From 2000-2009, TV managed to have both its best and worst decade ever. On the bad side: Cable and Network news mislead us into the Iraq War while E! mislead us into believing we gave a shit about reality TV stars. But there was also The Wire, Mad Men, Deadwood and The Sopranos pushing the limits of the medium. Just as "Rubber Soul" and "Pet Sounds" made albums the relevant serving size for pop music in the 60s, these shows pushed TV beyond self contained episodes into season length narratives as involved and intricately detailed as any classic novel you pretended to read in high school.
But it might not have happened if 24 hadn't exploded onto Network TV in 2001, bringing season spanning story arcs and black presidents to the mainstream. It also turned to shit quicker than Survivor turned into The Flavor of Love.
That's why it's the show of the OOs. Like the rest of TV, it managed to be great and unwatchably ridiculous in the same decade.
Alias accomplished a similar feat to Lord of the Rings: It re-introduced the concept of a serial drama to modern pop culture. And it succeeded too, despite decades of our being preconditioned to expect bite-sized entertainment from our televisions where all problems were to be resolved within an hour, and a wacky freeze-frame was considered a cliffhanger.
Alias introduced the concept of a plot that provided questions instead of answers and, just like Lord of the Rings, that proved something great about humanity in the 2000s: That, despite all odds, we can still pay attention for more than 15 minutes at a stretch and, if pressed, can even recall basic information up to one week after taking it in!
It also introduced us to JJ Abrams, who proved with several successive endeavors that he is a creative visionary and genius... for approximately two seasons, after which point he cracks, panics and starts rambling on about magic instead of writing a fucking coherent plotline.
The Daily Show
I still fondly recall the days when I swore I'd never watch The Daily Show again if they replaced the charming and debonair Craig Kilborn with some schlumpy, failed stand-up. And when they got rid of "Five Questions" and replaced it with insightful interviews with political notables, I almost shit a kidney. But eight years later, and I'd call Jon Stewart's contributions to American culture (including providing an initial platform for Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell) some of the most ball-swingingly formidable of the century, while Craig Kilborn mostly just makes me sad.
In a quiet, unassuming way, this guy from the previous generation has become the symbol of many of the things our generation is all about: logic, skepticism and policitcal change through merciless teasing. And the fact that most of our elders call us "the worst generation" for relying on a comedy program for our news, while we call them "the insanest generation" for creating an environment in which a comedy program is one of the more reliable sources of news, seems like one of the more interesting conflicts of the decade.
Flavor of Love
Television, used to having the whole audience pizza to itself, now is clawing for its one remaining piece. The rest has been eaten by home theater (via DVD), ubiquitous video game consoles, social networking on the Internet, streaming video on the Internet and everything else on the Internet.
As a result, television has had to choose between making gold or crap. They can pay top dollar to make shows like Mad Men and hope to cash in on DVD sales, or crank out dirt-cheap reality shows that can turn a profit even with tiny ratings.
Or, they can say "fuck it" and make a show about dating Flavor Flav.
The Absence of Shows
There is no doubt that the 2007-2008 writers' strike had a profound effect on television. At 100 days, the strike lasted longer than anyone anticipated and lost an embarrassing amount of money, ($1.5 billion in Los Angeles alone). Good shows that weren't given a proper chance got canceled, storylines for established shows were scrapped and, for a while, the American people had no new shows to watch.
The strike also, for the first time, added Web content into conversations that normally only included television and movies. A bunch of lawyers got together to say what they'd been avoiding for years ("Let's figure out what we're going to do with this fucking Internet thing."). Writers and producers were starting to take the Web seriously as a major content destination. If, in the future, TV and the Internet end up mixing together in some weird, loud, sticky combination of content (and, it will), the Writers' Strike will be looked at as the first of many steps that heavily impact the entertainment industry for years to come.