Prestige Television: 15 Shows That Stood the Test of Time

In the 1977 hit T.V. show Happy Days, the legendary character Fonzie jumped a shark on a water ski, thus cementing the phrase “jump the shark” as a term for a series hitting rock bottom.

Luckily, some of the best shows avoided following this trend. They’ve held up as some of the greatest programs of all time.

1. Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)

Star Trek (1966) Walter Koenig, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley
Image Credit: Paramount Television.

Even though it only ran for three seasons, the science fiction show was groundbreaking for many reasons. It was unlike anything else on television and was the springboard for multiple spin-offs. It was also one of the first programs to have people of color in a position of power — a rarity in the 1960s. Star Trek and Star Wars fans may bicker, but this was one of the more iconic shows of the past 60 years.

2. I Love Lucy (1951-1957)

I Love Lucy (1951) Lucille Ball, Mary Wickes
Image Credit: Desilu Productions.

It is hard to imagine where sitcoms would be without I Love Lucy blazing the trail for all the shows coming after it. The hijinks that Lucy and Ethel get themselves into have stood the test of time, and many newer shows have taken comedic tips from the iconic show. Lucille Ball was an entertainment icon in her heyday, a feat most women couldn’t claim, and if it weren’t for her and her comedic genius, who knows what would have happened to television? Incidentally, she greenlit the original Star Trek, and her studio, Desilu, produced it. So we have Ball to thank for it.

3. MASH (1972-1983)

M*A*S*H (1972) Edward Herrmann
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

There’s a good reason why 106 million viewers tuned in to watch the finale of MASH. The show followed the lives of the doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War as they dealt with the daily activities of living in a war zone. Even 40 years after the crew said goodbye, the dark humor, drama, satire, and ability to approach serious themes make this a relatable show for a new generation.

4. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

Seinfeld (1989) Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander
Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment.

Over 20 years after the series wrapped up, Seinfeld is still a household name, with new generations discovering the show’s brilliance through streaming services like Netflix. Creator and writer Larry David has since transitioned his unique brand of comedy into his own show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, making the pain of missing Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer a little more tolerable.

5. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) Will Smith
Image Credit: NBC Universal, Inc.

How many people can finish the lyrics to “In West Philadelphia…?” For an entire generation of youngsters, Will Smith and his adventures living with a wealthy family in Los Angeles were a mainstay in early to mid-1990s television. The show spawned a future A-lister in Smith and one of the most iconic dances now known as the Carlton.

6. The Golden Girls (1985-1992)

The Golden Girls (1985) Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White
Image Credit: Touchstone Television.

The Golden Girls was such a popular show in the ’80s that many people from the baby boomers and Gen Xers would like to thank the girls for being a friend. The quartet of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia was so fabulous it broke the mold for strong female-led casts. The best part of the series is that it introduced millennials to Betty White, a national treasure who will be forever missed as she was the last cast member to pass in 2021.

7. Mad Men (2007-2015)

Mad Men (2007) John Hamm
Image Credit: Weiner Bros. Productions.

I had to take a long, hard pause before I put Mad Men in this piece, but the truth is, the series was so good it was impossible to omit it. How many men took up drinking the old fashioned because Don Draper drank them? Jon Hamm was charismatic as Draper, the ad executive in the ever-evolving world of the 1960s. Even though the show has only been off-air for nine years, it will go down as one of the best shows of all.

8. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Breaking Bad (2008) Bryan Cranston
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

Another recent show that is a must on this list is Breaking Bad. Family man Walter White turns his career as a chemistry teacher into becoming one of the biggest drug dealers in the state of New Mexico. In the series, viewers watch the good intentions of the family man devolve into a violent psychopath who will do anything to anyone who gets in his way. Fans loved the story so much the series spawned a prequel in Better Call Saul (2015-2022), as well as many rumors that a sequel might be in the offing.

9. Cheers (1982-1993)

Cheers (1982) Woody Harrelson
Image Credit: Paramount Network Television.

Cheers captivated the country for most of the ’80s and gave us one of the most iconic theme songs of all. The classic American bar introduced us to some of the best characters in television history. Whether it was Norm chugging beers, Cliff knowing everything about everything, or naive young bartender Woody, the show was beloved by most of the country, creating another classic spin-off, Fraiser (1993-2004).

10. Fraiser (1993-2004)

Image Credit: Paramount Network Television.

Speaking of the barflies in Cheers, regular Fraiser Crane decides to move home to Seattle, Washington, to work as a radio host and psychiatrist. In the show’s 11-year run, it won 37 Primetime Emmy Awards, breaking the record then held by The Mary Tyler Moore Show with 29. The show was so popular it was re-booted in 2023. Hopefully, the new seasons won’t tarnish the show’s legacy because it’s considered one of the best sitcoms in television history.

11. The Wire (2002-2008)

The Wire (2002) Sam Freed
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

The Wire helped set gritty, real-life crime drama standards for networks like HBO. The series follows the lives of Baltimore drug dealers, police officers, and politicians as they struggle to survive in a world where the lines between good and bad aren’t defined. The series helped kickstart the careers of Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and Dominic West and is still a thrilling watch 20 years after its original release date.

12. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

The Sopranos (1999) James Gandolfini
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

Much like The Wire, The Sopranos raised the bar a few notches higher for epic crime dramas. The show centers around Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss trying to run his criminal enterprise while being a loving family man. The show has been praised for its character development and riveting story-telling. It’s one of the most re-watched shows on HBO Max despite the controversial series ending.

13. The Simpsons (1989-Present)

The Simpsons Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith
Image Credit: Gracie Films.

It’s hard for a show to be on television for over 30 years and still be relevant. The Simpsons, however, has kept audiences laughing since 1989 due to its silly and sometimes dark humor. It’s hard to think of other classic hits that could be on this list, like South Park and Family Guy, without Homer and Bart paving the way. Homer Simpson is one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in the world, making the show undoubtedly iconic. It’s exciting to see how long the famous cartoon continues entertaining the masses.

14. Jeopardy! (1964-Present)

Jeopardy! (1984)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

Did anyone else know that this game show had been on air for so long? Jeopardy! has been airing on home televisions for 60 years, testing the nation’s intelligence. The show made Alex Trebek a national icon and is one of the most popular game shows ever. No matter what type of day you’re having, you can count on Jeopardy! to test your brain while dinner’s cooking.

15. Sesame Street (1969-Present)

Sesame Street (1969)
Image Credit: Sesame Workshop.

Multiple generations grew up on Sesame Street and the various characters living in that world. From Bert and Ernie to Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch, many kids learned life lessons from these lovable Muppets. The show hasn’t deviated much from its early beginnings, meaning our parents probably learned the same types of lessons that we did growing up.

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


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