Friday, November 6

The CDP's Top 10 TV Shows Of The Decade (5-1).

Michael: Come on, face it. You just do all this charity crap just to stroke your ego. You don't even know what the auction's for tonight.

Lindsay: The wetlands.

Michael: To do what with them?

Lindsay: Dry them.

Michael: Save them.

Lindsay: From drying.
-Arrested Development (2003)

Welcome back to the CDP Decade In Review, and my selections for the Top 5 Television Shows Of The Decade. Enjoy.

#5 - The Office (NBC)
Ran From: 2005 to Present

In 2009, it's hard to think back to the first season of The Office, where there was not only talk of a near-instant cancellation, but tons of criticism by the very people who would morph into their biggest fans (usually those that preferred the original series to the remake). But the show did something that very few other comedies did this decade: they stepped up their game. They broke from the original series and carved out their own niche. They did a masterful slow burn for the ages with Jim and Pam. They more or less did everything right, and it paid off in spades.

Sure, it helps that those early years were carried by Steve Carell, arguably the funniest guy on television. But it was the expanding of the Dunder-Mifflin world that really began to draw in audiences and create cult-like fans. Nowadays, when you ask someone who their favorite character is, they almost never say Michael Scott, and that's a testament to the care and precision the writers and producers put into making The Office into something more than an instantly-canceled critical darling. They made TV history.

#4 - 30 Rock (NBC)
Ran From: 2006 to Present

In 2006, I remember all the speculation concerning the debuts of Studio 60 and 30 Rock; two NBC shows about the behind-the-scenes workings of a sketch comedy show. Critics wondered if they could both survive together. As it turns out, these shows couldn't have been further apart on the spectrum, and 30 Rock would go on to become the funniest current show on television.

Ratings-wise, 30 Rock barely cracks the Top 75 some weeks. Their first season averaged under 6 million viewers an episode, which is slightly better than Arrested Development did when they were given up on by FOX. But each of 30 Rock's three seasons have won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series. This is what's known as 'Batting a thousand,' and I honestly don't know of any other comedy that has accomplished something like that. Considering how Season 4 has begun, they might as well start clearing off another spot on the mantle already.

Drawing influences from every nook and cranny of the TV Comedy universe, 30 Rock is easily the smartest, most brilliant, most hilarious, cynical, satirical and unrelentingly perfect comedy you'll ever see on network television (currently). The cast is top-to-bottom airtight (the casting of Alec Baldwin will probably go down as one of the smartest decisions ever), Tina Fey gets to shine as an actress and as a very influential female comedy writer (and let's face it, there aren't many of her caliber out there) and Tracy Jordan pretty much acts like the cameras aren't even on. It's an example of a perfect balance of everything you need to make humor work, operating seamlessly into their fourth year.

#3 - Friday Night Lights (NBC)
Ran From: 2006 to Present

I said this a year ago, and I'll say it again today: Season One of Friday Night Lights is the greatest season of television I have ever seen. Better than Season One of Lost. Better than Season Four of MST3K. Better than the final season of The Fugitive. I watched it when nobody around me watched it. When everyone was convinced it was a show about nothing more than football. Slowly but surely, my living room started to fill up on Friday nights, as the deepest, smartest, most emotional, most beautiful, best acted, best shot and best written show on television won people over one at a time. Hell, NBC believed in the show so much, that they released the Season One DVD for $20 with a money-back guarantee.

Okay, maybe not Season 4 of The Simpsons, but that shit was essentially royalty. You get the point, though.

When Friday Night Lights got renewed for a second season, I was shocked. I thought for sure that we'd never see the Taylor family on TV again. But to NBC's credit, they stuck with them in their ratings slump and promoted the hell out of it. When the Writer's Strike struck in the middle of Season 2, only 15 of the 22 scheduled episodes aired, which I once again speculated would spell the end of the line. But NBC did what they could to compromise, and Season 3 aired in conjunction with DirecTV's 101 Network, alleviating some production costs and keeping the show alive.

Now, when Season 3 had ended, I thought that was it (again). I figured NBC was done playing nice with an astounding show that just couldn't seem to make its point and wrangle in more viewers. Again, not the case, as they did the unbelievable and ordered two more 13 episode seasons, guaranteeing a 4th and 5th Season (we're already two episodes into Season 4 by the time you read this) and making certain that Friday Night Lights is allowed to tell the story they want to tell. That is amazing.

Look, I'm not even going to get into the dynamics of the show and explain to you why its impact is clear to anyone that watches it (the music of Explosions In The Sky doesn't hurt, that's for sure). In fact, I've probably turned people off to it in recent years by yammering on about it so much. However, if you ever think you'd be interested in checking it out for yourself, drop the $20 and get the Season 1 DVD, and then you'll know what we've been talking about.

- Arrested Development (FOX)

Ran For: 3 seasons, 53 episodes

Just like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners or even Seinfeld, Arrested Development deserves to be placed on a pedestal next to these timeless shows, if only for the sole reason that they invented something brand new. I’d also argue that since Arrested Development invented something brand new in 2004, their feat is even more spectacular than all of the shows I just mentioned.

What is there to say about Arrested that hasn’t already been said? There was just absolutely nothing like it, before or since, that has even come close to matching the pacing, depth, acting, characters, writing, spectrum, pop culture knowledge, satire and self-parody displayed in just one episode. Quite frankly, I feel very fortunate that I lived in a moment of TV history where a show like this existed, if only for three short years. It was that good.

