Fifteen TV Shows That Shaped The Decade

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    � NBC Universal, Inc.
    THE OFFICE -- Pictured: Steve Carell as Michael Scott -- NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

    1. "American Idol" (2002 - present)
    When "American Idol" premiered on FOX on June 11, 2002, no one knew it would become the phenomenon it did. A snarky British judge, a music industry insider (no one in the mainstream had heard of before) and a once super famous 80's pop star all came together to critique wanna-be singers and America got to vote for their favorites and ultimately choose the winner. It was a simple format, but the combination of Simon Cowell's snide and often times rude remarks ("that was absolutely dreadful!"), Paula Abdul's loopy antics, seeing bad singers make fools of themselves during the audition rounds and watching the contestant's journeys from regular kids to stars seemed to capture America's hearts. Based on the British program "Pop Idol," "American Idol" was the first show to come along that families could watch together. It stands as one of the highest rated television shows in history. While not every winner or past contestant has burned up the charts with their post-show musical offerings it did launch immensely successful careers for winners Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jennifer Hudson. – Laura Saltman

    2. "Survivor" (2000 – present)
    Producer Mark Burnett took a Swedish show called "Expedition Robinson," turned it into an American sensation and changed television. When "Survivor" debuted May 31, 2000 on CBS, viewers were hooked by the series' mix of documentary and game show. It set the standards that all the reality shows follow today — audience voting, reading results in front of the all the contestants, immunity challenges, team rewards and the list goes on. The show also gave us the best bad guy on TV that year, Richard Hatch. He was the man Americans loved to hate and no one played the game better than he did. Richard wasn't there to make friends, he was there to win and win he did. 51 million people tuned in to the show's finale which features one of the most memorable moments in TV history — Sue Hawk's snake speech! — Dan Gomez

    3. "The Sopranos" (1999 – 2007)
    Americans have always been fascinated with the mafia so it was no surprise that audiences took to New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) when the drama premiered on HBO January 10, 1999. Rather than glorifying the mob, the show managed to make Tony someone to both root for and hate, as he tried to balance his role as the head of a criminal organization and keep his family life intact. The show was a critical and commercial success and remains the most financially successful cable series in the history of television. Its dark material, mixed with intense storytelling and incredible acting performances, helped pave the way for numerous other cable dramas that came after it. — Laura Saltman

    4. "Sex And The City" (1998 - 2004)
    It may have started in the '90s, but how Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) dressed shaped the first half of this decade like no other show. Carrie single-handedly brought Manolo Blahniks out of high fashion and into the average woman's vernacular. The clothes, shoes and accessories (flowers ornaments and purses that could cost a paycheck) they wore have been copied over and over by everyday girls looking to stay on top of the trends Somehow the clothes became the fifth character on the show, all guided by the trend setting eye of costume designer Patricia Fields. Audiences clearly didn't get enough "Sex" when the show ended in 2004. They flocked en masse to the big screen when the show became a feature film in 2008. It's sure to have the same effect when the second film opens in May 2010. – Laura Saltman

    5. "Lost" (2004 - 2010)
    When "Lost" debuted in October 2004, television fans didn't understand what hit them. And apparently, neither did the shows creators or producers. Admittedly, executive producers J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, had no idea in what direction the show was going to head. It had been hastily cast as a concept show around a group of people being stranded on an island by a studio president who was soon thereafter fired. But when it debuted to huge ratings, the story began to take shape. Along with "Desperate Housewives," which premiered the same week, ABC had a one-two punch on their hands, which made them players again in primetime ("Grey's Anatomy" would follow the next spring). But the mythology that arose around Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Locke (Terry O'Quinn), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and the rest of the talented cast, was soon to become the stuff of sci-fi legend. By the end of season one, the writers had set up the plot for the back-story of the island when they discovered the first Dharma Initiative hatch. And from the opening scene of season two, the show took on an increasingly different direction. Since then, the show has only gotten better, and it will smartly wrap up its sixth and final season this coming spring. And stakes of good vs. evil, control of our characters souls, and perhaps the future of the world, couldn't be higher! I'm getting goose bumps just typing this! – Jeremy Blacklow

