Anyone who doubted the impact that the cable programming has had on the history of television only needs to look at Rolling Stone magazine’s recently released list of the top 100 greatest TV shows of all time.
While original cable programming only really began to take shape in the early 2000s, cable shows represent nearly 40% of the top 100 shows ever made during the more than seven-decade history of television, according to the Rolling Stone list. Cable's reach ranges from the number one show of all time, HBO’s The Sopranos, to HBO comedy Eastbound & Down, which finished at 100.
In fact, the top four shows of all time according to the list – The Sopranos, HBO’s The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men – were all born on cable and aired over the past decade, also giving credence to the claim that we’re in the midst of TV's Golden Age.
Current cable shows such as HBO’s Game Of Thrones and Girls, MTV’sThe Real World, IFC’s Portlandia, FX’s Fargo and The Americans and AMC’s The Walking Dead all made the coveted list. Even FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story -- which premiered this past spring and won nine Emmy Awards earlier this month -- received some love from the Rolling Stone pollsters, finishing 75th on the list.
Binge viewing-friendly, video streaming shows like Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black (#37) and House Of Cards (#83) along with Amazon’s Transparent (#73) also made the list.
Some may argue that Rolling Stone's relatively youthful audience focus might have skewed the rankings more favorably toward current series over classic TV shows. Also, there are some choices that will inevitably raise a few eyebrows (I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler MooreShow all ranked outside the top 30? The Cosby Show and The Carol Burnett Show not even on the list?)
Still, there’s no question that cable programming has had a lasting influence on the television landscape in terms of quality and popularity. Very few TV aficionados will quarrel with most of the cable-originated shows listed by Rolling Stone as among the best of all time.
Take a look at the list and decide for yourself.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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