Notwithstanding all the complaints I hear about prime-time television (usually from people who don't actually watch it), coming up with a Top 10 list is not easy.
There are so many quality series on the air today, it's tough to narrow any list to 10.
Ranking them presents another challenge. Is it better to reward a show with the No. 1 slot based on quality or entertainment value or some mix of the two?
There's no question "The West Wing" was the best written show in 2000, but the editing and fun of "Survivor" made it a formidable adversary for the top spot.
It was a tough call, but ultimately the addictive nature of the summer sensation gave the tropical reality show an edge. What can I say? It's a survivor.
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HIGHS AND LOWS
BEST THEME SONG: "The West Wing" (NBC)
WORST THEME SONG: "Titans" (NBC)
BEST FAMILY COMEDY: "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS)
WORST FAMILY COMEDY: "Yes, Dear" (CBS)
BEST TEEN SHOW: "American High" (Fox)
WORST TEEN SHOW: "Popular" (The WB)
SMARTEST REALITY SERIES: "The 1900 House" (PBS)
DUMBEST REALITY SERIES: "Big Brother (CBS)
BEST SCHEDULING: "Ed" before "West Wing"
WORST SCHEDULING: ABC's Friday night lineup
BEST CLONE: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO) from the DNA of "Seinfeld"
WORST CLONE: "Tucker" (NBC) from the DNA of "Malcolm in the Middle"
MOST DESERVING CANCELLATION: "Tucker" (NBC)
LEAST DESERVING CANCELLATION: "American High" (Fox)
MOST CONFUSING TITLES: "DAG" (NBC) and "JAG" (CBS); "Angel" (The WB), "Dark Angel" (Fox) and "Touched by an Angel" (CBS); "Cursed" and "The Steven Weber Show" and "Cursed" and "The Weber Show" (the same NBC sitcom that's gone through many title changes)
LEAST CONFUSING TITLES: "The Michael Richards Show" (NBC), "The Geena Davis Show" (ABC) and "Bette" (CBS)
MOST TIMELY SERIES: "South Park" (Comedy Central) with its instantaneous Elian Gonzalez and election mess episodes
LEAST TIMELY SERIES: "Titans" (NBC) with its regurgitated '80s era soap plots
BEST TV NEWS PROMO: "I See" (KDKA)
WORST TV NEWS PROMO: "Our weather is better than their weather" (WTAE vs. KDKA)
MOST OVERPLAYED TV NEWS PROMO: "It's called ... Predictor" (WPXI)
1. "Survivor" (CBS)
Early on "Survivor" proved to be extremely well-cast, stocked with archetypal heroes (Gretchen, Colleen), cads (Joel, Gervase), weirdos (Greg) and villains (Richard, Susan). Actually, Richard may not be evil in real life, he's just edited to look that way on TV.
The editors, working with executive producer Mark Burnett, made the show more than just a melding of MTV's "The Real World" and game shows. Not only could "Survivor" be as funny as a sitcom (Rudy's befuddled "I dunno" while participating in a trivia-based immunity challenge), but it was as slippery as a well-plotted prime-time drama. Only better, especially in the show's final episode when Sue ranted in what amounted to a bitter, hate-fueled monologue. Heather Locklear never got writing this juicy on "Melrose Place."
"Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett manipulated viewers as much as Richard manipulated his fellow castaways. And we liked it. Loved it, even.
2. "The West Wing" (NBC)
Patriotic, romantic and noble, this show is everything the real American political scene is not.
The addition of leggy blond Republican Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) gave the series' liberal bent balance without capitulation, a welcome move in these fiercely partisan times.
Aaron Sorkin's writing, particularly in the two-part season opener, makes viewers care about the characters in a way normally reserved for real people. The acting -- from regular cast members to guest stars -- is uniformly first rate, adding to our adoration of these smart, funny and well-meaning public servants.
3. "7th Heaven" (WB)
The departure of wayward daughter Mary (Jessica Biel) gave this family drama a longer than usual story arc that showed parents Eric (Stephen Collins) and Annie Camden (Catherine Hicks) at their best and worst. Because of "7th Heaven," there's at least one prime-time show children and their parents can watch and enjoy together. No one gets embarrassed, everyone is entertained.
4. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" (WB)
I know, I know, I'm kind of cheating by putting two shows in here, but hey, it's my Top 10 list. Here's justification: Both exist in the same Joss Whedon-created universe. Plus, there have been weeks when one deserved to be on this list and the other did not and vice versa.
The addition of Buffy's sister gave Sarah Michelle Gellar a new relationship to play off with warmth and care on "Buffy." Weird as the faux sister story is, it works.
But many weeks "Angel" has been the more entertaining series. Last week offered a prime example: "Buffy" was overly talky and plot-less, but "Angel" soared on the wicked pairing of Darla (Julie Benz) and Dru (Juliet Landau).
5. "Gilmore Girls" (WB)
A rare multigenerational show that depicts the intricacy of mother-daughter relationships with believability, "Gilmore Girls" was far more deserving of a Golden Globe nomination than CBS's "CSI." As the title characters, stars Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop have embraced their well-written roles. The town's myriad denizens -- Sookie, Miss Patty, etc. -- are also coming into their own, and Stars Hollow itself has more character than Stuckeyville on "Ed."
6. "Ed" (NBC)
Goofy, charming and sweet, "Ed" is a delight. Though the show's varied elements -- Romance! Comedy! Law show! -- haven't come together as well as the "Gilmore Girls" confection, "Ed" remains one of the season's brightest new series. Goofy yet sincere, Tom Cavanagh is a perfect Ed and his chemistry with Julie Bowen (as Carol Vessey) gives the show spark. But what I like most about "Ed" is that it speaks to the inner geek in all of us. Or maybe it's just me.
7. "Will & Grace" (NBC)
The funniest show on Thursday night. While "Friends" continues to entertain, it's "Will & Grace" (and Jack and Karen and Rosario) who elicit the most belly laughs. And to think, when it premiered, there were questions about whether a comedy with gay characters would play in middle America. Sexuality has little to do with it. It's smart comedic writing that makes "Will & Grace," as "The Flintstones" would say, a gay ol' time.
8. "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox)
Natural and unaffected star Frankie Muniz carries this series with ease, but it wouldn't be as good as it is without actors Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek as Malcolm's parents. Take-no-guff Lois and child-man Hal are the funniest players in this dysfunctional family comedy.
9. "Once and Again" (ABC)
When this angsty drama shifts its focus away from the lead characters, Rick and Lily, and instead concentrates on the family members who surround them (particularly their children), "Once and Again" shines. Young Evan Rachel Wood and Julia Whelan are especially deserving of kudos.
10. "Beggars & Choosers" (Showtime)
The best workplace comedy no one is watching (and won't get a chance to watch now that it's been canceled). Set behind the scenes of a low-rated TV network, "Beggars" hilariously skewered shallow TV executives, producers, agents and stars. Come to think of it, maybe it was a reality show.
"American High" (Fox), "Boston Public" (Fox), "Bull" (TNT), "The District" (CBS), "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS), "Farscape" (Sci-Fi Channel), "Grosse Pointe" (The WB), "Judging Amy" (CBS), "Roswell" (The WB), "The Sopranos" (HBO), "Son of the Beach" (FX) and "South Park" (Comedy Central).
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.