    6. "Family Guy" (1999 - present)
    The story of the Griffins is a sordid tale full of twists, upsets, and a straight-out-of-a-film-esque return to popularity. Starting in the beginning of 1999, "Family Guy" wasn't considered a hit by FOX, who axed the show after two seasons. However, reruns on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim drove interest in the series skyward, which also translated to phenomenal DVD sales. Based on the cart loads of cash the first two seasons DVD box sets brought in, FOX greenlit a new season of "Family Guy" in 2004, marking the first revival of a television show based on DVD sales. Since then, "Family Guy" has been a pillar of FOX's Sunday Night animation line-up, which now includes a spin-off of "Family Guy" — "The Cleveland Show" starring Peter's neighbor Cleveland. — Alex Cook

    7. "The Office" (2005 - present)
    Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's original British "Office" is one of the most critically lauded shows of all time, so when NBC announced plans to bring the show stateside in 2005 it was met with much trepidation. But thanks to a comically gifted ensemble cast and the will they/won't they, heart-tugging courtship between Jim and Pam, it quickly became a consistent place to turn for guaranteed laughs week after week. Rarely has an entire show's cast been so hilarious across the board, from the perfectly clueless Michael Scott (Steve Carell) to the brown-nosing, perpetually scheming Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) all the way down to the inane (and slightly disturbing) one-liners of creepy Creed (Creed Bratton). "The Office" continues to find a way to turn the awkwardness and monotony of your average, soul-sucking 9 to 5 job into comedy. — Christopher Locke

    8. Grey's Anatomy (2005 - present)
    "ER" was the medical show of note in the '90s, but as it began to show its age and lose most of its original stars along came "Grey's Anatomy" with a fresh spin and distinct voice in narrator Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), written by creator Shonda Rhimes. The show became an instant mega hit for ABC when it premiered mid-season as a replacement for "Boston Legal" in March of 2005, a rare feat for a mid-season show. Newcomers Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight and Justin Chambers were thrust into the spotlight and Patrick Dempsey who had been an 80's teen-flick icon found his career taking on a second act. — Laura Saltman

    9. "Desperate Housewives" (2004 - present)
    Marc Cherry's dramedy about housewives was nothing less than revolutionary and debuted to rave reviews from critics when it came on the scene October 3, 2004. There was an instant and insatiable appetite for anything related to the show and its ladies — Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman and Nicolette Sheridan, who relished their "second life" on the small screen, and Eva Longoria, who was launched from obscurity into super-stardom. Cherry's move to jump the show five years into the future last season successfully refreshed the show, which continues to thrive now in its sixth season. It could also be called the show that changed everything for ABC, raising the network's viewership to highs it hadn't seen in years and paving the way for its other hit dramas "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost." — Celeste Anthony

    10. "Two and a Half Men" (2003 - present)
    At the time of its premiere in September 2003, many people in the industry felt that the four-camera, studio audience sitcom was on its last legs. Single camera comedies like "Malcolm In The Middle" and "Arrested Development" were becoming the norm and favorites among critics and reality shows were taking over the network schedules. Along came the perfect one-two comedy punch of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer to prove everyone wrong. The show stood as an excellent pairing to an already successful "Everybody Loves Raymond." Ratings for the show were huge and the show still ranks today as the top comedy on television. While primetime shows many times are ruled by female viewers, the show did something other shows could not, it brought in male viewers that identified with the often times crass and chauvinistic nature of the show. — Laura Saltman

    11. "24" (2001 - present)
    When "24" premiered in November 2001, a new type of pulse pounding drama was born. The show, about a government agent named Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), was told in real time with each episode encompassing an hour of the action unfolding within CTU, the fictitious agency Bauer was working within. Plot twists and deceptions became par for the course as Bauer worked with rest of the CTU agents to help stop presidential assassinations or threats of nuclear warfare on American soil. The show's format of showing the action happening at four different locations via a quad screen graphic as the clock ticks down became a device used and copied all over TV and in movies. — Laura Saltman

