10 Most Groundbreaking TV Shows of All-Time

It’s hard to imagine a time when the television airwaves weren’t filled with mind-numbing, superficial reality TV shows. However, there was a time when the boob tube wasn’t so bad. Over the past 50+ years we’ve been able to watch pioneering programs that have deeply affected American culture and the media industry as a whole. Who knows where’d we be without their inflluences? Some say we’re worse off because of the envelope it pushed while others praise them for revolutionizing the way we think and behave. Take a look and let us know what you think one is the most groundbreaking.

I Love Lucy

This was the first time a woman played the lead comedic role. It was also the first show to shoot with three cameras and a live audience on 35 mm film.

Star Trek

This sci fi series’ greatest and most significant contributions to TV history was its cast of different races and cultures. On the bridge of the Enterprise were a Japanese helmsman, a Russian navigator, a black female communications officer, and a Vulcan-Earthling first officer – among other members. Also, controversial at its time was Captain Kirk’s kiss with Lt. Uhura, as it was American TV’s first scripted interracial kiss.

All in the Family

All in the Family was notorious for featuring language and authentic epithets previously absent from American television. It was also famous for being the first major television show to feature the sound of a flushing toilet; it became a running gag on the show.

All in the Family’s story lines also included a sense of realism, and occasional forays into very serious subject matter, not previously associated with sitcoms. To interweave illness, crime, or the violent death of a character into the plot of a comedy show was an unprecedented move.


This series set during the Korean War was applauded and hailed for its unique blend and balance of drama and comedy and wasn’t afraid to mix things up with unusual episodes. Taking on war is no easy matter and M*A*S*H* managed to toe the line unlike any other – with satirical commentary that sparked the interest of millions.

Saturday Night Live

Live television is no laughing matter, anything can happen and so much can go haywire. That is, until SNL came around in the 70s. Never before had a program of this calibur seen the airwaves. The only show to challenge SNL’s dominance in the late night live sketch comedy racket was MAD TV, which can only be found in reruns. It’s also launched the comedy careers of dozens upon dozens of major stars. Whereas before if someone laughed during a take or flubbed a line on live TV, it was met with horrified expressions from executives, but with SNL it can land you with a couple movie deals and your own late night talk show (read: Jimmy Fallon).

The Cosby Show

According to TV Guide, the show “was TV’s biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre and NBC’s ratings fortunes”. Entertainment Weekly stated that The Cosby Show helped to make possible a larger variety of shows based on African Americans, from In Living Color to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was also one of the first successful sitcoms based on the subject matter of a standup comedian’s act, blazing a trail for other programs such as Seinfeld, Ellen, Roseanne, Home Improvement, The Drew Carey Show, and Everybody Loves Raymond.

The Simpsons

This is an American animated television series was the first Fox series to land in the Top 30 ratings in a season and the first successful animated program in American prime time since Wait Till Your Father Gets Home in the 1970s. The show also holds the world record for “Most Guest Stars Featured in a Television Series”. Time magazine named The Simpsons the century’s best television series. Entertainment Weekly magazine TV critic Ken Tucker named The Simpsons the greatest television show of the 1990s. The Simpsons ranked #8 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2008 placed first on Entertainment Weekly’s “Top 100 Shows of the Past 25 Years”; and Empire named it the greatest TV show of all time. It paved the way for South Park, Family Guy, and Adult Swim.

The Real World

The show is the longest-running program in MTV history and featured one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be portrayed in popular media. It’s also one of the longest-running reality series in history, and is credited with launching the modern reality TV genre. The series was hailed in its early years for depicting issues of contemporary young-adulthood relevant to its core audience, such as sexuality, prejudice and substance abuse.


A critical favorite, commercial blockbuster and cultural phenomenon, the show led the Nielsen ratings in its sixth and ninth seasons and finished among the top two (along with NBC’s ER) every year from 1994 to 1998. In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld as the greatest television program of all time.


The show won 20 Emmy Awards over its eight seasons. It won for Best Drama Series at the 2003 Golden Globe Awards and Outstanding Drama Series at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards. Kiefer Sutherland has been awarded Best Actor – Television Series Drama at the 2001 Golden Globe Awards, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards. It also became the longest-running espionage-themed television drama ever, surpassing both Mission: Impossible and The Avengers.

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    1. brett says:

      Terrific research….MASH was set during the Koren War

      1. Thanks for the catch, Brett.

    2. Greg says:

      LOL @ no Twilight Zone.

    3. Anthony says:

      if you had a top 15 list, I def would have considered Married with children

    4. 10 Most Groundbreaking TV Shows of All-Time – Trackback from…

      10 Most Groundbreaking TV Shows of All-Time…

    5. Jimmy says:


    6. Sigma909 says:

      Three's Company? 2 girls living with 1 guy, wow that SHOCK of the 1970's! It should have been on the list.

    7. very like 24,i have watch all seasons

    8. MrRiggs says:

      The Real World started it all on MTV…*sighs*

    9. jdawg says:

      Hate the list. Very poor choices. You forgot the Jeffersons, Good Times, Hawaii 5-0, Flash Gordon, Chico and the Man, Manimal, Misfits of Science, and Freddy.

    10. Bob Loblaw says:

      Arrested Development

    11. Jack says:

      have you not seen the Sopranos

    12. bauer24 says:

      No Twilight Zone, X-Files, Lost… but I can't complain… :p ;)

    13. Big Al says:

      Probably overlooked was Sanford and Son. The ABC's Wide World of Sports possibly opened up the wide world of sports programming that we have available today. The Wonderful World of Disney probably gave us the consept of not having to leave home for a good movie, and probably spun of a lot of the different types of programming we commonly have now. Those are three MAJOR icons of television that are overlooked here.

    14. Big Al says:

      I voted for All In The Family as most groundbreaking, for it actually broke serious ground. It caused us to look beyond sheer entertainment to the issues of the day. It was in your face. It confronted our phobias and prejudices and stepped on toes. It was sometimes uncomfortable to watch, and at the same time hilariously entertaining. You almost HAD to tune in ever week, for you didn't want to risk missing something. From Civil Right's and Women's Right's to War, it took on and challenged everything. You really had to be there and experiance it in it's own time, for the reruns are meaningless in that capasity. If I were to define "groundbreaking" it would have to include this show as a near perfect discription, for that was what it all about, plowing new earth in the field of television entertainment.

    15. LookBack says:

      Seinfeld groundbreaking? How? Yes, popular, etc., but still a formula sitcom.

    16. DM6 says:


    17. yousuck says:

      What?! You provided reasons for the "groundbreaking" title up until The Simpsons, at which point it was simply a list of awards : major fail.

    18. j.l. says:

      What, are you guys like all of 35 years old or so? The Simpsons, The Cosby show, Seinfeld? . You do know that television started in the 50's, right? The Twilght Zone in one episode is better than a "cartoon". . Ever hear of the Jack Parr show, which turned into the Carson show? Or Playhouse 90? Tv had several shows, with comedy sketches, which really were "live". (Saturday Night Live Isn't really live. But you knew that. It's tape delayed.) So, the question that comes to mind is this- why wouldn't a TV from the late 50's, shown "live" (in the grown-up sense of the word), with comedy sketches, be more "ground-breaking" than a semi copy-cat show that isn't really live? ( trying to google the name of the show). "I Love Lucy", "Star Treck" and "All in the Family" really were ground-breaking shows. But others, as pointed out above, were not. But the "Crosby Show"? It's all sort of like naming the world's "ground breaking airplanes" and leaving out the Wright Brother's plane.

    19. j.l. says:

      "Flash Gordon"- very true.

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