The jokes were everywhere. The wordplay and puns were positively Shakespearean in their execution. The taboos were destroyed. The very network that took a chance and almost instantly left them for dead was mocked mercilessly. Guest stars trusted the material enough to play so far outside of their ranges that their careers could have been ruined had it been anything less than perfect.

And that’s what Arrested Development was. 100% perfect, from start to finish.

#1 - Lost (ABC)
Ran From: 2004 to Present

I think I've done enough talking about Lost to last...oh, about five years. Any argument is moot. Any rebuttal is null and void. Lost is the Greatest Television Story Ever Told. Oh, and you better click on that link and get caught up again, because we have one more go-round come January.

Thanks much for checking out Week 1 of the CDP Decade In Review. Sound off in the comments section, share your pick for Show of the Decade and come back on Monday, when we venture onward to the Decade In Film, rattling off our choices for the Top 30 Films Of The Decade.

Thursday, November 5

The CDP's Top 10 TV Shows Of The Decade (10-6).

"You want to know the best part about childhood? At some point, it stops." -Malcolm In The Middle (2000)

Here we are; the first half of my favorite television shows of the decade. First, a few ground rules.

This list, along with any other list in our Decade In Review, is my own, personal list. It's not a cultivation of reader votes, demographic surveys and Neilsen ratings; it's my favorite television shows that began production at some point after January 1, 2000.

Secondly, I made a point to limit this list to national shows; no cable and premium stuff (with one exception). This is precisely why you will not see shows such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire or Six Feet Under on here (and because I've never actually watched any of those shows).

Let's go.

#10 - Mythbusters (DISC)
Ran From: 2003 to Present

Mythbusters gets to be the only exception to my 'No Cable TV/Scripted-Only' rule. Currently in its 7th Season, I thought for sure that a show like this wasn't going to fly when it first debuted. Sure, I was obsessed with Urban Legends, and the idea that a couple of SFX /Science Whiz/Inventor-types were going to actually replicate these stories and see if they possess even a shred of possibility was more or less my idea of the best television show ever.

Fortunately for me (and for the Discovery Channel), this show was a smash hit, continues to be one of the most popular shows on the network, and the premise virtually guarantees they will never run out of material to test. From dumb luck, to movie magic, to old wives' tales to flat-out absurdity, the Mythbusters crew takes everything seriously, and to their logical (and often explosive) extreme.

When Mythbusters premiered, they took on the Urban Legends that had been around forever. In recent seasons, they've taken on the Internet, viral videos and other miscellaneous lore (you know those YouTube trolls that scream 'Fake!' in the comments of every clip? Yeah, these are the guys that find out for sure). Despite being the voice of truth, reason and Science, they also remain one of the most exciting and rebellious shows of the genre. Let it be known that I had faith from the very beginning.

#9 - Grounded For Life (FOX)
Ran For: 5 seasons, 91 episodes

It's probably going to be hard for me to explain this one. Why is Grounded For Life, a standard, run-of-the-mill, woefully overlooked sitcom with a freaking laugh track doing on the Decade list of a guy like me?

Well, for starters, the opening theme was performed by the band Ween, so you're already off to a good start. The cast was top-notch; honestly one of the best casts for a standard sitcom since Roseanne, maybe. Their disjointed storytelling style (typically Act III, Act II, Act I) kept even the most cliche'd plotlines fresh, and the family was genuinely believable in their dysfunction and dynamic. The sitcom is only a dead art because it's been driven into the ground in a formulaic way. However, when done solidly well (this argument can easily be made for Everybody Loves Raymond or Fraiser), it's proof that we'll probably see sitcoms like this 50 years from now.

#8 - My Name Is Earl (NBC)
Ran For: 4 seasons, 96 episodes

I always felt that My Name Is Earl was a FOX show at heart. After all, virtually everything about it owed a debt of gratitude to Malcolm In The Middle. That being said, I loved Earl because it never felt like it belonged on NBC's 'Must-See Thursday.' It was fairly dirty for a network comedy. Almost all of the characters were unlikeable or unable to be related to (most of the town were alcoholics, criminals or sexually deviant in one extreme or another). Even Earl, our hero, gave us constant reminders of how low he sank up until the point where he won the lottery and promptly got hit by a car.

Much like The Simpsons, as the series went on, Camden County continued to grow as we learned more and more about the inhabitants of this bizarre oasis. In tune, the series took more chances and nose-dove into the surreal (Earl spent an entire season behind bars, and the bulk of another one in a coma). And while I feel the series ended (or was canceled, more appropriately) before the premise could get too stale, I legitimately enjoyed every week of Earl.

On a side note, Earl was the only 'Must-See Thursday' show that my mother refused to watch, which had to have meant it was doing something right.

#7 - House, M.D. (FOX)
Ran From: 2004 to Present

I have a theory about House. For as much as FOX promoted this medical drama about a brilliant-yet-flawed doctor and his young band of miscreant geniuses, I really don't think they could have expected it to be as huge as it became. After all, this premise has been done into the ground, medical dramas were saturating the networks in 2004, and...what did House have that we haven't already seen a million times elsewhere?

Hugh Laurie. That's what.