    12. "Arrested Development" (2003 – 2005)
    Just when you thought the tired formulaic sitcom was dead, "Arrested Development" popped onto the TV screen in 2003 for three seasons and brought the funny back. The show follows the Bluth family who represent American greed at its worst with Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman at his sarcastic best) at its center trying desperately to get the selfish and manipulative family back on the right path. It's only fitting that a show so smart and ahead of its time was canceled after just three seasons due to low ratings. And it's also fitting that a filthy rich nation did not tune into a show that brilliantly satirized the corrupt culture that would soon turn into the worst national economic meltdown since the Great Depression. — Christopher Locke

    13. "Six Feet Under" (2001 – 2005)
    When "Six Feet Under" premiered in 2001, as the brainchild of "American Beauty" creators Alan Ball and Alan Poul, HBO was riding high. The show perfected the trifecta of HBO's dominance in cable (along with "The Sopranos" and "Sex and The City"), and offered a take on the family drama that had never been seen before. The story revolved around the dysfunctional Fishers, and used the unique gimmick of a death in the opening scene of each episode to lead as a metaphor for their family's problems. The show also launched the careers of a fine cadre of promising young actors, many of who went on to star in other great series, including Michael C. Hall ("Dexter"), Peter Krause ("Dirty Sexy Money," "Parenthood"), Rachel Griffiths, ("Brothers and Sisters"), Jeremy Sisto ("Law & Order"), Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez and Justina Machado. The 2005 finale was one of the most emotional hours ever on television, as the show fast-forwarded through the span of all of the main characters' lives in 10 minutes, to the tune of Sia's haunting song, "Breathe Me." To date, no other hour of television has affected me so much emotionally. I cried for days when it ended. — Jeremy Blacklow

    14. "Battlestar Galactica" (2004 – 2009)
    In December of 2003, the then-dubbed SciFi Network ran a three-hour miniseries that re-imagined the science fiction hit of the '70s, "Battlestar Galactica." Amidst some surprising controversy, mainly due to the gender change Starbuck, the initial pilot posted record breaking ratings for the small cable network, making it an obvious choice to turn into a weekly series, which premiered in late 2004. Headed by Ronald Moore, who cut his teeth on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," "Battlestar Galactica" was a gritty realistic view of what life in space might actually be like, while also dealing with subjects in a brutally honest manner. It was science fiction for the masses, not the niche audience that loved the original, and as such ranked at the top of people's favorites during its five-year run, which ended in March of 2009. — Alex Cook

    15. "The Daily Show" (1999 – present)
    When Jon Stewart took over hosting duties from Craig Kilborn in January of 1999, the fake newscast became the country's number one source for political humor. From politicians to media figures, no one is safe from the show's biting satire. For most young people, "The Daily Show" is their only source for news and a recent Time magazine poll named Jon Stewart America's most trusted newsman. Even though the show has a very liberal slant, conservatives love coming on the show and talking to Stewart because they know that he will always be fair. Stewart's interview style is casual but he also asks questions most of us would want to ask people in power. The show has also launched the careers of Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Lewis Black and John Hodgeman. — Dan Gomez

    Honorable Mention: "Freaks and Geeks" (2000)
    Though the show was not a commercial success and lasted just one season in 2000, actors Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel are now household names, but arguably the more impressive roster sheet of the short-lived series is its directors and writers. Do a quick IMDB search of the following names: Paul Fieg, Jake Kasdan, Bryan Gordon, Ken Kwapis, Lesli Linka Glatter, Mike White, Jeff Judah, Bob Nickman, Gabe Sachs and Patty Lin. Without these talented writers and directors using the critical acclaim of "Freaks and Geeks" as a springboard to other projects, "The Office" might not have lasted in the US, Jack Black would be without "School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre;" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Arrested Development," "Mad Men" and about a dozen other top shows would be missing key writers and directors. Then there's Judd Apatow. After directing three episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" and writing five, Apatow, using many of his "Freaks" co-workers, unleashed an onslaught on big screen comedy domination with such blockbuster hits as "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Talladega Nights," "Superbad," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Pineapple Express." It can be argued that no show shaped comedy in the 2000s more than "Freaks and Geeks," though due to its premature cancellation, only by association. — David McMahon

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