Bruce Fretts
December 26, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

1 HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET (NBC) and OZ (HBO) TV’s finest writer, Tom Fontana, explores both sides of the law in these groundbreaking series. Homicide hit a new high with an epic investigation of a murder within a wealthy African-American family. And freed from network censors, the grim prison drama Oz demolished almost every remaining TV taboo — without seeming exploitative for a second.

2 EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND (CBS) Ray Romano’s family sitcom delved deep into suburban dysfunction. No sitcom enjoyed a better batting average: Every episode has been a home run.

3 NEWSRADIO (NBC) The sly office satire has taken a surreal turn this year, with the entire ensemble following in superspaz Andy Dick’s slapstick footsteps. Even with Khandi Alexander’s exit, the cast continue to be a nearly peerless comedy troupe.

4 FRASIER (NBC) After more than 100 half hours, the new episodes of Kelsey Grammer’s saucy farce still stand proudly alongside its syndicated reruns. Wish I could say the same for Seinfeld.

5 ELLEN (ABC) The ”coming out” episode was a pop-culture miracle: a media circus that lived up to its hype. Ever since then, Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom has radiated with the sheer joy of creative freedom.

6 BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (The WB) The genius of Joss Whedon’s teen screamer is its treatment of supernatural combat as just another high school nightmare. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s heroine balances dating dilemmas with demon destruction.

7 THE CHRIS ROCK SHOW (HBO) Rock this: The bitingly brilliant stand-up packs more attitude into his half-hour-a-week talk show than Dave, Jay, Conan, and Keenen do in 20 hours combined.

8 THE GREGORY HINES SHOW (CBS) Who knew the hoofer would step so smoothly into TV dad-dom? The jokes can be predictable, but gifted costars Brandon Hammond, Wendell Pierce, and Bill Cobbs ground them in genuine familial affection.

9 GEORGE & LEO (CBS) God-among-funnymen Bob Newhart is at his best among a cast of crazies, and his new series has plenty, including Judd Hirsch, Jason Bateman, and the deliciously dry Darryl Theirse as Newhart’s underpaid bookstore employee.

10 THE DAILY SHOW (Comedy Central) This mock newscast’s anchor, Craig Kilborn, reigns as TV’s supreme smartass — and the logical heir to SNL‘s Norm Macdonald, who seems increasingly uninterested in doing ”Weekend Update.”

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