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2000s TV rocked, let's get a rerun in '10s

Well, that was quick, wasn't it? Ten years in front of the TV, and now: Over.

Quick, unless you spent those 10 years watching certain unfathomable shows, and then it all seemed like a century in purgatory. (Head to "Seven to Forget" for one last trip down that particularly grim memory lane.)

But really, who had to do that? For the most part, the '00s was a glorious decade for television. From "American Idol" to "Veronica Mars," there was something good, something compelling or something flat-out great just about wherever you turned.

One of the most exciting shows in TV history ("Lost") began and another two ("The West Wing" and "ER") wrapped. Taking a cue from a '90s stalwart, "Law & Order," "CSI" replicated and so did "NCIS." And it turns out there was life after "Seinfeld" after all. From "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Arrested Development" to "30 Rock" to "Extras," the '00s comedy cup overflowed.

That said, just two shows shaped and defined this span of TV time: "Survivor" and "The Sopranos." Their legacy is complicated and far from fully realized.

Let's start with "Survivor" because the decade did. Launched in May 2000, the show immediately had an electrifying impact. People had never seen anything quite like it, and "Survivor" instantly reversed 50 years of a fundamental viewer assumption - most notably, that only "stars" could be stars. In fact, maybe you, too, could be a star. (Or maybe you could be an annoying kook - as an endless parade of reality TV fools, narcissists and sad sacks has so abundantly established.)

"Survivor," of course, didn't create "reality TV." PBS' "An American Family" was there long before, while MTV's "The Real World," which launched in 1992, has the strongest claim to modern reality TV paternity. But "Survivor" did launch the genre that became the most revolutionary development in television since the birth of the sitcom.

Competition, gamesmanship and back-stabbing powered "Survivor's" narrative core, and that was the game changer. There were weekly eliminations with a final victor crowned. A nobody was turned into a somebody - maybe a very famous somebody. Without "Survivor," no "Amazing Race," or "Apprentice," or "Project Runway." Indeed, no "American Idol."

Next, consider "The Sopranos," which began Jan. 10, 1999. The easiest way to grasp this classic's impact is to look at the number of Emmy nominations bestowed on cable shows for best drama in the '90s alongside the tally from this decade. There was just one in the 1990s (and you can guess for which show). There were 17 in the '00s. The figure could and should have been much higher, because "The Shield," "The Wire," and "Battlestar Galactica" earned not a single best drama nod.

"The Sopranos" confirmed there was indeed a commercial audience for smart, sophisticated, edgy, complicated and (yes) occasionally violent storytelling. The list of stellar cable dramas from the '00s now runs the length of your arm - "Mad Men," "Six Feet Under," "Breaking Bad," "Deadwood," "Dexter," "Big Love," "Rescue Me," "Damages," "Sons of Anarchy," to name just some more of the standouts.

Yeah, the years went by fast, but there was much to savor.

 

SEVEN THINGS TO REMEMBER

 

1. SEPT. 11, 2001

One of the worst days, worst moments, of our lives and it was on TV. Again, and again not only on the day it happened, but later in extraordinary documentaries that recaptured the horror, such as Jules and Gedeon Naudet's "9/11."

2. "THE SOPRANOS" FINALE

The greatest TV show of the decade (of the last five decades) ended June 10, 2007 with a fade to TV black. An existential comment on "The Sopranos" themselves? An ironic twist of the knife into audience expectations for a neat and tidy wrap? Or did creator David Chase simply run out of ideas? An ending for the ages, and a show, too.

3. THE END OF TV ANCHOR HEGEMONY

End of the reign of three men (Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather) who controlled their respective anchor desks for nearly a quarter-century, and of a brilliant, unforgettable era in TV news.

4. "LOST" FAST-FORWARD

One morning we woke up and our flawed heroes were no longer in present time but future time. What's the rest of TV to do? Copy, of course, and soon, other TV shows are playing with the space-time continuum. If "The Sopranos" was the great show of the decade, "Lost" (which returns in February for its final season) was the most exciting.

5. JACK BAUER

Hero or anti-hero? Action figure or stick figure? The debate rages on. But - Tony Soprano aside - there was no more memorable character on TV this past decade than the "24" protagonist. Premiering shortly after 9/11, Jack and the show at times seemed cathartic.

6. JON STEWART AND FOX NEWS

How very malicious of me to forever link these two at No. 6! But I love it - Stewart, who, with a leftist bent, brilliantly skewered news and media figures, and Fox News, which became the nation's top-rated news cable network with the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The yin and yang of TV news this decade.

7. HULU AND YOUTUBE

Two online treasures are born that forever change the way we watch TV, and change it for the better. How could we not remember them?

 

SEVEN THINGS TO FORGET

 

1. DREADFUL SHOWS

Some were ambitious, none were delicious. In no particular order - "Joe Millionaire," "Coupling," "Baby Bob," "Lucky Louie," "The Littlest Groom," "Viva Laughlin," "Commander in Chief," "Are You Hot?," "Do Not Disturb," "Who's Your Daddy?" "Bob Patterson," "Britney & Kevin: Chaotic," "Rosie Live," "Flavor of Love," "Celebrity Boxing," "The Anna Nicole Show."

2. DREADFUL SHOWS, PART DEUX

And some shows were so dreadful, they deserve to have their own special breakout - the crowning non-achievement of the decade belongs to "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire," "Temptation Island" and . . . drumroll . . . quite possibly the worst show ever, back to the beginning of time: "Paradise Hotel." Ah, what a decade.

3. ENDLESSLY SILLY NEWS COVERAGE

Twenty-four hours to fill, what are you gonna do? Find the most overwrought, overblown, overhyped story you can find and spend endless hours covering it. Poor Elian Gonzalez - through no fault of his own - became just such a story. And that was just in 2000.

4. BRITNEY SPEARS' FRIGHT NIGHT AT THE 2007 VMAs

The pop music star very nearly came crashing down during an oozy, floozy rendition of "Gimme More." Her career survived - and so did the performance, forever respooling on YouTube.

5. DAN RATHER'S DEPARTURE

A pleasantly neutral word, "departure," but which does nothing to capture the shocking demise of one of the great careers in television news. Rather was pushed out of the anchor chair following a documentary based on a likely forged memo that questioned President George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. He later sued the network for breach of contract, and the bitterness continues more than six years later.

6. THE 2004 SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW

More than 100 million people saw more than they ever expected, when Janet Jackson's nipple was briefly exposed. But at least a new indelible phrase joined the language - "wardrobe malfunction."

7. TOM CRUISE'S DEVASTATION OF OPRAH'S COUCH

The jumping, the hollering, the flying bits of stuffing (not really). How could we possibly forget? Indeed, how could we possibly not? Oprah - one imagines - is still recovering. So is her couch.

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