We’ve all seen those lists popping up on our Facebook feeds—“15 Movies that Changed My Life,” “10 Books that Stayed with Me,” “10 Albums that Have Defined My Life,” etc. We’ve probably even made one or more of those lists ourselves. (I’ve done both the book and movies ones.) But I haven’t seen any of these “challenges” devoted to television.
That’s about to change.
I am the woman I am in no small part due to the movies I’ve watched and the books I’ve read in my 26 years. However, I’m also the woman I am because of the TV shows I’ve watched and the television characters I’ve loved. More than any other form of media, television has given me characters and stories to grow up with, to be inspired by, and to learn from over the course of many years.
Therefore, today I’m making a list of the 10 TV shows that have had the deepest impact on me. And I’m challenging all of my fellow nerds to make their own lists and post them in the comments!
1. Sesame Street: My love for television as a medium and my respect for it as a positive force in people’s lives can be traced back to mornings spent watching Sesame Street with my mom. It was the first TV show I was ever exposed to, and I want it to be the first TV show I expose my own children to someday. I love Sesame Street not only for the things it taught me (Spanish, letters and numbers, the continents…) but also for how happy it made me as kid and still makes me as an adult every time I see Grover or Big Bird or Cookie Monster spreading joy to a new generation of kids.
2. Boy Meets World: This was the first show to teach me that a piece of media can mean different things to you at different times in your life. I grew up with these characters not only when the show first aired but also through reruns that seemed to air just when I needed them in high school, in college, and even now. Boy Meets World’s series finale is one I treasure as an adult far more than I did as a preteen watching it for the first time, and it gave me some of the most profound advice any TV show could ever hope to give: “Dream. Try. Do good.”
3. Alias: Everything always comes back to Alias for me as a TV fan. It was the first “grownup” show I watched without my parents; it introduced me to the world of online television fandom; and it gave me my first real television role model in Sydney Bristow—whose warmth and courage of conviction played no small role in helping me through my teenage years. And although Alias was the first to teach me that sometimes your favorite shows can disappoint you (and that even shows you love shouldn’t last forever), I’m not sure any show I’ve ever watched will hold the kind of power over me that this did back in its heyday.
4. LOST: If there’s one lasting lesson being a LOST fan taught me, it’s this: The characters are the most important thing about a television show. And that’s informed the way I’ve watched and written about television ever since. LOST taught me about the importance of people, the importance of the connections we form with one another. That’s ultimately what matters—on television and in life. LOST’s series finale showed that sometimes you have to move on, which was an important lesson for me as a young woman who graduated from college the day before that finale aired.
5. So You Think You Can Dance: If there’s one word for how SYTYCD makes me feel, it’s proud. I’ve been a dancer since I was a little girl, and this show took what I’ve loved to do for my whole life and showed America exactly what makes it so special. It shows the beauty, pain, and strength of dancers, but it also shows our incredible capacity for joy and friendship. Dance means the world to me, so this show that brought my passion to the world at large means the world to me, too.
6. The Office: Part of the reason The Office made this list is because it was the first show I ever binge-watched, so it opened up a whole new way of consuming media for me. However, this show’s lasting impact on me will always be rooted in Jim and Pam. This wasn’t a fairytale or an epic love story, but that made it even more special. It was a story about an ordinary man who loved an ordinary girl with a beauty that was anything but ordinary—and is still something so many of us hope to find in our own lives.
7. Chuck: Is it weird that whenever someone asks for a description of my ideal guy, my first instinct is just to say “Chuck Bartowski?” Chuck helped me see how attractive nerds are, which helped me learn to love my own nerdy side again. Loving the character of Chuck Bartowski helped me to see that there’s nothing I want more in a future significant other than someone who loves with their whole heart and has no understanding of the concept of apathy. Give me a big-hearted nerd like Chuck, or give me nothing.
8. Castle: This show is the reason this website exists. Castle was the first show I wrote episodic reviews of, and it was the first show to inspire me to deeply analyze television. More than anything, though, Castle inspired me to really take charge of my own life at a time when my self-esteem hit a rough patch and I felt like I was struggling to be happy. Watching Kate Beckett’s journey—especially through Season Four—inspired me to choose happiness in my own life and to take ownership of my life’s story like she was doing with hers, working to be a better person one day at a time. I’m a stronger, better Katie because Castle exists, and that’s a fact.
9. Parks and Recreation: I’m a Leslie Knope—a bit of a steamroller who feels strongly, cares deeply, and wants to make a difference in people’s lives. And sometimes all you need to learn to love yourself for exactly who you are is to see the traits that you’ve been told are “too intimidating” or “too much” brought to life by a TV character who is loved for being strong, ambitious, and passionate. Parks and Rec inspires me every day to be my most positive and most encouraging self—to be my most “Leslie” self. It reflects a belief that there are good people out there in the world and that positivity can be the backbone of a successful life (and TV show).
10. Once Upon a Time: As I got older, I thought maturity and cynicism went hand in hand, so for a long time I suppressed my naturally hopeful nature in an attempt to be more mature. And then I discovered Once Upon a Time. This show opened my eyes to the idea that strength can be found in optimism and hope, which has made me a much happier person. But its most lasting impact on me might be in its message that the bravest thing we can do is open our hearts and believe in others and in ourselves. It’s helped me approach life with a more open and hopeful heart, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
So apparently I have a lot of feelings about this topic. This is the last part of the comment I’m writing and I’m actually a little surprised about how long this ended up being. I’m really glad you chose this topic for Fangirl Thursday because it’s the medium that by far has impacted my life the most and no one else was talking about it.
Boy Meets World: This show is probably more meaningful to me now than it was at the time I initially watched because I understand now just how powerful it was. Mr. Feeny didn’t just teach Cory, Shawn, and Topanga. He taught us all, even if we didn’t actively realize it at the time. His final lesson is still one of the most powerful moments in my own TV history.
CSI: This show defined so much of my high school life. It gave me a character to love and look up to in Sara Sidle. It gave me a relationship to root for in Grissom and Sara (especially as one of my crushes at the time was basically a copy of Grissom). It gave me an intense fascination with forensic science. It taught me patience with ships and about recognizing subtext. My TV viewing all comes back to this show and Gilmore Girls. They are the ones that taught me the joy that comes from deeply loving a show.
