Behind the Music
Aired: VH1, 1997-2004
Star: Jim Forbes
Synopsis: Documentary series that chronicles the inside story of the lives of well-known musical artists.
Impact: Like A&E’s “Biography” series, but more tabloid, “Behind the Music” looks back at the climb to fame and, often, the demise of musicians and bands that have reached the top of the charts. The first “Behind the Music,” for example, was the story of Milli Vanilli, the Grammy Award-winning pair later revealed to have been lip-synching their songs.
Aired: TNT, 2005-present
Stars: Kyra Sedgwick, Jon Tenney, J.K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds, G.W. Bailey, Anthony Denison, Robert Gossett, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz, Gina Ravera
Synopsis: Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson heads up the Los Angeles police department’s elite Priority Homicide Division, and while she’s great at her job, her forceful, uncompromising style often clashes with others in the department.
Impact: What sets “The Closer” apart from other cop dramas is Kyra Sedgwick’s performance as Southern belle, tough-as-nails police chief Brenda Johnson. Most episodes build to the scene when Brenda interrogates the prime suspect and breaks him down. Unlike other TV cops, however, she doesn’t threaten or rough him up; she’s sweet and conniving, a ruthlessly focused pit bull until she gets her confession. “The Closer” has won over viewers and critics alike. It’s the most-viewed scripted drama on cable, and Ms. Sedgwick has garnered Emmy nominations and won a Golden Globe for her performance.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Aired: HBO, 2000-present
Stars: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Wanda Sykes, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, Shelley Berman
Synopsis: Real-life successful TV writer Larry David plays himself in this comedy about how the foibles of life make him neurotic. Invariably, Larry’s way of dealing with his problems just creates more troubles.
Impact: In some ways, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” can be seen as an extension of “Seinfeld,” the sitcom Larry David co-created. While the humor is similar, especially in the way Mr. David’s antics seem to blow up in his face, “Curb” is improvised. The outlines of scenes are given to the actors and the comedy flows from their interaction. Now entering a sixth season on HBO, the comedy has developed a strong following and is consistently nominated for industry awards.
The Daily Show
Aired: Comedy Central
Stars: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Jason Jones, Samantha Bee
Synopsis: Jon Stewart hosts a pseudo-newscast that takes the day’s headlines and turns them into satirical fodder. Politicians appear as themselves, often taking part in the humor but occasionally becoming the butt of the jokes.
Impact: Ripped from the headlines, “The Daily Show” is filmed live before a studio audience. Not unlike “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update sketches, “The Daily Show” distinguishes itself by being more satiric and topical. It also invites the newsmakers, especially politicians, onto the show. It’s then that Jon Stewart’s skewering interview style evokes the sharpest comedy. It’s not real news, but it’s really funny. Stephen Colbert started on “The Daily Show,” but has since created spin-off series “The Colbert Report.”
E! True Hollywood Stories
Aired: E!, 1996-present
Star: Chip Bolcik
Synopsis: Documentary series that showcases the life and times of famous Hollywood stars, popular TV shows, films and show business.
Impact: “E! True Hollywood Stories” covers a wide gamut of subjects, everything from cult horror films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to the career of Uma Thurman. The series purports to be revealing and insightful, but it’s more in line with “Behind the Music” than “Biography.” Nevertheless, for the diversity of subjects alone, the series has become one of the network’s top-rated and most enduring programs.
Aired: MTV, 1993-2002
Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Wee Man
Synopsis: Johnny and his troup perform outrageous stunts and potentially dangerous antics without warning but with the cameras rolling.
Impact: “Jackass” is not high art. It’s the lowest form of comedy, although it’s not scripted and doesn’t tell jokes. The appeal of “Jackass” is based solely on the joy of seeing people do ridiculously dangerous things and walk away from the experience virtually unscathed. For TV, “Jackass” was a first because it went beyond Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jumps by keeping the stunts to real-world dimensions, like standing in a porta-potty as it’s turned upside down. “Jackass” reached a broader audience when it was made into feature films in 2002 and 2006.
The Larry Sanders Show
Aired: HBO, 1992-1998
Stars: Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, Scott Thompson, Kathryn Harrold
Synopsis: Behind-the-scenes shenanigans at “The Larry Sanders Show,” a popular (but fictional) late-night talk show hosted by the brilliant but neurotic comic Larry Sanders, played by Garry Shandling.
