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Is "Breaking Bad" Really the Best Show on TV?

TV critics seem to think so. In 2012 they rated the AMC series the best show on television for that year. Now, they didn’t get together for a voting party, nor did they cast secret ballots in order to determine this. Instead, the website Metacritic analyzed the top 10 lists of 45 TV critics from the year 2012 and assigned point values to each show mentioned (see the list and the ranking criteria here). “Breaking Bad” came out on top and a mix of shows from basic cable, premium channels and the standard networks made up the rest of the list.

2012 TV Critic Top 20 as Reported by Metacritic
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Mad Men (AMC)
Homeland (Showtime)
Louie (FX)
Girls (HBO)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Justified (NBC)
Parenthood (NBC)
Sherlock (PBS)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Community (NBC)
American Horror Story (FX)
New Girl (Fox)
30 Rock (NBC)
Nashville (ABC)

 

Traditionally we measure what TV viewers think of shows based on what they watch – in other words, the “ratings” or share of audience that are measured and reported. But anybody who’s spent as much time watching made-for-SyFy movies as I have knows that what you watch doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of what you’re watching. I can attest that those SyFy movies are among the most entertaining shows on TV, but they’re not on anyone’s “best” lists – certainly not mine.

So if we don’t look at ratings, how can we determine what TV viewers think are the best shows on TV? We did some research to find out.

First, we partnered with a reputable national online research panel to recruit our respondents. We invited male and female TV viewers age 18 and older to take the survey on our site. They had to watch at least 2 hours of TV content a day, weekdays or weekends, to qualify.

Next, we asked the TV viewers to rank order 70 TV shows from best (1) to worst (70), regardless of whether they had seen them. Seems like a daunting task. But we made it easy and fun for them by applying our BracketTM tournament-style choice method. They selected the best and worst from randomly assigned groups of shows, and the ones they rated the best moved on to subsequent rating rounds until all shows were rated. (For more on BracketTM click here).

So what did we find?

Critics and viewers agree that “Breaking Bad” is one of the top 20 shows on TV. However, TV viewers ranked 13 other shows ahead of it.  There are 6 shows that both top 20 lists have in common, and the one that ranked the highest across the two lists was another AMC program – “The Walking Dead”. Based on this, one could argue that “The Walking Dead” is the best show on TV.

2012 TV Critic Top 20 as reported by Metacritic Top 20 TV Viewer Rankings Also in the Critic Top 20
Breaking Bad (AMC) #14
Mad Men (AMC)  
Homeland (Showtime)  
Louie (FX)  
Girls (HBO)  
The Walking Dead (AMC) #3
Parks and Recreation (NBC)  
Game of Thrones (HBO) #5
Downton Abbey (PBS) #7
Justified (NBC)  
Parenthood (NBC)  
Sherlock (PBS)  
The Good Wife (CBS)  
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)  
Modern Family (ABC) #10
Community (NBC)  
American Horror Story (FX) #18
New Girl (Fox)  
30 Rock (NBC)  
Nashville (ABC)  

 

So what do average TV viewers like you and me think is the best show on TV? Number 1 is “NCIS” and number 2 is “Big Bang Theory,” neither of which made the critic top 20 list.

tv shows ranking

One advantage critics have over TV viewers in identifying the best TV shows is access to programming. Viewers who don’t pay for TV service, let alone premium channels, are limited by the slate of shows they can watch. We took a look at how the rankings differ by the type of TV service viewers have. But for those results, you’ll have to stay tuned to this channel for the next installment....

VP / Research Management


Michele likes to hijack TRC's online consumer panel to get relevant answers to her burning research questions. She loves asking questions relating to her favorite hobbies - TV and movies, golf, casino gambling and travel - and more often than not the answers can be generalized across industries.


Contact Michele

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