Gilmore Girls: My beautiful show. It gave me role models, comfort and an assortment of quotes that I can sprinkle into my everyday conversations. It was my introduction to non-procedural adult shows and was probably the beginning of my love for female-led shows. It was the first TV show to create a fictional world that I wanted to be a part of. Along with experiences from my own life (that seemed to nicely parallel the show), it taught me what I did and didn’t want in a relationship. I grew up with Rory and learned through her. I looked up to Lorelai and Sookie and Miss Patty and Babette and Emily. I was able to learn from all these wonderful women the value in knowing and being yourself with no compromises.
Heroes: There is no way to separate the impact this show had on me from the fandom. I’d been in the CSI and Harry Potter fandoms prior to this show but I’d mostly gotten to see canon shipping and love for both halves of the ship in CSI and the theorizing portion of Harry Potter. This one taught me about how much fun fandoms can be, even when your ship has no chance in the world of ever becoming canon. The show disappointed us all so much that we turned to our headcanons and had a blast with them. It taught me about fandom communities and the friendships that can form from them and realizing that was possible is probably the greatest impact any show has had on me because of the people it eventually led me to.
Lie To Me: Gillian Foster will always be one of the most influential characters in my life so this show had to make the list for her alone. On a different note, it was the show that got me interested in ratings and understanding the way the television industry works and that developed into the passion it is today.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This is the show that taught me what great television can be. It was a show I started watching because it was a really popular one that I missed out on but since I didn’t think I was a fan of vampires, I didn’t expect to love it. This is the only show that I had to stop watching for couple months because one of the episodes hit me so strongly that I couldn’t make myself continue. It’s a show that makes me cry during every season finale because one of the characters will say something that resonates with me. It’s the show that gave me comfort during grad school. It was the most fulfilling show that I had seen up to that point since starting my interest in television and it gave me the desire for more shows like it.
Battlestar Galactica: I still have a hard time accurately describing how I feel about this show and why I love it. It just grabbed the core of me and has never let go. I love that it was a show I could share with Sam and that we could have long discussions about character motivations or the issues the show brought up. I love that it gave me characters and relationships that I love to pieces in Kara Thrace and her relationships with both of the Adama men and in Sharon Agathon and her relationship with Helo. It gave me characters to be inspired by and themes to analyze and a beautiful month of binge-watching over a summer.
Parks and Recreation: This show reflects so many of the values that are important to me – passion, friendship, love, and doing good. It makes me happy and it inspires me. The message and tone of the show speak to me in a way that few others do.
Masters of Sex: This show hadn’t even started by the time I graduated but my thesis exists because of Virginia Johnson and those who have followed after her. I didn’t even know it at the time but it’s the fact that continues to grab me with every episode I watch. She was a fascinating woman that I knew nothing about other than her work on the sexual response cycle and this show gave me to opportunity to learn more about her, even if it is somewhat fictionalized. This show reminded me how much I love sexuality research. It gave me back the joy and excitement that I lost during my last year or so of grad school.
Eli Stone: I haven’t even finished the series yet but I know this is going to be one that stays with me forever. It’s a theme that pops up in a couple of the other shows on this list but seems especially fitting for this show – it’s about choosing to do good even when it may not be convenient. Eli may not have initially chosen his visions but he did choose to follow them. He inspired the people around him to do better and be better people and he helped an awful lot of people in the meantime.
I am so glad you have a lot of feelings about this because I loved reading them all! And it made me feel better about the fact that this post was only supposed to be a quick list but ended up being almost 2,000 words long and took hours to do. 😉
I loved that I could guess so many of your choices, and what I loved even more was reading about how each of those shows helped make you who you are. It was amazing to read about the way your appreciation for strong women came from Gilmore Girls; the way Buffy opened your eyes to what great TV can be; the way you were able to share BSG with Sam; and the way Masters of Sex reminded you of what made you fall in love with the topic you wrote your thesis about. TV speaks to all of us in different ways, and it was beautiful to read about the way all of these shows spoke (and are still speaking) to you at critical times in your life. Because I will always believe that—just like people—TV shows and characters seem to come into our lives exactly when we need them.
And one final note: I REALLY need to watch Eli Stone. 😉
DROP EVERYTHING AND WATCH ELI STONE. VICTOR GARBER SINGS.
I love this list and I adore that Eli Stone made this list even though you haven’t finished it! It also makes me want to sit down and revisit it. I had refrained from reading everyone’s until I did my own and I love that your connection to Gilmore Girls is the same as my connection to Sports Night. How funny! Your love of Masters of Sex is what tipped the scale to me prioritizing watching it. I am forever grateful.
Oh TV. My lifelong friend. Here are my top 10, in order of appearance:
Captain Planet. I always say that this show brainwashed me into the environmental consultant I am today, and I am only have joking. Also, my planeteer costume I wore in college is still one of my favorites.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. This was the start of my TV obsession. I would record episodes on VHS and watch them when I did my homework. I cut out pictures of Dean Cain from magazines. I learned the true frustration that comes from a memory loss plot. I was starting my lifelong obsession with Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
The X-Files. This show consumed my being. This was the first show in high school where I was part of a ‘fandom’ and made legitimate online friends. I would post to my X-Files message board in the library after school. I would read inappropriate Mulder/Scully fanfiction at my grandparents house. Life was lived Sunday to Sunday.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show that introduced me to wonderful writers I still love today (especially Joss and Jane). I also watched this show with my sister, who went on to have a major Buffy obsession, so I always think of this as “our show”. The fact that I introduced my sister to her first TV obsession is a point of pride. I also spent all one summer in college re-watching the show with my now best friend, and it was actually partly through this show that we became best friends that ended up living together for 8 years.
Ally McBeal. The show as a whole did not mean much to me, but Larry Paul was my first major TV crush. Not just an “oh hes cute” kind of crush. The kind of crush where you will measure every relationship of your life against. Sadly this crush burned me when RDJ went to jail nobody got their happy ending. I think this might explain my severe commitment issues.
