TV Network Power Rankings: What’s Their Greatest Season Ever?

Many websites are doing March Madness-style brackets to declare the Best Drama Series of All-Time or the Best Sitcom Episode Ever. We’re getting into the fun, too, BUT BIGGER. This is our power rankings of the greatest seasons from nine of our favorite networks. Here’s how we did it:

1) We looked at the schedule for every season for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, and Comedy Central (sorry, WB/UPN/CW!), ranging from the 1950s to the present, and chose the best overall one for each. (For network channels, we did 2011-2012; for cable, just a single year, like 2011. That’s just how they work.) We put into account not only the fact that, for example, “Cheers” was on, but whether “Cheers” was any good in that particular season.

2) We then compared the best season of each network against the best seasons of the other eight networks, to decide if, say, Showtime’s best year is better than Fox’s best year. (HINT: it’s not.)

No time for any more jabbering and/or jabbering. Place your bets now, ‘cause here we go.

Winner: 2006 (“Brotherhood,” “Dexter,” “Huff,” “The L Word,” “Weeds,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 2011 (“The Big C,” “The Borgias,” “Californication,” “Dexter,” “Episodes,” “Homeland,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” “Shameless,” “United States of Tara,” Weeds,” etc.)

Showtime finally premiered its first HBO-level series last year in “Homeland,” and though I could be persuaded to declare 2011 the winner, based simply on the merits of that one show, I can’t forget season six of “Dexter” and season seven of “Weeds” and season one of “Episodes.” (Seasons one and four of “Shameless” and “Californication,” those were OK.) Instead, the honor goes to 2006, when Showtime’s slate included the Ice Truck Killer year of “Dexter,” season two of “Weeds” (MILFweed), and the underappreciated freshman season of “Brotherhood,” as well as “The L Word” and “Huff” (I guess).

Winner: 1977-1978 (“Barney Miller,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Taxi,” “What’s Happening,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 1990-1991 (“Roseanne,” “Twin Peaks,” “The Wonder Years,” etc.)

ABC has never really had an identity, or at least an all-together positive one. NBC was the blockbuster network of the 1990s which now has a number of low rated, critically beloved series; Fox was built on “The Simpsons” and the crassness that followed; and CBS revolutionized the sitcom multiple times, with “I Love Lucy” and “All In the Family” and others. As for ABC, um, it aired “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” which effectively started the reality show craze that continues today. FU*K THAT. Ditto many of its older hits, like “Welcome Back, Kotter” and “The Brady Bunch,” that are still spoken of today only due to misguided nostalgia. Also: “Cop Rock.” So you have to look deep within the network’s best season, 1977-1978, past “Apple Pie,” to see its best series, like “Barney Miller,” “Laverne & Shirley,” and, most importantly, “Taxi,” a remarkably well written ensemble sitcom. Or just choose 1990 because it had both “Twin Peaks” and “The Wonder Years,” and those shows own.

Winner: 2004 (“Chappelle’s Show,” “Comedy Central Presents,” “Crank Yankers,” “The Daily Show,” “Drawn Together,” “Reno 911!” “South Park,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 2011 (“The Colbert Report,” “Comedy Central Presents,” “Comedy Central Roast,” “The Daily Show,” “Futurama,” “Jon Benjamin Has a Van,” “South Park,” “Ugly Americans,” “Workaholics,” etc.)

People still talk glowingly about “The Daily Show” in 2004 – rightfully so. It was the second time Jon Stewart & Co. aired under the “Indecision” banner, after the 2000 election selection, but it was the first time the show was a cultural force. It suddenly didn’t seem peculiar for TV viewers to get their news from a so-called “comedy show.” And if comedy fans weren’t discussing Stewart (and correspondents Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Ed Helms) it’s likely they were quoting season two of “Chappelle’s Show” (featuring Negrodamus and Rick James) or season eight of “South Park,” which included such instant classics as “The Passion of the Jew,” “AWESOM-O,” and “Woodland Critter Christmas.”

Winner: 2003-2004 (“24,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “King of the Hill,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The O.C.,” “The Simpsons,” “Tru Calling,” “That ‘70s Show,” and “Wonderfalls”)

Runner-Up: 1994-1995 (“Beverly Hills 90210,” “The Critic,” “Married…with Children,” “Melrose Place,” “The Simpsons,” “The X-Files,” etc.)

It’s tempting to choose 1994-1995, which was when my favorite “Simpsons” season ran (six), but the rest of Fox’s schedule had “The X-Files”…and not much else. (“The Critic” was stronger on ABC, and “Beverly Hills” and “Married…with Children” are more guilty pleasures than anything.) Temptation aside, 2003-2004 is the winner, mostly due to “The Simpsons” and “Arrested Development,” but also because season one of both “The O.C.” and “Wonderfalls” are great, and the schedule also had a still-exciting “24” and “King of the Hill.”

