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The best television shows of the Peak TV era

May 8, 2018 Updated: May 9, 2018 at 4:32 pm
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Kyle Chandler and Zach Gilford in a scene from "Friday Night Lights." Photo courtesy of NBC.

What is Peak TV? The phrase was originally coined in 2015 by FX CEO John Landgraf to describe the increasing amount of options available for TV viewers. At the time, Landgraf was concerned that viewers would be overwhelmed with so many choices. In 2015, 409 original TV series aired, nearly doubling the total from six years earlier. Two years later, in 2017, that number had risen to more than 500. 

While Landgraf saw this insane amount of options as a deluge, many TV aficionados view the last 20 years as the Golden Age of television. Considering the quality of TV programming over the last two decades, I’m inclined to agree. But in fairness to the FX CEO it’s certainly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. So what are the best TV shows of the Peak TV era? So glad you asked. Here are my top 10 picks. 

10. “Battlestar Galactica” (2004-2009, Syfy) - The Syfy Network (at the time called Sci Fi) took the somewhat campy 1970s Glen A. Larson series and turned it into one of the most fascinating shows on television. Screenwriter Ronald D. Moore, who developed the concept of the reimagined program and co-produced it with David Eick (“Hercules,” “Xena”) would go on to turn Diana Gabaldon’s books into the Starz series “Outlander,” which also almost made this list. 

9. “Downton Abbey” (2010-2015, PBS) - Who would’ve thought that the lives of an aristocratic family in Edwardian England would be so riveting? But riveting it was and PBS had a legitimate hit as viewers in both the United States and the UK couldn’t get enough of the upstairs/downstairs relationships at Downtown Abbey. 

8. “Lost” (2004-2010, ABC) - If “The Sopranos” kicked off the Peak TV era, “Lost” elevated it. “Lost” was one of the first television series to have its dedicated fanbase use the internet to discuss theories, and rave (and complain) about what they were watching. “Lost” helped revolutionize how we watch TV.  

7. “Mad Men” (2007-2015, AMC) - The creative director of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, Don Draper (Or is it Dick Whitman?) was an enigmatic and charismatic character that helped make household names of Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, and Christina Hendricks. Hamm shined as Draper. A scene with Draper selling the Kodak Carousel (the show would usually use real life products) perfectly demonstrated the series, and Hamm’s, complex allure. Don’t believe me? Check the clip below. 

6. “The Americans” (2013-2018, FX) - Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are two Soviet KGB officers posing as a typical American married couple. Playing against trope, Elizabeth is the hard edged, strong, silent type and Philip is the kind-hearted sensitive husband. The intriguing duo are headed for a showdown in the final season, which is airing right now, and its sure to be fantastic. 

5. “Game of Thrones” (2011-Present, HBO) - Books have been turned into films for years, but few have managed to a successfully turn a novel into a television series until “Game of Thrones.” A program that never shies away from taking risks (or killing off characters), “Game of Thrones” takes its passionate fanbase to places never before seen on TV. 

4. "The Sopranos” (1999-2007, HBO) - Emmy winner David Chase has had a long and illustrious career, working on shows such as “The Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure.” But “The Sopranos,” with its rich cast of characters, remains by far his greatest achievement. In Tony Soprano, played brilliantly by James Gandolfini, Chase created one of the most complicated and intriguing leads on television. 

3. “Friday Night Lights” (2006-2011, NBC) - Far outshining the novel and film it’s based on, “Friday Night Lights” focused on the life of Eric (Kyle Chandler) and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and their struggles and triumphs in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. A stellar supporting cast helped keep audiences riveted.

2. “The Office” (2005-2013, NBC) - Based on the British version of “The Office” created by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, the US version started slowly but quickly turned into the best comedy on TV. Beet loving Dwight (Rainn Wilson), practical joker Jim (John Krasinski), and adorable receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer) are just a few of the employees at the Dunder Mifflin paper company that have to put up with the most awkward boss in the world, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). 

1. ”Breaking Bad” (2008-2013, AMC) - Amazingly, John Cusack and Matthew Broderick both turned down the role of Walter White, the defining character in Bryan Cranston’s career. White’s transformation from mild mannered science teacher to drug lord is incredible. Lasting only five seasons, “Breaking Bad” is one of the most tightly focused series ever to air. 

Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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