In 2004, Laurie was a relatively well-known actor in Britain, but couldn't have been more of a stranger in the states (I'll bet there's still some fans of the show that don't realize he's an Englishman). In 2009, he's one of the highest-paid actors on television (at least $350k an episode), a two-time Golden Globe winner (but a zero-time Emmy winner? Is that right?), and arguably the best actor on television. House also averages 16 million viewers a week, which was enough to make it the #1 show on television for a month following its Season 6 premiere. Wow.

I'm sure FOX knew they had a hit on their hands, but I don't think anyone would have predicted that.

#6 - Malcolm In The Middle (FOX)
Ran For: 7 seasons, 151 episodes

Malcolm got a lot of flack for starring legitimate douchebag Frankie Muniz, but I'll defend this show to anyone unfortunate enough to call me to task. Malcolm was originally billed as a live-action Simpsons, and while I understood the term to be endearing, they sometimes went places more bizarre and emotionally deep than anything ever done in Springfield. What I enjoyed most about Malcolm was that they threw absolutely everything at the wall every single week; the insanity notching itself further and further, yet all feeling quite normal within the confines of their universe. The nonsensical cold openings, the non-laugh track, filmstock production and single-camera cinematography were just a few of the ways that Malcolm was slightly groundbreaking in consideration of what was to become of the American sitcom.

The constant side-plot of Francis skipping around the nation was always a welcome diversion from the household storylines (his time in the Army and Alaska being personal favorites), and an ensemble cast that essentially made Muniz the weakest character week after week (Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston were nominated for Emmys almost every season, and the show won 7 Emmys for the 7 seasons it was on). I've always felt that Malcolm was criminally overlooked as far as their efforts were concerned, and can promise that this is a show that's begging to be rediscovered and appreciated on DVD.

There you be; the first half of my Top 10 Favorite Shows Of The Decade. Sound off in the comments section, enjoy your day and come back tomorrow, as we close out the Decade In Television and wrap up the countdown.

Wednesday, November 4

A Decade Of Television - The Worst Of The Worst.

"What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

-Billy Madison (1995)

In this decade of instant information, gratification and oatmeal, there is this illusion that states that we all must be evolving and advancing in intelligence at a far more rapid clip than generations past. Surely, now that we all have phones in our pockets and AutoTune, we must be the smartest class of human beings that have ever been fortunate enough to Season Pass TiVo an episode of According To Jim.

Not so much.

Truth is, we're still the same nut-scratching neanderthals that wandered out of the jungles back in the day (unless your a Creationist, which means you probably aren't too keen on all this heathen technology in the first place). We just have more sophisticated things that allow us to rely on less and less of our brains. There was a time where I was the coolest kid on the playground, due solely to my knowledge of video game tips, bands and TV shows. Today, any obscure fact can be accessed by anyone in seconds, essentially making my entire life a wasted venture; my talents destroyed by the Internet. In 2009, nobody has to ask anyone a question anymore; they've all been answered and logged digitally, saving time and avoiding human contact for another few precious minutes.

I ain't bitter.

Today, we take a look at five (six, actually) television shows that embodied the devolution of the human mind in the first decade of the 21st Century. Instead of Jet Packs, Robot Sex Dolls and three-course meals in pill form, we all gathered around the Magic Talking Box to watch people make money by not throwing up. Brace yourselves, because we're going in.

Honorable Mention - Hurl! (G4)
Aired For 11 episodes in 2008.

What Was The Point? - Combining the gluttony of competitive eating and the endless enjoyment of watching people humiliate themselves, groups of jackasses were subject to a battery of foodstuffs and physical discomfort, earning cash by not yodeling groceries.

Wow, Are You Serious? - Yeah. Also, G4 had to censor the vomit, essentially making the whole thing even more pointless than the flimsy premise it was presented as.

I referred to Hurl! as the 'USA Up All Night' of Reality programming. Remember Up All Night? Gilbert Godfried would host an evening of B-Movies and skin flicks on USA after hours, but since USA was a basic cable station, they would have to cut out every instance of sex and nudity. Sure, as a kid I would watch and beg for them to slip up, just once, but to no avail. With Hurl!, you had a show about vomit, where they couldn't even show the vomit. Never has the term 'Epic Fail' been more appropriate (they eventually aired the uncensored episodes after the show had been mercifully canceled).

#5 - Jackass (MTV)
Aired for 3 seasons from 2000-2002.

What Was The Point?
- A 'Don't Try This At Home' show that glorified people who made a ridiculous amount of money hurting themselves. The show that invented YouTube, perhaps.

Wow, Are You Serious? - Yep. Jackass was even popular enough to sustain two feature films. Now, I like to see people get hurt as much as the next guy, but there's a depressing desperation when the pain and humiliation is inflicted on purpose. If certain women can get up in arms over females that don't feel objectified by pornography, then I can also be offended by the idea that every MTV viewing 20-something must get a kick out of watching their generation staple their nutsack to their inner thigh. To this day, Jackass marathons continue to dominate MTV programming, while their only decent video block, Subterranean, is relegated to Sunday nights at 3am.

#4 - Are You Hot? (ABC)
Aired for 1 full season in 2003.

What Was The Point?
- Lorenzo Lamas and Rachel Hunter take turns grading mongoloids with zero self-esteem, solely on their physical attractiveness. A combination between speed dating and a beauty contest...kind of.

