The Primetime Emmys award for Outstanding Drama Series is like the ultimate treasure in the TV realm. It’s the shiny crown that recognizes the absolute best of the best drama series on television. In this list, we present the crème de la crème of Emmy-winning dramatic series, carefully ranked by passionate TV enthusiasts like yourself. Whether you were on the edge of your seat when these incredible dramas first graced the screen or you stumbled upon them later on Netflix, now you have the chance to have a blast and rearrange this list to determine the ultimate ruler of TV show dramas that won an Emmy.
These Emmy nominees didn’t just snag nominations; oh no, they took home the grand prize, the highest drama honor in television. While all of these TV dramas are beyond commendable, we’re dying to know which ones you believe are the cream of the crop that Hollywood has ever produced. Are you all about the recent big hits like Breaking Bad and Homeland, or do you find yourself swooning over timeless classics such as Gunsmoke and L.A. Law? Get ready to spill the beans and let us know where you think these incredible drama series rank among the Emmy winners.
This comprehensive list covers all the Emmy-winning dramatic series that have ever graced our screens. It features the crème de la crème of TV dramas, including the likes of Mad Men, 24, Lost, The Sopranos, The West Wing, The Practice, and Northern Exposure. Feel free to give a big thumbs up to the Emmy-winning dramas that you believe are the absolute best of all time. Your opinion is like gold to us, so don’t hold back!
1. The Sopranos
Years Won: 2004, 2007
Premiered: January 10, 1999
Actors: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco
The Sopranos invites viewers to enter the world of mob life, unraveling the complexities of family dynamics and personal ambitions. Through its six-season run, this critically acclaimed crime drama garnered 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, showcasing the exceptional talents of its ensemble cast. With James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano at the helm, audiences bear witness to his struggle as a New Jersey mob boss navigating the treacherous waters of organized crime while balancing his tumultuous personal life. The show masterfully intertwines dark humor with intense emotional moments, delivering a compelling narrative that keeps fans enthralled until the very end.
2. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad is a highly acclaimed drama series that tells the captivating tale of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine producer. He teams up with his former student, Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul), as they navigate the dangerous world of drug manufacturing and distribution. The show expertly combines deep character development with dark humor, which has earned it numerous awards, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards. As the story progresses, viewers find themselves immersed in the complex moral dilemmas faced by the main characters, causing them to question their own principles. The gripping storytelling and unforgettable performances in Breaking Bad truly make it a standout in television history.
Years Won: 2013, 2014
Premiered: January 20, 2008
Actors: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn
3. Game of Thrones
Step into a world of political scheming, fantastical creatures, and warring dynasties. Game of Thrones, a highly acclaimed fantasy drama, whisks viewers away to the make-believe land of Westeros. Here, noble houses battle it out for control of the Iron Throne, all while supernatural dangers lurk in the darkness. Through its intricate storytelling and multi-dimensional characters like the clever Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) and the fearless Daenerys Targaryen (portrayed by Emilia Clarke), the show delves into themes of loyalty, betrayal, and humanity’s capacity for both good and evil. With its breathtaking visuals and captivating narratives, Game of Thrones has captivated millions around the globe.
Premiered: April 17, 2011
Actors: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey
Year Won: 1996
Premiered: September 19, 1994
Actors: Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies
In a groundbreaking medical drama that has captured the hearts of audiences for over a decade, ER delves into the high-stakes world of emergency medicine, where life and death decisions are made within seconds. The show’s ensemble cast, led by the dedicated Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), navigates the chaotic corridors of Chicago’s County General Hospital, showcasing their resilience, courage, and compassion. With 23 Primetime Emmy Awards under its belt, this critically acclaimed series effortlessly blends emotion, tension, and humor, offering viewers a gripping glimpse into the lives of healthcare heroes as they face both professional and personal challenges.
5. Law & Order
Law & Order is a popular crime drama that delves into the intricate workings of the criminal justice system. It skillfully weaves together the narratives of police officers and district attorneys as they tirelessly solve cases and bring criminals to justice. The series has received multiple Emmy nominations and has been highly praised by critics.
