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TV’s 22 Smartest People on Their Favorite Shows

From ‘The Daily Show’ to ‘House of Cards,’ TV’s creators, writers and stars on their favorite shows

Orange Is the New Black Matthew Weiner

Jessica Miglio for Netflix; Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Orange Is the New Black feels like the most contemporary thing on TV. It's a great fish-out-of-water story. Like Tony Soprano, the main character, Piper, is a very different person than me, but I identify with her. The prison is filled with people that you recognize, and each episode ingen­iously lets the main character recede and tells us about the other people in prison – why they're there, which gives a lot of humanity to the show. You really do think, "What would I do in that situation?" It's fascinating to see a contemporary in this nightmare. Piper's learning something behind bars, which breaks one of the big TV rules the networks tell you: Nobody grows, nobody changes. They say, "Keep remaking the pilot." But Jenji Kohan can't help herself; she has a singular voice and an ability to not embrace a formula. The truth is, I'm completely sucked in. I have a 16-year-old son, and Orange Is the New Black is his favorite show. That's something, especially in a house where it should be Mad Men.

Charlie Rose Judd Apatow

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‘Charlie Rose,’ by ‘Girls’ Executive Producer Judd Apatow

I couldn't find Charlie Rose's show more interesting and informative. I'm just so happy it exists. I get to hear people who I admire and am inspired by talk at great lengths. Everything is so shallow these days. People have no attention span: They don't like to think deeply about any subject. So these last bastions of thoughtful dialogue are so important. When something comes up in the news like the Snowden leaks, you know you're going to get a very in-depth discussion of what it really means. And then the next day he'll just have the greatest interview with Frank Langella. I've been on the show, and one of the real thrills is knowing that Henry Kissinger's ass was on this chair. One of the biggest mistakes Charlie Rose ever made was he tried to replace his round wood table with some glass table; I almost started crying. I was home screaming at the TV: "Oh, no!" Like the Bachelorette was picking the wrong Bachelor. I go on iTunes and buy audiobooks of old Charlie Rose interviews with people like David Milch and Neil Young, and take them on the plane when I have to travel. He's just so damn smart. I guess you could say I'm a Charlie Rose "Deadhead."

The Daily Show Armando Iannucci

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‘The Daily Show,’ by ‘Veep’ Creator Armando Iannucci

I've always been a big fan of The Daily Show – we get it a day late in England, but it doesn't matter. I'm just so amazed by its consistency. They don't go for the easy laughs but actually make satire about issues and arguments rather than just "this guy looks funny" – although it's always funny when they do a joke about a guy looking funny. The Daily Show inspired me to do The Thick of It, the precursor to Veep. I gather people 16 to 24 say they get a lot of their news from The Daily Show, which is a good recommendation, yet deeply worrying.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Natasha Lyonne

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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ by ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Star Natasha Lyonne

Larry David makes me feel a whole lot better about pretending to know how to function in the world. As a neurotic Jewish New York actress, I get myself into a lot of Curb Your Enthusiasm situations. It's like, "I just totally took your parking spot and you are clearly in a wheelchair." Curb makes me feel there's a language for that.

House of Cards Carrie Brownstein

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‘House of Cards,’ by ‘Portlandia’ Star Carrie Brownstein

House of Cards shows us the ways that power is both an intoxicant and toxic. All our fears about Washington, D.C., and who is running our country come to fruition. But at the same time we relate to Francis (Kevin Spacey) and Claire's (Robin Wright) ambitions, making them a fascinating couple to watch in action. There's a brilliant scene when Francis goes back to his alma mater to give a speech. He throws out the script and has this very sweet and, for him, quite candid and vulnerable moment. He uses this analogy of his vocal group and how life is just a series of these very fleeting moments when you're in concert with someone else. That was a nice metaphor for the show.

Game of Thrones Alan Ball

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‘Game of Thrones,’ by ‘Six Feet Under’ Creator Alan Ball

There's nothing I hate more than 10 minutes into a show going, "Oh, I know what's going to happen. Well, that was a waste of time." I love it when I'm like, "I did not see that coming!" The "Red Wedding" episode of GOT? Oh, my God! I was so upset. They killed off the two most noble, good characters, and I was just devastated. I was so angry. I was really depressed the next day. If a TV series affects you that deeply, that's kind of great.

Borgen Shonda Rhimes

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‘Borgen,’ by ‘Scandal’ Creator Shonda Rhimes

I am obsessed with all things Borgen. It's really hard to watch the Danish political drama because when you watch American television, you can do 47 other things. When you watch Borgen, you have to do nothing but stare directly at the television screen. I watch it while I'm on the treadmill, but sometimes I forget what I'm doing and I stop moving – that's when bad things happen.

Bad Girls Club

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‘Bad Girls Club,’ by ‘Parks and Recreation’ Star Aubrey Plaza

The tackiest show I watch – and I'm not ashamed – is Bad Girls Club on Oxygen. It's brilliant! They get a bunch of badass bitches, put them in a house together and tell them the only rule is that they can't punch each other in the face or they get kicked out. And every episode, without fail, someone gets punched in the face. It's a weird social experiment where all the girls are trying to be the alpha bitch, so they're all provoking each other and trying to get another girl to punch them in the face. Some of them have strategies and align themselves with other girls to fuck over someone else. It's a good way to understand how society works.

the walking dead ginnifer goodwin

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‘The Walking Dead,’ by ‘Once Upon a Time’ Star Ginnifer Goodwin

The Walking Dead is really about who we are at our base level. The last two episodes, I was a bawling mess on my couch over two characters who are not supposed to be the most warm, fuzzy or innocent. It's the same reaction I had reading Lolita, where I was like, "I cannot believe that you have made me sympathize with Humbert Humbert."

