Every decade has its landmark TV shows, and there will or should never be complete agreement on which 10 series belong at the top of the list.
For purposes of this list, a TV show is eligible only if it premiered in or after 1999. In addition, TV shows were judged on their artistic merit and overall contribution to the medium, not on their ratings or profit margins.
10. MODERN FAMILY
* ABC, 2009-present
It's a little risky to pick a new show as one of the best of the decade, even after seeing about a dozen episodes. In the case of "Modern Family," the risk is minimized by the track record of its creators, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. At a time when most new shows are just finding themselves, this one has been so consistently funny, smartly produced and crisply written that it has all the earmarks of a classic in the making.
* ABC, 2004-present
Part adventure, part mystery and part sci-fi, "Lost" defies convenient characterization. Supposedly conceived as a blend of "Lord of the Flies," "Survivor," "Gilligan's Island" and "Cast Away," the series developed a unique mythology and an unconventional rhythm that mixed stories of the present with those from the past and future. Creators Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof created one of TV's biggest casts, then made each character utterly fascinating.
* Fox, 2001-present
Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow conceived this series when the idea of a terrorist attack that would bring down the World Trade Center towers seemed inconceivable. But when the unthinkable happened, America rallied around indefatigable agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and some super-suspenseful, action-packed, provocative stories. Even the real CIA took notes. With an uncanny knack for selecting guest stars and a real-time format, "24" injected shots of excitement to the small screen.
7. 30 ROCK
* NBC, 2006-present
Maybe it's because Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels know TV from both sides of the camera. More than that, they understand the nutty things that happen when the surf of corporate culture pounds the shore of creative anarchy. "30 Rock," a TV show within a TV show, is occasionally guilty of biting the hand that schedules it, but never runs out of business and showbiz targets ripe for being lampooned.
6. MAD MEN
* AMC, 2007-present
Matthew Weiner rewound the clock nearly a half-century to create a drama that provides a fresh look at relationships and business and gender through vintage glasses. Set in the early 1960s in a prominent ad firm, "Mad Men" is beautifully written and blessed with a strong cast, starting with Jon Hamm as flawed executive Don Draper. You've come a long way, baby, but it sure is fun to look back.
* FX, 2007-present
Few if any creators have ever spun more intricate and surprising yarns than Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman in "Damages," a high-stakes legal drama in which almost nothing is exactly as it seems. A superb cast, starting with Glenn Close, brings to life some of the most ambitious plots ever conceived for TV. This may be as intriguing and addictive as TV gets.
4. THE SHIELD
* FX, 2002-08
Just as David Chase found a new and powerful direction for crime drama, Shawn Ryan shattered the mold for police drama. "The Shield" was everything no police series had ever been, starting with antihero Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), a sympathetic but impossibly corrupt Los Angeles cop who made up his own rules of law enforcement as he went along. Moral ambiguity provided a gateway to stories that were stark, real and absolutely incredible.
3. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
* HBO, 2000-present
From his earnings as creator of "Seinfeld," Larry David could have bought one of the Virgin Islands and retired to a life of leisure and luxury. Instead, he trumped himself with a comedy series that poked fun at political correctness and poked even more fun at a curmudgeonly version of himself. Plotted but not scripted, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" raised mortification and tactlessness to art forms.
2. THE WEST WING
* NBC, 1999-2006
Creator Aaron Sorkin swore this show wasn't his way of making civics palatable to a mass audience, but it did just that. Neo-cons ran the real White House during most of the show's run. On TV, though, a team of highly principled progressives operated the levers of TV government. Quite possibly, this unfailingly witty and intelligent series, packed with powerful performances, whetted the country's appetite for change it can believe in.
1. THE SOPRANOS
* HBO, 1999-2007
From its opening musings about ducks in Tony Soprano's swimming pool to its ambiguous and much-discussed ending, "The Sopranos" pioneered a new form of drama. Creator David Chase brilliantly melded the dark, violent world of organized crime boss Soprano (James Gandolfini) with the conventions of middle-class suburbia. It dominated water cooler conversation even though, as an HBO program, it was available in only a small fraction of the nation's households.