Impact: Mr. Shandling was a regular guest host on “The Tonight Show” and a strong candidate to take over when Johnny Carson retired. Ultimately, Mr. Shandling chose instead to create his own talk show world, albeit a fictionalized version. The series was a revealing look at how a late-night talk show runs and the characters who make it run, including the egomaniacal host, the sycophantic sidekick and the ever-ready, seen-it-all producer who keeps everything together. Scathingly satiric, “The Larry Sanders Show” was an uncompromisingly honest depiction of TV.
Larry King Live
Aired: CNN, 1985-present
Star: Larry King
Synopsis: Columnist Larry King hosts this talk show featuring politicians, celebrities and people in the news. In addition to asking questions himself, Larry invites callers from around the country to join in.
Impact: “Larry King Live” is the most watched program on CNN. As an experienced journalist and radio personality, Mr. King’s easygoing style of interviewing has made his show a popular destination for guests, from mercurial stars such as Marlon Brando to presidential hopefuls including Sen. John McCain. Mr. King’s genial personality has made him one of CNN’s most recognizable stars, and one who has reached near-legendary status.
Aired: Disney Channel, 2001-2004
Stars: Hilary Duff, Adam Lamberg, Jake Thomas, Hallie Todd, Robert Carradine, Lalaine, Kyle Downes
Synopsis: Pre-teen Lizzie McGuire’s life has its ups and downs. Her little brother is a pain in the neck, school is cool except that Kate Sanders is driving her crazy, and then there are her parents. No wonder Lizzie’s inner thoughts are a cartoon creation.
Impact: With its eclectic style, mixing live action with animation, “Lizzie McGuire” was the Disney Channel’s most innovative series of its time. Aimed at the pre-teen demographic, the show was a breakout hit and made Hilary Duff a breakout star. In 2003 it was turned into a feature film, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” Disney ended the series after 65 episodes, which reportedly is company policy.
Aired: USA, 2002-present
Stars: Tony Shalhoub, Ted Levine, Jason Gray-Stanford, Traylor Howard, Bitty Schram, Stanley Kamel
Synopsis: Private detective Adrian Monk uses his obsessive-compulsive attention to detail to help him solve crimes, but getting over the death of his wife while dealing with his neuroses makes everyday life hard to handle.
Impact: With his multiple psychological problems, Monk is anything but normal. Although he’s obsessive-compulsive to the point of paralysis in certain situations, his intense focus and attention to detail make him as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes when analyz
ing a crime scene. The mystery plots are usually more “how-done-it” than “who-done-it,” allowing “Monk” to be more character-driven than plot-oriented. As Monk, Tony Shalhoub is masterful, winning three Emmys as lead actor in a comedy.
Aired: FX, 2003-present
Stars: Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh, Joely Richardson, Roma Maffia, John Hensley, Bruno Campos
Synopsis: Two plastic surgeons share a practice in glamorous Miami, but they have very different attitudes about what they’re doing. Sean McNamara throws himself into work to avoid his troubled personal life, while hedonistic Christian Troy will operate on anyone willing to pay the price.
Impact: Creator Ryan Murphy took advantage of the public’s obsession with plastic surgery to bring this cynically clever series to cable. As soon as it appeared on FX, the show was a hit, especially appealing to the 18-49 demographic. “Nip/Tuck” balances the more graphic medical machinations with the personal lives of the doctors, but it’s the operations that are usually the most controversial aspect of the show. The surgeons have separated conjoined twins, given a man breast implants and sucked nearly four gallons of fat from a patient’s body.
The O’Reilly Factor
Aired: Fox News, 1996-present
Star: Bill O’Reilly
Synopsis: Journalist Bill O’Reilly hosts a news show about events of the day, promising to be fair and balanced unlike his competition.
Impact: Mr. O’Reilly is the most popular talking head on Fox News. His show reflects his personality and views that he describes as traditional and independent. His critics contend Mr. O’Reilly has no idea what fair and balanced is all about. Viewers don’t agree; the show consistently wins its time slot in the ratings.
Aired: MTV, 2002-2005
Stars: Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne, Jack Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne
Synopsis: Cameras record the real life of rock star Ozzy Osbourne and his family, capturing all the action, including fighting, un-house-trained dogs and occasional tiffs with the neighbors.
