A Best of Television: The Early Years

by AltonMann | created - 01 Dec 2011 | updated - 15 Oct 2017 | Public

With the advent of DVDs and Netflix streaming, you can finally enjoy the best television has ever had to offer without commercial interruption and at your own pace. Obviously, there are plenty of omissions (but you are already aware of your own personal favorites) and not every episode of any series deserves your time and attention. There are late bloomers like Miami Vice (Season 3) and Rockford Files (Season 2) where you can skip the earliest seasons with minimum loss. Other shows peak early and hang around far too long. Saturday Night Live, West Wing and Gilmore Girls continued after the creative force behind them (that is the principal performers or writers ) had departed. Then there are brilliant shows which rarely miss like Homicide and The Wire. If movies are coming up dry for you or you'd enjoy a change of pace, try one of these TV series. And don't be afraid to dip into the black & white 30 minute shows of the 50s. Sadly, there are fine shows that have still not surfaced either on DVD or streaming: 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Lou Grant and Shannon's Deal are good examples. Happy hunting!

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1. Your Show of Shows (1950–1954)

90 min | Comedy

Best remembered by its posterior title, Your Show of Shows, this live variety show included comedy sketches with TV pioneers Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

Stars: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Felisa Vanoff, Carl Reiner

Votes: 265

2. I Love Lucy (1951–1957)

TV-G | 30 min | Comedy, Family

A daffy woman constantly strives to become a star along with her bandleader husband and gets herself in the strangest situations.

Stars: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley

Votes: 20,997

3. The Honeymooners (1955–1956)

30 min | Comedy, Family

A bus driver and his sewer worker friend struggle to strike it rich while their wives look on with weary patience.

Stars: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph

Votes: 4,323

4. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962)

TV-14 | 25 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

Series of unrelated short stories covering elements of crime, horror, drama, and comedy about people of different backgrounds committing murders, suicides, thefts, and other sorts of crime caused by certain motivations, perceived or not.

Stars: Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Tyler, John Williams, Patricia Hitchcock

Votes: 13,557

5. Have Gun - Will Travel (1957–1963)

Approved | 25 min | Western

The adventures of a gentlemanly gunfighter for hire.

Stars: Richard Boone, Kam Tong, Hal Needham, Stewart East

Votes: 2,116

6. Maverick (1957–1962)

60 min | Comedy, Western

Bret and Bart Maverick are well dressed gamblers who migrate from town to town always looking for a good game.

Stars: Jack Kelly, James Garner, Roger Moore, Lane Chandler

Votes: 2,343

7. Naked City (1958–1963)

60 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

The cases of the N.Y.P.D.'s 65th Precinct.

Stars: Harry Bellaver, Horace McMahon, Paul Burke, Nancy Malone

Votes: 896

8. 77 Sunset Strip (1958–1964)

TV-PG | 60 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer were the wisecracking, womanizing private detective heroes of this Warner Brothers drama.

Stars: Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Edd Byrnes, Roger Smith, Jacqueline Beer

Votes: 1,122

9. Peter Gunn (1958–1961)

30 min | Action, Crime, Drama

The cases of a stylishly cool private detective.

Stars: Craig Stevens, Herschel Bernardi, Lola Albright, Bill Chadney

Votes: 955

10. The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)

TV-PG | 51 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Ordinary people find themselves in extraordinarily astounding situations, which they each try to solve in a remarkable manner.

Stars: Rod Serling, Robert McCord, Jay Overholts, Vaughn Taylor

Votes: 64,400

11. The Avengers (1961–1969)

TV-14 | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

A quirky spy show of the adventures of eccentrically suave British Agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his predominately female partners.

Stars: Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson

Votes: 6,077

12. The Prisoner (1967–1968)

TV-PG | 50 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

After resigning, a secret agent is abducted and taken to what looks like an idyllic village, but is really a bizarre prison. His warders demand information. He gives them nothing, but only tries to escape.

Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Angelo Muscat, Peter Swanwick, Peter Brace

Votes: 11,698

13. It Takes a Thief (1968–1970)

TV-PG | 51 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

The adventures of suave cat burglar Alexander Mundy, who plies his trade for the U.S. Government.

Stars: Robert Wagner, Fred Astaire, Malachi Throne, Murray Pollack

Votes: 1,556

14. Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974)

TV-14 | 30 min | Comedy

The original surreal sketch comedy showcase for the Monty Python troupe.

Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle

Votes: 62,298

15. The Rockford Files (1974–1980)

TV-PG | 60 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

The cases of an easy going ex-convict turned private investigator.

Stars: James Garner, Noah Beery Jr., Joe Santos, Luis Delgado

Votes: 6,244

16. Fawlty Towers (1975–1979)

TV-PG | 30 min | Comedy

Hotel owner Basil Fawlty's incompetence, short fuse, and arrogance form a combination that ensures accidents and trouble are never far away.

Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth

Votes: 78,711

17. Saturday Night Live (1975– )

TV-14 | 90 min | Comedy, Music

A famous guest host stars in parodies and sketches created by the cast of this witty show.

Stars: Don Pardo, Lenny Pickett, Darrell Hammond, Kenan Thompson

Votes: 40,190

18. SCTV (1976–1981)

TV-PG | 30 min | Comedy

The staff of Melonville's TV station put on programming that is unique in its own silly way.

Stars: Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas

Votes: 1,914

19. The Muppet Show (1976–1981)

TV-G | 30 min | Comedy, Family, Music

Kermit the Frog and his fellow Muppets put on a vaudeville show at their theatre, bringing in a famous celebrity to help out for each episode.

Stars: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz

Votes: 21,406

20. Lou Grant (1977–1982)

TV-PG | 60 min | Drama

The trials of a former television station manager, turned newspaper city editor, and his journalist staff.

Stars: Edward Asner, Robert Walden, Mason Adams, Jack Bannon

Votes: 1,563

21. Miami Vice (1984–1989)

TV-14 | 48 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Resplendent with authentic 1980's music, fashion and vibe, "Miami Vice" follows two undercover detectives and their extended team through the mean streets of Miami.

Stars: Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Olivia Brown

Votes: 21,399



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