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Top 10 Most Groundbreaking TV Shows of All Time

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Miller
These are the series that changed television forever. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today, we’re counting down the top 10 groundbreaking TV shows of all time. For this list, we’ll be looking at series that did something new and set the stage for future shows like it.
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These are the series that changed television forever. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today, we’re counting down the top 10 groundbreaking TV shows of all time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at series that did something new and set the stage for future shows like it.

#10: “Monty Python's Flying Circus” (1969-74)


Legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python rose to prominence with this classic sketch comedy series that originally aired on the BBC between 1969 and 1974. “Flying Circus” raised the bar for broadcast comedy, bringing a raunchier and sharper brand of wit to British televisions that led to a string of successful films for the group. Though it took some time for the series to make it across the pond, there’s no doubt it was a massive success, and became a major influence on shows the likes of “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” and any other series that has roots in the absurd.


#9: “The Real World” (1992-)


When MTV’s “The Real World” debuted in 1992, the landscape of television made a fateful shift towards so-called reality. The series grouped seven strangers together in a house and filmed their lives. Though similar shows existed, none before it achieved the same level of success. For better or worse, reality TV may never have become what it is today had it not been for this low-budget experiment. Over the course of its 30 plus seasons (and counting), the show has produced a number of memorable moments and personalities, as well as several spin-offs. The lineage of nearly every reality show on TV today, including the similarly influential “Survivor”, can be traced back to this series.


#8: “Game of Thrones” (2011-)


HBO’s fantasy epic based on George R. R. Martin’s yet-to-be-finished book series broke new ground when it debuted in 2011 with its high production values and commitment to the genre. “Game of Thrones”, along with the rise of comic book movies and shows like “The Walking Dead,” ushered in a new era of popularity for geek culture. Balancing its huge ensemble cast and various storylines, the series has managed to keep its fanbase enraptured leading up to a highly anticipated 2019 finale. “Game of Thrones” has taken sprawling genre television to a new level, paving the way for shows like “Westworld” and HBO’s “Watchmen” adaptation.


#7: “Seinfeld” (1989-98)



Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s seminal NBC sitcom ran for 180 episodes before coming to a close in 1998. “Seinfeld” injected new life into the stale sitcom genre, around the same time as another, more colorful show we’ll get to later on our list. The show succeeded with its blend of Jerry Seinfeld’s observational humor, Larry David’s postmodern absurdism, and a cast of amoral lead characters. Over the course of its long run, the series proved you could break out of the standard sitcom formula and find new levels of success doing it. Levels, Jerry! Levels!


#6: “I Love Lucy” (1951-57)



In 1951, when television was still just finding its footing, “I Love Lucy” debuted, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz become instant stars and fixtures of American pop culture. The show set the standard for the American sitcom, and had an immense impact on the next 50 years of television. It was the first scripted comedy show to be filmed on 35 mm in front of a live studio audience, and boasts TV’s first-ever ensemble cast. It’s hard to say what the landscape of TV would look like today without “I Love Lucy,” but it would most definitely be very different.


#5: “The Twilight Zone” (1959-64)


This creepy anthology series created by radio host and writer Rod Serling holds up to this day. The series was smart, sharp and found ways to talk about issues like race and politics in a way that its contemporaries did not. It wore its science-fiction badge proudly, and became a giant influence on sci-fi and horror television, even to this day. From kids’ series like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and “Goosebumps” to more adult fare such as “American Horror Story,” the legacy of this classic series is plain to see. With horror anthologies seeing a new renaissance, maybe those rumors of a “Twilight Zone” reboot will finally come to fruition.


#4: “All in the Family” (1971-79)



“All In The Family” was truly groundbreaking in its open and frank portrayal of Archie Bunker as a racist and misogynist. Instead of pretending the issues didn’t exist, like many sitcoms of the era, “All In The Family” made it a defining negative character trait for one of the series leads. It was a controversial decision, but creator Norman Lear committed and, over time, showed Archie somewhat learning the many reasons why he is wrong. “All In The Family” was able to introduce serious topics of conversation into the homes of millions of Americans, forcing them to confront issues they may not always have wanted to face.




#3: “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)


David Chase’s mafioso drama is often credited with ushering in a new golden age of television, setting the stage for shows like “The Wire,” Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad.” The story of tough-but-sensitive mob underboss Tony Soprano and his family lasted for six seasons, weaving a narrative that rivaled classic mobster movies like “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather.” The shift away from weekly self-contained stories into an overarching narrative became even more popular after the success of “The Sopranos,” with the show’s incredible character development becoming one of its defining features. If you haven’t watched “The Sopranos” by now, what are you waiting for?


#2: “Star Trek” (1966-69)


“Star Trek: The Original Series” catapulted viewers into the final frontier, giving birth to an enduring legacy of nerdom that shows no sign of fading. Gene Roddenberry’s story of Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew first showcased a utopian future of human cooperation, space exploration, and scientific research. The series has continued in various forms, just as popular today as ever, with its own massive niche fanbase as well as achieving mainstream popularity. The show is endlessly referenced, and has served as a cultural touchstone for all science fiction stories that came after - particularly the many television series that it had an influence on.





Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions


“Twin Peaks” (1990-91; 2017)

“The Ed Sullivan Show” (1948-71)

“M*A*S*H” (1972-83)

#1: “The Simpsons” (1989-)


Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are America’s cultural first family. Though the series has since fallen from its early heights, “The Simpsons” had a widespread effect on TV almost immediately upon its release. Like “The Flintstones” before it, this series invigorated television animation in a new and exciting way, while adding a new twist to the family sitcom befitting the modern age. It can be easy to forget considering how watered down the show has become, but the early seasons are unparalleled in wit, charm, heart and farce. With its breakneck pace and non-stop visual gags, “The Simpsons” quickly became a cultural phenomenon, and remains an enduring influence on comedy writing to this day.
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