Impact: Taking a page from “The Real World,” MTV cameras were set up in the home of Ozzy Osbourne to capture the rocker’s family life. The seemingly uncensored look at the four Osbournes in the raw made for captivating viewing, from Sharon’s persuasive domination to Ozzy’s off-kilter passivity to Kelly’s rebelliousness and Jack’s slacker nonchalance. In 2002, the show won an Emmy for nonfiction program (reality). After “The Osbournes,” a spate of imitators followed, including “The Anna Nicole Show.”
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
Aired: Bravo, 2003-present
Stars: Ted Allen, Carson Kressley, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Jai Rodriguez
Synopsis: A straight man who needs personal improvement receives counsel from five gay men who are experts in fashion, food, culture, interior decorating and style.
Impact: If “Will and Grace” created a comfort level with all things gay for the American viewing public, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” took it up a notch. The five hosts are essentially fairy godfathers bringing their expertise to a subject who needs a makeover. With a genial, humorous touch that’s rarely too pushy, “Queer Eye” has been a sure hit for Bravo. The formula has been used to create international versions of the show, and the American incarnation won an Emmy for reality program in 2004.
The Real World
Aired: MTV, 1992-present
Synopsis: A group of seven twentysomethings from different backgrounds is brought together in a major city to try to get along as they live together in a house. The omnipresent cameras capture their unscripted actions and dialogue.
Impact: Place attractive young people who don’t know one another under one roof in an exciting location and let the cameras roll. That’s the recipe for MTV’s “Real World,” a simple concept that has reaped rewards for the network, proving to be a foolproof success now entering its 17th season. The show often is cited as the starting point for the reality craze that picked up steam in the early 2000s with “Survivor,” “The Bachelor” and others.
Sex and the City
Aired: HBO, 1998-2004
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Christopher Noth, John Corbett, David Eigenberg, Willie Garson, Kyle MacLachlan, Evan Handler
Synopsis: Columnist Carrie Bradshaw’s life as a single, attractive woman in contemporary New York City is reflected in her writing. Also sharing their views about men and life are Carrie’s best friends, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte.
Impact: Based on columnist Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name, “Sex and the City” was a frank, funny, female-centric sitcom that celebrated not only women but also life in New York City. As interpreted by creator Darren Star (“Melrose Place”), “Sex and the City” was bolder than network sitcoms, especially when the women talked about sex and their relationships. The performances of the four actresses infused the show with class as well. The show was a ratings winner for HBO, and also an Emmy winner for comedy series in 2001.
Aired: FX, 2002-present
Stars: Michael Chiklis, Benito Martinez, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace, Forest Whitaker, Glenn Close
Synopsis: Los Angeles police detective Vic Mackey and his crew head up an anti-gang unit, but they’re not above breaking the rules, using their power to line their pockets and get their way.
Impact: “The Shield” is a gritty, graphic look at inner-city cops. The language is frank, the morality skewed, the acting superb and the initial experience a shock. As created by Shawn Ryan, “The Shield” is the next step in the evolution of police dramas, a leap forward from “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue.” In the lead role, Michael Chiklis won the Emmy for lead actor in a drama series is 2002.
Aired: HBO, 1999-present
Stars: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Steven Van Zandt, Robert Iler, Tony Sirico, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Dominic Chianese, Aida Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Joe Pantoliano, Drea de Matteo, Nancy Marchand, Steve Schirripa, Vincent Pastore, Jerry Adler
Synopsis: When New Jersey mob boss Anthony Soprano suffers anxiety attacks, he turns to a therapist to try to deal with the stress and pressures of his business and family life.
Impact: David Chase credits “Goodfellas” as the inspiration for “The Sopranos,” but that was clearly just a starting point for the writer. “The Sopranos” tells the story of the modern-day Mafia. It is fully drawn, with complex characters and a detailed canvas of plots and subplots. It’s proof that the public’s fascination with the mob is as vociferous now as it was when “The Godfather” came out. A multiple award nominee, in 2004 “Sopranos” was the first cable series to win the drama series Emmy.
Aired: Comedy Channel, 1997-present
Stars: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Mona Marshall, Eliza Schneider
Synopsis: Irreverent and sophomorically silly cartoon about four elementary school kids growing up in South Park, Colo., and the strange and wacky things that happen in their lives.
Impact: “The Simpsons” pushed the envelope as an irreverent animated series; “South Park” ripped it wide open. Raunchy, uncensored and coarse, the Trey Parker-Matt Stone creation aims to offend as much as amuse. Controversial and unapologetic, “South Park” rips pop culture and current events with a savage style that has won it a loyal viewing audience. The series has been nominated for numerous Emmys and received a Peabody Award.
