the gun".

    Listen, as RAS THE EXHORTER pointed out, we're basically addresses the views of white folks. And lord knows, by and large, they don't love who we love, nor do they share our sense of humor. And certainly their blues ain't like ours. Consequently, from their perspective, our shows will never be as entertaining, or "the best" or as funny as theirs... when we have the gun.

    Even more not-so-mystifying are the words "best WRITTEN tv series". Well hell, are we speaking of an English grammar and punctuation class or... is the proof in the pudding? Look, I don't care how it's written, the focus should be on whether or not the material is entertaining, intriguing or makes me laugh. So again, I am suggesting white folk's blues, humor, etc, ain't like ours. So they can't speak, nor vote for me.

    Having said that, my pick of "the best" would include, Martin, The Wire, A Different World, Soul Train, The Cosby Show and In Living Color.

    Now, politics aside (I don't desire a discussion nor debate on "negative images" or "stereotypical character" or "sending evil messages) I'll add those I believe were very entertaining (from my perspective). In random order: Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Flip Wilson Show, The Bernie Mack Show, Chappelle's Show and Everybody Hates Chris.

    Now I have to mention a show that's at my tippy top. Again, politics aside, according to the opinions of most blacks of that day and it's weekly top 5 tv ranking, this show has to be considered one of the best. The show ran from June 1951 to April 1953 with 78 filmed episodes, and was sponsored by the Blatz Brewing Company. That first black sitcom on American television was the infamous Amos n Andy tv series. I know, I know, some folks let out a deep *groan" and a low *ugh* upon hearing that name. However, for the majority of black folks (and whites too) it was can't miss, and won't miss tv at it's best.

  • WB | June 3, 2013 6:10 PMReply

    I also scanned the list for "black series" or shows written to showcase the black experience and creativity. I couldn't believe there were only 3. But then again, who were the people selecting the shows for the list. As if we don't know.

  • Dankwa Brooks | June 3, 2013 5:35 PMReply

    @TAMBAY Roc was good...for a black show, but I don't think is upper echelon. Chappelle's Show and Sanford & Son I think owe much to their stars. Those shows eventually had to prove they were nothing with them.

    And A DIFFERENT WORLD should definitely be mentioned.

  • Dankwa Brooks | June 4, 2013 7:52 AM

    @NADIA. LOL. Touché

  • Nadia | June 3, 2013 5:56 PM

    "Roc was good... for a black show"

    Damn, we grading on a curve now. Lol. S&A should do a list of films and TV shows that are good "for being black films" and "for being black shows" but that can't compete at the top level.

  • Dankwa Brooks | 'Nother Brother Entertainment | June 3, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    For real though most "black shows" had pisspoor writing and the whole reason I decided to give it a try. I literally thought "I COULD write better than this!" and started from there eventually studying screenwriting as part of my undergrad.

    I loved well written shows like 'Taxi', 'Cheers', 'Moonlighting', 'L.A.Law' since I was a teenager and as a young adult I wondered why the black shows couldn't be that good :(

  • Dankwa Brooks | June 4, 2013 7:50 AM

    I totally agree about 'Girlfriends' STEVEN SANDERS! I only saw a couple of episodes, but TES their writing was above grade.

    STEVEN I get what you're saying about white shows, but THEY are the majority and by sheer interest as a lifelong black viewer I watched pretty much anything with a black face and the shows with the majority of black faces...pisspoor.

    Do I really need to bring up the WB/UPN black sitcom network starters?

  • Steven Sanders | June 3, 2013 11:20 PM

    Come on Dankwa, piss poor writing can be said with almost any show on that list. LOST definitely lost it's way in quite few episodes (pun intended). Also, you said Sanford and Son and Chappelle Show wouldn't have been nothing without their respective stars. The Office(U.S.) was nothing without Carrell and after they wrapped up the Pam and Jim story, and Saturday Night Live for different seasons throughout it's entire run should've been canceled. I think Girlfriends is just as comparable as Sex in the City.

  • Beemooree | June 3, 2013 5:28 PMReply

    Not surprised! I thought my wife and kids would make it . I think girlfriends should have made it and the game(cw) seasons. It seems as thought the Cosby is the only show hollywood acknowledges

  • Keith Josef | June 3, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    The list is a reflection of how Hollywood ignores, refuses to see, or doesn't see black content (or any content of color). Hollywood, as a whole, doesn't see our creative contributions as an important (or noteworthy) part of the larger entertainment canon. As Scripttease said, disappointed, but not surprised. In fact, it's a real shame.

  • ScriptTease | June 3, 2013 4:31 PMReply

    Should we really be surprised at this list? Disappointed, but not surprised.

  • PhredG | June 3, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    A comedy I found very entertaining and well-written is ARE WE THERE YET? produced by Ice Cube. A great ensemble cast (including the white characters) with good, consistent chemistry. Essence Atkins, Terry Crews, and Telma Hopkins have moved on. Wonder what the rest of the cast is doing?

  • Ras The Exhorter | June 3, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    I don't recall seeing Chappelle Show on the nomination list, 'cause I would have voted for it and didn't.... certainly, Sanford and Son should have been on the Top 101... as for Roc, Jeffersons or Diff'rent Strokes... those shows while, entertaining, were uneven and I don't think broke new ground... a show like the Mary Tyler Moore Show was groundbreaking at the time AND was a HUGE influence on 30 Rock and Parks & Rec and many other shows (as their creators have said). Scandal is wildly uneven and basically juicy B-List storytelling, and it really doesn't say anything about the human condition the way two dozen other shows on the list do/did.

