1. The Walking Dead (AMC)
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Sarah Wayne Collies, Chandler Riggs, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, Dvaid Morrissey, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, Dallas Roberts, IronE Singleton, Melissa McBride
Under original showrunner Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead was a damn good but flawed show with tons of unfulfilled potential. Thanks to Glen Mazzara, who stepped in to fill Darabont's role after AMC's behind-the-scenes drama, the network's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's wildly popular comic book series is now exactly what optimistic fans thought it could be all along: bold, fearless storytelling that, frankly, is ballsier and more satisfying than anything else on the tube.
Wisely, Mazzara and his Walking Dead team abandoned the slower, languishing pace established by Darabont in favor of breakneck urgency. With its numerous zombie kills, bountiful gore, several major characters' terminations, and a heightened sense of danger supplied by bringing deadly comic book favorites (Michonne, the Governor) into Rick Grimes' (the excellent Andrew Lincoln) ever-threatening world, The Walking Dead was on fire all throughout 2012.
Furthermore, it's the people's show, breaking cable ratings records and dominating social media conversations every Sunday night while never registering with Emmy voters and making many stuffed-shirt pundits resist its genre sensibilities. Mad Men and Breaking Bad can keep those highbrow accolades—AMC programmers, open-minded viewers, and zombie lovers know what's up.