New Feature: The Best TV Show of All Time

Ed Note: We created rankings of the top TV shows ever by combining critic and user inputs. Don’t care how we did it? Then skip this and head straight over to the list:

Sure, your cousin Jimmy can promise you that “The Wire is the greatest TV show of all time,” but does he know so? Do you, Jimmy? And what about Frank from North Jersey who knows without a doubt in his mind that The Sopranos single-handedly ushered in the new golden era of television and must be respected as the king of TV? Or maybe your grandma Beth does have a point, television has been all downhill since All in the Family went off the air. She’s seen things. She knows things.

Acknowledging the fierce debate, and taking a cue from, we set out to compile an objective set of rankings which took in as many opinions as we could find – be that critic or casual viewer. The nuance is in the fact that each list is different in size and scope. For example, how can you compare a top 50 list of all time Comedies against the 20 best shows of the 1980s and against the most Outstanding Drama Emmy wins? The lists are different sizes, cover different genres, and span different time scales, but they both should have bearing on a final aggregated ranking – so we created a custom scoring system to tally all of this up.

First the list of sources to aggregate:

Source Size Genre Time
Empire Magazine 50 All All
WGA Best Written 100 All All
Time Magazine 100 All All
TV Guide 60 All All
Entertainment Weekly 100 All All
Reddit 50 All All
IMDB 100 All All
Orlando Sentinel 50 Drama All
IGN 25 Comedy All
Complex Magazine 50 Comedy
Paste 20 All 2000s 1990s 1980s
Hitfix 25 All 2000s
AV Club 30 All 2000s
AV Club Varied All 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Metacritic 22 All 2000s
Metacritic 15 All 2011 2012 2013 2014
Alan Sepinwall 10 Comedy
Alan Sepinwall 10 All 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Emmys Varied Comedy
Golden Globes Varied Comedy

Then the methodology:

  • How does a show’s position in a single list translate to points for the best ever list?
    If a show is first on a list, that is worth the maximum points for that list, and it decreases from there to approach 0 for being in 100th position. The decrease is not constant, instead it is exponential, which forces the difference between being 1st and 10th on a list to be more significant than the drop from 40th to 50th.
  • How is a list that covers all time weighted against lists that are decade specific or only for one year?
    Lists that attempt to cover all time are given full weight (or slightly less if they are older lists that are missing the last few years). Lists that cover a decade are given half weight. Lists that cover single years are weighted so that the combination of all the yearly lists in a given decade is weighted the same as one full decade list.
  • How are the lists weighted considering some are Drama only, some Comedy only, and some both?
    If a list is genre-specific, i.e. just Drama or just Comedy then it is weight is at least halved. The weighting is adjusted to ensure equal influence of Comedy lists and Drama lists if the quantity of each type does not match up.
  • How are awards handled?
    Emmy and Golden Globe wins for Outstanding Comedy and Drama Series are tabulated and the shows are ranked by number of wins. These are then treated like the other lists, except without the exponential decay in scoring because the awards lists are already top heavy with the majority of shows tied for one win.

We realize it’s impossible to make the perfect TV list. But we hope to get this damn close. A (reasonably) objective set of rankings provides us with an important tool for recommending new shows, which at the end of the day, is what we’re trying to do here.

Any suggestions for the methodology or other sources to incorporate – sound off in the comments.