Sixty-four classic TV shows, organized into four “channels” of 16, competed to be Globe readers’ favorite series of the last 50 years. Here are the shows in Channel 3 of the NCAA-style “March Madness” bracket.
Eliminated in the semifinals
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77)
It’s hard to summarize the excellence and cultural value of this wonderful sitcom, which gave us a career woman at a time when women on TV were more likely to be wives or daughters. The writing found the funny in human nature, and the cast, not just Moore but Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and the rest, were outstanding.
Shows eliminated in Round 4
“The West Wing” (1999-2006)
Aaron Sorkin brought his distinctive touches — idealism, rhythmic dialogue, optimism — to the world of politics and government with this deservingly celebrated drama. The ensemble in the White House were consistently conscientious and intelligent — most notably the president, played by Martin Sheen — as they dealt with topical issues including terrorism and genocide. When Sorkin left after season four, the show remained sharp, if not as stylized.
Shows eliminated in Round 3
“The Office” (US version, 2005-13)
The traditional workplace sitcom — bright-colored, punchline-dense — was subverted by this beloved show, which was modeled after Ricky Gervais’s two-season British original. The cameras from an unseen documentary crew caught the humor in the facial expressions of the large cast, a collection of lovable and not-so-lovable misfits, as they performed their dull tasks in a bland office suite.
“The Wire” (2002-08)
The HBO drama about Baltimore — its cops, its politicians, its criminals, its schools, its kids — was not a hit during its five-season run. But in its afterlife, it has been celebrated as one of TV’s most powerful examples of serial storytelling, a look at systemic corruption told through a detailed narrative that never condescended to viewers.
Shows that were eliminated in Round 2:
“The Golden Girls” (1985-92)
This take on being single in the city — our ensemble of four Miami women were all “of a certain age” — became a classic. The themes, including same-sex marriage and elder care, were rich, and the jokes were witty and sometimes appealingly brutal; but, more importantly, they were delivered by a foursome of superlative comic actors, including the legendary Bea Arthur and Betty White.
“Game of Thrones” (2011-19)
Sometimes considered the last water-cooler series, the big-budget adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book series was a ratings record-breaker for HBO. It was good enough — with an extraordinary cast and top-notch visual effects — to draw in viewers not generally inclined to watch fantasy stories. There were dragons, but they were only part of an epic about family, succession, and primitive political strategizing.
“Downton Abbey” (2011-16)
By combining soap opera, gorgeous settings, the slow breakdown of the British class system, and a few revisionist touches, Julian Fellowes’s drama became a surprise sensation. He borrowed his story lines from the classics and his concept from “Upstairs Downstairs,” but the show was his own dishy but literary creation. His dowager countess, played with the driest of wit by Maggie Smith, was unforgettable.
This sci-fi-ish drama masterfully laid out a complicated puzzle involving the crash of a commercial jet, the surviving passengers, and the island on which they were trapped. The format was dynamic, as each episode toggled between the present and the past (and, later, the future), and the showrunners established a new kind of weekly communication with viewers that is now fairly common. Some were disappointed with the wrap-up, but there was no denying the power and originality of the long set-up.
Shows that were eliminated in Round 1:
“Black Mirror” (2011- )
Some consider Charlie Brooker’s British anthology series to be the emblematic show of the 21st century. It ushers the “Twilight Zone” into the digital age, as each beautifully designed episode dramatizes a near-future nightmare linked to technological progress. As with most anthology shows, some episodes are better than others; but as a whole they represent a wily, wise, and humane imagination at play.
“The Americans” (2013-18)
Set during the Reagan administration and the Cold War, this series had all the intrigue and suspense you’d expect from a well-made spy drama. The burn was slow, and hot. But it was also a complicated family story, as two KGB agents acting as a married American couple in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — excellently played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell — wonder if they should tell their two kids the truth.
“Modern Family” (2009-20)
This domestic comedy gave us the daily lives of the members of the extended Pritchett family of Los Angeles, mockumentary-style. It was warm, affectionate, evenly paced, well-cast, progressive, and low-concept, with no big twists. It was a triumph of character development and character-based humor, even if it lasted a few seasons too long.
This may be the best of the fine network dramas from the team of Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, which included “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again.” It was a sensitive, progressive, and subtly acted look into the lives of a group of baby boomer friends in Philadelphia as they coped with the go-go 1980s workplace, changing gender norms, and aging.
With tones of a Western, this witty crime drama, based on the fiction of Elmore Leonard, took on the rural fringes of eastern Kentucky. Timothy Olyphant shone as US Marshal Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins was fascinating as the show’s antagonist. The cast of two-bit criminals was all aces, and the dialogue was amusing and authentic.
“Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-99)
A portrait of the Baltimore homicide unit, this superior crime drama elevated the genre with its unsentimental, realistic approach. Unlike other cop shows of the time, it aimed for authenticity and often delivered decidedly unhappy endings. The cast was extraordinary, not least of all Andre Braugher as Detective Frank Pembleton.
“The Shield” (2002-08)
No copaganda here. The show vividly served up police corruption in all its violence and cruelty. As Vic Mackey, one of the worst offenders, Michael Chiklis was an all-time antihero, his charisma making him watchable in spite of his unethical and homicidal behavior. The show was bold and riveting, and it was an integral part of FX’s break into cable excellence.
Let’s forget about the ill-fated revival, shall we? At its peak, this popular sitcom about the Conners was one of the first to give us a working-class family living from paycheck to paycheck. The parents both had jobs, they were not sitcom-pretty, and they lived in a drab Illinois suburb. The writers took on class issues with plenty of dark humor, and they introduced LGBTQ characters before that was relatively common on TV.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.