Reality shows took a backseat to new dramas like Lost and Desperate Housewives, proving that scripted TV is still a powerful draw
Rare is the TV series that deserves the label "thriller," given the difficulty of maintaining suspense week to week. J.J. Abrams created one in Alias three years ago and topped himself in 2004 with this continually surprising ABC drama about plane-crash survivors stranded on a Pacific island. Viewers get that exhilarating, off-balance feeling.
Broadway: The American Musical
This six-hour PBS documentary surveyed 100 years of theater history with affection and vitality. So what if it sometimes seemed like a big ad for the Great White Way?
Peyton Place and Knots Landing had their day, but Wisteria Lane is the hot new address in prime-time soap. This witty, warped view of suburban sex and angst is a ratings winner for ABC and a prime example of good trash.
This FX drama, starring Denis Leary as a brave but tortured New York City firefighter, kept getting better and deeper as its freshman year progressed.
Blankety-blank, pardner. Much of the dialogue was unprintable, but this revisionist HBO western series drew us inexorably into its brutal little world.
Fine acting by Hank Azaria as a self-doubting psychiatrist and Oliver Platt as his hard-living lawyer friend help elevate this Showtime series to the status of appointment television.
Compassion may be nice but a cure is better. Hugh Laurie is brilliant in this first-year FOX drama series as an arrogant diagnostician who solves medical mysteries while scorning the nuisance of patient relations.
The Daily Show
Jon Stewart modestly calls this show fake news, but his nightly satirical take on Campaign 2004 often seemed more in touch with reality than what the serious journalists were putting out. Looking for the true "no-spin zone"? Turns out it's on Comedy Central.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Geoffrey Rush's challenge in this stylish HBO movie: Portray the protean comedy star as himself, as his best-known movie characters and as various colleagues and loved (or unloved) ones. Rush brought it off in an Emmy-worthy accomplishment.
Pimp My Ride
Automotive reclamation projects are all over basic cable, but this MTV reality series leads the field in fun as rapper Xzibit and a funky corps of customizers transform unsightly junkers into cars loaded with personality.