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December 24, 2009

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Top US TV shows of the decade: 'American Idol' to 'Sopranos'

THE decade has produced amazing American television series, from "CSI" and cop-mob stories to pop culture reality TV. Many of them are now on DVD. With the holidays coming, many people are watching the tube. Here are the decade's top 10 television achievements, as tapped by TV writers of the Associated Press, Frazier Moore and Lynn Elber. In no particular order, they are:

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (premiered in October 2000) and the franchise it inspired

This drama was a surprise hit when, with season two, it emerged as a reassuring response to the sorrows and anxieties that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Las Vegas-based investigators functioned with a clinical detachment from evil and evildoers, while insisting that truth and justice await those who pursue it with keen-eyed devotion.

That was just the sort of reminder viewers needed. And apparently still do, with "CSI" remaining a powerhouse for CBS, along with its spinoffs, "CSI: Miami" (premiered September 2002) and "CSI: NY" (September 2004), where science, reason (plus blood-and-guts) prevail.

"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (yes, we know he came aboard in 1999) and "The Colbert Report" (premiered in October 2005)

Weeknights on Comedy Central, this one-two satirical punch helps keep viewers abreast of all the foolishness they suffer at the hands of the media - and at the hands of news makers the media cover.

"Survivor" (premiered in May 2000)

It began with personalities such as Rudy, Richard Susan and, of course, host Jeff Probst, on an island near Borneo.

Now, 18-and-counting editions later, CBS' "Survivor" doesn't just endure as the pioneer of TV reality-competition, it prevails as the gold standard.

"American Idol" (premiered in June 2002)

It's bigger than Simon Cowell's proudly brandished biceps. It's bigger than the audience's sigh of relief when Paula Abdul finally severed her ties. It's maybe not quite as big as it once was, but after eight editions, Fox's "American Idol" is bigger than almost anything else on TV, while continuing to transform pop culture in a big way.

"High School Musical" (January 2006)

If "American Idol" didn't get the nation singing, this shockingly popular Disney Channel film did - that is, teens and tweens, who, along with gorging on the original film and its sequels (with a fourth installment due next year), have put on a high school musical themselves in seemingly every auditorium in the land.

"The Osbournes" (2002-05)

Poor addled Ozzy couldn't even handle his TV remote. But viewers were able to operate theirs, and, switching to MTV in droves, they made a huge hit out of this rock star's kookie family life.

Meanwhile, its wild success crystallized a new sub-genre of reality TV, populated by the likes of Tommy Lee, Victoria Gotti, Danny Bonaduce, Hulk Hogan, Whitney Houston and so many more: Celebrities masquerading as themselves while they pretend their act isn't just another slice of show biz.

"The Sopranos" (1999-2007)

Yes, it started before the millennium, but genius doesn't always arrive at a turning point, but, instead, is one. Anyway, most of "The Sopranos" aired in 2000 and beyond - including the infamous, maddening blackout finale, which, all by itself, guaranteed this HBO mob drama a place in pop-culture perpetuity.

"The Shield" (2002-2008)

No drama series reached further with a surer hand, week after week. Consistently absorbing, exciting and disturbing, this Los Angeles-based cop show remade the image of its network, FX, kick-started the career of its star, Michael Chiklis, and proved that basic cable could compete not only with the premium channels, but also with the best of cinema. Thanks to "The Shield," viewers were given notice not to accept anything less.

"Arrested Development" (2003-06)

A send-up of human vanities, greed and corruption, this Fox comedy about the unlikely Bluth clan stayed amusingly askew, poker-faced and absurd. It could claim neither long-term nor widespread success, but there was something ground-breakingly demented about it.

Charting new ground, it prepared the way for oddball comedies to come, such as NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock." The Bluths were comedically bent trailblazers.

"Lost" (premiered in September 2004)

From its first episode (the dreadful plane crash on the island), this ABC drama demonstrated an epic, mind-bending sweep through time and space, with a vast array of characters.

It doesn't always make sense (though maybe it will, with the series finale next year), but "Lost" has made one thing clear: With serialized TV, nothing is too way out or ambitious.


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