Wow, Are You Serious? - Indeed. You know, I always get pissed when I hear people bitching about the objectification of Beauty Pageants. They don't like the swimsuit competition. They don't like that it still exists in any form whatsoever. My opinion on the topic is this: if there are women (and men) out there that want to make a living on their looks alone, then they should be allowed to. But by that regard, a Beauty Pageant should be just that. More swimsuits! Less talent! If these people honestly want to do this for a living, than any arguments of objectification and misogyny should be tossed out the window. That's the path you've chosen, let's stop sugar-coating it.

Then I watched Are You Hot?, and pretty much just wanted to kill myself on the spot.

#3 - According To Jim (ABC)
Aired for 8 grueling seasons from 2001-2009.

What Was The Point? - There was no point. There is no point to this life, either. It's just a random series of occurrences from birth to death. We are not in control of our fates; it is a Godless terrain of dumb luck and cement mixer accidents. We're screwed, we go nowhere when we die, and this is all we have. We are alone. Alone. Alone.

Wow, Are You Serious? - Sadly, yes. This show ran for 8 seasons and 182 episodes. 182 episodes! 91 hours of programming! Almost four straight days of Jim Belushi goodness; an effective method of torture if I've ever heard one.

Just think of how happy you'd be if some of your favorite shows had run for 182 episodes. Think about 182 episodes of Arrested Development. 182 episodes of The Prisoner. Then shudder as you realize that According To Jim has been on the air longer than 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip...combined.

To me, According To Jim perfectly represented the tolerance that mainstream America has for sheer mediocrity and laugh tracks. Doesn't matter if it was funny, doesn't matter if it was clever, doesn't even matter if it was enjoyable. As long as it was on, as long as I got a few of the jokes and as long as we got three flimsy acts in 22 minutes, I'll be there every week for eight years. Sort of like a failed, loveless marriage. You blew it, and now you have to live with it; might as well see it through to the bitter end, it's the only remaining shred of dignity you could possibly cling to.

Here's an idea for a new sitcom. Married couple. Two children, one boy and one girl. Making a modest living, working modest careers and facing modest issues on a weekly basis.

Here's the catch: the husband is an intelligent, fit patriarch that vacuums the floor, knows how to talk to his kids, and isn't aroused by every woman within earshot that isn't his wife. The wife is an overweight, peanut-brained oaf that wears sports jerseys around the house and is constantly bothering her husband for sex at the most inopportune times. Sounds hilarious, right?

The Missus says that the reason why husbands and wives are portrayed like that in sitcoms is because more females watch sitcoms than men, and they like to play to stereotypes and comedic strengths. I think she might be right, which makes it all the more sad and repugnant.

Screw According To Jim, screw cookie-cutter sitcoms and screw every bloat-headed American that finds this sort of garbage funny. Now if you'll excuse me, America's Funniest Home Videos is on, and if I don't tune in right away, I won't be able to follow it at all.

#2 - The Inexplicable Rise To Fame Of Televised Poker (Multiple)
Aired from 2002-Present on every American Television network.

What Was The Point? - At some point during this decade. Poker became a sport. Thanks to multiple camera angles, odds/percentage calculators and colorful visors, this became something that people were actually excited to watch. We made stars out of people with gambling addictions, and found out what Jason Alexander had been up to since Listen Up! got canceled.

Wow, Are You Serious? - Affirmative. I was getting my hair cut last week, and my stylist told me that her boyfriend actually TiVo's televised poker, so he can learn strategies and win big. I flat-out told her that this revelation was the saddest I've heard in a long time, that her boyfriend sounded like a Major League dick and she should remedy the situation by leaving him immediately. If he was TiVo'ing poker in 2002, I'd probably let it slide, but 2009? I was surprised that people still had the patience to watch such pointlessness.

Our nation is in a recession. Most of us don't have a lot of money. Either we watch televised poker because we like the idea that somewhere out there, there's a high roller winning millions at the casino; something that could possibly happen to us one day, or because we're too depressed to change the channel (or too broke to buy new batteries for our remote control).

Also, and I don't care how much skill goes into being a Texas Hold 'Em master, but playing cards is 90% luck of the draw. You might as well just TiVo the Powerball girl drawing random lottery numbers every night, because you can learn approximately the same amount of skills that way.

True story. When I was kid, I spent the night at a friends house, where we ended up playing poker with his parents. I had never played before, and they were walking me through the process. On my very first hand of Poker, ever, I was dealt a Royal Flush. It has never happened to me since, but it taught me a very important lesson. There is limited skill in gambling, at best. All the sponsors, visors and heaving cleavage in the world can't help you if a nine-year-old kid can accomplish something that, for all intents and purposes, will probably never happen to even the most hardened gambler.

#1 - Emeril (NBC)
Aired for a handful of episodes in 2001.

What Was The Point? - "Wow, televised cooking is all the rage these days, and this Emeril guy seems to be the most popular. Let's throw him completely out of his element and see if he can act!"

Wow, Are You Serious? - I wish I wasn't. Hell, I wish I lived in a world where I didn't have three television channels devoted entirely to the preparation and consumption of food. Now, I've never claimed to understand the TV viewing habits of housewives and lonely widows, but boy do they love to watch people cook things. At no point was this more apparent than when we decided to make superstars out of Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray (who has no culinary degree whatsoever), purely on their ability to throw things into a bowl and yell surrealist nonsense at innocent vegetables.

