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Class Acts: 20 Best School TV Shows

From “The Wire” to “Welcome Back, Kotter,” these campus-set series get an A+


Mark Seliger/ABC via Getty Images; MTV

Our long national nightmare of a summer is finally over, making the start of school as close to a happy occasion as it's ever been. But the small screen has always been happy to hear those morning-class bells ring. As one of the few genuinely universal experiences shared by audiences in every demographic group, the classroom has proven an irresistible setting for television shows of every conceivable kind, from comedies for kids and hard-hitting dramas for adults to shows that speak directly to those experiencing the teen turmoil they depict. When it comes to depicting the ins and out of middle-to-high school, institutions of higher education or simply good ol' campus hijinks, these 20 shows are all valedictorians.

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‘Friday Night Lights’

Say it with us: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." This small-screen adaptation of Buzz Bissinger's non-fiction book about a small Texas town's fanatical devotion to its high-school football team is a show as beloved by the audiences who've slowly but surely found it as its lead character, Coach Eric Taylor, is by his players. In its clear-eyed, full-hearted way, Friday Night Lights argued that the stakes involved in the drama of high-school athletics — family, friendship, ethics, ambition, competition, cooperation, talent, employment, education, community — are the stuff not just of drama, but of life. That's why, even in this competitive class of shows about school, it's graduating with top honors.

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