“The Times audience is, I think, very knowledgeable about public television and has lots of memories,” Mr. Manly said. “We tried to include shows from every era to capture the impact on different generations.”
Mr. Manly and other editors emailed a Google Doc to writers to collect ideas, which generated around 80 potential programs. Mr. Egner and Meeta Agrawal, The Times’s Arts & Leisure editor, helped to narrow them down, and then Mr. Manly chose the final 50 based on writer interest and the desire to represent different eras and genres. (“There were no fisticuffs,” Mr. Egner said.)
Mr. Manly said many of the writers had personal connections to the programs they wrote about. “When someone has had a formative experience with a show, that makes for really engaging writing,” he said.
But Mr. Manly would like to be clear: This is not a case of one man determining the 50 best shows on PBS. “It’s definitely not supposed to be a ranking,” he said. He added that he sought out programs that were well known, of course, such as “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Ken Burns’s documentaries and “Sesame Street.” But, he said, “we also wanted to introduce some surprises in there.”
For instance, Damon Lindelof, a creator of series including “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers,” suggested “Miss Marple,” whose heroine he became infatuated with as an 11-year-old navigating his parents’ divorce. “I don’t know if that was on the original list, but he found it a powerful part of growing up,” Mr. Manly said. “So we wanted to weave that in.”
Other well-known programs lurk near the top of the list: The 1973 documentary series “An American Family,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” Julia Child’s cooking show “The French Chef,” “Downton Abbey” and Mr. Burns’s 11-hour documentary series, “The Civil War,”
This is hardly the first list Mr. Manly has edited at The Times, and he said he had learned that it is better to try to represent a wide range of programs than to try to be definitive. “I haven’t seen anyone yet who’s outraged that we left something out,” he said, though he acknowledged he had heard some good-natured grumbling from an editor’s husband about the omission of Thomas the Tank Engine.