Entertainment

New poll ranks the top 10 greatest television shows of all time


What makes a great television series is often the subject of much debate.

But to be considered one of the best yet of the 21st century, it seems laughter is something many experts can do without.

In a poll of more than 200 television specialists from 43 countries, to compile a list of the 100 greatest TV series since 2000, just two comedies made the top ten.

American crime drama The Wire was voted the greatest series of the last 21 years in the poll. 

Scroll down for the full list  

Number one: American crime drama The Wire was voted the greatest series of the last 21 years in the poll (pictured: Idris Elba who played Stringer Bell in the series)

Number one: American crime drama The Wire was voted the greatest series of the last 21 years in the poll (pictured: Idris Elba who played Stringer Bell in the series) 

The show, which ran from 2002 to 2008 and stars British actors Dominic West and Idris Elba, came out on top.

Almost a quarter ranked the series, based on the Baltimore drug scene, in first place and 48 per cent listed it in their top ten.  

According to the list, compiled by BBC Culture, Mad Men was voted the second greatest show, with crime series Breaking Bad third and Game Of Thrones fifth.

Mad Men, which first aired in 2007 and lasted seven series followed Donald Draper (played by Jon Hamm) the creative director at Sterling Cooper in New York, tries to maintain a balance between his exceptional professional life and wavering personal life in the 1960s.

Number two: According to the list, compiled by BBC Culture, Mad Men was voted the second greatest show. It first aired in 2007 and lasted seven series

Number two: According to the list, compiled by BBC Culture, Mad Men was voted the second greatest show. It first aired in 2007 and lasted seven series 

Third: Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008 to 2013 entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all-time when it ended (pictured: Krysten Ritter as Jane and Aaron Paul as Jesse)

Third: Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008 to 2013 entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all-time when it ended (pictured: Krysten Ritter as Jane and Aaron Paul as Jesse)

Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008 to 2013 entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all-time when it ended, and landed the third spot on the BBC’s top 100. 

The AMC series told the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), an underpaid, overqualified, and dispirited high school chemistry teacher who is struggling with a recent diagnosis of stage-three lung cancer. 

White turns to a life of crime, partnering with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), by producing and distributing crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.  

Fourth: Phoebe Waller-Bridge's comedy Fleabag landed in fourth place, with almost 40 per cent of experts placing it in their top ten

Fourth: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy Fleabag landed in fourth place, with almost 40 per cent of experts placing it in their top ten

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy Fleabag landed in fourth place, with almost 40 per cent of experts placing it in their top ten. 

The show, featuring a young woman navigating life in London while she tries to cope with a recent tragedy, was the highest ranking programme by a woman.

Rounding off the top five was Game Of Throne, a TV adaptation of the fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. 

The series – starring Kit Harington and Emelia Clarke followed nine noble families as they fought for control over the lands of Westeros. 

Fifth: Rounding off the top five was Game Of Throne, a TV adaptation of the fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin

Fifth: Rounding off the top five was Game Of Throne, a TV adaptation of the fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin

The newest series in the top ten was Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which was released last year and came in at number six.  

The 12-part series followed Arabella (Michaela) as she comes to terms with a sexual assault after her drink was spiked at a nightclub, in a storyline based on the harrowing real-life experience of Michaela, who also wrote, co-directed and executive produced the series.

Other top ten shows included The Leftovers at seven, The Americans at eighth and The Office UK, starring Ricky Gervais, was ninth – the only other comedy in the top 10. The US Office was significantly lower down at 39. 

Sixth: The newest series in the top ten was Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You, which was released last year and came in at number six

Sixth: The newest series in the top ten was Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which was released last year and came in at number six

Rounding off the top 10 was Succession, an American satirical comedy-drama series centered on the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of Waystar RoyCo, a global media and entertainment conglomerate.

The Crown was number 16, Sherlock 25th and police drama Line Of Duty was further down at 27. Downton Abbey featured at 36, while Luther sat at 95.

There were a number of entries from the past two years, when Covid lockdowns have resulted in increased TV viewings.

Seventh: The Leftovers starred Justin Theorux and looked at the residents of a town left three years after the disappearance of two percent of the global population

Seventh: The Leftovers starred Justin Theorux and looked at the residents of a town left three years after the disappearance of two percent of the global population

Normal People, released in April last year, was 84th. Small Axe made 51st place, while The Queen’s Gambit was number 100. Kate Winslet’s Mare Of Easttown was 66th.

To compile the list, BBC Culture polled 206 critics, academics and industry figures from 43 countries. 

Critics could only vote for TV shows which had their pilot after January 1, 2000, and each critic voted for 10 programmes, ranking them one to 10. 

Eighth: The Americans starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys followed two Russian spies, who are married to each other and have children, posing as Americans during the Cold War

Eighth: The Americans starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys followed two Russian spies, who are married to each other and have children, posing as Americans during the Cold War

BBC Culture awarded 10 points per first ranked TV show, nine per second ranked TV show, and so on down to 1. We then added the points together. 

The TV show with the most points won, and programmes with more individual votes in total ranked higher. 

BBC Culture journalist Hugh Montgomery said: ‘We were overjoyed by the great response, and we hope that this list will provoke debate and inspire many watches and re-watches of the wonderful shows that have really helped make television the defining art form of the new millennium.’

Ninth: The Office UK, starring Ricky Gervais, was ninth – the only other comedy in the top 10. The US Office was significantly lower down at 39

Ninth: The Office UK, starring Ricky Gervais, was ninth – the only other comedy in the top 10. The US Office was significantly lower down at 39

English was the primary language of 92 of the top 100 shows. And 79 programmes were created by men compared to 11 made by women.

