Hillary Atkin

Defining a Decade: How the Aughties Changed TV

Jan 8, 2010

Think back to the year 2000. Ah, yes. Y2K, those innocent days before 9/11, when reality television was just making major inroads with the huge popularity of “Survivor,” before Jack Bauer became a ticking terrorist ass-kicker, before “American Idol” changed the pop culture landscape and when Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather reigned supreme over their respective network newscasts.

The dot-com 1.0 party was in its last euphoric throes on its way to crashing and burning, yet YouTube and Hulu were years away from changing the way people consume video. TiVo and DVRs were around, but hadn’t penetrated the marketplace. Most cell phones couldn’t access the Internet—they were text-capable but not many in the US actually texted anyone — and TV stations didn’t have their own Web sites streaming live video of breaking news, much less transmitting to then-nonexistent iPhones, Blackberries or other "smart" mobile devices.

It was a time when Tony Soprano was solidifying his power base in New Jersey as the corpses stacked up and Carrie Bradshaw and her fashionable entourage were becoming icons in living the fabulous single life in New York City.

The Aughties saw the end of beloved, groundbreaking shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” but spawned new ideas and entertainment that shaped our lives and drove the conversation. These are some of the decade’s game-changers across the cable and broadcast spectrum:

Fox’s “24” and Real-World Terrorism: Against the backdrop of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cathartic experience of watching the time-pressured Jack Bauer brutally wring whatever he wanted from evildoers intent on killing thousands of innocents—along with the Abu Ghraib torture photos scandal—kick-started a national conversation about how enemy combatants are treated. The fictional character became representational on both sides of the fence — as hero or villain — and the controversy over the show’s depiction of Islamic terrorists led to Kiefer Sutherland doing a public service campaign to mitigate some of the accusations of racial profiling. In light of recent events, and with the upcoming season set in New York, “24” will remain a lens through which many people view the war on terror.

The Daily Show’s Huge Impact: just when you thought Jon Stewart couldn’t get any hotter, or overexposed —  remember all those mid-decade magazine cover stories? — he and his “Daily Show” team of fake reporters proved they hadn’t peaked with their 2004 and 2008 “Indecision” election coverage. The show’s guest slot became and remains a coveted go-to spot for politicians, world leaders and authors — with an occasional movie star thrown in for good measure. "TDS’s" spawn went on to great good fortune, most notably Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, whose Stephen and Steven segments are still fondly remembered.

The Juggernaut that is ‘American Idol’: Paula, we miss you already. Ten years ago, who could have possibly predicted the massive phenomenon that became “Idol?” (Or Ryan Seacrest becoming a near industry unto himself?) Fan or no — and those who weren’t were definitely in the minority – “AI” brought major talent to the world stage. Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks can all tip their hats to “Idol,” as do the accountants at Fox Broadcasting Co. With Ellen DeGeneres taking the Paula judging spot, Simon Cowell nearly ready to take a final bow and ratings somewhat on the decline, the peak glory days may be in the past, but the program’s power and progeny (“Dancing With the Stars,” “America’s Got Talent,” etc.) live on.

New Faces of News: The evening news anchor desks had historically been held by older white men, but by the end of the decade, two of the three were occupied by women who made their names on the softer side of news, in the morning. Did the format change? Not so much. When you’ve only got 22 minutes of news, there’s not much time or space for major formula revisions. And the audience — whose size has deteriorated even as the median age increased — really wasn’t up for ch-ch-changes. Still, network news is far from dead — as some pundits have pronounced it for years. And 24-hour cable news, which drives a large swath of political debate from both sides and down the middle in filling its bottomless news hole, isn’t expected to retrench. Even these days, it’s still cost-effective programming.

Food as Entertainment: The Aughties brought foodies another venue outside of the kitchen, the bookstore or the restaurant to indulge their passion and learn some new cooking tricks. Whether your favorite flavor was “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef” or “Kitchen Nightmares,” or your TV was permanently tuned to the Food Network, television catered to the concept of cooking as sport. A far cry from the days when “The French Chef With Julia Child" on PBS was the only game in town. Hungry for more? No shortage of food shows is on the horizon.

Reality as Reality TV: These days, having your own reality show is a career move for untold thousands, who will go to any lengths to attain it. (Example A: the heinous Heene media hos.) The pay might be low, but the perks can be great — extending far beyond the old-school 15 minutes of fame. Whether it’s being a contestant on “The Bachelor,” sewing your way to stardom on “Project Runway,” being a “Real Housewife” (Salahis, anyone?) or becoming a “Biggest Loser,” the tabloid shelf life can be lucrative. Reality television decimated the ranks of scripted television shows and their writers, producers and actors — and sadly, there’s no going back.


