People Don’t Seem to Understand How Voted-Upon Top 100 Lists Work
Today, I explain how voted-upon Top 100 lists are a distinct entity that is different from a critics-only list.
This is “Just a Reminder,” a feature where I just point out some stuff, typically in relation to a recent controversy in the world of pop culture.
Yesterday, Rolling Stone released its 2022 edition of “The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All-Time.” People are seemingly frothing at the mouths over the list, but in doing so, they seem to be missing the entire point of voted-upon lists like these. I’ve been doing Top 100 lists at CBR for over a decade now, and people have to understand that a list that is voted on by a group of people are always going to have two notable things involved in it. I was going to say “Going against it,” but I don’t think that it is necessarily a case where these notable are AGAINST it, as it can certainly be a STRENGTH of it, instead.
These two things are:
1. The list involves people voting for something for it to make the list.
This sounds obvious, but the fact of the matter is that one of the biggest differences between a list determined by a critic and a list determined by the vote of a group of people is that the critic will include things even if they don’t really necessarily like the work themselves, but if they think that the work is too important to not mention, they’ll still include it. That’s not the same thing for a voted-upon list, as people WILL leave stuff off, and typically, you’ll see how the various scandals about a creator will impact people’s willingness to vote for them. This is how stuff like The Cosby Show or Louie fall off of lists. People need to vote for them to make the list, and people aren’t going to vote for them.
2. Recency bias is always going to exist
Obviously, recency bias is a big factor in voted-upon lists, but that’s FINE, because the whole point of these lists are revisiting them and seeing which of the new additions stand the test of time. You’ll notice that the very top of the lists (like the top five) tend to be fairly consistent (with The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men being consistent high finishes most of the time), but the further you get from the top, the more likely you’ll find a very modern show creep in there, and sometimes even into the top five. I see it in the CBR Top 100s all of the time. It’s not a bad thing, as it all evens out over time. And that’s actually a PLUS for the format, as you can revisit it and see how things adjust over time. Shows that are more recently on people’s minds will always rank higher than they “should,” but check back in four-six years and see if those shows still stick around, as, again, people have to vote for them. If they don’t remember them, they won’t vote for them, and they won’t rank as high again (due to this, recent votes tend to have the highest chance of just falling off the list period the next time people vote. It’s often a sort of Icarus-like setup, where they fly high but then hit the sun and flop).
In 2016, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz released TV (the Book), where they ranked the Top 100 American TV shows. Suffice to be said, it’s a much higher quality list if you’re looking for something more approximating what a critic would actually call the “top American TV shows of all-time,” as obviously they think of shows that a voted-upon list is never even going to consider.
But the current list works very well as a snapshot of a current moment in time, and that’s totally fine and not something people should be upset about.