“Game of Thrones” logo

"Game of Thrones" logo (Photo by Katy Hutchins on Shutterstock)

In 1928 the first television drama was broadcast from a Schenectady, New York station. The teleplay “The Queen’s Messenger” was a black-and-white drama featuring a British diplomat meeting with a Russian spy. The craziest part was the entire drama was shown on televisions no bigger than the top of a soup can! Now, with the advancements in technology since then, things have certainly changed regarding watching TV. Luckily you don’t have to watch our best TV dramas list on a coaster. Then again, your phone screen would be pretty close in size. Nevertheless, nearly a century of television later, there is almost an endless list of media to consume out there, so where do you start?

With cable channels such as HBO reaching popularity in the early 1990s and continuing with Showtime and AMC, this new way of watching scripted shows was presented. With the more premium networks also came shows that were pushing the boundaries of what was previously seen as “appropriate” for television. These shows often had more mature themes, longer episodes, and a higher caliber of work was presented overall. Since the premiere of cable channels, most of them have since branched out into their own streaming services (HBO becoming Max, for example), giving us an even more expanded media library. 

But what does all this mean? Well, with the beginning of this new way of making television came a renaissance for TV dramas. It seemed for a period of time, these networks were putting out success after success. Watch-party, finale viewings, and even the introduction of Twitter and live tweeting helped evolve the television industry into what it is today. It’s hard to find a person in the world who doesn’t have a show they are in some way passionate about. 

Looking for a new go-to to obsess over? As usual, StudyFinds has done all the hard work for you when it comes to research what to watch. We have turned to ten different expert websites to bring you the definitive best TV dramas of all time. Don’t see your favorite on the list? We’d love to hear your pick in the comments below! 

Bryan Cranston at The Actors Fund 16th Annual Tony Awards Party in 2012
Bryan Cranston at The Actors Fund 16th Annual Tony Awards Party in 2012 (Photo by Brad Camembert on Shutterstock)

The List: Best TV Dramas, According to Experts

 

1. “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

Not everyone may have seen this organized crime drama, but everyone’s certainly heard of “The Sopranos” in some way, shape, or form. Whether it be Tony Soprano exclaiming “she was abusive to the staff” or Carmela’s perfectly polished French tips, the show has done nothing if not lived on in pop culture.

“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)
“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

“It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about ‘The Sopranos.’ It all but reinvented what TV shows were capable of being, with it instantly feeling cinematic, complex, and engrossing in a way very few – if any – other TV shows had ever managed. It also followed perhaps the greatest fictional character of all time: Tony Soprano, played to perfection by James Gandolfini. It’s not just TV at its best; you could argue that ‘The Soprano’s is quite simply fiction in general at its very best,” raves Collider.

HBO‘s faith in David Chase’s vision, all the way up to its controversially ambiguous ending, which inspired series finales in a whole other way, resulted in a modified television landscape where art actually had a chance of survival in the mainstream. Whether it is dated and has aged poorly or not is irrelevant; the fact is, every high-quality drama on television owes something to ‘The Sopranos,'” adds Movie Web. Also pointing out the fact that “The Sopranos” was really the blueprint for other shows on this list when it came to archetypes and tone. 

2. “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013)

“When high school teacher Walter White is faced with a lung cancer diagnosis, he doesn’t know where he’s going to come up with the money for his treatments—that is, until he turns to crime and begins concocting his own batches of meth with a former student. Regarded as one of the best shows of all time, with the characters of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman becoming icons themselves, the series won 16 Emmys, and its success spurred the spinoff show, ‘Better Call Saul’,” explains Stacker.

"Breaking Bad" (2008-2013)
“Breaking Bad” (2008-2013)

“For all the hype and praise Breaking Bad receives, it has to be said it truly does deserve its place among the pantheons of great drama series. The blistering journey of Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman delivers tension, explosive drama, comedy, and its fair share of emotional moments, too,” adds The Digital Fix.

“Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul deliver unforgettable performances in Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad,’ the critically acclaimed TV series. It remains one of the best television shows ever made because it boasts captivating acting, riveting scenes that further advance its plotline, and meticulous detail throughout every episode,” says Buddy TV. Spawning a prior mentioned spinoff, Halloween costumes, and more merchandise that can be mentioned sporting periodic tables and Los Pollos Hermanos logos, “Breaking Bad” certainly took the world by storm and remains a favorite of fans today.

