The 25 Best TV Shows of All Time, Ranked

Determining the best 25 TV shows of all time is a difficult & challenging task because there have been so many iconic ones throughout history. Past few decades have been with some of the greatest TV shows of all time. Television might’ve once been viewed as a lesser medium than movies but that’s no longer the case. Last 2-3 decades have been the “golden era” of TV shows.

TV shows highlight the most critically, acclaimed, beloved, and culturally significant series that changed the landscape of television. It shows that TV can be so varied as the top series in history range from prestige dramas to groundbreaking horror shows to legendary sitcoms and so much more in between. While the ultimate ranking will always be subjective, so here’s our ranking of the top 25 TV shows of all time:

The 25 Best TV Shows of All Time:

25. Prison Break (2005-2017)

  • Seasons: 5
  • Episodes: 90
  • Episode Length: 42-44 minutes
  • Cast: Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Robin Tunney, Peter Stomare, Sarah Wayne Callies
  • Stream On: Network 10
  • Genre: Serial Drama, Crime Drama
  • Created By: Paul Scheuring

The series was originally turned down by Fox in 2003, which was concerned about the long-term prospects of such a series. This series is basically based around breaking out of different prisons. Prison Break have been nominated for many awards including the 2005 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series Drama and the 2006 People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama, which it won. Prison Break’s first season is one of a kind, but it goes slow as it moves forward with different seasons.

24. M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

  • Seasons: 11
  • Episodes: 256
  • Episode Length: 25-26 minutes
  • Cast: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loetta Swit, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan
  • Stream On: Disney+, Prime Video
  • Genre: Comedy Drama, Sitcom
  • Created By: Larry Gelbart

M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is an American war comedy drama television series, adapted from the 1970 feature film M*A*S*H. The series, follows a team of doctor and support staff stationed at the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” in Uijeongbu, South Korea, during the Korean War (1950-53). Its final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was the most watched television broadcast in American history from 1983 until 2010 and remains both the most-watched finale of any television series and the most-watched episode of a scripted series.

23. Star Trek (1966-1969)

  • Seasons: 3
  • Episodes: 79
  • Episode Length: 50 minutes
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
  • Stream On: Paramount+
  • Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
  • Created By: Gene Roddenberry

Though there have been many iterations over the years, often all met with positive reception, the original Star Trek series from the ’60s is easily the most important. It marked the debut of iconic characters like Captain Kirk and Officer Spock before leading to several blockbuster movies and the aforementioned follow-up television shows. Star Trek, one of the most influential TV show in history.

22. The Shield (2002-2008)

  • Seasons: 7
  • Episodes: 88
  • Episode Length: 45-69 minutes
  • Cast: Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Reed Diamond, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace
  • Stream On: Hulu, Netflix
  • Genre: Crime Drama, Serial Drama
  • Created By: Shawn Ryan

Set in the fictional Farmington district (“the Farm”) of Los Angeles. The Shield focuses on the gang-related violence, drug trafficking, and prostitution. You will see a corrupt cop (Vic Mackey) who’d brutally fight crime with his squad, technically helping their department while also doing drugs like profiting from illegal goods they confiscated, primarily drugs. Within its seven seasons, The Shield starts strong, sags a little in the middle, but then excels in the last couple of seasons, and delivers a series finale of the ages.

21. Freaks & Geeks (1999-2000)

  • Seasons: 1
  • Episodes: 18
  • Episode Length: 44 minutes
  • Cast: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen
  • Stream On: NBC
  • Genre: Period Teen Drama, Comedy Drama
  • Created By: Paul Feig

Paul Feig and Judd Apatow truly captured the agonies of American adolescence in this in heartfelt, laugh-out-loud comedy set in a Michigan town in 1980. Freaks and Geeks tragically lasted only one season, but all 18 episodes hit home, with a rock soundtrack and a cast of future legends. For lovers of TV shows that perfectly capture a certain “back in the day” era, check out Freaks and Geeks.

20. True Detective (2014-Present)

  • Seasons: 3
  • Episodes: 24
  • Episode Length: 54-87 minutes
  • Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrel, Mahershala Ali, Jodie Foster
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Anthology, Neo-Noir
  • Created By: Nic Pizzolatto

True Detective was a surprise hit back when its first season aired in 2014, and a show that seemingly everyone was talking about. It starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, following their characters – a pair of detectives – reopening a mysterious murder case many years after it took place, and making a series of disturbing revelations along the way. Season 4 – starring Jodie Foster is airing in 2023.

