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October 9, 2015

Best '50 TV Shows (30-21)

by Kim Potts, posted Oct 27th 2009 6:00AM
The $64,000 Question30. 'The $64,000 Question' (1955-58)
The only series to dethrone 'I Love Lucy' as the No. 1 show was also an inspiration for 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,' as contestants had to answer an increasingly more difficult series of questions to win an increasing amount of cash. The show became a phenomenon (President Eisenhower was reportedly a fan) until the quiz show scandal of the '50s did it in.

The Phil Silvers Show29. 'The Phil Silvers Show' (1955-59)
Silvers was U.S. Army Sgt. Ernie Bilko, who spent most of his time at a Kansas Army base trying to, ahem, bilk his fellow enlistees and his superior, Col. Hall, with get-rich-quick scams. Bilko was always the crafty one, though in the series finale, Hall finally got revenge, catching Bilko (whose persona inspired the cartoon 'Top Cat') in a con and jailing him.

The Rifleman28. 'The Rifleman' (1958-63)
Former pro baseball and basketball star Chuck Connors was the titular 'Rifleman,' aka Lucas McCain, a Civil War vet and widowed father raising his son on a New Mexico ranch. What distinguished McCain (in a series created by filmmaker Sam Peckinpah) from other TV Westerners: his gun, a modified Winchester rifle that could aim rapid-fire shots at troublemakers.

The Donna Reed Show27. 'The Donna Reed Show' (1958-66)
Reed was an uncredited producer on this typical '50s family sitcom, which made up for a lack of powerhouse ratings with its longevity. Donna (Reed) and Alex Stone (Carl Betz) were 'rents of teens Mary and Jeff, played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen, who enjoyed spin-off pop music careers with songs introduced on the show, including Fabares' gold record 'Johnny Angel.'

This Is Your Life26. 'This Is Your Life' (1952-61)
A sort of video scrapbook, 'Life' was hosted by Ralph Edwards, who surprised ordinary citizens and celebs by bringing them to the studio and recalling highlights of their lives, with friends and family in attendance. The presentation was usually a surprise to the honoree, with a few exceptions. Singer Eddie Cantor, for example, was warned, because he had a heart condition.

Make Room for Daddy25. 'Make Room for Daddy' (1953-64)
Star Danny Thomas had flopped with a variety show and vowed never to do TV again, but he signed on for this sitcom, modeled after his real life as a traveling entertainer. The series was a hit, and ratings only increased after Jean Hagen, the actress playing Thomas' wife, quit the show and her character was killed off, the first character death on a prime-time comedy.

You Are There24. 'You Are There' (1953-57)
Walter Cronkite served as anchorman on this documentary series that re-created historical events like the Salem witchcraft trials, the Gettysburg Address and the Hindenburg disaster. Cronkite then wrapped up the "news report" by telling viewers, "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there."

Wagon Train23. 'Wagon Train' (1957-62)
Sparked by the 1950 John Ford movie 'Wagon Master,' the show followed a group of post-Civil War cowboys wagon-training it from Missouri to California. Adventures along the way revolved around regulars as well as guest stars like Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Leonard Nimoy. Another 'Star Trek' connection: Gene Roddenberry reportedly pitched 'Trek' as "'Wagon Train' to the stars."

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show22. 'The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show' (1950-58)
The showbiz couple starred together in this charming series that followed their Vaudeville and radio careers with this format, set in the Burns/Allen home and revolving around George playing straight man to and breaking the fourth wall while commenting on Gracie's daffy adventures. The show was a ratings hit, and ended only when Gracie decided to retire.

Maverick21. 'Maverick' (1957-62)
James Garner became a star as gambler Bret Maverick in this first comedy Western. Garner's comedic chops made him the breakout, even though the show split episodes between Bret and his more serious brother, Bart (Jack Kelly). Garner even played the brothers' "Pappy" in one memorable installment, while in another, guest Clint Eastwood played Bret's murderous nemesis.

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