LOST. A show that was not afraid to do its own thing. My college roommates and I (there were six of us total) always made an effort to watch LOST together. No matter how busy our lives got, it was our time to sit around the TV and enjoy something as a household. After college when Sean and I started dating, we would always make a date to watch it together.
The Guild. Ok, so its a web series, but this little piece of entrainment showed me the power of the internet as a way to reach niche audiences, and I have had a soft spot for web content ever since. I also have immense respect for Felicia Day to create the kind of content she wanted to see when she saw nobody else was making it. I knew Sean was a good for me when on one of our first dates I bought up ‘The Guild’ and he said he watched it too. Considering their total viewers in the first season was probably no more than 100,000 people, that was really impressive. We watched all future season together.
Smallville. My guilty pleasure binge watch stay up until 3am on weeknights when you get up at 5:30am to go to work kinda of show. Again its Superman and Lois Lane and they will always be my weak spot. This show gave me a great knowledge of the DC comics universe and I swoon over every Clois moment. I often go back to this show when I need a mood enhancer.
Once Upon a Time. My current TV obsession, and what has brought me here to you. I lose sleep over Killian Jones, and life is once again lived Sunday to Sunday.
I adore the fact that you read MSR fanfic at your grandparents’ house.
Oh yes, I read fanfiction way before fanfiction was cool. Wait, is fanfiction cool yet?
It had better be.
First of all, I am now singing the Captain Planet theme song and will be for the next week. Thanks for that. 😉
Lois and Clark was one of those shows I never truly became addicted to, but I loved watching it whenever I was on. I’m not sure if this is factually accurate, but it felt like it was always on at my grandparents’ house, so I have plenty of memories of developing a crush on Dean Cain while staring at my grandparents’ very old television.
How you feel about Ally McBeal is how I feel about Chuck. I enjoyed the show itself, but it’s formative because it gave me a man who (for better or worse) has become the standard by which I judge all men.
Finally, I love your description of living life “from Sunday to Sunday” because that’s how I felt when Alias first started (before they ruined everything by moving it to Wednesdays…then Thursdays…then Wednesdays again…with the series finale on a Monday). Falling in love with Once Upon a Time has reminded me of the joy of living a “Sunday to Sunday” life and ending your weekend with something you love watching so much.
And life is once again lived Sunday to Sunday just might be my favorite phrase uttered this week. It so perfectly captures what great TV does. I felt like that about The Good Wife all last season. Your love of Lois is so wonderful, it makes me smile every time I read what you write about it.
Katie, TV twin, your first four are my first four. Literally all of them, in that order. You summarize them so nicely that I’ll just go from there. (These are in order of WHEN they affected me, not in order of the strength of their impact.)
5. Pushing Daisies. I don’t think I would put Pushing Daisies in my top ten shows overall, but my appreciation for it ended up teaching me a lot about TV as an industry. Until the writers’ strike eventually cost us this little gem, I never paid attention to ratings, and I had no idea that the most brilliant shows out there didn’t always find the audiences that they deserved.
6. The Office. I was actually never obsessive about The Office, but Jim and Pam are SO important to me–Pam in particular. I feel like she IS me. She’s quiet, curly haired, stuck in a job she doesn’t want, not sure how to move on from where she is. She’s got dreams but gets stuck on how to chase them. She has to learn what she eventually articulates in the finale (it means everything to me that the finale is basically Pam’s to tell)–you just have to go for it. Take leaps for your own happiness. It’s right there. In the process, she also learns that there’s beauty in the situations we didn’t choose for ourselves, and that she’s loved as she is. PAM. I could go on forever. Also, I wrote a 15-page essay in college for my creative non-fiction class that started as the story of my dad’s childhood in Scranton, but my professor encouraged me to expand it and I ended up spending multiple pages on how The Office has had a real impact on the community. Yayyy, TV!
7. Bones. I found Bones when I was studying abroad, which was a very weird and kind of dark time for me. I ended up watching the first four seasons in a month, and now I can’t think of Dublin without thinking of Booth and Brennan. They made the experience worth it, because I took Bones back with me and shared it with my mom and with multiple friends, and it strengthened every one of those relationships. I’d never said, “I know he’s fictional, but I’m actually in love with him” until I said it about Booth, and Brennan is one of those characters I’d literally fight for. She doesn’t apologize for her intelligence or for the truth. She says what needs to be said instead of what’s easy to say. That’s something I’ve taken with me. I also honestly think the show has made me more empathetic, just because of how layered the characters are and how deeply they care.
8. Parks and Rec! A friend called me her real life Leslie Knope and I literally put it in the cover letter of every entertainment job I applied for for about a year. Her enthusiasm is an inspiration. I’ve never seen a more positive comedy than Parks and Rec. These people love each other, they really do, and the story is funnier and warmer for it, so basically every preconception of comedy can be shut down now. This show’s humor comes from a place of joy, and I NEED that. Plus, this was the show that made my Alaska house into a family.
9. Doctor Who. WHAT TO EVEN SAY. The show itself has the biggest heart. Its sense of wonder at the universe is only matched by its sense of wonder at ordinary humans and what we’re capable of, not just out there in the stars, but every day. This show has broadened my perspective, but also deepened it. I think differently about everyday life and what I can do with it. I think differently about travel. I think differently about time. The companions are SO richly written and their strength comes from their empathy, and the Doctor continues to open himself up to loving them/ changing them/ being changed by them, no matter how much he’s lost. I love it. At least under RTD. (Although contrasting RTD Who with Moffat Who has also taught me a lot about what I value in a show.) As a fan, I’ve found amazing friendships through this show, and I’ve learned how to dive into fandom proudly.
10. The X-Files. The latest addition! I’m not even done with the show yet, but it’s in my top three all-time favorites already, maybe even top two. Mulder and Scully are THE ship. They’re my ultimate OTP. Their integrity, respect for each other, and deep connection is just piercing. Even when they’re a mess, they are the absolute purest display of love. And sharing the show with everyone on the blog has been the highlight of my summer. I feel completely consumed by this community of fans, and consumed by the show, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
(Addendum that now I’m experiencing a crisis of conscience between Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow.)
Nope, I’m sticking with Sesame Street. Carry on.
