Next to “What should I watch?,” the question I hear most frequently from readers and the people I meet is: “What’s your favorite show of all time?”
Now it’s our turn to ask: “What’s yours?”
Over the next two weeks, Globe readers can vote online for the TV series they consider the best of the past 50 years. We’ve chosen 64 shows to face off in an NCAA-style “March Madness” bracket. We’ll announce which shows survived each round before advancing to the next one. After six rounds of voting, we’ll have a winner.
That groaning sound you may hear will be Globe readers making some agonizing decisions.
Why only 50 years? We feel that a half-century is the right timeframe, so that most readers and participants will have some familiarity with all of the shows in the running. Many of us have heard of “Gunsmoke,” or “Your Show of Shows,” but we’ve not watched them at length or seen them play a role in our lives. Ah, my beloved “The Twilight Zone,” so influential and, still, so relevant; not this time.
That said, there are two series in the bracket that premiered just prior to 1972. The reason “All in the Family” (1971-79) and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77) are here is that the majority of their runs occurred after 1972, so the bulk of their seasons falls squarely into our 50-year period.
We’ve decided to keep the competition focused on scripted series, which means that reality shows, documentaries, and nonfiction magazines such as “60 Minutes,” “Frontline,” and “Survivor” are not in the running. We’re zeroing in on the art of serial storytelling, and its writing, directing, and acting, not the equally powerful art of reporting. We’re also interested in long-form storytelling, which is the heart of series TV, so miniseries are not in the running either.
Obviously, there are many more fine shows than there is room for in a bracket. We’ve had to make some tough omissions. Our criteria for those that made it include general excellence, cultural impact, and, in some cases, longevity.
So what will it be? You have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. How do you weigh the serio-comic power of “M*A*S*H” against the brilliance that is “The Sopranos”? Will the longevity of “The Simpsons” lift it above the concise intensity of “Fleabag”? Are great shows like “Lost” and “Game of Thrones” diminished because they didn’t wrap up neatly so much as fall apart?
Over the years, I’ve heard many Globe readers talk about their all-time favorites with considerable passion, advocating for titles ranging from the earnest “Friday Night Lights” to the ironic “30 Rock.” I’m always impressed by their attachment and loyalty to those series that have touched them, or tickled them, or given them affirmation and insight, or simply provided them with a great escape.
Now’s your opportunity to elect your most treasured TV show. Keep calm and vote wisely.
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Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.