So, people really got a kick out of this Emeril guy. He was sharp, he had a lively personality and he seemed to have decent comedic timing. So NBC, in a foresight-less moment of FOX-like indiscretion, decided to write a sitcom around this guy's life as a chef. Emeril was the perfect storm of awful. An A&R blunder of Hindberg-ian proportions. Seinfeld for retards. a ratings disaster and the death knell for an NBC network that had drained every ounce of their former glory.

What's more, and this is what I feel is Emeril's unforgivable sin, is that it was Robert Urich's final role. Robert Urich, the badass actor from Spenser: For Hire and the Bayer aspirin commercials, died of cancer in 2001, with his Emeril credit being the last byline on his IMDB page. Forget Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut; this was an actor going out on the lowest possible creative note. He was The Lazarus Man, for Christ's sake!

Well, there you have it, a depressing, dirty and irredeemable trip down Repressed Memory lane. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. The Decade In Review continues tomorrow, with the first half of the Top 10 Television Shows Of The Decade.

Tuesday, November 3

A Decade Of Television - The Best Of The Best.

Father Mulcahy - Well, look on the bright side. When we're told we must do our time in purgatory, we can all say "No thanks. I've done mine."

- From 'Goodbye, Farewell And Amen,' the M.A.S.H. series finale, and still the single most-watched television broadcast in American history.

One of the hardest burdens we must face as we get older and form our distinct personalities, is to remember that what is the most popular isn't always what is right. Just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're lesser for not hopping on board. In a personal sense, we experience this in our teens under the guise of 'peer pressure.' It takes the form of name-brand merchandise, wildly popular musicians, movies, and in the case of today's countdown, television shows.

Today, we take a look back at the most popular television shows of the decade; not in a critical or opinionated stance, but by the numbers. These are Neilsen-approved, statistically-irrefutable and, in some cases, very unfortunately, the most popular TV shows of the last 10 years.

The Most Popular Show Of 2000 - Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (ABC)

Why It Makes Sense: In 2000, when 'Reality' programming was beginning to hit a fever pitch in the states, a game show where someone could walk away with a cool million was pretty damn alluring. Throw in the theme music, lighting cues, Regis Philbin and a three-night-a-week airing, and you had a recipe for an American Television phenomenon. The tension, the emotion, the heartbreak and triumph was there; certainly we all called the 1-800 number at least once in an attempt to get on the show. Even 10 years later, the syndicated version pulls in high numbers, and a 10th Anniversary celebration was a very welcome reunion.

Why It's Sad: With hindsight being 20/20, we can look at the success of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as an apocalyptic horseman of Reality TV, drawing huge ratings, saving the networks millions in production costs, putting writers out of a job and dumbing down the collective IQ by a good five points. It was the success of Millionaire that made way for Survivor, American Idol and a slew of other programs that ushered in a new genre of television, one that has polarized fans for the last 10 years. Only now, in the second half of the decade, have we seen a quiet resurgence in quality, scripted television, not necessarily eliminating 'Reality TV' for good, but at least giving us the alternative we went without for quite some time.

The Most Popular Show Of 2001 - Survivor (Australia) (CBS)

Why It Makes Sense: As mentioned above with Millionaire, Survivor came at a time when Reality television was the hottest thing we've stolen from the British since Victoria Beckham. Following a much-hyped first season (that I actually watched every episode of, sadly), Survivor: The Australian Outback had everyone on board from day one, creating a series that it still a ratings powerhouse to this day. The 'voted off' concept, also utilized on Big Brother, adds an element of tension, viewer interaction and endless water cooler conversations the next day. For a great deal of time in 2001, Survivor was all that anyone could talk about.

Why It's Sad: Well, as Daniel Tosh has said, it's no wonder that other countries hate us, when we have a reality show where we pay a million dollars to someone for 'surviving' in a place where people already live. Also, this trend created a celebrity genre out of people who weren't actually celebrities (see Richard Hatch, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, etc.). Furthermore, I was sincerely hoping at the time that Survivor would know... show where people actually died on a weekly basis. Way to stay on your high horse, CBS! Your crime dramas are the most grisly and barbaric shows on television, but when it comes to maybe killing off a few fame-obsessed losers, all of a sudden you're the freaking Vatican. Thanks for nothing!

Kidding. Sort of.

The Most Popular Show Of 2002 - Friends (NBC)

Why It Makes Sense: Apart from, perhaps, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends had finally found themselves the grizzled veterans of the prime-time sitcom, leading off NBC's 'Must-See Thursday' and making hit shows out of Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me (Inside Schwartz? Not so much). The intensity of the series, specifically the relationship aspect, not only made devoted fans even more devoted, but also caused the writers to step up their game and create something considered worthy of being the #1 show on television. The ratings improved by over 6 million, the cast got filthy rich, and Friends became TV immortality.

Why It's Sad: Well, in my own personal opinion, Friends was woefully mediocre; significantly more sizzle than steak, and a success story of the hype and gossip machine far more than a creative and cerebral one. People were watching the show, in my opinion, for the same reason viewers flocked to That 70's Show in their waning years. The cast was becoming famous for being famous, and the sitcom became nothing more but an outlet to be a part of their lives for 22 minutes a week. Also, much like That 70's Show, I think that the quality of Friends waned as their viewership grew. I cannot remember a single plotline of Friends (outside of the 'will they or won't they' aspect of the Ross & Rachel phenomenon; Exhibit A, I might add), but I can remember how big of a story Jennifer Aniston's haircut was. That, my friends, is proof positive that something has been hopelessly blown out of proportion. To this day, the Dogma of Friends is enough to send hardcore fans into a tizzy when their beloved sitcom is criticized.

