“Prestige television” is a category of shows renowned for their excellence in production quality, writing, acting, and overall artistic value. Typically, these series have originated on premium cable networks such as HBO and Starz as well as streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, but even traditional broadcast networks such as NBC have delivered award-winning, high-caliber programming.
The emergence of prestige TV began in earnest in the early 2000s, coinciding with a dramatic shift within the TV industry. As networks and streaming platforms began to invest more heavily in bringing high-quality cinematic storytelling to the small screen, audiences were introduced to an unprecedented wave of exciting new programming. This became known as the “golden age of television,” which has continued to the present day.
In order to garner critical acclaim and appeal to discerning audiences, these prestige programs take a “quality over quantity” approach with lofty production standards and top-tier talent. This results in shows that continue to be as memorable and culturally impactful as the day they first aired, even many years after they’ve ended. Here are some of the most memorable quotes from the best prestige TV shows of the past two decades.
“The Wire” (2002-2008)
You come at the king, you best not miss.Omar Little (Michael K. Williams)
Often held up as one of the best TV series of all time, The Wire aired for five seasons on HBO and still maintains a dedicated fan base. Known for its stellar ensemble cast, complex characters, and gritty storytelling, the show portrays both sides of the law in Baltimore, Maryland, as it tackles various issues of urban life, including crime, drugs, politics, and education.
“Breaking Bad” (2008-2013)
I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.Walter White (Bryan Cranston)
AMC’s Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad follows a desperate high school chemistry teacher’s harrowing transformation into a brutal drug dealer — and audiences have loved every terrifying moment of it. A stunning 10.3 million viewers tuned in to the finale on September 29, 2013, to see how Walter White’s story would end.
“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)
Other people's definitions of you, sometimes they're more about making themselves feel better. You gotta define yourself.Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli)
HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Sopranos follows the complicated life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss balancing the challenges of running an organized crime ring with the demands of raising a family alongside his wife, Carmela. The show explores the blurred lines between good and evil in a gripping narrative where no one is guaranteed to survive.
I’m better than you. You’re, you know, I hate to say this because I love you, but you’re kind of evil.Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong)
The HBO show Succession centers on the dysfunctional billionaire Roy family and their fight for control within their global media conglomerate, Waystar Royco. Somehow managing to be as funny as it is sinister, it deftly explores the cutthroat world of business and media as well as the equally ruthless power struggles within the family.
“Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)
That’s what I do: I drink and I know thingsTyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)
Despite an ending that had many fans throwing popcorn at their TV screens, Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy series the likes of which viewers had never seen before. Based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the HBO series follows the power struggles and conflicts between fictional noble families as they vie for control of the almighty Iron Throne.
“Mad Men” (2007-2015)
If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
Set in the 1960s world of a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, AMC’s Mad Men captures an era of three-martini lunches and casual sexism and bigotry. With a focus on the personal and professional life of enigmatic ad exec Don Draper, the show traces the cultural and societal evolutions of a tumultuous decade.
“Six Feet Under” (2001-2005)
If we live our lives the right way, then every single thing we do becomes a work of art.Claire Fisher (Lauren Ambrose)
Six Feet Under spotlights the Fisher family following the loss of their patriarch, which has left Fisher & Sons Funeral Home in the hands of his sons, Nate and David. Despite its somber setting, the show has a lively ensemble cast and is filled with startling revelations about life, love, and grief.
“The West Wing” (1999-2006)
I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)
NBC’s The West Wing perfectly demonstrates the ability of traditional networks to deliver quality prestige television. This look at the inner workings of the White House during the fictional presidency of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet combines character-driven storytelling and enthralling political drama to prove that government business and history don’t have to be boring.
“The Americans” (2013-2018)
We see what we need to see in people, things that aren’t really there.Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell)
In FX’s Cold War drama The Americans, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are Russian spies masquerading as an average suburban American couple. Between raising their children and running a travel agency, the deadly duo engage in a variety of high-stakes espionage activities to advance the interests of the Soviets.
“The Bear” (2022-Present)
I wear suits now.Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach)
In FX’s The Bear, world-class chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto leaves a job at an NYC Michelin three-star restaurant to take over his family’s sandwich shop in Chicago following the tragic death of his older brother. With just two highly acclaimed seasons (so far), the show’s emotionally compelling character arcs and realistic portrayal of the chaos and hardship of running a restaurant have won the series a legion of fans.
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