19. Twin Peaks (1990-1991,2017)

  • Seasons: 3
  • Episodes: 48
  • Episode Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle
  • Stream On: Paramount+
  • Genre: Serial Drama, Mystery
  • Created By: Mark Frost, David Lynch

Another show that The X-Files was inspired by, Twin Peaks was ahead of its time. The original run in the early 90s captivated audiences with a thrilling mystery that spooked viewers and forced them to tune in for the next episode to see what happened next. Featuring plenty of David Lynch specialties, Twin Peaks was lauded for its cinematography, score, surrealism, and more. It set the tone for many shows that came later and even brought back in 2017 for a revival on Showtime.

18. Lost (2004-2010)

  • Seasons: 6
  • Episodes: 121
  • Episode Length: 40-50 minutes
  • Cast: Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Maggie Grace
  • Stream On: Hulu, Freevee
  • Genre: Adventure, Supernatural
  • Created By: Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof

While its controversial ending means it’s not re-watched as much as some other shows of the era, Lost nonetheless had a massive cultural impact. It’s difficult to imagine now in the age of the streaming and cross-platform tie-ins, but at one point this show’s cliffhangers and mysteries were all people could talk about in the weeks between episodes. Lost and its ensemble cast won multiple awards throughout its run, and if you “miss an episode, you’ll lose track of the plot”.

17. The Americans (2013-2018)

  • Seasons: 6
  • Episodes: 75
  • Episode Length: 39-59 minutes
  • Cast: Keri Russel, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor, Maximiliano Hernandez, Keidrich Sellati
  • Stream On: Fox
  • Genre: Period Drama, Spy Thriller
  • Created By: Joe Weisberg
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Like Six Feet Under, The Americans is particularly well-regarded for how it ends, with its sixth and final season being its best overall, and its last episode being one of the ages. That being said, the rest of the show is also great, with the story following a pair of Russian spies who pose as a seemingly ordinary American family during the 1980s, relaying findings back to the Soviet Union. It’s a drama/thriller series that’s not afraid to take its time, with an overall slow-burn narrative that always makes the waiting worth it.

16. Deadwood (2004-2006)

  • Seasons: 3
  • Episodes: 36
  • Episode Length: 48-60 minutes
  • Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Jim Beaver, Brad Dourif
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Western, Serial Drama
  • Created By: David Milch

A lot of HBO shows follow the idea of “quality over quantity” and Deadwood is in that category. Despite only lasting three seasons, the Western series was met with widespread critical acclaim for pretty much every installment. Set in the titular town during the 1870s, it focuses on the people involved in the town’s growth over the years. It won more than half a dozen Emmys and has a loyal enough fanbase that a movie was made more than a decade after its conclusion. With Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Anna Gunn, and so many other great actors, the show is must-see for fans of this genre.

15. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

  • Seasons: 5
  • Episodes: 63
  • Episode Length: 46-72 minutes
  • Cast: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Mathew St. Patrick
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Black Comedy, Psychological Drama
  • Created By: Alan Ball

Six Feet Under is a show all about death, and investigates the topic with brutal honesty and occasional humor. It centers on a family-run funeral home, and what happens to the members of the family after the patriarch passes away (in the first episode, so it’s not a spoiler). It’s a moving and often very engaging, look at an interesting ensemble cast, and is especially highly regarded for its final season, as well as the series finale, which is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.

14. Stranger Things (2016-Present)

  • Seasons: 4
  • Episodes: 34
  • Episode Length: 42-139 minutes
  • Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobbie Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo
  • Stream On: Netflix
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror
  • Created By: The Duffer Brothers

The Duffer Brothers have been heavily inspired by 80s horror when creating Stranger Things, which has become a sensation for Netflix. The series only grows in scope with each passing season, including a season 4 that took years to produce and featured episodes that were as long as some movies. The combination of stunning visual effects, a captivating story, incredible young actors, and 80s nostalgia has made Stranger Things into a global hit.

