The fact of the matter is, television today is unlike anything we've ever seen before. With high-production value, supreme writing, and the occasional A-list actor, television has become a viable alternative for films for both actors and audiences alike. While there are many quality channels producing quality content, two channels specifically reign supreme: HBO & AMC. With that being said, let's take a look at the greatest shows these two landmark television networks ever produced.
10. Entourage: HBO (2004-2011)
How do you define success in the television world? Is it overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, or is it one day achieving syndication? Is it a show that produces a spin-off, or a show that results in a feature film? An endless list of memorable one-liner? Or is it just plain old longevity? For Entourage, it is a little bit of everything. Initially critically revered, the critics became weary of the show's formula towards the end of the show's run, however viewership increased. Fans clamored for an Ari Gold spin-off, but eventually had to settle for a critically panned feature film. However, despite it's faults, Entourage remains one of the more endlessly watchable shows produced over the last decade, and still remains relevant today, as younger fans begin to discover the show through streaming services like HBO Go. Merrill Barr of Forbes.com described the appeal of this show perfectly:
When it was airing, Entourage was a success. Not a massive success, not a cult-success, just a success. People liked turning into the series the way they like going to a local diner for a giant bacon cheeseburger. The series was comfort food for many. It was never trying to be more than it was. It was simply a series about a group of longtime friends living the Hollywood high-life. While it became a giant gag among cynics, it’s hard to argue the series had much in the way of stakes. Vince either got the role or he didn’t (he usually did), and, as the series has remained off the air, little’s been seen or heard on it positive or negative.
9. Boardwalk Empire: HBO (2010-2014)
Following the finales of both The Sopranos and The Wire in 2007 and 2008, respectively, HBO needed a new dramatic muse. It found that muse in 2010, when the next great HBO drama aired: Boardwalk Empire. With a juicy periodic setting, Prohibition Era Atlantic City, a revered actor in the lead role, Steve Buscemi, and the pedigree, with Martin Scorsese directing the pilot, Boardwalk Empire appeared to situated to dominate for years to come. While it never quite achieved the cultural significance of its predecessors, Boardwalk Empire was a pillar successful television in its own right, through it's revered visual styles and basis on historical figures , it received two Primetime Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Drama Series.
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm: HBO (2000-present: technically on indefinite hiatus)
Curb Your Enthusiasm was a brand of comedy that had never been seen on television before, not even in creator Larry David's previous outing, a little sitcom called Seinfeld. Playing a fictionalized version of himself, Curb Your Enthusiasm, similar to Seinfeld, focuses on the minutiae of every-day life, as well as David's problems with social norms and standards. Developed from a one-hour special David created for HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm became a comedic giant, even though it's own creator had low expectations. Speaking to the New York Times in 2007, David revealed his reasoning behind the shows title:
The title also urges the audience not to expect too much from the show; at the time of the premiere, I wanted to lower expectations after Seinfeld's phenomenal success.
However, through the process of retroscripting, the show met high expectations in its own right. All dialogue is improvised from a loose five-page outline that he wrote for each of the 10 episodes of the season, creating a blend of comedy and reality that has yet to be seen on television before or since.
7. The Walking Dead: AMC (2010- Present)
Ever since it's October premiere in 2010, The Walking Dead has been a cultural phenomena of the highest order. According to Variety, The Walking Dead has as the number one (other than football) cost of 30 seconds of advertisements in television, which in turn allows for what is perhaps the highest production budget in the industry:
it costs about $2.75 million to make an episode of The Walking Dead (down from the $3.6 million during the Darabont era), meaning AMC makes a hefty $8 million or so for every episode of The Walking Dead.
What the show might lack in creative foresight and top-notch acting and writing, it more than makes up for in production value and edge-of-your-seat moments. While it remains to be seen how much longer the Zombie-craze will last, The Walking Dead shows no sign of slowing down, with it's latest season having its highest rating on Rotten Tomatoes yet, clocking in a 97% approval rating. As one of the most watched shows on television, The Walking Dead seems poised to run for at least 10 seasons. Plus, the memes of Rick Grimes yelling "Carllll!" are downright legendary.
6. Mad Men: HBO (2007-2015)
Mad Men is the golden example for how at the core of every great show, is outstanding writing and outstanding acting. Claimed by some to be the greatest television drama of all-time, Mad Men, a show set in the 1960's, followed the trials, tribulations, and relationships of advertising executive Don Draper. Mad Men became such a success, that it is credited with being the show that gave birth to AMC's dramatic programming as we know it. Sean Fennessey, a writer at Grantland.com. theorizes on what might of happened had HBO picked up Mad Men instead:
its success — primarily as a conversation driver among avid fans in the media, advertising industry, and a particular sort of slumming aesthete — encouraged the network to expand rapidly into development. Imagine the dominoes that would have toppled here. In all likelihood, FX would have pounced on The Walking Dead. And you can say good-bye to The Killing; perish the confusing thoughts of Rubicon; laser-remove those Hell on Wheels back tattoos, and … there would have been no Breaking Bad, the second series put into motion by the network.