I want to now make my list a Top 11 and put Reading Rainbow on it. Formative children’s television shows FTW.
I love that we are forever TV twins. Those first four shows were with me through each of the major stages of growing up: early childhood, middle school-juinior high, high school, and college. I’m so happy someone else knows exactly what it’s like to be shaped by those four shows the way we were. 🙂
Your thoughts on Pam just made me super emotional. I can’t imagine how moved you must have been by that series finale. We all need that TV character who comes into our lives and who we connect with immediately. Having a TV spirit animal like Pam was for you helps us grow so much, and the lessons Pam talked about in the finale were so beautiful.
As for being called someone’s Leslie Knope, that’s just the greatest feeling on Earth, isn’t it? 😉
And, for the record, I could literally read your thoughts on Doctor Who and the X-Files all day, even though I’ve never watched the latter and stopped watching the former after Tennant was done. 🙂
Yes! We were just casually going along watching the same shows and letting them affect us. Love it.
I cried SO hard at the finale of The Office–harder than I’d cried at ANY episode of TV to that point. (I hadn’t seen Tennant’s last episode yet. I think that’s the only episode to top it.) Finales always get me, but Jim and Pam’s got me especially hard.
I can’t even blame you for stopping Doctor Who after Tennant. It’s a really different show under Moffat–still one I enjoy and like thinking/ talking critically about, but not one that I feel the same level of attachment to, by any means. But the cool thing about Doctor Who is that it’s been around so long that it’s bigger than any one showrunner, and the core of it will still be there when it changes again. I’m excited for that.
As for The X-Files, I have all of the feelings and want to talk about them with everyone. I honestly think you’d love it, and if you ever were to decide to watch, I’d be SO there for you. It’s a commitment, but the best kind.
Mulder and Scully are why ‘shipping’ is a thing. They are the O.G OTP.
The fact that the term ‘shipping’ literally originated with them makes COMPLETE sense to me.
I love this post Katie. I’ve grown up with tv characters and unforgettable stories, I will grow older with them. Here’s my top 10, not in particular order.
1. Beverly Hills 90210. I know it had horrible story lines most of the times and characters could annoy you with absurd behaviors but it’s the first tv show I’ve ever watched and got attached to. I think I was about 10 years old and watching it with my sisters in our room was a special moment and I will always cherish it.
2. Dawson’s creek. It is my adolescence tv show. Oh the feels! I think watching a tv show when the characters are the same age as you are it’s great because you can relate to them and grow up together By the way, always Team Pacey. 🙂
3. Friends. My happy spot, always. Everytime I got and get upset over something they were/are there to cheer me up. They are my friends.
4. Charmed. Me and my two best friends at high school were obsessed with it. We formed our Charmed trio and we also created our Book of Shadows where we wrote the silliest things and the important things that happened in our lives.
5. Lost. I always say that Lost came into my life in the exact moment I needed it the most. Personally, I went through one of the worst year of my life and the moment I decided to give it a go I knew it was a sign. I crashed on that island too with those characters and they gave me so much, I can’t say how much I’m grateful for this show being part of my life.
6. Roswell. I loved this tv show and its characters. Everytime I get the chance to rewatch it I don’t miss it. And it’s a shame they closed it on their third season. There was so much potential.
7. Chuck. Chuck taught me that we can become eveything we want to be and be brave, kind and altruist. Also, to never give up on love, no matter what.
8. Scrubs. I think that no show can make you laugh and break your heart as Scrubs did. I learned so much from these characters and their stories, The life lessons weren’t made to preach at the public but to make you ponder and be good at life.
9. One tree Hill. I know I sound like a broken record by now but I love these characters. Every episode gave you something to ponder on, friendship, love, hate, relationships. And it gave me one of the best Otp of all Otps, Nathan and Haley. These two went through so much together and their love was always there. Together since season 1 and it’s good to enjoy a couple and their journey together without triangle drama.
10. How I met your mother. I’ve already said that I HATED the series finale, hated it, but, there is a but. It gave me so much. Everytime I had a crappy day I knew these characters had the right words for me, Ted Mosby especially. There were episodes or seasons even, where it seems to me that I lived in symbiosis with him. These six person gave me hope for the future, they taught me that we can change even when we think it’s not possible anymore but the most important lesson they gave me is about love. Love can come at first sight and last forever like Marshall and Lily, it can be totally unexpected and mindblowing like Robin and Barney or it can take time to come to you like it happened to Ted and to Tracy (the Mother), but it always comes. So never give up hope.
How did Charmed fall off my radar? Hangs head in shame.
I’m so happy you liked this post, and I LOVE this list and your reasons behind each choice. I was particularly struck by the fact that you have happy memories of sharing some of these shows with people you love (a trait your list shares with many of the other lists on this post). It’s always so special to be able to share the experience of watching and loving a show with the people who mean the most to us at a given time.
I also really liked what you had to say about LOST. I’ve always believed that TV shows somehow manage to come into our lives when we need them the most. They give us inspiration, escape, and hope when we’re searching for those things in our own lives. That’s how I feel about more than a few choices on my list (Alias, Chuck, Parks and Rec, and Once Upon a Time, specifically), and it was nice to hear that I’m not alone in knowing what it feels like to have a TV show be there for you at the exact moment you need it.
I so deeply love this topic, your picks and everyone else’s here. What a lovely way to spend my morning coffee. As someone who just this week purchased the full series to date of Castle because the TNT repeats took up more than half my DVR this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.
However I have a solid 15 years on you, so I may have more than 10 shows, because I just couldn’t bring myself to weed it down.
Villa Allegre – This was the Spanlish interpretation of Sesame Street. While I loved Maria and Gordon and the gang over there, this show did something magical. It put my family, my culture front and center on television. Even as a little girl that was so important to me and my identity. Growing up as the token Hispanic in my group of friends, town seeing people who look like me on TV in a role that wasn’t a stereotype fundamentally shaped who I am.
Schoolhouse Rock – Everything about my Saturday mornings as a child is wrapped up in this series. What I learned about history, government and grammar. I can still sing 90% of the songs from memory. It was also the cornerstone of my childhood. Saturday morning, wake up, pour a bowl of cereal, set up camp in front of the TV, watch cartoons from 8-11AM, get dressed and exit the house for the remainder of the day.