The Most Popular Show Of 2003-2004 - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)

Why It Makes Sense: It's violent, brilliantly filmed, painstakingly on-target, chock-full of intriguing characters and has essentially inspired enough new television shows to keep CBS in business for the next 20 years. No show has shaped the 'True Crime' genre like CSI; it has even changed the way that our justice system delivers jury trials, for Christ's sake. Incredibly influential, hip and seemingly never running out of prostitutes to kill, CSI seems to me to be one of the most popular shows of the decade that actually deserves it.

Why It's Sad: In 2003, approximately 26 million people per week watch CSI. This is more than double the number of people that watched the incredible 5th season of Lost, and an extremely high number for anything on television this decade. However, there is such a thing as a TV show becoming too popular, and I believe that the success of CSI indirectly saturated a prime-time landscape with an inordinate amount of crime dramas and forensic science.

Here's a quick list of just 14 television shows, produced over the last decade, that I believe were inspired by the success of CSI: The District, CSI: Miami, Without A Trace, Robbery Homicide Division, Cold Case, Century City, The Handler, CSI: NY, Numb3rs, The Unit, Criminal Minds, Flashpoint, The Mentalist, Eleventh Hour.

Bear in mind, this isn't a list of every crime drama on TV in the history of ever; merely a list of crima dramas that aired on CBS since the debut of CSI. That, my friends, is a ton of like-minded television shows, and a network that's putting their eggs into one murder-filled basket. And I'm not even including the successful JAG, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles trilogy, either. Sure, it's been working out nicely for them, but for...I don't know...everyone else on Earth that isn't into stuff like that, CBS has become a channel that they have all but removed from their guides. Again, this isn't to say that CSI doesn't rule and deserve the praise; more like the typical story of a network sniffing out a hit show and running it directly into the ground.

The Most Popular Show Of 2005-2009 - American Idol (FOX)

Why It Makes Sense: From the first moment we caught a glimpse of Simon Cowell, Kelly Clarkson and Ryan Seacrest, American Idol smashed records and defined a network, easily etching out their legacy as the most impactful television show of all-time. Seriously. 35 million viewers a week tuned in to make celebrities out of some of the best (and worst) undiscovered singers in the nation (by comparison, 4 million fans a week tuned in for Arrested Development), and even though they never duplicated the magic of the first season, AI is showing no signs of slowing down, easily taking their crown as the most popular television show of the last five years.

Why It's Sad: Ratings like those of American Idol are mind-boggling. On basic cable, WWE Monday Night Raw is consistently the top-rated show of all cable programming, bringing in about 4 million viewers on a good week. If American Idol snagged Raw's numbers for even a minute, Rubert Murdoch's black heart would probably explode straight out of his chest. Rumor has it that more people vote for their favorite Idols on a weekly basis than they do for their candidate during a Presidential election. This is the definition of an American Phenomenon.

Why do we watch American Idol? Everyone has their own reasons. Some enjoy the open-audition cattle call, where egotistical and clueless wannabes get chastised in front of the world. Some enjoy the backstage drama; picking an early favorite and running with them until the bitter (or triumphant) end. There are underdogs. Success (and sob) stories. Several hours a week of original programming. Even Dancing With The Stars, a show that operates on a very similar formula, is wildly popular with housewives and idiots. Even with it's accusations of being rigged, results shows that offer 1 hour and 59 minutes of pure filler, and a cavalcade of out-of-touch celebrity judges and musical royalty, there's still something for everyone here. Could it be...gasp!...the perfect show?

Well, no. But for the last decade, it's pretty hard to argue otherwise.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. The Decade In Review continues tomorrow, with the Worst Television Shows Of The Decade.

Monday, November 2

A Decade Of Television - Instantly Cancelled.

I think she was in a Pilot.

What's a Pilot?

Well, you know the shows on TV?

I don't watch TV.

Yes, but you're aware that there's
an invention called Television, and
on that invention they show shows?


Well, the way they pick the shows on
TV is they make one show, and that
show's called a Pilot. And they show
that one show to the people who pick
the shows, and on the strength of
that one show, they decide if they
want to make more shows. Some get
accepted and become TV programs, and
some don't, and become nothing. She
starred in one of the ones that became

-Pulp Fiction (1994)

Television is a fickle business, controlled by fickle people. What with all the advertisers, focus groups, suits with zero artistic talent and Christian Conservatives, we should be happy that anything decent makes it to the airwaves.

Today, we spotlight 10 selected Television shows that were not only conceived and aired at some point during this decade, but were almost instantly pulled thereafter. Due to lack of ratings, a weak premise or timeslot doomed for failure, these are shows that didn't get much of a chance to succeed, but still deserve a brief remembrance before they're tossed into the dustbin of TV History.

- Quarterlife (NBC)

1 episode; not even a full season (2008)

Why It Failed:
I was the only person that watched the Pilot episode; their intended demographic does not watch television on 10pm (Eastern) on a Tuesday.

'This is going to be great,' I thought to myself as the opening titles began to roll on Quarterlife. 'It's going to be like my own personal Thirtysomething.' I should have known that it never pays to be optimistic to the point of lunacy, even if it's only once or twice a year.

