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Buffalo’s many connections to great television shows

You have to love the contradictory title: “TV (The Book).”

After all, our nation’s obsession with television prevents people from reading more books.

The subtitle of the conversational 410-page book written by TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz explains what it is about: “Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time.”

They explain their criteria amusingly in a back-and-forth conversation in the first chapter. The criteria for the GOAT include consistency, inventiveness, complexity, how great the series were at the peak of their popularity, how they ended and the ability to surprise and stir emotions as well as entertain.

Here is their Top 10: “The Simpsons,” “The Sopranos, “The Wire,” “Cheers,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Seinfeld,” “I Love Lucy,” “Deadwood,” “All in the Family.”

Sepinwall and Seitz, the experts who wrote “TV (The Book),” used to work together at the Newark Star-Ledger. Sepinwall is best known for writing and self-publishing another book, “The Revolution Is Televised,” that did so well that a publisher grabbed it. With the new TV season upon us, I haven’t had much time to read the thing.

But I was curious to see how many of the 100 programs listed and others mentioned under additional categories were written, produced or performed by former Western New Yorkers.

The impressive list showcases the influence that a generation of Western New Yorkers, many now in their 60s or even older, had on the medium. I had hoped their success would inspire a new generation of Western New York writers to follow them but that really hasn’t happened to any significant degree.

The list of the “100 Greatest Shows Ever” is divided into categories. The authors left readers to do the counting of the top 100, rather than enumerate them 1 through 100. Now let’s take a look at Western New York’s influence in all the categories.

Category: “The Inner Circle”

No. 8: “I Love Lucy”: Lucille Ball made it after leaving the Jamestown area, which still celebrates the legacy of the late comedian annually at a festival. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, changed television by keeping the syndication rights to her program.

No. 9: “Deadwood”: Buffalo native David Milch’s expletive-laden, Shakespearean discovery of the lawless, gold-mining town died a season or two too soon. Lamentably, Milch never got around to write and produce the TV movies that were expected to conclude the series after it was abruptly canceled after three seasons.

Category: “No-Doubt-About-It Classics”

No. 12: “Hill Street Blues”: Milch’s TV writing career began under famed writer-producer Steven Bochco and he eventually took over the cop show as its executive producer near the end of its run.

No. 29: “Oz”: Buffalo native Tom Fontana’s underrated take on the brutal events, social issues and survival dramas inside a maximum security prison was HBO’s first drama and is given credit for leading the way to “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” (written by Fontana protégé David Simon) and other HBO classics.

No. 32: “NYPD Blue”: Milch and Bochco co-created this police drama, which at the time it premiered in 1993 was considered so risqué that many ABC affiliates didn’t carry the pilot. Now, it would look tame.

No. 34: “Homicide: Life on the Street”: Fontana didn’t create the police show, but he quickly took over early as writer-producer and made the series set in Baltimore one of the best police series ever. David Simon was a writer on the staff.

No. 45: “Moonlighting”: Glenn Gordon Caron, a SUNY Geneseo graduate, wrote the dialogue-rich, romantic detective series that made Bruce Willis a major star opposite Cybill Shepherd.

Category: “Groundbreakers and Workhorses”

No. 55: “Miami Vice”: Buffalo native Anthony Yerkovich (aided by the visual assistance of famed film director Michael Mann) – created this stylish, trend-setting series, after –t he story goes – getting a slip of paper from then NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff that simply said “MTV, Cops.” Unfortunately, Yerkovich never matched his success with “Vice.”

No. 57: “St. Elsewhere”: Fontana didn’t create the hospital series executive produced by the late Bruce Paltrow but he and John Masius were the key writer-producers for its underappreciated and underrated run. Among the stars of a series that many critics believe had one of the best endings ever were Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel.

Category: “Outlier Classics”

No. 88: “Wiseguy”: Buffalo’s Alfonse Ruggiero was a writer-producer on this classic series about an undercover cop.

Category: “A Certain Regard,” described as shows that the authors said “we love for one strange reason or another.”

“Luck”: Milch’s horse-racing series that starred Dustin Hoffman lasted only one unlucky season because of the controversy surrounding the deaths of horses during filming. Horse racing is in the blood of Milch, who was a big bettor on horses, owned them and reportedly lost a fortune gambling. The series deserved a much longer run but had very bad luck.

“Murphy Brown”: Surprisingly, Buffalo native Diane English’s classic workplace comedy starring Candice Bergen and set inside a fictional TV news program didn’t make the Top 100. Now, that’s incredible. However, the series was topical and therefore is considered dated. It also hasn’t been very popular in reruns, which may have been held against it.


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