I Love Lucy – This is the first TV show I fell in love with and the show that has stayed with me for a lifetime. Already in re-runs by the time I stumbled onto it in the late 70s there were few things I loved more than the friendship of Lucy and Ethel and the laughter that Lucy and Ricky created. I laugh in anticipation of moments I adore and there were few greater joys I have had than introducing it to my own child and watching her relish the hilarity of it just like I did at her age. This is probably my favorite TV show of all time.
The Cosby Show – This is the definition of television and my childhood. The show that was the gold standard in the hey day of the TV sitcom and a show that at its best was funnier than anything TV had ever seen. What Cosby created with a 30 minute show was entertainment, multigenerational, minorities on TV in roles that balked all stereotypes and created a culture shift in perception in the process. People forget how close to the gritty 70s and All in the Family this show came in the timeline. It was a complete departure from anything on TV at that time. I know all those things now. But at the time it aired and what made it spectacular was that it was a hit because it was fall down funny. That scene in the pilot between Theo and Cliff talking about being ‘regular people’ is classic both for its brilliant back and forth and because it doesn’t give into the trope of “very special moment” when Theo asks him to love him, because he’s their son. Cosby smartly goes for the comedy and reality. And in that moment a show that changed TV was born.
Degrassi High – Long ago in a land on Canadian television the original incarnation of Degrassi was born. No other show as I came of age captured what kids actually looked like, how they talked, how they dressed and how they felt better. My So Called Life is a show I adore and felt deep connection to even though it came out slightly after I had passed through that time in my life. It’s poignancy owes a lot to Degrassi which as a teenager was hands down the most honest show I ever watched.
Hill Street Blues – My first ‘adult’ show and one I watched from underneath my brother’s bed because it was on after my bedtime. This for me remains the gold standard of the cop procedural. Like you wrote about LOST, Hill Street Blues taught me the importance of character. No matter what the plot line, if we don’t care about the individuals going through the stories it doesn’t matter what happens.
Sports Night – My favorite piece of television Aaron Sorkin ever put his hands on and the first piece of television universe I actually wanted to live in. I wanted to work on Sports Night, I wanted to be a part of that world and a large part of me wanted to be Dana Whittachre. She was smart, successful, vulnerable and passionate. She was unapologetic about all of it and she wasn’t afraid to be a woman in a man’s world. This show wore its heart on its sleeve and was brilliantly funny in the process.
24 – People will talk about the Sopranos, Breaking Bad and a host of anti-hero shows that ushered in this specific age of television. However, while the Sopranos had the freedom (and budget) of HBO 24 was embarking on something never attempted on TV and certainly never successful in flims. A show in real time. That they were mostly successful under that premise and constraint was a feat in itself. That they created an anti-hero in Jack Bauer whose moral complexity could go toe to toe with any of the modern day ones we see today. It was the first show I binge watched, it gave us the glorious Penny Johnson Jerald’s modern day Lady MacBeth and with a season 1 finale that made everyone’s jaw drop it proved that no one was safe on this show. Brilliant fast paced TV at its best.
Eli Stone – Here was a show that I intrinsically identified with and whose lead character spoke to who I am as a person. Few characters on television provide the moral core that Eli Stone did. I saw in him a huge part of myself. A world and a life that was met with a healthy dose of cynicism if not downright skepticism who has learned through life lessons that making the difficult choices means making the choice for the world, life, person you aspire to be not the presumption of what life has presented. You do right because it is right, not because the odds are in its favor. You make a call based on the best outcome, not the one that protects you best. Those are choices that have their own set of consequences and they may alter the path you believed you were on, but they also provide a clarity of purpose and a quiet in your soul to know you are moving purposefully. It was a victim of the writers strike, but I loved every moment of Eli Stone I had and treasure the mirror it offered me at a moment in my life when I needed it most.
LOST – There will never be another show like LOST. The stories, the mythologies, the character development and the creativity that wove it all together into this amazing piece of episodic television that sits with me on a regular basis. It had layers of meaning but fundamentally remained a show about the value of life is in the people we share that life with on a day to day basis. That’s what we fight for and that’s why we love.
Castle – Oh Castle. Here is a show the delivered on the promise of Moonlighting in spades. Here is a show that found a unique balance of weight and levity. Here is a show that so strongly casts its actors that the supporting players are fleshed out in a way that feels as though they are on weekly, when they’ve only been seen a handful of times. Here is a show that provided an escape during a very dark period personally and most importantly reignited the TV geek I am, opened a door to fans like me and of course led me to NGN. I love Castle for a lot of reasons but mostly because it embodies every part of all the other shows I love over time.
Wow, that was fun and hard. I have a handful of honorable mentions including LA Law, Law & Order, Moonlighting, Thirtysomething and Mad About You.
I adore this list. It reflects all the things I’ve loved about working on my own list and reading all the ones here—the attachment we feel for shows that were with us as we grew from childhood to adulthood, the characters we wanted to be and the worlds we wanted to live in, and the shows that came into our lives when we were at low points and helped us through.
Between Shauna with Captain and Planet and you with Schoolhouse Rock (and Kelly with Reading Rainbow), I now have a plethora of songs waiting to be stuck in my head. My parents were (and still are) huge Schoolhouse Rock fans, so I grew up singing all those songs. I still can’t recite the preamble without singing it.
I Love Lucy is such a wonderful show to share with different generations. There will never be another like it, and that’s a good thing. It belongs in a class of its own.
I love that you wanted to work on Sports Night because even as young as I was when I watched it the first time, I wanted the same thing. I wanted to be Dana so badly. I wonder if the years I spent in college studying to be a sports journalist were subconsciously because of watching this show when I was younger.
I’m so happy that Castle not only led you here but was there for you when you needed it. There’s something about its unique mixture of light escapism and catharsis that I think has guided a lot of us through difficult times.
And a final note, after reading everything both you and Heather had to say about Eli Stone, I know what the next show I’ll be starting is. It seems like everything I could ever love rolled up into one TV show.
