I don't know if it can be done without spending a lot of time researching, and that's not fun. Movies and music are easier to make lists of ... you know what tunes you like because you still listen to them, and movies are one-shot affairs. But teevee shows? How do you deal with series like The West Wing, so good when it began, so awful post-Sorkin? And you can't rely on anything but memories, since it's harder (although less so in 2004 than it was in the past) to actually hunt down programs than it is to find an old movie or pull a treasured CD off the shelf.
My favorite show that is currently running is The Wire, and its HBO siblings The Sopranos and Deadwood are just as good. If I was to pick one of them for a Top Ten list, it would be Sopranos due to its relative longevity and water-cooler power. I'd say Sopranos is the best cable show ever.
Beyond that, as Neal will tell you, I have a tendency to like marginal series that don't last. And I missed ten years of prime time when I worked swing shift in the factory from 1974-84, and that's a lot of shows. Here are some programs that bring back fond memories ... for now, it's the best I can do ... mostly listed alphabetically, since I'm using TV Tome to prod my brain.
HBO is getting some attention for Entourage, and I haven't given up on it yet, but a better show about how Hollywood works was Action, from 1999. If Jeremy Piven's was the central character in Entourage it might approach Action. Jay Mohr was the vile producer, and Illeana Douglas and Buddy Hackett (!) co-starred. TV Tome says "It was rude, prejudice, sexist, homophobic, and one of the funniest shows of all time." It ran for three weeks, took a couple of weeks off, ran for two more weeks, took a month off, at which point NBC ran two episodes in a row, the latter of which ended with Mohr's character dying of a heart attack, and it was then cancelled. Total episodes shown: 8 (and not it the correct order, either). Eight months later, FX showed five other episodes.
American Gothic lasted 18 episodes in the mid-90s ... 22 were filmed. It was created by teen idol Shawn Cassidy, but there was nothing teen-idolish about it ... the main story was of a small southern town that seemed to be run by the Devil ... as in, the Sheriff in town was the Devil. Or something, it was never really clear. The show's chance at mainstream popularity was dashed in the second episode, when we find that one of the devil's henchwomen had kept a visiting reporter tied up to use as a fuck toy ... she bit out his tongue so he couldn't talk.
Jesus, I'm only through the first letter of the alphabet! I'll do the Bs now, so I can get Buffy out of the way. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is on my Top Ten list, however and whenever I make one. There's not much left to say about it ... I've written about it here, taught a course on it at Cal, what else can I say? I came late to the show, starting to watch in Season Three. Sara and Robin watched from the beginning, and tried very hard to get me to watch with them ... I finally gave in after two years, and I wish I hadn't waited.
That was quick, maybe I'll do the Cs. Cheers was wonderful, and was another show to which I came late, since I didn't quit working swing shift until the show had been running a few years. More in line with the kind of "no one watched them but me" shows was Crime Story, which ran for two seasons in the late-80s. Michael Mann is a top director now, but in the 80s he was known for Miami Vice. Crime Story was Mann's first show after Vice, and it was never as popular. Dennis Farina was the star, a cop named Torello in the early 60s trying to bring down mobster Ray Luca. For two seasons, Torello chased Luca. At the end of Season One, as the perhaps apocryphal story goes, NBC told Mann they wouldn't be picking up the show for a second year. Mann decided to go out with a bang: Luca and his impossibly stupid henchman, Paulie, end up hiding in a "safe house" Paulie has chosen that turns out to be in the middle of a nuclear test site. The season ends with the two being blown to smithereens by a nuclear bomb. At which point, according to legend, NBC decided to go with a second season, requiring Mann to bring Luca and Paulie back from the dead. And back they came ... if memory serves, the only evidence that they'd been nuked was that Ray Luca now had a grey streak through his hair. Season Two really was the last one ... as the series ended, Torello and Luca were fighting each other in a plane that was about to crash land.
I'm on a roll, I'll do E and then quit for now. EZ Streets aired a two-hour pilot in late October of 1996, and showed another episode three days later. It then disappeared from the teevee for four months. It ran another month and was cancelled, nine episodes making the screen (a tenth went unshown). It starred Ken Olin, out of Thirtysomething, as a brutal and brutalized cop ... the primary gangster was played by Joe Pantoliano. This show was as dark as they come, a precursor to stuff like The Wire or The Shield ... Trio is going to show it on their "Brilliant But Cancelled" series, if Trio lasts long enough (Trio itself being brilliant but about to be cancelled).
I'm sure I'm missing shows left and right ... this is hard. Next time I'll start with F, as in Freaks and Geeks.