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Reality and scripted TV keep us tuned in as stories unfold

POSTED: December 31, 2009 1:00 a.m.
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January Jones stars as Betty Draper and Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men," a drama set in the 1960s world of advertising.

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Network TV saw a lot of changes in the aughts, especially toward the end of the decade. With video now streaming clearly on the Internet and DVRs in many homes, it's easy to enjoy your favorite programs sans the commercials. Enjoy it while it lasts, product placement is already rising to annoying levels.

Networks did manage to hook viewers in the last decade with serial drama keeping viewers tuned in week to week. Even crime dramas like "CSI" introduced a relationship saga here and there. Networks also relied heavily on the drama created between contestants in reality shows (along with the low cost of production). As the 2000s come to a close, the big networks are struggling to compete with cable programming, premium channels like HBO and Showtime and Internet outlets. But the networks did manage to create some great characters and stories in the 2000s.

"House"

Gregory House is one of the best characters on television. Cranky and brilliant at the same time, House may not be fun to work for, but he's fun to watch. He redefines poor bedside manner, acting downright cruel toward patients and his team of doctors, yet there's still something about him that you have to love. Maybe it's that he manages to save the lives of people who otherwise would have no chance, but more likely it's a fascination with such a flawed yet amusing character.

"24"

You can't talk about TV of the last few years without mentioning Jack Bauer. One man's day can't possibly be dramatic enough for a series looking at each hour of that one day, but plausibility aside, it's action packed and every man wishes he were as cool as Jack Bauer. I just wonder when he eats, sleeps, uses the restroom, etc.

"Grey's Anatomy"

"Grey's Anatomy" took the medical drama to an entirely different place than the gritty, realistic worlds of '90s medical dramas like "ER." Soap opera-like drama is king here, with the relationship between doctors Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) at the center of the drama. The show popularized the phrase "Seriously?" along with adding "Mc" to various words such as in the case of McDreamy, McSteamy, McLife, etc.

"Mad Men"

This award-winning show flies mostly under the radar with mainstream America, but the fans it does have are loyal. It's a smart, witty, well-executed show set in the 1960s world of New York advertising executives.

Characters drink and smoke throughout their work day, women are often treated as little more than arm candy and racism and anti-Semitism are alive and well, but this look into the 1960s is utterly fascinating. Not to mention, the characters look absolutely gorgeous in 1960s style.

Characters are deeply complex, and don't be surprised if you hate them one moment and love them the next. Main character Don Draper, especially, is irresistible with charm, wit and compassion, while still being horribly flawed with unfaithfulness and secrecy.

"CSI"

Americans love their police dramas, and "CSI" took that to a new place with a look at the science behind catching criminals. The show proved to be so popular it spawned spin-offs in two other cities. A little overkill if you ask me, but the first few seasons were good.

"The West Wing"

Dominating the Emmys for the early 2000s, this show boasted smart writing and a talented cast. Set in the often divisive world of politics, the show still drew a large audience with its witty humor.

"The Office"

This quirky comedy became a hit with certain crowds. It takes a look at bizarre characters who work at a not so bizarre paper company. Steve Carell's Michael provides plenty of comedy, and Jim and Pam provide the sweet (and slightly more sane) side with their budding relationship.

"American Idol"

Love it or hate it, you can't deny the power and influence of Fox's hit reality show, "American Idol." Turn on your radio for just a few minutes and you're likely to hear an "American Idol" alum. In fact, turn a few pages back and you'll see one on our list of top country artists of the decade.

This reality show is one that actually has proven to have an impact in the real world. From Carrie Underwood to Daughtry to Kelly Clarkson, musicians have gone from auditioning in front of cantankerous Simon Cowell to winning Grammys and performing shows all over the world. And viewers love giving talented musicians a chance at stardom, and being a part of the journey. Not every winner becomes a star post-"Idol," but it certainly provides an opportunity not seen until the 2000s.

"The Sopranos"

This show catapulted the popularity of premium channels like HBO and Showtime. It's an added cost I'm not willing to pay, but I can't leave this program off the list. It's an award-winning show with a big audience, I just happen to have never seen an episode.

"Survivor"

One of the first reality TV game shows, "Survivor" gave rise to the idea of taking a group strangers, isolating them from the outside world and pitting them against one another with various competitions.



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