This is such a good topic, especially since I’ve always loved TV. It’s so great to see that a lot of other people were impacted by the same shows.
1) I Love Lucy- This show just reminds me of my childhood. I grew up watching the reruns all the time. I remember I would sometimes wake up extra early on the weekends just to watch it.
2) TGIF- Okay, so this isn’t a specific show but a show line-up that used to air on Friday nights. It included Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch among various others. I remember I used to always look forward to Friday night just to watch all the shows. It also brings back memories of sleepovers with my friends.
3) Dawson’s Creek- Ah, the teen angst and drama. This was my first “teen” show I can remember watching. It also ruined me for other boys because I was so in love with Pacey. Team Pacey forever.
3) Gilmore Girls- This was the first show I can remember where I truly could relate to a character. I was and still am so much like Rory. It was also great because when the show started, she was in the same grade as me in high school so I basically grew up with her. When she was stressing out about graduating high school, so was I. When she was wondering what in the world to do with her life and career, I was too. It was like having a friend through all the ups and downs of that time in my life.
4) Friends- Friends is and always will be one of my all time favorites. I can see an episode a hundred times and still laugh. It’s my go-to when I’m sad and upset. When the series ended, I was so sad I couldn’t even bring myself to watch any reruns for at least a month after.
5) Alias- I think this was the first show that I truly became invested in. It was so great watching Sydney’s journey throughout. I remember I would always go to school the day after an episode aired and discuss and analyze everything that happened with my friends. I stopped watching right before the last season but it will always be a show dear to my heart.
6) LOST- Like so many others have said, this show came at the exact moment I needed it in my life. It was so different from any other show I had ever seen. The characters were so well-developed and their struggles and challenges were so relatable. It was comforting to see the characters work through their problems and deal with their own inner struggles. The fact that everything was so uncertain resonated with me during a very uncertain time in my life.
7) The Office- I got into The Office after the end of the second season already aired. I just happened to see a re-run and then binge watched. I loved it because it was the first comedy show I had seen since Friends that I thoroughly enjoyed. I love what you said about Jim and Pam and how “it was a story about an ordinary man who loved an ordinary girl with a beauty that was anything but ordinary.” Their love story was wonderful and beautiful to watch.
Thanks so much for sharing your list, and it makes me smile to see how many choices we all seem to have in common!
I LOVE that you included all of TGIF because that was such a formative block of shows for me, too. From Family Matters and Step by Step to Boy Meets World and Sabrina, it was appointment television for me for years, and it was TV my whole family could watch together as I was growing up. I still love catching reruns of all those shows on ABC Family.
I needed a friend like you while Alias was on—I remember having no one in “real life” to talk about it with, so online forums became the greatest thing in the world for me.
This sentence you wrote about LOST resonated so strongly with me: “The fact that everything was so uncertain resonated with me during a very uncertain time in my life.” I lost a lot of sleep during my senior year of college worrying about what I was going to do with my life, and it made me feel better to see a group of characters struggling and working to re-define themselves in a new world, too. And that show always reminded me to keep the focus where it belonged—on the relationships I had with the people I loved and on my own development as a person.
This is such a cool idea! I just did the book one yesterday, but I like this one even better!
1. Grey’s Anatomy: This is the first show I binge watched and also the first one I picked out for myself, before I usually just watched whatever my parents did. Also, the writing in the first few seasons of that were what made me want to be a writer. It’s definitely not as good as it used to be, but those first three seasons were magic.
2. Survivor: Honestly, I don’t really know how this show has had an impact on me, but I’ve watched every single season of it, the first airing when I was 9 or 10. So it’s definitely the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent with a show.
3. Parks & Recreation: Like you, Leslie Knope has inspired me like no other other t.v. character. There are a lot of characters that I want to embody parts of, but Leslie is the one I want to be. I love her optimism and enthusiasm and her dedication to her friends, family, and job. And Ben and Leslie’s amazing relationship reminds me to never give up on love
4. Castle: Kate Beckett is one of my favorite characters on t.v. for a lot of reasons, but the most important thing she has shown me is how to be tenacious; at work, in relationships, in every aspect of my life. I also bought my first leather jacket because of her, so there’s that 🙂 This show has also taught me that families come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s the people you work with or the three generations of relatives you live with.
5. Chuck: The first show I watched totally live from the pilot to the very last episode. Also a show that all of my siblings and I watched together and loved. I have lots of fun memories of us watching every week, and eating lots of Subway when the show was up for renewal. Now every time I watch it, it makes me feel at home more than any other show does. Also one of my favorite ensembles, all of the characters on that show are so different, and the ways they play off each other are amazing.
6. The Good Wife: I always call this one my “smart” show 🙂 I love it because it makes me fall in love with t.v. all over again every time I watch it, because every aspect of it is just top notch. I’m also inspired by all of the badass ladies on that show.
7. Parenthood: This show is so raw, at times to the point where it’s hard to watch. It also makes me think of my own family, and what we might be like in ten years.
8. The Mindy Project: Mindy’s optimism when it comes to love is amazing and is just what a girl in her 20s needs to be reminded of. I also think she’s a really cool, but kind of atypical role model.
9. Saturday Night Live: This show can make me laugh like no other and tons of my favorite comedians have been born out of it. I always look up my favorite sketches online when I’m having a bad day.
10. OUAT: I actually just binge watched this over the summer (partly because of hearing you say how awesome it was :)) and I’m totally in love with it! I love what you said about watching it as an adult; it’s definitely cured me of a bit of cynicism too. It’s also probably my favorite show I’ve binge watched since Castle about three years ago. As someone who’s been watching t.v. for a long time, it’s just nice to know that there are still new favorites out there for me to discover.
I’m sure I missed some, but that’s what I have now 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your picks and your stories, Becca! You have an awesome list. 🙂
You’re 100% right about those first three seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. They were magic. If I made this list a Top 11, Grey’s probably would have been my next choice. Seasons Two and Three especially where there for me at a difficult time of transition in my life, and it was wonderful to be able to focus on a show with such rich characters and strong stories at that time.