13. Dark (2017-2020)

  • Seasons: 3
  • Episodes: 26
  • Episode Length: 44-73 minutes
  • Cast: Louis Hofmann, Lisa Vicari, Andreas Pietschmann, Oliver Masucci, Gina Stiebitz
  • Stream On: Netflix
  • Genre: Thriller, Sci-Fi
  • Created By: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Dark follows characters from the fictional town of Winden, Germany, as they pursue the truth in the aftermath of a child’s disappearance. They follow connections between four families to unravel a sinister time travel conspiracy that spans several generations. Dark received critical acclaim for its cast, direction, writing, tone, visuals, musical score, and the ambition and complexity of its narrative.

12. Succession (2018-2023)

  • Seasons: 4
  • Episodes: 39
  • Episode Length: 56-88 minutes
  • Cast: Hiam Abbas, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Jeremy Strong
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Comedy Drama, Family Drama
  • Created By: Jesse Armstrong

In just a few short years, Succession has made a huge impact on the television landscape. Created by Jesse Armstrong, the series focuses on the Roy family as the siblings fight for control of the global media company run by their domineering father, who manipulates them at every turn. Through four seasons, Succession became one of just a handful of shows to win multiple Outstanding Drama Series Emmys, while Jeremy Strong and Matthew Macfadyen have won for their performances.

11. The Office (2005-2013)

  • Seasons: 9
  • Episodes: 201
  • Episode Length: 22-42 minutes
  • Cast: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak
  • Stream On: Peacock
  • Genre: Mockumentary, Cringe Comedy
  • Created By: Greg Daniels

In the eyes of its many hardcore fans, the US remake: The Office, is the greatest comedy series in history. That is a fair argument given that the show boasts the talents of Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, and one of the funniest supporting casts to ever grace a TV screen. It’s understandable that the show hit some bumps after Carell departed, but it wrapped things up in a satisfying way with a great finale and a solid final season.

10. Better Call Saul (2015-2022)

  • Seasons: 6
  • Episodes: 63
  • Episode Length: 41-69 minutes
  • Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton
  • Stream On: Netflix
  • Genre: Crime Drama, Legal Drama
  • Created By: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould

Spin-offs that live up to the original show are few and far between so when news of a Breaking Bad spin-off was announced, there weren’t high hopes. However, Better Call Saul has managed to be considered on par with the all-time great show it was born from. Focusing on the lawyer who helped the protagonists in the original series, this prequel tells his story, features several Breaking Bad characters, and adds to what happened after that show ended. Bob Odenkirk received five Emmy nominations for his performance while Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, and Rhea Seehorn also scored nods.

9. Band of Brothers (2001)

  • Seasons: 1
  • Episodes: 10
  • Episode Length: 49-70 minutes
  • Cast: Kirk Acevedo, Eion Bailey, Dale Dye, Rick Gomez, Scott Grimes
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: War Drama
  • Created By: Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg

Band of Brothers is a war drama miniseries based on the non-fiction book of the same name. Created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who took some literary license, adapting history for dramatic effect and series structure. The series won the Emmy and the Golden Globe awards for best miniseries. Band of Brothers, one of the most realistic miniseries out there.

8. Friends (1994-2004)

  • Seasons: 10
  • Episodes: 236
  • Episode Length: 20-22 minutes
  • Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Sitcom
  • Created By: David Crane, Marta Kauffman
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The show revolves around six friends in their 20s and 30s who live in Manhattan, New York City. Friends received acclaim throughout its run, becoming one of the most popular television shows of all time. The series was nominated for 62 Emmy Awards, winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award in 2002 for its eighth season. When the series finale was aired in 2004, it was watched by around 52.5 million American viewers, making it the fifth-most watched series finale in the television history and the most-watched television episode of 2000s.

7. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

  • Seasons: 9
  • Episodes: 180
  • Episode Length: 22-24 minutes
  • Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander
  • Stream On: Netflix
  • Genre: Sitcom, Black Comedy
  • Created By: Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld

An American television sitcom which focuses on the personal life of the fictional version of Jerry Seinfeld and his three friends. Set in the apartment building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York City. Seinfeld is wildly regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms of all time. It has been ranked among television’s best shows. The show maintains a strong sense of continuity, as characters and plots from past episodes often referenced or expanded on. Seinfeld is considered as one of the best sitcoms ever made in the history of television.

