Seinfeld (1990 - 1998)
"Not that there's anything wrong with that!" - Jerry
Seinfeld is one of those comedy shows that has had a massive impact on the face of modern comedy. Seinfeld was created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (see Curb Your Enthusiasm) and arrived in 1990 with a pilot episode that was very nearly 'it'. In this day and age it's unlikely that the show would have gotten any further than the pilot. It certainly wouldn't have managed to scrape through it's first three seasons, where it struggled to become 'known'. But in the fourth season the show was moved to a better slot, just behind "Cheers" on a Thursday night and the rest is pretty much history.
Seinfeld was unique at the time as it broke the traditional sitcom mold by providing "a show about nothing" (despite being packed with content) and characters who were pretty unpleasant. Both to strangers and each other they were frankly a horrible bunch of people. Jerry took great pleasure in other people's misery, George was a miserly, neurotic cheat, Elaine a self serving egotist and Kramer who lived in his own little world. It also bucked other trends by avoiding any hugging and teaching the principle cast absolutely no life lessons. Throughout the entire series no-one grows, no-one learns anything to make them a better person and the status quo remains constant.
Seinfeld is simply a seminal show (as are all of the shows in the top 10, of course) and it's an American comedy show that hasn't been rivaled until fairly recently. It spawned dozens of catchphrases and a lot of its dialog has sunk into modern culture.
It's hard to say exactly which season of Seinfeld is the best, it's difficult to even decide which episode is the best. But if pushed I'd settle on possibly either "The Contest" or "The Soup Nazi". The Contest in particular is notable due to it's subject matter, the contest in question being about which of the four friends can go longest without polishing the bishop or being "King of their Castle" as Jerry puts it at one point. The episode is so well written that if you're ignorant of what the subject matter actually is, you have a good chance of not actually understanding what they're having a contest about.
The show is filled with so many excellent storylines, top notch jokes, gags, word plays, pratt falls and more that it's in essence the comedy show that every other sitcom wants to be when it grows up. It's a show that has resulted in some Americans actually celebrating Festivus, it's a show that has more quotable lines per episode than just about any other show out there, it's a show that changed television history and it's a show that almost never made it.
Seinfeld stands as an example of what television can be if the executives are willing to give it a chance.
Seinfeld (1990 - 1998)