By RICH FOLEY
A few months ago, Rolling Stone magazine ran a feature titled “The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.” Such a list is sure to be a subjective undertaking, with the chosen programs a reflection of those doing the selecting. And apparently, at least as far as Rolling Stone’s voting panel is concerned, my viewing habits are far from great.
Of the 100 supposedly greatest shows, I can honestly say I’ve never even seen at least 48 of them, most of those being premium cable offerings. That includes the four “greatest” shows ever, although I have no way of judging their greatness or lack thereof.
The top four shows, in order, are The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. If you’ve watched them, congratulations, I guess, but somehow, I’ve survived without seeing any of them, ever.
The next two on the list, however, I’ve probably seen thousands of times. Number five is Seinfeld, followed by The Simpsons. Thousands of times? With repeats still running every weekday, it’s not only possible, it’s more than probable.
Rounding out the top 10 are The Twilight Zone, Saturday Night Live, All in the Family and The Daily Show. The addition of The Daily Show makes it five of the top 10 programs I’ve never watched. At number 11 is a prime example of what is wrong with the list.
Freaks and Geeks lasted only 18 episodes before NBC yanked it off the air back in 2000, but even that was at least 15 episodes too many. That’s my opinion, but the judges thought otherwise.
In some cases, projects of voting panel judges made the list despite my perceived lack of greatness. Freaks and Geeks was one of those. Others included The Office and Arrested Development. At least one person who wasn’t on the panel was quite upset that his show was excluded.
An issue or two after Rolling Stone ran the feature, they published a letter to the editor from an executive involved with Cagney & Lacey. Not only was he miffed that his show was overlooked, he expressed his opinion that it should have been in the top 25. Good luck convincing anyone else.
Then there are a few shows that nobody but me would have included. For example, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which enjoyed a low-rated single season back in 1974-75. I was fascinated by Darren McGavin’s portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a down-on-his-luck reporter who every week had a routine story end up involving zombies, vampires or werewolves.
In 2005, the show, now something of a cult classic, was revived with a new cast and even lower ratings than the original. Things got so bad that the series was cancelled, almost unbelievably, after part one of a two-part episode. If I never find it on DVD, I’ll never know how it ended.
Something similar happened to Action, a 1999 series on the FOX network starring Jay Mohr as arrogant movie producer Peter Dragon. Not a sympathetic character, most viewers probably weren’t too upset when Dragon had a heart attack at the end of one episode, flat-lining as the credits ran.
Unfortunately, that’s when FOX decided to pull the plug, no pun intended. Years later, a DVD release including unaired episodes revealed that Dragon survived and quickly returned to his ruthless ways. At least I was able to find out what happened. Even better, I got the complete series on DVD for three bucks.
Another bargain purchase was one of the most popular syndicated programs of all time. As a child, I spent many an hour watching repeats of the black-and-white police drama Highway Patrol. Originally shown from 1955-59, it’s been telecast somewhere pretty much ever since, most recently on cable channels I don’t get. That’s where those cheap DVDs come in handy.
Although star Broderick Crawford was the only regular on the series, surprising guest stars were sometimes featured. In only his third credited acting job, Clint Eastwood appeared as a hood in a 1955 episode, earning a whopping $80. In another memorable program, a 26-year-old Leonard Nimoy was cold-cocked by a much older Crawford.
Of course, the real stars of the show were the now-vintage police cars, usually Buicks, driven by Crawford and other characters. Which reminds me, why weren’t Knight Rider or the Dukes of Hazzard on that 100 Greatest list? If nothing else, the cars were great.