In the past 10 years, truck-size high-definition sets and handheld iPhone screens changed the way that people watch television. Reality programming supplanted scripted dramas and comedies, cable rose up to compete with broadcast, and Hollywood struggled (and continues to struggle) to reinvent itself in an era of Hulu, illegal downloads, and shrinking revenues.
The 2000s were a decade that saw the true power of the 24-hour cable news cycle emerge, particularly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which also provided a catalyst to the writing community to create new and provocative dramas that more clearly reflected the uncertain times we live in. Several broadcast networks took bigger risks with their programming, looking to reinvent themselves. ABC struck gold with such dramas as Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy and Fox discovered the draw of American Idol, while NBC’s much-vaunted Must-See TV lineup became must-flee TV. CBS may not have been successful branching out with shows about swingers, vampires, and Cuban gangsters a few years back, but its switch from older-skewing dramas to crime procedurals propelled it to become the most-watched network. Meanwhile, cable channels broke through the clutter with crowd- and critic-pleasing offerings like Monk, Battlestar Galactica, The Shield, and Weeds.
Click Image Below to See the 23 Shows That Changed TV
Yet it was also a time when, even as cable became the home for frank explorations of language, behavior, and sexuality, standards and practices were even more rigorously enforced at the broadcast networks, especially following the incident at the Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 involving Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and a brief flash of nudity that would become known as Nipplegate, leading the FCC to tighten their strict regulation over indecency on the broadcast networks.
Via her eponymous daytime talk show, Oprah Winfrey transformed the way people interact with television in the 2000s as she told people what to eat, where to go, what to buy, and what to read, generating subsequent spikes every time she named her “favorite things,” selected a title for her book club, or gave away something free to her audience (i.e., “the Oprah effect”). Oprah was a key incubator for daytime talent like Rachael Ray, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Nate Berkus; Winfrey successfully spun off her brand into a magazine in 2000 and, following a deal with Discovery Communications, is to have her own cable channel, OWN, set to launch in 2011.
The shows selected here were either groundbreaking in their own right, offering a television-viewing experience that hadn’t been done before, or launched an important trend on television that took root and changed the medium (for the better or worse). Additionally, the shows selected had to meet a strict guideline and must have premiered after January 1, 2000. Which means that shows such as Sex and the City, The West Wing, The Sopranos, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart were all ineligible for inclusion here, despite the massive cultural influence they wielded during the decade.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a Web site devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.