Top 21 Best Written TV Series if you please

A new best-of list raises questions about access.
By Alicia Anstead, Writer Editor-in-Chief | Published: June 5, 2013


The Writers Guild of America released the 101 Best Written TV Series list on June 3 and, well, you can see what’s coming. Arguments. Controversies. More lists. More arguments. And more conjecture on the formula for writing a hit show.

No one has found the formula yet but several screenwriters we’ve spoken to have offered advice. Aaron Sorkin, whose smart show West Wing made the top 10 on the list, said the key was getting to the audience: “Some people want characters they can identify with or aspire to be, some people want a gripping plot, musical dialogue, etc. What you need to do is find a way to engage the audience for however long you’ve asked for their attention.”

And Vince Gilligan, whose chilling Breaking Bad is wrapping up its run this year, pointed to personality as a key feature for a successful show: “I think personality is important. People think, ‘Well, you know, writing talent ‒ that’s all you really need. That trumps all.’ And that is very important. But I’ve seen people who were so indispensable in the writers’ room because of their attitude, their enthusiasm and their structural ability that they made themselves worth their weight in gold. When you have to spend countless hours with your fellow writers, you have to be able to get along with other people. You have to allow for everyone to have a good experience in the room. You have to not berate or belittle people for their ideas or try to be competitive or combative. You have to be democratic and you have to have a sense of humor. You have to realize that at the end of the day, you’re not curing cancer. You’re creating a TV show.”

We’re listing the Top 21 show from the list – largely because it took that many to find one written by a woman – Tina Fey. The 2011-2012 TV season had a 5 percent increase in women writers from 10 years ago. At that Jurassic pace, we can hope for an Emmy’s sweep by, say, 2112. In the meantime, of the 1,722 writers who wrote for 190 shows in that same 2011-2012 season, 30.5% were women. If those numbers interest you, read on about the numbers for writers who are women and people of color in these shows. Want to argue about that for a while?

  1. The Sopranos
  2. Seinfeld
  3. The Twilight Zone
  4. All in the Family
  5. M*A*S*H
  6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  7. Mad Men
  8. Cheers
  9. The Wire
  10. The West Wing
  11. The Simpsons
  12. I Love Lucy
  13. Breaking Bad
  14. The Dick Van Dyke Show
  15. Hill Street Blues
  16. Arrested Development
  17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
  18. Six Feet Under
  19. Taxi
  20. The Larry Sanders Show
  21. 30 Rock