Best TV show released the year you were born
The past 20 years or so are known as the “New Golden Age of Television,” or “Peak TV.” Options abound for great TV—from network and cable channels to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and now Disney+. There seems to be a little something for everyone these days on the small screen and there looks to be no end in sight.
While not every year of television has been part of either the first (1940s–1950s) or current Golden Age, there have always been outstanding and award-winning shows. Between the comedic brilliance of Lucille Ball on "I Love Lucy" (1951–57) to Westerns such as "The Rifleman" (1958–63) or recent favorites like "Game of Thrones" (2011–19) and “Stranger Things” (2016–present), television has consistently produced noteworthy programs.
With the recent proliferation of on-demand and streaming, now more than ever we have access to a variety of domestic and international series, whether full runs, limited, or anthology. The best part of enjoying these shows (or reviewing them) is that we need not be present at the original time of airing, with the option to watch days, weeks, months, and even years after the fact.
Stacker has compiled a list of the best TV shows released over the last 70 years, pulling data from IMDb and ranking series by user ratings. To be considered, shows from 1950 to 1989 had to have at least 1,000 IMDb user votes, and shows from 1990 to 2019 had to have at least 5,000 user votes. Any shows that shared top ratings for a single year were chosen based on which one had the most IMDb votes. The year 1953 had to be calculated using a lower vote threshold since there were no shows with 1,000 user votes or more. The ratings were current as of Jan. 29, 2020.
Taking it all the way from 1950 to 2019, here are the top shows for each year.
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1950: What's My Line? (1950–1967)
- IMDb rating: 8.6
- IMDb user votes: 1,272
- Stars: John Daly, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen
One of the longest-running game shows in prime-time network television, "What's My Line?" captivated audiences by having a panel of leading professionals ask contestants yes or no questions to determine their occupation. There was always a celebrity mystery guest, and panelists were required to don a blindfold while the celebs attempted to disguise their voices. The show ran from 1950 to 1967, and fans can still catch episodes on Amazon Prime.
1951: I Love Lucy (1951–1957)
- IMDb rating: 8.4
- IMDb user votes: 21,400
- Stars: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley
Long before women comedians were the norm, Lucille Ball was keeping viewers in stitches with her crazy antics and perfectly timed wit. With her sidekick, Ethel (Vivian Vance), and real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, Lucy's weekly escapades were always a hoot, and the series has remained a favorite through the years. Episodes are still available on the Hallmark channel and Hulu.
1952: Adventures of Superman (1952–1958)
- IMDb rating: 7.7
- IMDb user votes: 3,163
- Stars: George Reeves, Noel Neill, John Hamilton, Bill Kennedy
Running from 1952 to 1958, the series featuring the Man of Steel was one of the first shows to bring superheroes directly into people's homes. Episodes aired in black and white for the first two years, then went to color for the final four. Actor George Reeves made history as the first "real " Superman, which inspired the feature film "Hollywoodland," a dramatization of the creation of the show and of Reeves, who died in 1959.
1953: Person to Person (1953–1961)
- IMDb rating: 8.3
- IMDb user votes: 116
- Stars: Edward R. Murrow, Charles Collingwood
While it might seem like celebrity interviews started with Jack Paar and "The Tonight Show, " "Person to Person " was actually one of the first popular television talk shows. Originally hosted by Edward R. Murrow, the show's weekly guests included the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy. The show made a brief attempt at revival in 2012, with co-hosts Charlie Rose and Lara Logan.
1954: The Magical World of Disney (1954–1991)
- IMDb rating: 8.5
- IMDb user votes: 1,566
- Stars: Walt Disney, Paul Frees, Clarence Nash, Slim Pickens
"The Magical World of Disney, " which aired under several names over the course of its broadcast, was intended as a prelude to Disneyland resort. Episodes highlighted places such as Adventureland and Frontierland, with everything from documentaries on Disney films to cartoons to musical acts. The show became a staple for families across America and is one more example of one of the many ways Walt Disney made his brand a household name.
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1955: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962)
- IMDb rating: 8.5
- IMDb user votes: 14,171
- Stars: Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Tyler, John Williams, Patricia Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the greatest directors of all time so it's little wonder that the series was immensely popular. Each week, the episodes–some of which Hitch directed–told a different story, from dramas to thrillers to mysteries. It starred famous actors from both the big and small screen, including Robert Redford, Jessica Tandy, and Bette Davis.
1956: The Gumby Show (1956–1968)
- IMDb rating: 7
- IMDb user votes: 1,346
- Stars: Bobby Nicholson, Dal McKennon, Norma MacMillan, Art Clokey
It might seem hard to believe that a piece of green clay could become a beloved animated character, but "The Gumby Show" became an iconic part of television history. Gumby explores the world with his best friend, Pokey, a flesh-colored horse with googly eyes and a sweet demeanor. The series developed a huge following of children and adults alike, expanding to a line of toys and games, as well as a movie in 1995.
1957: Have Gun - Will Travel (1957–1963)
- IMDb rating: 8.4
- IMDb user votes: 2,220
- Stars: Richard Boone, Kam Tong, Hal Needham, Stewart East
Westerns were a common genre for television in the '50s, and "Have Gun - Will Travel " was one of the best. The cerebral gunslinger Paladin makes his way around the country, getting paid large amounts of money to do pretty much anything his clients might need and always finishing the job with flourish. The show became the inspiration for a radio series of the same name, which ran from 1958 to 1960.
1958: The Rifleman (1958–1963)
- IMDb rating: 8.3
- IMDb user votes: 2,970
- Stars: Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, Paul Fix, Joe Benson
Another famous Western series, "The Rifleman " is the story of a rancher trying to make it in the Wild West of the 1880s. Starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, he battles outlaws, brings justice to the frontier, and never seems to miss a shot with his trusty Winchester rifle, all while raising his son alone. Surprisingly, the show also became popular in Russia and was one of the few American television series permitted there during that time.
1959: The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)
- IMDb rating: 9
- IMDb user votes: 67,242
- Stars: Rod Serling, Robert McCord, Jay Overholts, Vaughn Taylor
The memorable and somewhat chilling voice of Rod Serling was always the introduction to these unusual and often frightening sci-fi tales, which took regular people on extraordinary journeys. While the series itself only ran from 1959 to 1964, it spawned a franchise of movies as well as two revivals; one in the 1980's and a new one, hosted by Jordan Peele, airing on CBS All Access this spring.
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