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In moments of turmoil, as well as in moments of major cultural shifts, TV becomes the hearth we gather around. 

What We Watch and Who We Are

What's the most popular show on TV this season? If you count the suspense factor and the number of hours it's been on TV, the answer is probably the presidential election. But that's no more than a glib answer. As the end of the millennium approaches - yeah, I'm one of those purists who think it's not here yet - it got me to reflecting about television on two fronts: the many momentous events TV has covered during its lifetime, and the many memorable programs the medium has brought into our living rooms. Just for the record, here are my picks for the top five best programs on TV this season: 1. "The West Wing," because politics on TV is more fun to watch than it is in real life.
2. "ER," because it features some of the best writing, casting and direction.
3. "Law & Order," because its unusual approach featuring detectives and lawyers still works.
4. "Will & Grace," because it broke new ground while retaining its sharp-edged sense of fun.
5. "Masterpiece Theatre," because for 30 years it's managed to make literate stories engaging. But because we're just about to enter a new century, I thought it might be fun to see what some other TV watchers thought and how they might rank TV's most memorable moments and its most memorable series. So I e-mailed 40 of my closest personal friends and asked them. Not so surprisingly, their ages figured prominently as they picked what they liked and what they remembered most. Those not old enough to recall the first moon walk in 1969 picked the Challenger explosion as their most memorable moment of TV watching. And those not old enough to remember the best years of "M*A*S*H" picked "Seinfeld." Here's how they ranked TV's top 10 most memorable moments: 1. First moon landing and walk
2. JFK assassination
3. Challenger explosion
4. Fall of the Berlin Wall
5. O.J. Simpson's Bronco ride/verdict/aftermath
6. Beatles' appearance on "Ed Sullivan"
7. Gulf war
8. Watergate and Nixon's resignation
9. Princess Diana's death and funeral
10. Last episode of "M*A*S*H" Note the mix of major news events (if one counts O.J.'s Bronco ride as major) and entertainment. It says a lot about the impact of the Beatles and "M*A*S*H" that they made it onto the list. In moments of turmoil as well as in moments of major cultural shifts, it seems, TV becomes the hearth we gather around. Now to the top 10 series of all time. Here's how my 40 closest friends ranked them: 1. "M*A*S*H"
2. "Seinfeld"
3. "I Love Lucy"
4. "Cheers"
5. "Hill Street Blues"
6. "The Simpsons"
7. "Mary Tyler Moore"
8. "Mission Impossible"
9. "Law & Order"
10. "St. Elsewhere" My personal favorite series, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," didn't even make the cut. Neither did it make the top 10 in the listing of the top 100 TV series of all time according to Tim Brooks and Earl Marsh in the newest edition of their "Complete Directory to Prime Time, Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present." Brooks and Marsh assigned points based on how long each series ran and how many people watched. Here's their list: 1. "60 Minutes"
2. "Gunsmoke"
3. "The Red Skelton Show"
4. "Bonanza"
5. "All in the Family"
6. "Walt Disney"
7. "The Ed Sullivan Show"
8. "The Lucy Show" & "Here's Lucy"
9. "Murder, She Wrote"
10. "M*A*S*H" Just for the record, my favorite, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," came in at number 77. And what do Brooks and Marsh say was the 100th most popular program in TV history? "The F.B.I.," which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1974. Nobody on my list even mentioned it. In fact, the recent reopening of the Scottish Parliament got more votes than "The F.B.I." Go
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