Louie Chris Mundy

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‘Louie,’ by ‘Low Winter Sun’ Executive Producer Chris Mundy

Louie is incredibly shocking and funny, but it never seems egregious or goes for shock value. There's a depth of humanity and a warmth, despite Louis C.K.'s crustiness, and that's hard to pull off. It feels like you're watching little European art films, but at the same time you are definitely watching an American half-hour comedy.

Mad Men Olivia Munn

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‘Mad Men,’ by ‘The Newsroom’ Star Olivia Munn

Mad Men completely changed the game for TV. I get excited every time it comes on. It's like watching a play. I DVR everything and then I get anxiety attacks about clearing it out. I'm like a DVR hoarder. One of my favorite things is coming home from a long trip and watching Mad Men in one long 14-hour sitting. Call in some Thai food, don't shower or change out of my pajamas, and just sit there in this disgusting yet wonderful trance.

Good Wife adam Scott

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‘The Good Wife,’ by ‘Parks and Recreation’ Star Adam Scott

You know how on The West Wing, you wished you were as smart as those people? I get the same joy from watching The Good Wife

Veep Chris Hayes

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‘Veep,’ by MSNBC Host Chris Hayes

I thought the first season of Veep was great, and the second really hit its stride. Julia Louis-Dreyfus just kills it. They're plumbing the depths of awkwardness. The show is about ambition and status obsession, and the weird channeling of ego and competition and sex that happens in Washington. In some ways, it's a case study in how satire can get at deeper truths.

Love and Hip Hop

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‘Love & Hip Hop,’ by ’30 Rock’ Star Tracy Morgan

I just watch Love & Hip Hop because there's black people on TV. They're all out of control and crazy, and a lot of the time I'm not enjoying it; I'm studying it and learning what not to do. It's like a microcosm of the chaos we are in right now. Reality TV lets you know where the country is headed.

Boardwalk Empire Kurt Sutter

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‘Boardwalk Empire,’ by ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Executive Producer Kurt Sutter

Being a Jersey boy, these are the boardwalks I spent my youth on. At its core, Boardwalk Empire is about this guy struggling with his own humanity: How can I be a player and honor my competitive spirit and be a nice guy? Nucky Thompson's really driven by wanting to be loved. Whenever I watch Boardwalk's super violent "holy shit" moments, they always can tie back organically to the character. You see the consequences of Nucky's hard choices, and I'm drawn to those moral dilemmas.

Eastbound and Down Mindy Kaling

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‘Eastbound & Down,’ by ‘The Mindy Project’ Star Mindy Kaling

Eastbound & Down is pretty much the funniest half-hour of anything. People are surprised when they hear I like it so much, because Mindy Lahiri and Kenny Powers wouldn't be able to say three words to each other.

The Americans

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‘The Americans,’ by ‘Lost’ Creator Damon Lindelof

Two years from now, The Americans is going to be the show that everybody is talking about. It's about a husband and wife, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, who are undercover KGB agents pretending to be the perfect American family. They've been pretending so long that the line where the cover ends and their lives begin is blurred. Their across-the-street neighbor, played by Noah Emmerich, is an FBI counterintelligence agent, and about halfway through the season you realize he's more fucked up than the Russians, in terms of the secrets that he's keeping both from his family and his country.

Wipeout

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‘Wipeout,’ by ‘Veep’ Star Tony Hale

Wipeout is one Buster Keaton pratfall after the next. It's like watching America's Funniest Home Videos on steroids.

Scandal Aziz Ansari

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‘Scandal,’ by ‘Parks and Recreation’ Star Aziz Ansari

It's the 24 of dramas. I went through a huge binge watch a few weeks ago with my little brother and my little cousins. Kerry Washington is Olivia Pope, the coolest D.C. fixer. I want to do a crossover episode with Parks and Rec. It would be fantastic: Leslie Knope is going through some big things in Pawnee and my character, Tom Haverford, is like, "I have a friend who can help." "Leslie Knope, Olivia Pope. Let's handle this." Done.

Parks and Recreation

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‘Parks and Recreation,’ by ‘The Daily Show’ Head Writer Tim Carvell

Parks and Recreation is criminally underrated and one of the best ensembles on TV. They figured out how to make comedy out of people who like things, as opposed to the usual sitcom where it's just people being awful to each other. Turns out passion can heighten things in the same way that conflict does. And that delights me.

Lockup Joel Mchale

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‘Lockup,’ by ‘Community’ Star Joel McHale

Thanks to this prison-documentary series, there is no need for any sort of public-service announcement to deter you from doing crime. All you have to do is show 10 minutes of stuff like, "You guys want to hoard butter so you can masturbate with it in a sock? Great. You should definitely stick to this life of crime."

Real Time with Bill Maher

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‘Real Time With Bill Maher,’ by ‘Arrested Development’ Creator Mitch Hurwitz

I've never seen a performer, outside of John Lennon, who is more himself in front of an audience than Bill Maher, whether the audience likes him or not. Bill isn't putting on a false persona. My favorite moments are when he looks at the audience who's applauded for something and says, "Oh, shut up." He fights with his guests, and then at the last minute he gets the great advantage of saying, "Ha ha, OK, New Rules." He is like a real-life Rodney Dangerfield – he's doing the best material and gets no respect.