3. “The Wire” (2002-2008)

“According to most people these days, ‘The Wire’ is the best show ever made. Generally, when something receives that kind of hype, it’s woefully misrepresented. ‘The Wire’ is the exception that proves the rule, however, with its sprawling five-season run serving as the great American epic that arguably no show has ever topped. It’s fitting that America’s War and Peace would be a television show, and ‘The Wire’ is it,” raves Movie Web.

"The Wire" (2002-2008)
“The Wire” (2002-2008)

Ranker goes on to describe ‘The Wire’ as a “raw, gritty series which offers an unflinching look at the drug trade and its impact on urban America. Told from multiple perspectives, the show delves into the lives of cops, criminals, politicians, and everyday citizens caught in a tangled web of corruption. With superb writing and a diverse ensemble cast, it’s no wonder this drama is considered one of the best.”

“What more can be said? That ‘The Wire’ is the most important television series of the 21st century is practically textbook truth. Fueled by incredible anger and empathy, David Simon’s panorama of Baltimore cast the war on drugs as the futile tragedy so many Americans have known it to be while also shining a light on the unending games all institutions play to keep the oppressed and the stats squeaky clean,” explains Complex. Starring such powerhouse actors as Idris Elba, Dominic West, and Michael B. Jordan, it’s no wonder “The Wire” was a hit and earned its spot on this list.

4. “Mad Men” (2007-2015)

This ’60s set drama, with its “bad boys” and mod decor, certainly took the world by storm in the early 2000s. “The American period drama series follows Don Draper, a creative director at Sterling Cooper, an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, and tracks his friends and professional colleagues’ lives throughout the 1960s. Upon release, Mad Men received widespread critical acclaim and was praised for its writing, directing, visual style, acting, and historical authenticity,” describes Wealthy Gorilla.

“The saga of advertising men who are sometimes bad men and indeed sad men is low on action but unparalleled in the depth of its characterization. Don Draper (an exceptional Jon Hamm) is brilliant at his job but useless in his personal life. Initially characterized by boozy office meetings, decadent fashions, and depictions of casual sexism, the show charts the decline of the old ways and the dawn of a new, more-egalitarian culture. Haunting and often very funny,” raves Games Radar.

Complex adds: “when it’s over, Matthew Weiner’s ‘Mad Men’ may very well be remembered as the greatest show to emerge from TV’s golden age. Exploring the complicated tangle of the personal and the political at an ad agency during one of America‘s most turbulent decades has provided viewers with enough indelible images and fascinating characters to populate entire novels. And the show only gets better as it incorporates more of the formal innovations of cinema into its machinery.”

5. “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)

Of course, the show that inspired an entire generation of babies to be named “Khaleesi” has enough icon power to make the top five. With a cast lead by Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey & Kit Harrington (to pick four from the dozens of terrific actors who graced the ‘Thrones’ set), the acting, plus writing and source material, was in no doubt, lightning in a bottle. 

"Game of Thrones" (2011-2019)
“Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)

“‘Game of Thrones is a show which needs no introduction. A show which introduced us to a whole host of amazing characters and then proceeded to kill most of them off in a typically bloody, brutal fashion. This historical fantasy series truly had it all. From dragons and ice demons to sinister monarchs and brave warriors, Game of Thrones brought the books of George R. R. Martin to life in spectacular fashion,” says The Digital Fix.

“Game of Thrones is one of the most successful American fantasy drama series of all time. The show is an adaptation of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire‘ by George R.R Martin’s series of fantasy novels. Critics praised the series for its complex characters, story, acting, scope, and production values, and it received the most Primetime Emmy Awards of any drama series, with a total of 58 to its name,” adds Wealthy Gorilla.

“‘Thrones’ at its best was almost untouchable: huge effects sequences, battles with real stakes, and, powering it all, characters that you cared about, whether they were talking about morality or shoving it aside to light up an entire sept full of enemies. ‘Thrones’ is full to the brim of all the death, betrayal, laughter, and dragons that you might wish for. The climax may have divided opinion, but it’s hard to imagine what will fill the void now that the show’s over,” ponders Empire Online. Of course, if you are feeling the void of the fantasy drama, you can also start the binge-worthy prequel, “House of Dragons” on Max. 

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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1 Comment

  1. Debra Arszyla says:

    While I loved all of the shows mentioned; my all-time favorite show is Six Feet Under. Nothing compares to it, in my opinion.