"Real people should not be on television," host Garry Shandling declared at the Emmys, to cheers from a crowd of nervous actors. Reality TV dominated 2000, providing some of its best shows (see No. 1) and ickiest lows (remember Rick Rockwell?). TV had other fantasy-reality conflicts: Leonardo DiCaprio played an ABC journalist with Bill Clinton; CBS's "Early Show" digitized its logo onto video of Manhattan; and then there was election night. At the Emmys, reality lost out. There's no award for nonscripted shows, and "The West Wing"'s airbrushed depictions of our better angels beat the "The Sopranos"' gritty realism. Sometimes fantasy still bites.
1 SURVIVOR (CBS) When 16 people battled on hot Pulau Tiga for a cool million, the "snakes and rats" proved Sartre right: Hell is other people. The biggest prime-time soap since "Dallas" was an addictively tacky social chess game, full of societal metaphors and water-cooler fodder. It achieved everything good TV (and bad TV) should.
2 MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (Fox). More lovable than "Raymond," more destructive than Ebola, the sugar-buzzed "Malcolm" dropped a firecracker down the shorts of the family-sitcom genre. Jane Kaczmarek, as ferocious, loyal Lois, is not just a mom but the life force.
3 THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (BBC America, Comedy Central). Part Monty Python, part "Blue Velvet," this macabre British comedy introduced the murderous town of Royston Vasey (slogan: "You'll never leave!") and three gifted sketch comics who played more than 60 bizarre but richly defined characters.
4 GILMORE GIRLS (The WB). Planned as family-friendly TV, "Gilmore" was meant to be Good and ended up good. A charming story of a happily unwed mom and a brainy teen whose life isn't defined by boys, it shows that feminism and family values aren't mutually exclusive.
5 THE TALLY HASSLE IN TALLAHASSEE After TV fumbled its Florida projections, it landed a tailor-made story. The recount saga stripped the election of those pesky issues, leaving what 24-hour news covers best: raw politics and lawsuits. At last, a story that cable couldn't blow out of proportion.
6 WONDERLAND (ABC). TV loves shootings and heart attacks but has ignored mental illness. The best medical show in years went inside a psychiatric hospital with clear-eyed compassion and depth. Two ill-rated airings later, ABC, like society, chose to look the other way again.
7 FIRST PERSON (Bravo). Filmmaker Errol Morris beautifully shot these profiles of odd obsessives (a squid hunter, an abattoir designer). In his trademark style, he had his subjects tell their stories gazing straight into the lens; their eyes were windows to the surreal.
8 THE TOM GREEN CANCER SPECIAL (MTV). In the Year of Celeb Health Dave's heart, Michael's Parkinson's Green's testicular cancer was the most creatively rewarding affliction. Green took his gross-out comedy to a new level on an unflinching show that took quite a pair to make.
9 THE CORNER (HBO). The addicts and pushers in this miniseries would have been anonymous, two-dimensional perps and problems on a cop drama, but here they swelled to life fully realized and unromanticized. Khandi Alexander gave TV's performance of the year.
10 DARK ANGEL PILOT (Fox). Although fun and stylish, the series sometimes bogs down in ill-wrought slang and a creepy fixation on young star Jessica Alba's curves. But the 2-hour opener of James Cameron's first foray into televised sci-fi sleek, explosive and packed with stunning, sweeping visuals was simply postapocalyptastic.