To be fair, Quarterlife did attempt to focus on the trials, tribulations and foibles of creative 20-somethings trying to make it in a world that didn't understand their plight. Problem is, that everybody finds the trials, tribulations and foibles of creative 20-somethings to be ridiculously annoying, especially 20-somethings. Word around the campfire is that Quarterlife served up NBC's worst ratings in a decade; even worse than a debate taking place on their MSNBC Channel. Ouch.

#9 - Cracking Up (FOX)

: 9 episodes; not even a full season (2004)

Why It Failed:
A poor Monday timeslot combined with a lack of stand-out appeal. Molly Shannon.

The Missus wanted this comedy about a college psychiatry major sent to live with a dysfunctional upper-class family to succeed, as it starred the too-cool-for-negative-criticism Jason Schwartzman. I, on the other hand, knew that he peaked with Rushmore and that Phantom Planet was probably the most mediocre band of the entire decade, but that's a different story.

Few things stood out about this show, especially funny things. Hell, I just sat and brainstormed for a few minutes, all I could remember about the show was what the house looked like, and that it starred Molly Shannon, who didn't really have to change her character a single bit for her failed stint on Kath & Kim years later.

#8 - The Loop (FOX)

: 2 seasons, but only 17 episodes (2006-2007)

Why It Failed:
Got lost in the shuffle, made important storyline changes and FOX wanted to make way for a new Spring schedule. Sucked.

My favorite part of the loop was the role of the main character's boss, played by Philip Baker Hall, who you may remember as 'Bookman' from that incredible episode of Seinfeld. His half-improvisational delivery typically served as the curmudgeonly voice of reason, while the rest of the young, oversexed and completely unrealistic cast spouted one-liners about penises or something. I don't know if this show succeeded in making life at an Airline world headquarters seem more interesting than it actually is, or just dumber.

As you can tell, I never really got too much into this show; it just sort of filled out the evening for me; like a bottle of Miller High Life and a pants-free night of online gambling. Jackpot.

#7 - Oliver Beene (FOX)

: 2 full seasons over 24 episodes (2003-2004)

Why It Failed:
After replacing Futurama, a huge chunk of audience did not return for Season 2. Also, the delays of FOX NFL coverage always messed up their Sunday comedy block. Howie Long.

FOX's Sunday night comedy lineup has been solid for a long time, boasting both huge winners (King Of The Hill, Arrested Development, Malcolm In The Middle, Futurama), and facepalm-worthy losers (The Pitts, The War At Home, American Dad). However, one of my biggest pet peeves comes during football season, when post-game run-over tends to throw their entire Prime Time schedule out of wack. For up-and-coming shows struggling to find a devoted fanbase, a few delays and timeslot shuffles is all you need to be shown the door.

For all intents and purposes, Oliver Beene should have been(e) a hit (guffawguffawguffaw). It was a solid, smart, nostalgic and well-acted combination of Malcolm In The Middle and The Wonder Years, and for the first season it held its own and put together respectable numbers, earning them an order for another season's worth of show. Then came the dreaded lead-off, post-NFL timeslot, which forced their audience to either sit through Terry Bradshaw ranting about his fourth divorce, or worse yet, having to catch the rebroadcast after the 10pm news.

#6 - The Lone Gunmen (FOX)

: 1 full season over 13 episodes (2001)

Why It Failed:
As niche as niche can be, this X-Files spin-off only attracted a devout, cult following. We know this because their Wikipedia page is entirely too comprehensive.

"The series revolved around the three characters of The Lone Gunmen; Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers and Richard Langly, a group of "geeky" investigators who ran a conspiracy theory magazine. They had often helped FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files. Unlike The X-Files, whose storylines dealt mainly with supernatural creatures and government alien conspiracies, episodes of The Lone Gunmen generally featured more "plausible" plots, such as government sponsored terrorism, the creeping government-induced police state surveillance society, cheating husbands, corporate crime, arms-dealers, and escaped Nazis. The show had a light atmosphere and focused heavily on physical comedy. The trio were often aided (and sometimes hindered) by a mysterious thief named Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson)."

See what I mean? Great show, though. Funny and nerdy (like The Big Bang Theory), but not contrived and trying way too hard, either (like The Big Bang Theory).

#5 - Carpoolers (ABC)

: 1 full season over 13 episodes (2007-2008)

Why It Failed:
More than likely, one of many casualties of the 2007-2008 Writers Strike. The lovable Fred Goss is apparently ratings poison.

After Fred Goss' Sons & Daughters was canceled midway through their inaugural season, I was heartbroken, but not surprised. I knew it was a niche show for only a certain group of smart sitcom lovers. So when I heard that Goss would be returning to TV and starring in Carpoolers, and that it would be produced by Kids In The Hall alumni Bruce McCulloch, I about hit the roof. Retribution! Redemption! Surely, we can still have nice things, right?

Well, sort of. The vibe of the show was Sons & Daughters-esque in nature, but they took many cues and laughs from typical sitcom fare. The cast was brilliant and they had moments of near-sublime humor, but it was still a light version of what we were all hoping for. The ratings were okay, and the network seemed to support the show more than they did with Sons & Daughters (they actually promoted Carpoolers from time to time), but when the Writers Guild strike hit later on in that year, many new shows ran out of episodes and simply were not renewed. Carpoolers was one of those shows. I can't say that, had the Strike not happened, Carpoolers would still be on the air, but I certainly wouldn't mind it one bit.

#4 - Night Stalker (ABC)
Survived: 10 episodes; not even a full season (2005-2006)
Why It Failed: Premiered against both CSI and the MLB Playoffs. Wow.

