Top 10 Decade Defining Shows Of All Time

Old or new, these are the series that made the best use of their place on the small screen. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Ultimate Decade Defining TV Shows. For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Shows per Era, we picked series that spoke to the period in which they were made and set the standard for television during that time. These shows were chosen for how important they were in their respective era, regardless of when they started or finished. Special thanks to our users Ceione Pafford, Santana Campbell, Cameron French and Applesmart for suggesting the idea on our suggestion tool over at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Decade Defining Shows Of All Time


#10: “The Cosby Show” (1984-92)

Bill Cosby is one of America’s best-loved comedians, and this show is a big reason why. Cosby starred as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, an obstetrician trying to hold together his upper-middle-class family through various trials and tribulations. It was one of TV’s biggest hit of the 1980s, bringing together family-friendly comedic style with serious subject matter, a combination that was almost solely responsible for the revival of the sitcom genre and NBC’s ratings.

#9: “Survivor” (2000-)

It’s hard to imagine now, but reality shows once weren’t very popular on broadcast TV – that is, before this series came along and they blew up in the 2000s. Thankfully for us viewers, “Survivor” brought reality to the networks in a big way. It showcased contestants trying to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in desolate locales in order to win a million dollars. Every season introduced a compelling new cast of unpredictable competitors, and we loved watching them interact in gorgeous locales like the Australian outback.

#8: “Breaking Bad” (2008-13)

Although a relatively recent entry, we had to place this AMC show – regarded by some as the best of all time - somewhere on the list. Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, is a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer who starts cooking meth in order to leave his family in financial security after his death. The set-up alone promises an adventurous show but it is the near-perfect execution that really riveted audiences. Viewers joined White on an exhilarating 5-season journey that – in the words of show creator Vince Gilligan – took Walter “from Mr. Chips to Scarface.”

#7: “Doctor Who” (1963-89; 2005-)

This show is the longest running sci-fi series in the world, and it’s easy to understand why when you see its early episodes. William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton made for excellent early incarnations of the Doctor, and they were surrounded by awesome companions. In its early years, the show was more educational in focus, which made for great family viewing. After its debut at the beginning of the ‘60s, “Doctor Who” became a mainstay of British culture and a massive cult hit.

#6: “Friends” (1994-2004)

True to its name, the chemistry between the pals who made up this sitcom’s ensemble cast was what made it one-of-a-kind. The “Friends” were a group of twenty-somethings struggling to survive in New York, and their personal and professional lives made for laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly moving TV. The strength of individual personalities like quirky Chandler or doofus Joey was only matched by the way they interacted with each other, which helped this staple of NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup redefine ‘90s sitcoms, influence a generation and become one of the most influential shows ever.

#5: “The Simpsons” (1989-)

This animated sitcom spoofed American middle-class life, pop-culture, and, well, seemingly everything. We loved regulars like Bart and Homer, but even characters that only showed up once in a while were memorable enough to secure places in our hearts. “The Simpsons” left a huge imprint, both on the TV world and on pop culture in general. Its trademark wit would be imitated, though never quite matched, for years to come; and while it dipped in quality after decades on the air, nothing can take away from “The Simpsons”’ talent at their peak, in the ‘90s.

#4: “Cheers” (1982-93)

NBC’s other 80s juggernaut was almost cancelled in its first season due to low ratings, it held on, however, to become one of the most beloved shows in TV history. Taking place in the titular bar, where Bostonians met to drink and where “everybody knows your name,” it depicted the lives of employees and patrons alike. The show’s willingness to tackle issues like alcoholism and homosexuality, albeit with a sense of humor, made it a trailblazer, and it earned what was then a record 117 Emmy nominations for its role as the anchor of NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup.

#3: “I Love Lucy” (1951-57)

This was one of TV’s first multicam shows, and its innovations didn’t stop there. “I Love Lucy” was one of the first successful series with a female lead, and it set the bar high for comedies with leads of both genders. The real-life couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made for one of the funniest and most endearing husband-and-wife teams on TV, and their adventures provided some hilarious physical comedy. Tackling taboo issues as well as silly ones, this series set the standard for all sitcoms that followed.

#2: “Seinfeld” (1989-98)

Clearly, the ‘90s was a great decade for TV, and this sitcom narrowly missed the top spot, taking the number 2 thanks to its bizarre sense of humor, ensemble cast and unique individual characters like the one-and-only Kramer. Created by stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his friend and Larry David – upon who the character of George was based – the famous “show about nothing” transformed television forever with its sharp writing, unforgettable gags and complete rejection of all other sitcom conventions. If anything defined television in the 1990s it was this show – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

HM - The Twilight Zone
HM - The Muppet Show
HM - Saturday Night Live
HM - Game of Thrones
HM - The Sopranos


#1: “M*A*S*H” (1972-83)

Topping our list is a show whose finale broke viewership records, but it had been entertaining audiences for eleven-seasons before that. Based on the popular 1970 film of the same name, “M*A*S*H” followed the team at a mobile army surgical hospital in the Korean War. Not quite a comedy and not quite a drama, the show brought laughs as often as it prompted tears – and its wartime setting was particularly poignant due to the ongoing Vietnam War. But the show blended genres effectively, thanks to high quality writing, impeccable acting and unforgettable characters.
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