But BBC Culture said: ‘With non-English language series increasingly amassing huge international audiences and a more diverse range of voices in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation being given creative control, the TV landscape could shift once again in crucial and inspiring ways in the future’.  

As to be expected, the list sparked a fierce debate among readers, who were quick to point out iconic shows such as Peaky Blinders and Life On Mars had been snubbed. 

Tenth: Rounding off the top 10 was Succession, an American satirical comedy-drama series centered on the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of Waystar RoyCo

Tenth: Rounding off the top 10 was Succession, an American satirical comedy-drama series centered on the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of Waystar RoyCo

Several readers were also shocked to see The Sopranos hadn’t made the list – although the series was not eligible as it’s pilot aired in 1999 and therefore doesn’t fall into the 21st Century category.  

Fans penned: ‘What happened to The West Wing, True Blood and The Sopranos?’; ‘Band of Brothers only at 36? TV ‘experts? I don’t think so. #TVOfTheCentury’;

‘I’m definitely missing The Blacklist and New Amsterdam ‘; ‘Where the hell is Spiral??!!! Absolutely amazing french police drama’; ‘I would basically agree. But where is Dr Who? 

‘Admittedly I have only seen half a dozen of these, but no Top 100 place for Life on Mars? Seriously?’; 

Snubs: As to be expected, the list sparked a fierce debate among readers, who were quick to point out iconic shows such as Peaky Blinders and Life On Mars had been snubbed

Snubs: As to be expected, the list sparked a fierce debate among readers, who were quick to point out iconic shows such as Peaky Blinders and Life On Mars had been snubbed

‘How I Met Your Mother is ranked in the top 100, but The Sopranos, Peaky Blinders and Community are not there?! Brooklyn 99 knocks the socks off of HIMYM and The Big Bang Theory as well. New Doctor Who and Good Omens should both be there as well. 

‘Doctor Who has been a 21st century phenomenon – no place on the list?’; ‘It’s A Sin not being on that list is also a huge miss.’; ‘No Peaky Blinders, Justified or Black Sails in the top 100?! This list is legitimately invalid.  

‘The good thing about lists is they never make anyone happy. This is light on non-English TV (just 5 shows) including too many bang-average shows. It lacks Deutschland 83/6/9, Engrenage/Spirals, Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire.Thinking face Also, no anime. The Great Passage is a joy.’ 

The 100 greatest TV series of the 21st Century – full list  

 1 The Wire (2002-2008)

2 Mad Men (2007-2015)

3 Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

4 Fleabag (2016-2019)

5 Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

6 I May Destroy You (2020)

7 The Leftovers (2014-2017)

8 The Americans (2013-2018)

9 The Office (UK) (2001-2003)

10 Succession (2018-)

11 BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)

12 Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

13 Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

14 Atlanta (2016-)

15 Chernobyl (2019)

16 The Crown (2016-)

17 30 Rock (2006-2013)

18 Deadwood (2004-2006)

19 Lost (2004-2010)

20 The Thick of It (2005-2012)

21 Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-)

22 Black Mirror (2011-)

23 Better Call Saul (2015-2022)

24 Veep (2012-2019)

25 Sherlock (2010-2017)

26 Watchmen (2019)

27 Line of Duty (2012-2021)

28 Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)

29 Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)

30 Girls (2012-2017)

31 True Detective (2014-2019)

32 Arrested Development (2003-2019)

33 The Good Wife (2009-2016)

34 The Bridge (2011-2018)

35 Fargo (2014-)

36= Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

36= Band of Brothers (2001)

38 The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-)

39 The Office (US) (2005-2013)

40 Borgen (2010-2022)

41 Schitt’s Creek (2015-2020)

42 Peep Show (2003-2015)

43 Money Heist (2017-2021)

44 Community (2009-2015)

45 The Good Fight (2017-)

46 Homeland (2011-2020)

47 Grey’s Anatomy (2005-)

48 Inside No 9 (2014-)

49 The Bureau (2015-)

50 Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017)

 

51 Small Axe (2020)

52 This is England 86, 88 and 90 (2010-2015)

53 Call My Agent! (2015-2020)

54 Happy Valley (2014-)

55 The Shield (2002-2008)

56 The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019)

57 The Young Pope (2016)

58 Dark (2017-2020)

59 The Underground Railroad (2021)

60 House of Cards (2013-2018)

61 Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)

62= The Good Place (2016-2020)

62= Pose (2018-2021)

64 Detectorists (2014-2017)

65 Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)

66 Mare of Easttown (2021)

67 RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-)

68 Stranger Things (2016-)

69 24 (2001-2010)

70 Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)

71 Enlightened (2011-2013)

72 Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)

73 Planet Earth (2006)

74 Utopia (2013-2014)

75 Babylon Berlin (2017-)

76 Rick and Morty (2013-)

77 American Crime Story (2016-)

78 The Killing (Denmark) (2007-2012)

79 Mindhunter (2017-2019)

80 House (2004-2012)

81 OJ: Made in America (2016)

82 Big Little Lies (2017-2019)

83 Insecure (2016-2021)

84= Normal People (2020)

84= Narcos (2015-2017)

86 How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)

87 The Comeback (2005-2014)

88 The OA (2016-2019)

89 Dexter (2006-2013)

90 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-)

91 Westworld (2016-)

92 Show Me a Hero (2015)

93 Treme (2010-2013)

94 Louie (2010-2015)

95 Luther (2010-2019)

96 Catastrophe (2015-2019)

97 Hannibal (2013-2015)

98 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019)

99 Steven Universe (2013-2020)

100 The Queen’s Gambit (2020)



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