The premise was nothing new. Man loses wife in mysterious, probably-supernatural murder. Man begins investigating similar murders in the hopes that they somehow tie into his wife's. On the outside, it looked like just another ABC Prime Time drama. But slow down, doof. Night Stalker had more than a few things going for it. First off, it was incredibly violent. Secondly, the Odd Couple-esque pairing was the genuinely likable and beautiful Gabrielle Union and Stuart Townsend. Thirdly, the writing and direction was not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, as Twilight Zone and Vault Of Horror plotlines weren't too far off from some of the weekly mysteries. As this was a remake of a 1974 series, that nostalgia seemed more than coincidental.

However, ABC destined this show for failure when it was thrown up against CSI, the legit Most Popular Show On Earth. Considering fans of CSI would have probably enjoyed Night Stalker as well, giving it more of a lead-off spot in the lineup would have probably worked out better in the long run. Add this to the MLB Playoffs taking place on FOX, and there was virtually no audience demographic left for this underrated, underappreciated and not-seen-by-anyone show. No more than 6 episodes in, Night Stalker was unceremoniously pulled from the lineup. Bummer.

By the way, for just $2.99, you can purchase the episode 'Three' from the iTunes store, which is seriously one of my favorite hours of television ever produced. On par with the greatest episodes of The X-Files, Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt ever made. If you buy it and don't agree with me, let me know and I'll send you a CDP button or something.

#3 - Andy Richter Controls The Universe (FOX)

: 2 seasons but only 19 episodes (2002-2003)

Why It Failed:
Poor ratings due to it being too amazing for its own good (See Development, Arrested).

You know, for as much as I wish that Andy Richter would be given a chance to create some awesome comedic television away from Conan O'Brien, I sometimes forget that he has already starred in three failed sitcoms (Quintuplets and Andy Barker, P.I. being the other two). Most guys don't get that many chances, so you won't hear me claim that he's been dealt a rough hand.

But I still love Andy, and his first crack at solo work, Andy Richter Controls The Universe, is still as good as it got for our cuddly sidekick. In fact, anyone that currently enjoys the ABC hit Better Off Ted has Richter to thank (it was essentially cannibalized). Even as short a time ago as 2003, there weren't a lot of shows on TV that went this route (no laugh track, blatent satire, twisted reality, etc.), and for that first wave of trendsetters, they were thrown under the bus rather quickly to make way for the new wave of classics we still watch today. Godspeed, Andy.

#2 - Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (NBC)

: 1 full season over 22 episodes (2006-2007)

Why It Failed:
Steadily declining ratings and a completely polarized set of opinions from all who watched. Canceled to bring in The Black Donnellys, which failed after 5 episodes.

There are people who like Aaron Sorkin, and those who do not. Either way, they probably also have a strongly-formed opinion as to why. 'Preachy,' 'Condescending,' 'Wordy' and 'Overwrought' are all likely (and perhaps accurate) criticisms. I came into Studio 60 an impartial viewer. Sure, I really dug Sports Night, but I hadn't watched The West Wing and only remembered A Few Good Men because of the 'You can't handle the truth!' line.

What I saw with Studio 60 was, in my humble opinion, amazing. Now, let me preface the fauning by openly admitting that this kind of show isn't for everyone (clearly), but for me, it was Heaven. From the plot (behind the scenes of a SNL-style sketch show), to the insanely-long conversations about nothing (which always seemed breathtakingly sharp and smart), to the snobby humor, to the wonderful cast (even Matthew Perry shined), to the lavish nightlife of L.A., I couldn't have enjoyed this show more had you extracted the plot directly from my Cerebral Cortex.

What I loved the most about it, even though this sounds like an insult, was that each episode felt like an hour-and-a-half due to the wordy dialogue. This was great for me, because I never really wanted the show to end. I wanted to continue indulging in this unattainable world where everyone was flawed in their brilliance and creative drive.

Now, the show did very well with dudes like me (demographic, income, race, what have you), but for almost everyone else, it started strong and got progressively worse as Joe Q. Public lost their patience, pooped into their collective mitts and smeared feces onto their Television. After long delays, scheduling issues and the pop culture press turning their backs, Studio 60 was not renewed for a second season to make way for The Black Donnellys, a Sopranos knockoff that barely lasted a month.

Now, I don't own the Season One DVD, but I'm sure that Studio 60 doesn't last the test of time. It seemed a little too current, a little too indulgent in pop culture and trends. It was a moment in time. A "You had to be there" sort of thing, maybe. Who knows. I miss the hell out of it, though.

#1 - Sons & Daughters (ABC)

: 11 episodes; not even a full season (2006)

Why It Failed:
Improvisational aspect and lack of laugh track turned off casual viewers, weak promotion, and did we mention it was aired opposite American Idol?

Fred Goss. The realest dude in sitcom history. Fred Goss. The reason Modern Family has anything even resembling a plot right now. Fred Goss. More than likely me in 10 years. I have nothing more to say about this show; I was never fully able to enjoy it because I knew that it's days were numbered from the start. And then, sure enough, one day it was quietly removed from the schedule and never discussed again, only to make way for a new batch of influenced shows three years later. Life isn't fair, and neither is the fickle world of Television.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. The Decade In Review has begun, and there more TV stuff here for you all week. Tomorrow, the Most Popular TV Shows Of The Decade.