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Kids shows almost nonexistent on list of 101 best-written TV shows

James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos."
James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos."

What’s the best-written TV show of all time? According to the Writers Guild of America, at least, that honor belongs to “The Sopranos.”

HBO’s award-winning mobster drama, which ended an eight-season run in 2007 (with one of the most controversial series finales ever), earned the top spot on a list of the 101 best-written shows as voted on by members of the WGA.

“The Sopranos” beat out classics like “The Twilight Zone” (No. 3), “M*A*S*H*” (No. 5) and “I Love Lucy” (No. 12), as well as current critical darlings like “Mad Men” (No. 7) and “Breaking Bad” (No. 13).

Also making it into the top 10 were “Seinfeld” (No. 2), “All in the Family” (No. 4), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (No. 6), “Cheers” (No. 8), “The Wire” (No. 9) and “The West Wing” (No. 10).

In compiling the list, WGA members were allowed to select from any English-language scripted television series that played on American airwaves and lasted more than six hours, including animation, children’s programming and variety/talk shows.

Not too surprisingly, though, the list is already generating a huge amount of debate among TV fans.

For one thing, at the expense of some genuinely trailblazing series from yesteryear, the WGA picks seem heavily skewed towards more recent programming. Of the 101 shows selected, nearly half of them aired within the last decade, and 17 of them are still playing. By contrast, only 12 series from the entire list were in black and white, meaning that the so-called Golden Era of Television — the 1950s through the early ’60s — is hardly represented outside of “The Twilight Zone.”

What’s more, British shows are almost entirely overlooked. At No. 43, “Downton Abbey” is the highest-ranking U.K. series, followed by “The Office” at 52, “Fawlty Towers” at 59 and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” at 82.

To put that in perspective, “Sex and the City” was ranked No. 39 and “Friends,” No. 24.

Possibly the biggest example of oversight, however, is the lack of children’s shows. Other than “Sesame Street” (No. 56) and “The Muppet Show” (No. 91), series aimed at younger audiences are essentially unrepresented, and the only animated series are ones with pervasive adult themes like “South Park” (No. 64) and “The Simpsons” (No. 11).

To see the WGA’s complete list of the 101 best-written TV series of all time, check out its official website.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.