We’ve been enjoying a Golden Age of Television for well over a decade now, and it’s been absolutely epic. Dramas like Breaking Bad and The Wire have kept us on the edge of our seats. Sharp and subversive comedies like Arrested Development and Parks and Recreation are fantastic to binge watch. Even “genre” TV has been elevated to new heights thanks to gorgeous and vivid shows like Lost and Game of Thrones.

There may be more great television on the air now than ever before, but the truth is that television has always been a fantastic way to tell thoughtful, slow-burn character stories, or to slowly unfurl a tightly-wound mystery. ‘90s shows like The West Wing or The X-Files feel just as entertaining and relevant today as they did when they debuted. And our course it’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance and influence of greats like I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show.

But which are the best of the best? Which have shows were so far ahead of their time and so immaculately made that they stand apart, demanding recognition? IGN’s TV addicts put out heads together to find out. These are the top 100 TV shows of all time.

Our criteria:

  • Questions the panel considered about each show include: How influential was it? How well has it aged? Did the show have ongoing cultural significance?
  • Finally, of course, our most important consideration was pure excellence. Is it beautiful? Well-written and acted? Does it feel like must-see TV?
Beavis and Butt-Head
Debuted 1993
Finale 2011
100

The 1993 MTV animated series Beavis and Butt-Head featured the titular dimwitted metal heads, Beavis and Butt-Head. Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Silicon Valley) originally created the duo for an animation festival. Beavis and Butt-Head watched and critiqued music videos from MTV’s regular rotation. When they weren’t watching TV the pair of 9th graders were out doing things like donating blood for money or trying to get intoxicated on cough syrup. During its initial run the show was MTV’s highest rated series. The series is notable for it’s hilariously juvenile humor and unique animation style. The series also foreshadowed MTV’s eventual move away from music-based programming.

Did you know?
  • Beavis and Butt-head first appeared in the short film, Frog Baseball, in 1992.
  • The MTV series Daria was a spin-off of Beavis and Butt-Head.
  • David Letterman had a cameo (as a Motley Crue roadie) in the 1996 film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.
The Good Wife
Debuted 2009
Finale 2016
99

CBS is known for airing straightforward, crowd-pleasing sitcoms, and procedural dramas. We’re not entirely sure how a complex, heavily serialized series like The Good Wife made its home there, but we can’t complain. Over the course of seven seasons, The Good Wife offered an engrossing look at a woman (played marvelously by Julianna Margulies) salvaging her career and family in the wake of her husband’s destructive political scandal. Always a critical darling, The Good Wife proved that network TV dramas can hold their own against the most prestigious fare from the likes of HBO, AMC, and FX.

Did you know?
  • The series was inspired by several notable political sex scandals, including those of Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, and Bill Clinton.
  • Actor Alan Cumming revealed that his character, Eli Gold, was inspired by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.
  • Actresses Ashley Judd, Helen Hunt, and Elisabeth Shue were all considered for the role of Alicia Florrick.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Debuted 2005
Finale 2008
98

Avatar: The Last Airbender is perhaps the strongest argument against the notion that American cartoons can’t compete with the best of Japanese anime. Avatar succeeded in fusing Western and Eastern sensibilities, presenting a fantastical world where young heroes manipulate the elements and fight an epic battle to save the world from an evil tyrant. The diverse cast of characters, gorgeous animation, and highly spiritual sensibilities helped Avatar capture a wide audience that most cartoons can only dream of. And though the series lasted a mere three seasons, it spawned a very strong sequel series, The Legend of Korra.

Did you know?
  • Originally, Avatar was conceived as taking place thousands of years in the future.
  • The movements of all four element bending arts are modeled after real martial arts, such as Tai Chi, Ba Gua, and Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
  • Each episode opens with a unique, thematically appropriate melody that is never repeated in future episodes.
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist
Debuted 1995
Finale 2002
97

The mid-’90s marked the point where Comedy Central struggled to shift focus from airing syndicated reruns and standup specials to original content. Dr. Katz was an important step forward for the network. The series offered a subversive, low-budget alternative to more mainstream animated sitcoms like The Simpsons, complete with a charmingly low-budget look and feel. It may not have proven to be the smash hit South Park would later become, but it’s debatable whether South Park would ever have materialized without Dr. Katz lighting the way. The same could be said for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, much of which owes a clear debt to Dr. Katz.

Did you know?
  • The series originally debuted in 1989 as a series of one-minute shorts on Short Attention Span Theater.
  • A statue in Dr. Katz’s office carries a Latin inscription that translates to: “The gods treat we mortals like so many balls to play with.”
  • The final three episodes of the series didn’t air on Comedy Central until 2002, three years after the show officially ended.
Happy Days
Debuted 1974
Finale 1984
96

The ‘70s were a difficult time in America, and that led to a resurgence of nostalgia for the supposedly simpler era of the ‘50s. Happy Days was perfectly poised to tap into that nostalgia. And while the show ostensibly focused on young Richie Cunningham and his family, it wasn’t long before Henry Winkler’s Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli became the driving force of the show and a veritable pop culture icon. It could be argued that Happy Days wore out its welcome. It was the show that birthed the phrase “jumped the shark,” after all. But it still left a huge mark and managed to spawn a legion of spinoffs like Laverne & Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Mork & Mindy.

