What was the Sopranos before the Sopranos, ie paragon of tv?

I wonder if the early 1960s legal drama “The Defenders” would be up there. It ran for 4 years, 132 episodes and did well in Emmys. It seems to be highly respected by TV Guide rankings, if that counts. It dealt with tropical issues in an era when tv was criticized as a vast wasteland. But you seldom see it in reruns and I don’t think it is available on dvd.


I remember Murder One was very big at the time, and talked about a lot. (mid 90s)

According to IMDB and other sources, The Prisoner first aired in the US on June 1, 1968.

From this side of the Atlantic: Doctor Who, The Sweeney, Coronation Street, and The Bill.

Odd, but that must have been the year. I don’t even remember being home that summer.

There’s a good argument for The Cosby Show both revitalizing the sitcom format, and opening the door for actors such as Will Smith. Was this the first show to have a comedian base a show around his stand-up material? (in turn setting the stage for Home Improvement and Seinfeld).

The Untouchables with Robert Stack was one of Desilu’s great hits and spawned imitators in 1959. Like Sea Hunt (an Ivan Tors production), it was considered very innovative at the time.

The Larry Sanders Show.

Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone and Outer Limits were years ahead of their time in terms of the quality of their writing, but they didn’t change anything, largely because the guys who ran the networks still thought of SF as being about guys wearing leotards and capes with lightning bolts on their chests running around shooting death rays at each other. Kiddie fare.

In the 80s Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, the first few seasons of LA Law. In the 90s the first few seasons of NYPD Blue & ER, Twin Peaks, X-Files, and Homicide.

A lot of those were shadows of themselves by the ends of their runs, and now some of them look dated - but at the beginnings of their runs, they pushed the edges of their formulas and did it really well. Great writing, production, and acting.

I already mentioned The Larry Sanders Show, and even though that wasn’t a drama I really think this is the answer to your question.

Many of the other shows mentioned were excellent, even praised as the Best Show On Television. But I make a distinction between that and the Greatest Show on Television. The distinction is possibly just in my own mind, but the difference to me is that the best show is the best of a genre while the greatest elevates the medium of television as a whole.

The first examples I recall of ardent word of mouth “It’s the greatest thing on television” were the Larry Sanders Show. It’s also my belief that the greatness of that show single-handedly spawned HBO’s tagline “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” (The show ran from 92-98, the tagline was adopted from 96 to 2009.)

I agree. This one basically invented the “uncomfortable” comedy that would later define the styles of Ricky Gervais and Larry David’s sitcoms, as well as being meta long before shows like Community and Arrested Development (and practically all of the shows on Adult Swim) took it mainstream.

ETA: It was also revolutionary in using celebrities to play more dickish versions of themselves, a common trope nowadays (especially in movies).

It wasn’t.
I was a Murder One junkie. Loved the show.

But ABC put it head to head against ER when NBC’s Must See TV was at its height. It required that you see every or almost every episode in order - which was not as easy to do when people were relying on making sure their VCRs were programmed correctly. It got pulled around the schedule toward the end of the first season, and the ratings were very, very low.

24 (6 years later) did a much better job of single story serialization. That’s the one that the other highly serialized shows copied.
On the comedy side: I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore Show, MAS*H, Cheers, Seinfeld

This was the top of the heap when I was growing up.

Homicide, Life on the street was a contemporary of NYPD Blue and just as realistic.

Thirtysomething paved the way for Friends.

If you’re talking immediate predecessors, I think definitely NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street.

Some shows like ER and NYPD Blue were at the top for a while, but their runs were way too long to consider every season as being some of the best on TV.

The OP specifically mentioned dramas, so sitcoms probably don’t belong in the discussion.

I doubt Oz was ever considered one of the top shows by the public, mainly because I doubt HBO had nearly as much market penetration back then. I know I watched it but I rarely heard people talk about it.

Strangely, I don’t think much of any of those. Overhyped.

But TV has been developing all along.

Yeah. They’re no Return of the Jedi, that’s for sure.