    Curious about The Wire, while one of my all-time favorite shows (top 3 at least)... it was consistently snubbed from industry-wide recognition when it aired, and if it wasn't for DVD it would rank nearly as high as it does. People just didn't watch it, even with it had a lead in from the Sopranos.

    I'm surprsrised that OZ made this list, because who was watching that?

    People might complain about Buffy, but that show set the mold for how to do the serialized show on free-TV or basic cable -- Shonda credited it as one of the reasons why she wanted to do TV and create Grey's Anatomy. Think about how that show established the "season long" villain, and then think about every show that's done that since. It also gave a female a chance to lead a drama (had that been done before?) and it ushered in a girl power/geek-approved style of TV that different really exist before... setting the stage for any post-Buffy genre show.

    At the end of the day, this list was created from counting votes from WGA members, and there are not a lot of Black WGA members (maybe 5%), so no matter how entertaining some shows were (e.g. Good Times, Frank's Place, Girlfriends)... not enough Black WGA members to shift the tide and you only got like 5 or 8 shows to vote on, so you had to make choices... would you vote for The Jeffersons over The Wire? Or Chappelle's Show over Cosby Show (when many more older white voters would vote for Cosby had probably never seen an episode of Chappelle).

  • Steven | June 3, 2013 11:43 PM

    I can agree with you on a lot of points but a good show is a good show regardless of what the cast looks like. I wouldn't complain about Buffy because genre shows don't get that much love either. I would complain about the derivative show like The Office (U.S.) making the list. I would put Community, Good Times or Sons of Anarchy on list before that show.

  • Gina | June 3, 2013 3:49 PMReply

    The fact that Sandford and Son and In Living Color weren't on the list really is a crime.

  • PK | June 3, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    I just don't get how "Seinfeld" is considered so great. And "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Modern Family" made this list. Loved "Freaks and Geeks" but it had like 16 episodes and so did "My So Called Life" For years "The Wire" was making #1 on lists like these and it's #9 here...what?

    I definitely think "The Chappelle Show" should've been on the list as well as "Roc" . And where are the black Norman Lear shows? "Good Times" should be excluded as this is a writing list but with 101 slots no room for "Sanford and Son", "The Jeffersons" or possibly "Diff'rent Strokes"

    I feel so many of these "white comedies" appear to certain niches and aren't that universally funny so decent comic writing is a masterpiece, how? "The Cosby Show" is the "I watch black shows " of conversation, and while a great series there's been other great sitcoms with black leads like "Everybody Hates Chris" "Living Single" and "The Bernie Mac Show".
    "A Different World" missed some beats but what other writers were putting campus life, date rape, domestic violence, and HIV up in an understandable way.

  • Monique a Williams | June 5, 2013 11:11 AM

    Both Buffy and My So-Called Life speak to my generation. They play well in reruns and the writing is razor sharp. Cult indeed.

  • Ghost | June 3, 2013 7:12 PM

    Why is Freak & Geeks on there? It's called being a cult show with a cast that went on to bigger and better things. My So-Called Life-another cult show. Cult shows will always get ranked higher than most shows. Also notice 4 of the top 20 had a black person in the cast.

    All that list is another piece of proof that no matter what we do-it's still not good enough for most folks. That's why I don't care for these lists. Because I don't need the white man to justify what the hell I do. If my product can inspire a black boy to NOT go down the road of thugging, think for himself and be something-I've done my job.

  • Monique A Williams | June 3, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    Just because some shows are entertaining, that doesn't mean they can compete for best writing. I would say, though, that Girlfriends was a well-written show and should be somewhere on the list.

  • TLewisIsDope | June 3, 2013 3:43 PMReply

    Buffy, The Wire, and The Cosby Show are FAR too low on this list. What the..?

  • Rhonda Conley | June 3, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    Scandal should definitely be on the list! That shows writers are amazing! Keeps you on your toes and wanting more every single episode!

  • saadiyah | June 3, 2013 3:47 PM

    @Nadia I agree! I love Scandal, but the writing is very weak at times. It's no where near as good as "The Wire" which is my all time favorite.

    I would love for Scandal to rise to that caliber of story telling, but the current bunch of writers aren't capable of getting it there. It's still very entertaining.

  • Nadia | June 3, 2013 3:42 PM

    LOL! Um, you're joking right? There are so many other shows that are more deserving. Roc, Frank's Place, In Living Color, Sanford and Son, even The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Flip Wilson Show, Different World. I can go on. Scandal can be entertaining but it's not one of the best written series of all time.

  • Michael | June 3, 2013 3:34 PMReply

    How could Sanford and Son be missing from this list? Not only were the actors' performances stellar, the writing and the situations created for every episode were compelling. I get the sense that the powers that be only want to recognize the comic geniuses of Redd Foxx and the other actors. But I can't forsake the spectacular writing the scribes did that allowed this show to be nominated for several awards.

  • Clayton Broomes Jr. | June 3, 2013 3:18 PMReply

    Nothing is missing. As long as "The Wire" is in the top 10, I'm good...

  • Lee | June 4, 2013 6:21 PM

    Kinda' makes me sad that we characterize shows as "black" at all. Definately wouldn't be my first thought when evaluating a list of best written TV shows (though I do agree that Sanford & Son should have made a top 100 list). Why was "24" so low? Why was Babylon V completely absent if we're really talking about writing? I think this was more of a "dude!...here's my fav shows, like, of all time!" list.

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