Did you know?
  • Following an episode where Fonzie checked out a book at a library, it was reported that library card registration rose by 500%.
  • Not only did Happy Days have numerous spinoffs, the series began life as a segment on the ABC comedy anthology Love, American Style.
  • Fonzie’s trademark leather jacket is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Will & Grace
Debuted 1998
Finale 2006
95

As the first primetime TV series in the US to feature openly gay main characters, it’s difficult to understate the cultural importance of Will & Grace. Perhaps no show has done more to bring LGBT characters and issues into the mainstream. But Will & Grace is also a very entertaining show, one anchored by the lovable friendship between the precise, methodical lawyer Will and his impetuous BFF/roommate, Grace. Will & Grace proved a more than worthy addition to NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday lineup.

Did you know?
  • James Barrows directed all 188 episodes of the series.
  • All four main cast members won Emmys for their performances, which has only occurred on two other shows: Golden Girls and All in the Family.
Justified
Debuted 2010
Finale 2015
94

Hollywood has frequently turned to the work of legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard, but rarely has an adaptation proven as successful as Justified. Adapted from the short story Fire in the Hole, this FX series followed the struggles of a U.S. Marshal (played by Timothy Olyphant) enforcing the law in his rural Kentucky hometown. The series was consistently showered with praise for the quality of its acting, writing, directing, and art direction and over the course of its six years introduced a ton of memorable characters.

Did you know?
  • Boyd Crowder was going to be killed off in the pilot, but enthusiastic test audience reactions made him a recurring character instead.
  • Raylan Givens appeared in two other Elmore Leonard novels in addition to the “Fire in the Hole” short story that inspired the pilot.
  • The working title for the series was “Lawman,” but it had to be changed to avoid conflicting with a Steven Seagal movie of the same name.
Golden Girls
Debuted 1985
Finale 1992
93

Hollywood often likes to pretend that older actresses simply don’t exist, so the fact that NBC commissioned a sitcom focused squarely on a quartet of older women sharing the same house is pretty amazing, in retrospect. The Golden Girls quickly became a ratings powerhouse, helping pull NBC out of an ongoing slump and making audiences fall in love with Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. And despite the sitcom trappings, The Golden Girls was never shy about tackling serious issues like marriage equality, elder care, and AIDS discrimination.

Did you know?
  • Though it sounded convincing, Betty White’s Norwegian dialogue was never anything more than improvised gibberish.
  • Estelle Getty required 45 minutes of makeup work before filming, a process that became even more complicated when she had a facelift after the first season.
  • The four main actresses consumed a total of 100 cheesecakes over the course of the series.
Frasier
Debuted 1993
Finale 2004
92

Following up a ratings juggernaut like Cheers is no easy task, but that’s what Frasier managed over the course of its 11-year run. The series followed Kelsey Grammer’s Dr. Frasier Crane as he returned to Seattle, took a new job as a radio rost, and frequently butted heads with his high-strung brother and cantankerous father. The series was unique in that it managed to make a pair of elitist, intellectual snobs relatable to the average TV viewer. Maybe that’s because, for all the upper class trappings, Frasier was really a story about an oddball family trying to relate to one another and the world around them. Even now, you can see Frasier’s influence in everything from The Big Bang Theory to Modern Family.

Did you know?
  • Apart from Kirstie Alley, every surviving main cast member of Cheers appeared on Frasier at some point during the show’s run.
  • As of the show’s final season in 2004, Grammer had played the Fraser Crane character for 20 consecutive years on TV.
  • Not only does Grammer voice Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons, but the main Fraser cast have been given roles as Bob’s homicidal family members.
Good Times
Debuted 1974
Finale 1979
91

While Good Times was a spinoff of Maude, which in turn was a spin-off of All in the Family, the series had little trouble making a name for itself in the mid-70s. It focused on an inner-city African American couple trying to raise their three children and all the challenges involved. And even though the series often struggled to balance tackling real-world issues with devoting ample screen time to Jimmie Walker’s wildly popular J.J. Evans (who was basically the proto-Steve Urkel), Good Times offered a crucial alternative to the normally sanitized sitcom landscape of the era.

Did you know?
  • The show was one of the first to acknowledge the problem of STDs.
  • One of Esther Rolle's conditions for returning in season 6 was that J.J. be made a better role model for African American youth.
  • John Amos and Jimmie Walker were only seven years apart, despite the fact that the former played the latter's father.
Debuted 1977
Finale 1981
90

Soap was conceived as a parody of daytime soap operas, but in the form of a half-hour primetime comedy. That premise alone would be enough to make the show stand out, but it also benefited from a ridiculously strong cast that included Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, and even a young Billy Crystal. In many ways, Soap was truly ahead of its time, diving headlong into taboo subjects like murder, prostitution, and homsexuality. That might have angered religious groups and given ABC’s standards and practices department many headaches, but Soap’s bold approach also helped it attract a devoted fanbase hungry for shows willing to take risks.

Did you know?
  • Creator and executive producer Susan Harris had a guest role in two episodes, where she played a hooker named Babette.
  • While the show ended with a few cliffhangers, spinoff series Benson offered some closure as far as Katherine Helmond's Jessica is concerned.
  • Casey Kasem originally served as narrator in the pilot, but quit the show due to fears it would tarnish his family-friendly reputation.