M*A*S*H. It's finale still ranks as the all time leader in the United States for most watched TV program. It was a 11-year war story - quadruple the length of the war it fictionally depicts (Korean) and half of the war it truly satirized in Vietnam. In the half-hour situation comedy genre its pace was equally adept at slow and fast messaging, while developing the arcs of the characters in ways that resonated. I was merely a 6th grade child when the show ended in 1983. I watched it as a child, a teenager, early adult, and so on. Looking back, the show was way ahead of its time, then a leader among peers - but MASH's straying from just dark comedy (including Suicide is Painless opening music) came about with Alan Alda's creative consulting, writing, and directing in the late stages. Straying is harsh; it became a drama first - pure and simple, which is no easy tasking. The cast marched in step, created a space for war depiction that was flawed, but enjoyable in its touching moments through 251 episodes. (More here)
2. ER. Buttressing the medical drama genre with more realistic doctoring - Michael Crichton's ed credentials earned at Harvard Medical School helped - ER 326 TV hours were uneven, yet it was ride worth going to surgery for. I watched the majority of the show - missing the early 2K episodes probably around 20-40 - sticking to the end, watching the finale. This show was not a way to improve your mood. Doctors on edge, nurses annoyed, lead staff showing off, while lives at home were in tatters or strained. John Carter (Noah Wyle) days from a poor little rich boy newbie from med school to stabbing victim, drug addict, AIDs clinic builder to the Africa continent for answers. His story is the backbone of the ER saga - in my opinion. He finds skill through personal connection after demons he did not unleash nearly destroyed. I would be a fraud to say I know all the remaining characters arcs by heart. I watch TV not for fact - but to pass the time, and live a life I do not have, often thankfully.
3. Batman: The Animated Series. Batman, really enough said. I was in college when this show launched in mid-afternoon, a 22 minute ride in the caped crusader's world of chasing the bad guys to their lairs while always being alone in his focus and thinking. Again, no expert, but Kevin Conroy's voice is what makes this Batman the ticket in animation. (It took only 150 voice auditions to find him....wow.) Only lasted 3 years - but the with Danny Elfman doing the opening score - this piece of TV history should have lasted longer.
4. House. A logical genius, Sherlockian diagnostician, and unflinchingly unethical man seeks to solve his own equation first, but has your life in his hands - and cares nothing about you - do you let him attempt his ever unique solution? I loved Hugh Laurie's snarky sexually harassing to get attention doctor - if only how unreal he truly was. While MASH gave humor only to point out war's flaws, and ER had drama to point out the life-death daily fight, HOUSE gave us humor not on death's inevitability, but on the lies that can cause it. The show had plenty of letdowns, and I missed most of 2008-2010 due to various crises, but I will pop on those episodes soon enough. Laurie attended Cambridge U, is an crack writer, and can play some tunes, charting in the UK. That explains all his talents.
5. Quantum Leap. Back to the 1980s. Sam Beckett. Literary reference and history. This show was able to make time travel have some sense to it - swapping out identities, string theory - while truly trying "to set right what once went wrong.: It was a bit hokey, of course - but 2 characters tied together Al and Sam - made it a lifetime friendship romp through time. The best episode was MIA - where Al is torn to give the truth to Sam about why he is where he is, and what Sam is there to solve. It is beautiful, and the reason for the show's finale.
6. Psych. Amongst the favorites of USA network, this one made sleuthing funny, light-hearted, a bit more about quirks than crime.
7. Burn Notice. Spy vs. USA intelligence, Miami mafia, drug lords, Columbia kingpins, and old fashion bad dudes. As with most shows, the acting is convinces enough - if the tone has darkened from the initial season.
8. Angel. Back when the world was less Twilighty, Angel was a quirk of a show written and developed by Joss Whedon, now of Avenger fame.
9. Game of Thrones. Prior post.
10. Twilight Zone. This put some nightmares in my head in those heady early days.
11. Star Trek : TNG. Captain Picard - Engage! I am a trekkie first and always!
12. Law and Order. Twenty years of Cops, Bad Guys, and Lawyers can be enough to make you think you know something about the law. Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields) took over for Michael Moriarty made Law and Order a pretty routine affair. I watched likely 250 episodes, of the 391. But I would gather, that the ones missed were not going to get me a law degree.
13. Hustle. A group of gritty London con men seem to always get their way - I found it refreshingly British.
14. The West Wing. Actually should do summary on this show. Aaron Sorkin crafted this punchy dream team machine of a White House. Can you imagine a Republican version of this show....nope, me neither. (Course, you would have to think brilliantly and socially responsible and sound and look good. Nope not happening.)
15. The Wonder Years. Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and Winnie Cooper (Math genius Danica McKellar) were the prismatic budding teenagers through which we saw the evolving 1960s, and the frustrations of that time. The opening pilot episode set a beautiful array of emotions - and certainly it touched a 16-17 teenager that still felt Kevin's age: confused, horny, courageous, chicken, hopeful, excited, timid, sneaky, lazy, and loving all in a paragraph of dialogue.
Honorable Mentions, or likely, lacked the knowledge of entire show's run:
Freaks and Geeks
The Rockford Files
China Beach (Robert Picardo)
All in the Family
The Justice League
Bugs Bunny Show
I could go on all day. I am not a critic. I'd have to watch intently (and get paid) to give you a full rundown.
But here is enough television to burn your eyeballs for a lifetime.