I absolutely love that Leslie and Ben remind you never to give up on love and Mindy reminds you to stay optimistic. They inspire me in the same way. I also have to say that you’re not the only one who bought her first leather jacket because of Beckett. 😉
It was so nice to see SNL on your list, too! I have so much fun watching that show with my sister and my mom every week, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who turns to SNL sketches on sad days.
I’m thrilled to hear that you’re enjoying Once Upon a Time! It has such a beautiful message. I hope you enjoy this coming season, and I hope you come visit our weekly OUAT discussions! We’ll be so happy to have you! 🙂
This is my first time commenting and I just want to say that this website is my go to place for all things Once Upon a Time and all the posts are fantastic so thank you for understanding what being a fangirl means and making me fall more in love with the things I love. I’ve done the top 10 books thing already so TV is really interesting. I’m only 17 so I only have like 7 shows so I have more to see and more to do.
Power Rangers: this show especially RPM, Time Force and In Space taught me about friendship, about never giving up and produced some of my fondest childhood memories. It’s the show I go to when I want to watch an adorable love story, great fight choreography and laugh out loud moments.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: to echo what Katie said, it introduced me to Jane and Joss, writers I adore, introduced me to SMG and to the idea that women can be weak and strong and vulnerable and flawed at the same time. Willow and Tara were the first lesbian representation I saw and all the relationships on the show were a mixture of fights, passion and change for both people involved. Anya and Xander made me laugh and cry in equal measure and Spike and Buffy taught me that love involves accepting people as they are while encouraging them to change, for themselves though and not for anyone else. The Scooby Gang made see true friendship, Tara told me that if you feeling lesser in a relationship or anything you should get out and that you value, Giles taught me that being a parent means stepping back and letting your child go out on their own but always being there for them when they need you. “Chosen” taught that anyone can be strong if they choose to be.
Doctor Who made me believe in ordinary people doing extraordinary things and that all stories end. It also showed me that being happy is just as important even if we are going to be sad later and that everyone matters and is important. Doctor Who taught me that families are both those we choose and those of blood. It also allowed me to meet my best friends and introduced me to my first fandom.
Once Upon a Time is a show that I watch with my family and have fascinating conversations with my mom about the nature of family and true love on the show. I’ve always loved alternate versions of fairytales and the concept interested me from the beginning but I fell in love with Emma Swan and I was hooked. *grins* The show has great villains, great heroes, fascinating plots that are by characters and their development. It has an amazing message and gorgeous scenery and a really really dashing cast so I don’t mind watching.
Vampire Diaries: Great characters, decent plot, and the amazing and complicated love story that Damon and Elena. Introduced me to amazing meta and fan fiction.
First of all, thank you for commenting and sharing your thoughts with us! And thank you for saying such incredibly nice things about my Once Upon a Time posts.
This is a fantastic list of shows, and you did such a great job of explaining why they each mean something to you. I also have to admit, I was a huge Power Rangers fan myself when I was a kid, but I think I’ll be showing my age to admit that it was when Power Rangers was first starting as a show. 😉
You’re at such an awesome age for discovering great TV. You already have a sold list of important shows, and there will be so many more great ones to love in your future! 🙂
This post is super great and I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s favorite shows and reasoning behind it. It’s quite interesting as a human study that people can like the same shows for very different reasons, but I’ll not even delve in to that character trait of mine for the nerdy-science aspect of human life. So without further ado, my list….
1. Bill Nye the Science Guy – not one on anyone’s list but this was MY childhood show that I watched religiously after school every day and the first thing that really got me interested in science and math and ultimately probably led me to my career now, I don’t think there is a show on TV right now quite like this for kids which is a shame (Of note I had to decide between this, Magic School Bus, or Wishbone if that tells you anything about the nerd I am)
2. Friends – the first show I religiously watched and discussed with my Friends at school and still my go-to for a good laugh. This was the first series I bought on DVD and I’ve seen every episode more times than I would like to admit. I loved the progression of these characters throughout their 20s and it’s even better now as I go through my 20s and completely understand the laughter at life going wrong
3. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman – I know, right? I watched this with my parents every Saturday and loves the idea of a female physician in the wild west in a town that initially hated her and the growth of her in the town throughout the years lol
4. One Tree Hill – the show I loved during high school as I was in high school at the time, I really related with these characters in a small town dealing with all the drama that brings as I went to high school in a small town and played sports, it was everything I needed during that time in life
5. Gilmore Girls – need we say more than Lorelai/Rory, the greatest mother/daughter duo on TV of all time, I loved the fierce independance that these women had and that they were each other’s go-to for every major life crisis
6. Grey’s Anatomy – started watching this in the first season and although I was young, was pretty sure I wanted to become a doctor and this really confirmed that for me. While the medical disasters in this show are extremely heightened I loved everything about the Meredith/Cristina friendship and have found throughout my own career path that you meet people who become “that person” for you and I’m lucky enough to work with mine who I met in medical school
7. LOST – god almighty how I became invested in this show wondering what answers we could find out about ANYTHING weekly. While I didn’t love the finale and felt like “what the heck did I spend my last 6 years watching” the journey of these characters struggling to survive was great and often left me with an OMG at every episode
8. Sex and the City – most embarrassed about this one, watched the whole series after it had finished airing and LOVED the friendship of these 4 women and often felt that my group of friends in college and beyond were much like this group, very different but always there for each other and still are, we need more shows about women ACTUALLY being friends on TV because it does happen
9. Masters of Sex – the newest show on the list but practically my most favorite thing on TV right now. I love anything that shows medicine in the past because I find it facsinating on a career level but Virginia Johnson is such an interested character and a great look at a woman really fighting to be taken seriously during a time when most women were expected to stay at home and raise children. Plus the relationship with Bill Masters and all of his insecurities makes this one juicy treat
10. Castle – probably my most important TV show, this first aired when I was in my last year of college about to head to medical school at a time when I felt like I was losing a little bit of who I was and then Kate Beckett came along. I admit I started watching for Nathan Fillion but now I watch more for Stana Katic and the amazing depth and complexity she brought this female character. My favorite character on TV I completely connected with her burying herself in her work and not wanting to let anyone see her have fun and her growth has been the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV and has gone along with my own personal growth (minus the being engaged to a wealthy novelist lol). I will be very very sad when this show ends but thank you lord for DVDs!