  1. This writer has captured in a nutshell TV in the naughty and haughty aughties. I would pass this out as a guide to anyone wanting a quick summary of the last decade. It is concise and insightful and pushes all the right buttons and genres in a fresh way, considering the space required to write about more than 3,650 days and nights of television. One can only wonder how the next article will read covering the 20 Tens. Kudos!!!

  2. Ms. Atkin’s stroll down memory lane illuminates many significant catalysts that have transformed our lives. The last decade was a rife with chaos and social turmoil which closely mimiced a significant portion of my life during that period. The upside is that society has perservered and is moving forward, in spite of the many challenges we currently face. Ms. Atkin’s very poignant expose’ of life as we knew it was a joy to read. I loved it!

  3. Nice post, you make good points in a comprehensive and clear fashion. I will right away get your rss feed to stay privy of any updates, thank you for your time!

  4. I agree that these days, having your own reality show is a career move for untold thousands, who will go to any lengths to attain it. Reality television decimated the ranks of scripted television shows and their writers, producers and actors — and sadly, there’s no going back, it’s true.

  5. Mabuli: Chinese already it is too difficult that term of elementary school graduation can say a sentence
    Dispatch of morning paper of Wang Jiajun of Lou Dong of reporter of â–¡ our newspaper’s trainee because the photograph on a piece of small gain, mabuli (small gain) like all of body of a mind China ” brother ” Liang Qichao fire. The old horse is initiative that with and nike shox for sale ” Liang Qichao is passed ” the small gain of cover group photo is commented on transmit more than 20000, still had immediately ” Liang Qichao ” taking ” ” Mabuli is passed ” ” PS version. Yesterday, mabuli comes to the first to play the game after the season with wide mansion to Hangzhou along with Beijing team, he passed first time of our newspaper reporter to disclose this to fan in hotel room ” brother ” origin. Mabuli does not have too much baggage into the room that live, what install in the boot that spreading out on the ground is polo shirt completely, on the bed two mobile phones are charging, the reporter saw circuit, did not see that Chinese edition ” Liang Qichao is passed ” . Topic above all from this ” Chinese brother ” begin, mabuli laugh: “Actually this is innocently lift. ” ” on the bus I see the person beside is reading this book before two days, does he ask I know who this is? I say not to know, but we grow twice very to resemble. He tells me he is a what kind of character, what did he do before more than 100 years. Next I took a picture with the cover of this book, deliver small gain. Did not think of the picture can be passed into such. ” the Spring Festival and festival of lanterns, many audiences had seen the part that Mabuli is invited to use Chinese to pay a New Year call to fan by the TV station, also ask advice his Chinese level. Come to China 3 years, after all can Chinese of say a few words? Mabuli expresses this bad to say: “I can say term of a lot of Chinese now, but it is too difficult to should compose a sentence. ” just went to Beijing at that time, mabuli took this Chinese elementary school the Duanzi that textbook of one grade Chinese learns phonetics seriously allows fan people take delight in talking about, one many year time went, does he insist to come down? Mabuli’s answer is to do not have, but because,not be lazy discontinue one’s studying, however he is avowed already ” elementary school graduates ” . “Elementary school textbook is very big to my help, the tone of Chinese learns the hardest, the pronunciation of some and English is similar, but have vast meaning difference. Those elementary school textbook are the one step with my study important Chinese. I learn this respect now a lot of. ” the study level that he introduces further in Ma Bu, “Do not have textbook of reoccupy elementary school now, I already learned pronouncing phase via was being spent. Now basically is through following in the life the person is contacted, contact more vocabularies through listening, remember more words. ” after having the honor to win MVP honor, mabuli sent a long letter that makes personally to be thankful to fan on small gain, there is a word to let a reporter be interested most in the heart: “I am willing more a MVP (Most Valuable Player) understanding becomes the most valuable person (Most Valuable Person) . ” the ball is like life, his manner to basketball and be an upright person is a manage. “Had done the most valuable person, will tell to a person is more important thing. Playing basketball is relatively easy to me, I can play a ball game by endowment, all can help team win a ball extremely on field, win MVP likely this award. But if you are objective setting a more valuable person, can change your view to this world, change your view to life, change the way that you and person get along. This ability brings you to you most wanted life. ” text already ended, you can have a comment by Alt+4

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