6. The Simpsons (1989- Present)

  • Seasons: 34
  • Episodes: 750
  • Episode Length: 21-24 minutes
  • Cast/Voice: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria
  • Stream On: Disney+
  • Genre: Animation Sitcom, Satire
  • Created By: Matt Groening

Though The Simpsons ‘more recent seasons have not been looked on as fondly, it doesn’t erase the years of it being one of the best animated comedies on television. Following the titular family in Springfield, The Simpsons uses its iconic animation style and irreverent sense of humor to become one of the longest running series of all time – so long that Homer’s age is now a plot hole. The show also changed how people viewed animated series as it was willing to be rude, shocking and push back against any calls for more wholesome storytelling.

5. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

  • Seasons: 8
  • Episodes: 73
  • Episode Length: 50-82 minutes
  • Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, Pedro Pascal
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
  • Created By: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Based on George R.R. Martin’s: A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Game of Thrones is an epic scale series that ranked among the most expensive in history. More often than not, a fantasy story like this wouldn’t catch on with the masses, but it became a crossover hit that broke rating records. Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Arya Stark are just some of the iconic characters born here. Unfortunately, racking up the Emmy Awards so many times, the final season’s poor reception prevents Game of Thrones from being the best TV show ever.

4. Mad Men (2007-2015)

  • Seasons: 7
  • Episodes: 92
  • Episode Length: 45-57 minutes
  • Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Bryan Batt
  • Stream On: AMC+
  • Genre: Period Drama, Serial Drama
  • Created By: Matthew Weiner

AMC helped show that prestige television was the future of the medium thanks to shows like Mad Man. Set in the 1960s, Mad Men’s characters operated within the stylish world of advertising which seemed to encourage the indulgent, narcissistic, and immortal lifestyles of its most successful people. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper made for one of the most complex protagonists in television history, eventually winning a Lead Actor Emmy. He and his dark past were compelling and even sympathetic at time as well as appalling and frustrating. Watching his journey through the decades resulted in for Emmy wins for Outstanding Drama Series.

3. The Wire (2002-2008)

  • Seasons: 5
  • Episodes: 60
  • Episode Length: 55-60 minutes 
  • Cast: Dominic West, Idris Elba, John Doman, Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn
  • Stream On: HBO Max
  • Genre: Crime, Tragedy
  • Created By: David Simon

Set in Baltimore, The Wire  surrounds the intertwining lives of law enforcement and criminals and realistically told the story. The creator of the show, David Simon, had experience as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, which played a part in why the show felt so honest and raw. This crime drama is considered by many to be in the conversation of the best show of all time. Despite that feeling, in its five-season run, The Wire never won any significant awards. It did help launch the careers of Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, Michael K. Williams, and more, and it’s nearly impossible to find a better cop show.

2. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

  • Seasons: 6
  • Episodes: 86
  • Episode Length: 43-75 minutes
  • Cast: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, Edie Falco, Dominic Chianese
  • Stream On: Hulu, HBO Max
  • Genre: Crime Drama, Psychological Drama
  • Created By: David Chase

This intense series followed the story of a New Jersey mob boss as he dealt with balancing his family issues and his business problems, all while seeking psychiatric help – and in no uncertain terms were responsible for showing the TV was no longer cinema’s less-prestigious brother. The Sopranos was groundbreaking, especially when it premiered in 1999. Led by the excellent performances from the likes of James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, The Sopranos took the world by storm. It was almost always mired in some controversy, yet people kept coming back for more. During its run, The Sopranos racked up the awards, including over 20 Emmys.

1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

  • Seasons: 5
  • Episodes: 62
  • Episode Length: 43-58 minutes
  • Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitre, Jonathan Banks
  • Stream On: Netflix
  • Genre: Crime Drama, Serial Drama
  • Created By: Vince Gilligan

There may have never been a more tightly written drama in the history of television. For five seasons, Breaking Bad  made sure every scene in every episode mattered and built towards something. The show told the story of Walter White, a chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer, who partners with his former student Jesse Pinkman to cook and sell meth. Watching White become hungry for power and get driven to do terrible things made for one of the most interesting character arcs ever witnessed. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul won several awards for their incredible and iconic portrayals of the two lead characters. Throughout its entire run, Breaking Bad never experienced a dip in quality.

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