One of the show’s strengths lies in its dynamic ensemble cast, which includes memorable characters like Detective Lennie Briscoe (played by Jerry Orbach) and District Attorney Jack McCoy (played by Sam Waterston). Their performances bring depth and authenticity to the show.
Each episode of Law & Order presents a fresh case, often inspired by real-life events. This keeps viewers engaged and eager to see how the story unfolds. The show’s impactful storytelling and compelling portrayals have made it a classic in the television landscape.
Year Won: 1997
Premiered: September 13, 1990
Actors: Hugh Dancy, Jeffrey Donovan, Odelya Halevi
6. Mad Men
Years Won: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
Premiered: July 19, 2007
Actors: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser
In the smoke-filled world of 1960s New York advertising, an enigmatic group of creative minds navigate the complexities of their professional and personal lives. Mad Men, a critically acclaimed drama series, masterfully portrays the era’s shifting social landscape through the eyes of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a talented yet deeply flawed ad man. With its meticulously crafted aesthetic, the show has garnered numerous accolades, including multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The compelling narrative delves into the characters’ ambitions, secrets, and relationships, all while offering a poignant exploration of the human condition in a rapidly changing world.
7. The West Wing
Years Won: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
Premiered: September 22, 1999
Actors: Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing, John Spencer
The West Wing, a political drama series, delves into the intricate workings of the White House, providing viewers with an insider’s perspective on the daily challenges faced by fictional President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his dedicated staff. This Emmy Award-winning show masterfully combines elements of humor, emotion, and thought-provoking storylines, offering audiences a glimpse into the complexities of American politics. Notable performances by Allison Janney as Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, and Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, contribute to the show’s engaging ensemble cast. With its intelligent writing and compelling character development, The West Wing remains a timeless classic in television history.
8. The Rockford Files
Year Won: 1978
Premiered: September 13, 1974
Actors: James Garner, Noah Beery, Joe Santos
Actors: Jim Rockford is an ex-convict turned private detective.
9. Hill Street Blues
Years Won: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984
Premiered: January 15, 1981
Actors: Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Warren, Bruce Weitz
Hill Street Blues, a groundbreaking police drama, revolutionized television with its realistic portrayal of the daily lives and struggles faced by the officers and detectives of an urban precinct. Garnering numerous awards and nominations, including 98 Emmy nods, the series consistently presented a raw and gritty atmosphere that captivated audiences throughout its seven-season run. The ensemble cast, led by Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) and Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad), navigated the complexities of crime, personal relationships, and bureaucracy with a perfect balance of intensity and occasional humor. Pioneering the serialized storytelling format, Hill Street Blues remains an influential force in modern television.
Year Won: 2006
Premiered: November 6, 2001
Actors: Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Cherry Jones
In the realm of television thrillers, one show stands out for its intriguing plot and complex characters: 24. The series has garnered numerous accolades, including multiple Emmy Awards, for its innovative real-time storytelling approach. At the heart of the drama is Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a counter-terrorism agent who faces high-stakes missions and moral dilemmas in his relentless pursuit to protect the nation. With each hour-long episode representing an hour in Bauer’s life, audiences are treated to a meticulously crafted narrative that masterfully weaves together suspense, action, and political intrigue. As the clock ticks away, viewers remain engrossed in the unyielding tension and unexpected twists that define this groundbreaking show.
11. Northern Exposure
Year Won: 1992
Premiered: July 12, 1990
Actors: Rob Morrow, Janine Turner, John Corbett
Set against the picturesque backdrop of a remote Alaskan town, Northern Exposure offers a charming and witty exploration of life’s idiosyncrasies. The show follows the journey of Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a New York City physician who finds himself practicing medicine in the quirky community of Cicely. Boasting an ensemble cast that brings the town’s eccentric residents to life, the series delves into themes of culture shock, personal growth, and the search for love and meaning. With its unique blend of humor, drama, and memorable storylines, Northern Exposure garnered critical acclaim, earning multiple Emmy Award nominations and wins throughout its six-season run.