Aired: Nickelodeon, 1999-present
Stars: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Dee Bradley Baker, Rodger Bumpass
Synopsis: Under the sea, an optimistic and slightly goofy sea sponge name
d SpongeBob SquarePants lives in a two-story pineapple, shares his thoughts and feelings with his best friend Patrick, and flips burgers at the Krusty Krab restaurant.
Impact: Cleverly scripted to appeal to both children and adults, “SpongeBob SquarePants” started modestly on Nickelodeon in 1999, but within a year it surpassed the popularity of the network’s previous champ, “Rugrats.” Since then, “SpongeBob” has been one of the most consistently highly rated shows on the cable channel. The series made the leap to the big screen in 2004 with “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”
Aired: TLC, 2000-2006
Stars: Paige Davis, Ty Pennington, Amy Wynn Pastor, Hildi Santos Tomas, Alex McLeod, Laurie Smith, Carter Oosterhouse, Vern Yip, Edward Walker, Frank Bielec, Genevieve Gorder, Christi Proctor
Synopsis: Two couples trade homes for two days, then team up with an interior decorator and carpenter to make over one room in each other’s home. Each team must be as creative as possible working with a budget that’s usually no more than $1,000.
Impact: Based on the BBC reality series “Changing Rooms,” “Trading Spaces” was an Americanization of the show that took full advantage of the do-it-yourself craze. Unlike Bob Vila’s home-improvement programs, “Trading Spaces” showed what amateurs-with a little help from a decorator and a carpenter-could accomplish. “Trading Spaces” spun off two editions, “Trading Spaces: Family” and “Trading Spaces: Boys and Girls.”
Total Request Live
Aired: MTV, 1998-present
Stars: Carson Daly, Taylor Greer, Stephen Colletti, LaLa, Vazquez, Cipha Sounds, Vanessa Minnillo, Damien Fahey
Synopsis: Broadcasting live from Times Square in the heart of New York City, MTV presents an hourlong look at the hottest current music, often interviewing the stars and having them perform their songs live.
Impact: “Total Request Live” is “American Bandstand” for the MTV generation, showing the top 10 music videos of the day. The countdown of videos proved to be so compelling that “TRL,” as it came to be known, rose in popularity. The show also made a star of host Carson Daly.
Aired: Showtime, 2005-present
Stars: Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon, Justin Kirk, Romany Malco, Hunter Parrish, Andy Milder, Alexander Gould
Synopsis: When her husband dies, leaving her in a financial quandary, young suburban mom Nancy Botwin discovers that selling pot is the answer to her problems. Using a bakery as a front, Nancy develops a good clientele but struggles to keep her outrageous new business a secret from her friends in the PTA and around the neighborhood.
Impact: Audacious, dark and funny, “Weeds” is the highest-rated program on Showtime. The show benefits from being on cable and pushing the boundaries with plots that flaunt drug use and dealing. What keeps the comedy buoyant is the superb performances from the cast. As Nancy, Mary-Louise Parker won the 2006 Golden Globe for performance by an actress in a TV comedy.
World Poker Tour
Aired: Travel Channel, 2003-present
Stars: Vince Van Patten, Sabina Gadecki, Mike Sexton
Synopsis: From around the world the top poker tournaments are featured, and winners in each event are invited to compete for the grand prize at the World Championship Tournament-a pot that exceeds $1 million.
Impact: It may seem hard to fathom that a card game could turn into exciting television, but the World Poker Tour found a way to capitalize on the poker craze with high-quality production values, big payouts, interesting locales and the game’s inherent competition. While there are other popular poker programs on television, “World Poker Tour” is the most successful. By March 2005, the show had awarded $100 million to winners in tournaments featuring competitors ranging from seasoned pros to college students.
Aired: USA, 1999-present
Stars: Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross, Jonathan Coachmen, Ric Flair, John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Umaga, Chris Masters, Mickie James, Lilian Garcia
Synopsis: The wild antics of Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment as packaged and presented by impresario Vince McMahon.
Impact: Wrestling has always been a draw on television, but it was never as explosive and exciting as it became when Vince McMahon presented “World Wrestling Entertainment.” Bigger, badder and more vociferous, Mr. McMahon specializes in developing personalities more than wrestlers, and those personalities come with entourages that include lovely, bikini-clad ladies and colorful managers. The package has wandered all over the cable landscape, but wherever it goes the fans find it and it continues to be a success.