30+ years of TV watching made for very tough decisions for this list. That said, I wanted to say loud and proud the I adore Sex and the City. It arrived on the scene as I traveled through my mid 20s and ended just after I turned 30. I was single and living in NYC and the friendships of these four women became a cadence my friends and I all related to, especially through the prism of navigating our dating lives. It’s a show I continued to watch in repeats through my 30s when the character’s life choices and realities really hit home in a way my life did as well. For all its flamboyance there is a deep undercurrent of truth that ran through each character and many of the scenarios that played out. I think it is a series many women related to because of the bonds that real friends share in spite of differences and that they are the relationships that remain our constants as we navigate love in our life and discover our love of self.
It didn’t make my list because of so much television over the years that has moved me. But it wasn’t because I didn’t find it moving. I did and continue to feel that way when I watch repeats today.
This is such a fantastic list—thank you for sharing it with us! You’re right; it’s so cool to think that we all have so many shows in common on these lists, but the reasons we’ve chosen them are so unique to who we are as individuals. That’s been the best thing about reading these comments—getting little glimpses into who you all are as people through the shows that have mattered the most to you.
I love the undercurrent of science and medicine on this list because it’s such a cool reflection of who you are. Many of my favorite TV/movie characters over the years have been writers or English majors or lovers of books, so I think it’s wonderful to see how the careers we choose are inspired by or encouraged by the characters and shows we love.
I have to say that my favorite thing about your choices may have been the Bill Nye/Magic School Bus/Wishbone struggle you mentioned. I loved all three of those shows growing up, too. And now I’m kind of kicking myself for not including Wishbone on that list because I’m 100% positive that my first exposure to classic literature was that show and the books that went along with it. I’m pretty sure I read my Wishbone versions of Romeo and Juliet and Joan of Arc about 20 times each from cover to cover as a kid.
I was also in the same boat with Sex and the City—I watched it all after it was done, and I thought I should have been embarrassed by how much I loved it, but instead I just found myself so moved by the friendships between those women and so proud that I was watching a show where friendship was so important. My friends are the greatest loves of my life (at this point in my life, at least); they’ve been my first soul mates, and I loved having a show that reflected the idea that the love between female friends was something to be celebrated. (It’s also one of the biggest reasons why I love Parks and Rec so much now.)
hmm. I will give this a go – with odd NZ TV references!
The Muppet Show – way, way back. It gave me so many laughs, and introductions to great songs and musicians. I preferred it to Sesame Street (probably because the NYC/urban US references didn’t make much sense to me).
Ready to Roll – a NZ music countdown show back in the early 80s when we only had 2 channels. It was on every Saturday night at 6 or 6:30pm and everyone watched it religiously. They would count down the top 20 hits on the charts each week and play a selection of the videos full length. I would hope that my favorite song would be at No.1 because obviously they always played the No. 1 song each week. It was always a bummer when your song got knocked off by a crappy song.
There were some kind of (unintentionally) terrifying kids shows on in NZ, like the one with Count Homogenized (he was milky white) which I think was educational, but somehow I got it mixed up in my head with an evil creature who took the arms and legs of kids who slept with them sticking out of the blankets (what?! yes, I was an odd kid). And Worzel Gummidge, which you can actually watch on youtube – it was one of the old Dr Whos dressed up like a freaky scarecrow who came to life and made friends with some kids. Utterly disgusting and horrifying! (but I think I liked it?)
The Wombles – I don’t think I learned about recycling from them, although maybe I did, but they had the best theme song.
The Cosby Show – I used to watch because it was on (again, only 2 or 3 channels back in the day) and I liked it. My father came in one day and probably wanted to watch something on the other channel and he said something like “Why would we watch this anyway? Black Americans lives have nothing to do with how we live in NZ” I’ve remembered that comment for 30+ years. I don’t know if I completely realized at the time, but later I understood that the whole point of the Cosby Show was people have stories in common no matter where they live or what color their skin is. Maybe some of the stories weren’t very relevant to my life, though more because of their Americanness than their Blackness, though we did share the same suburban middle class context, which might have been a lot more relevant than anything else. But isn’t there value in a story even/especially if it’s NOT anything like the way you live.
(Sure, it would have also been nice to have some local programming that wasn’t little kid shows or boring sheep herding shows – the closest we had were Australian beach community soap operas)
Seinfeld and The Simpsons were the 2 shows my friends and I watched over and over during our college years. I’m not sure if I learned anything from them except humor. And that my stoner friends could watch the same things over and over. But so could I, not stoned!
New Girl – the show that introduced me to you and this online fandom life. Wow.
Once Upon a Time – the show that made me realize I could like Disney things. It made me fall in love with fairy tales and everything that a story could be.
I guess I had more to say than I thought! You really should look up Worzel Gummidge. Even just seeing a picture of him will make you wonder why they made a kids show about him.
This is such a fun list—especially because it taught me so much about TV in a country so far away from where I grew up. 🙂
The Muppet Show was also a favorite of mine as a kid. They used to play reruns of old episodes in the afternoon, and it was always a comfort on days when I was sick (which happened a lot when I was little).
Ready to Roll sounds a lot like Total Request Live—the music video countdown show I obsessed over as a preteen and teenager. It was basically required viewing for junior high and the beginning of high school, and you’re right; you never forget the anger you felt when your favorite band got kicked out of the top spot by someone you felt was unworthy. 😉
I’m so happy to see Once Upon a Time on this list and to read your reasons for its inclusion. As a lifelong believer that you’re never too old to love Disney, fairytales, and the hope that lies at the center of those stories, it makes me smile to see that Once Upon a Time opened up to you a whole new world of stories to love. (Aladdin pun not entirely intended…)
haha, I would have missed the Aladdin reference entirely. But thanks – now I’m gonna have that darn song stuck in my head all day! It’s one of the few Disney songs I know, probably because of an ad. Actually I love the Hawaiian Aulani version of this song but I hadn’t figured out which movie it was from.
Isn’t it funny how people growing up at different times and places still have so much common ground? What is it with music countdown shows and young teens, I wonder? 🙂
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