Winner: 2006-2007 (“30 Rock,” “ER,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Heroes,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “My Name is Earl,” The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 1991-1992 (“Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “L.A. Law,” “Night Court,” “Seinfeld,” etc.)

I came into this entry expecting to crown 1991-1992 the winner, because it was a good cross-section of NBC’s best from the 1980s (“Cosby Show,” “Cheers”) with their upcoming greatness from the 1990s (“Seinfeld”). But by seasons 8 and 10, “Cosby” and “Cheers” weren’t as sharp anymore, “Seinfeld” was just starting to find its footing, and the rest of NBC’s schedule wasn’t very good. So that’s I’m picking 2006-2007 (but just barely). It has both quality and quantity, including the first seasons of “Heroes,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Studio 60,” as well as comedy classics, like “30 Rock,” “The Office,” and “Scrubs.”

Though 1999-2000, with “Freaks and Geeks,” “Friends,” and “The West Wing,” is mighty good, too…

Winner: 2011 (“American Horror Story,” “Archer,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Justified,” “The League,” “Louie,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Wilfred,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 2010 (Most of that, plus “Terriers”)

What separates FX’s 2010 from FX’s 2011? The former had “Terriers,” the latter had “Wilfred” and “American Horror Story.” The canceled-far-too-soon “Terriers” is superior to both of those shows, so why is 2011 the winner and 2010 the runner-up? Because last year was when “Archer,” “Louie,” and “Justified” all transformed from very good shows to GREAT ones. “Louie” had an incredibly strong freshman year, but none of those episodes were nearly as impressive as “Oh Louie/Tickets” or “Duckling” – the same goes for the differences between season one of both “Archer” and “Justified” to the brilliance of episodes like “Stage Two” and “Brother’s Keeper,” both series’ highpoints, in season two. Sorry “Terriers” fans, but you’re probably used to disappointment, right?

Winner: 2010 (“Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Rubicon,” and “The Walking Dead”)

Runner-Up: 2011 (“Breaking Bad,” “Hell on Wheels,” “The Killing,” and “The Walking Dead”)

This wasn’t a tough choice. Both years have “The Walking Dead,” a solid B, B- series, but only one has “Mad Men” AND “Breaking Bad,” two of the greatest dramas ever. Plus, “Rubicon,” though it had many, overly complicated faults, was better than the shockingly boring “Hell on Wheels” and the dreary tease that is “The Killing.” (Pre-“Mad Men” AMC was LOLtastic – anyone have fond memories of “The Lot”? Or any memories?)

Winner: 1976-1977 (“All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Kojak,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “M*A*S*H,” “Maude,” “Phyllis,” “Rhoda,” etc.)

Runner-Up: 1955-1956 (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love, Lucy,” etc.)

It’s kind of sad, actually. CBS, now the home of bland comedies and unimaginative procedurals, was the ideal network for, well, decades. In the 1950s, it had “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners.” In the 1960s, “The Twilight Zone” and “The Prisoner.” In the 1970s, “All in the Family”, ”Maude,” ”WKRP in Cincinnati,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Rhoda,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”…the list goes on and on. These were high-rated shows that changed TV as we know it, tackling topics that had never been discussed during primetime before, and I singled out the 1976-1977 season because it includes “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” one of the funniest episodes ever, from “Mary Tyler Moore.” Imagine that: hit shows worth watching. On CBS!

Winner: 2004 (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Da Ali G Show,” “Deadwood,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” etc.)

Runner-Up: Didn’t want to choose another “Sopranos” or ”Wire” year, so…either 1998 (“From the Earth to the Moon,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” “Oz,” “Sex and the City,” etc.) or 2011 (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Bored to Death,” “Curb,” “Enlightened,” “Game of Thrones,” “Treme,” “True Blood,” etc.)

Yowza. Let’s go through this, one-by-one:

-Season five of “The Sopranos,” which includes “The Test Dream” and “Long Term Parking.”

-Season three of “The Wire,” one of two correct answers for, what’s the best season of “The Wire”? The other possible answer: season four.

-Season four of “Six Feet Under,” or the one with the show’s most unsettlingly great episode, “That’s My Dog.” Those 60 minutes felt like 60 hours the first time I watched it.

-Season one of “Deadwood.” Not its best season, I’ll admit, but it’s pretty damn awesome by “Sold Under Skin.”

-Season four of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a.k.a. The Producers year.

-Season two of “Da Ali G Show,” when Sacha Baron Cohen interviewed Pat Buchanan and Gore Vidal.

The first and last seasons of “Entourage” and “Sex and the City” are in there, too, but let’s just pretend that at an HBO party in the near future, Silvio Dante and Brother Mouzone confront Jeremy Piven and Sarah Jessica Parker, and kill them. Turtle, too. Ah, I’m gonna sleep well tonight.