While it did not have the mass appeal of other AMC giants like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, the shear quality of the show at an artistic level vaults it into a rare, critically successful category.
5. True Detective: HBO (2014- Present)
The newest, and probably most controversial selection on this list, is True Detective. Only half way through it's second season, True Detective is a neophyte compared to these others kings of television. However, none of these shows had a first season quite as successful as True Detective. Starring two A-list actors, one of which was going through a career renaissance unlike which we've ever seen, True Detective raced to the tops of "Greatest Show's on TV" lists. Set in mystical, almost other worldly Louisiana, True Detective was a sublime blend of acting, cinematography, and particularly, writing. While the second season, although also littered with A-list actors, has struggled to live up to the legacy of the first season (it would be nearly impossible to reproduce that type of success), with three critical episodes left, the second season still has a chance to shock audiences, leaving an lasting impression as great as the first season did.
4. The Wire: HBO (2002-2008)
Considered one of the first entries into the Golden Age of Television, The Wire is considered one of the greatest television shows of all time, no matter the channel. Although The Wire had only average ratings and never won any major awards, it has since gathered a cult following that will go to battle over the idea that this is the greatest show television ever produced. Using mostly character actors, The Wire was recognized for its realistic portrayal of urban life, its literary thematics, and its uncommonly deep exploration of social and political themes. Often referred to as 'television literature', The Wire is not only considered one of the greatest television shows of all time, but one of the greatest stories ever told on any medium. Hell, it's even President Obama's favorite show.
3. Game of Thrones: HBO (2011- Present)
Honestly, The Wire and Game of Thrones are interchangeable, it all depends on your personal preference. Being that Game of Thrones has not only achieved critical success like The Wire did, it also has become a cultural event, must-see-TV. The current king of television, what makes Game of Thrones so unique is that it shatters societal norms; this show is for everybody. Whether you're a blonde sorority girl from California, or a body-builder from Texas, Game of Thrones can be for you. What also makes Game of Thrones so unique to this list is that it is one of the few that does not revolve around one single protagonist. While there are many main characters on the show, viewers must be careful as to not get too attached, as their favorite character could meet their demise at any given time. Game of Thrones has attracted record numbers of viewers on HBO and obtained an exceptionally broad and active international fan base. It has received widespread acclaim by critics, although its frequent use of nudity, violence and sexual violence has attracted criticism. None the less, Game of Thrones is currently the show on television today, and depending on where the next few seasons take the story, Game of Thrones can end up as one of, if not the, greatest show of all time.
2. The Sopranos: HBO (1999-2007)
The Godfather of modern television, the Tony Montana of TV leads, the Original Gangster: for quite some time, The Sopranos was the greatest TV show ever produced. Revolving around the fictional character and family of New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the show portrays the difficulties he faces as he tries to balance the conflicting requirements of his home life and his criminal organization, The Sopranos is credited with ushering in the type of television programs we know and love today. A cultural giant during its run and to this very day, The Sopranos spawned books, a video game, high-charting soundtrack albums, and a large amount of assorted merchandise. Consistently named as one of the greatest characters, on arguably the greatest show of all time, it was Tony Soprano that paved the way for the Don Draper's, Rust Cohle's, and Walter White's of the world. According to PopMatters.com, no television show has altered the television medium quite like The Sopranos:
Tony Soprano and his crew occupy a more specific niche: No one-hour drama series has had a bigger impact on how stories are told on the small screen, or more influence on what kind of fare we’ve been offered by an ever-growing array of television networks.
Although its been over 8 years since the show's final episode, its iconic ending is still analyzed and discussed to this very day. In my opinion, I believe that Tony Sopran.....
1. Breaking Bad: AMC (2008-2013)
The fact of the matter is, this list was going to divide opinions no matter which show I decided to put first. This is due to what is called human nature: people are going to have different opinions. With all that being said, this is my opinion: Breaking Bad is the greatest show, on AMC, HBO, or any other channel, ever. With a mix of being a cultural phenomena like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, and being critically revered for its writing, directing, and acting like Mad Men, The Wire, and The Sopranos, Breaking Bad was a television unicorn, the likes of which we might never see again. One of the common tropes of the golden age of television giants, whether it be The Sopranos, or True Detective, or Mad Men, is that they are bad men trying to survive in gray worlds, and I believe Breaking Bad achieved this idea better than the rest of them.
After finding out he has cancer, down-trodden, world-weary chemistry teacher Walter White descends into the criminal underworld in an effort to leave some money behind for his family. What made Breaking Bad so truly remarkable, the show's one defining factor, was it's main character's, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, and the audience's attachment to them. Beginning as a man you feel plain awful for, Walter White becomes someone so evil you hate to root for him, even though, deep down, you always do. While this show was a home run on all creative fronts; writing, cinematography, directing, plot-twists, it was the audience's connections with it's main character's, particularly Walter White, that makes this show the greatest in television history.