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Dead Tree Alert: The Best TV of 2006

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Amid all the hubbub in a certain newsmagazine over digital democracy, sousveillance and user-generated-media empires, let us take a moment to remember those who toiled at the old-fashioned, quaint task of making expensive entertainments, under contract to giant corporations, for millions of people to watch passively, while being paid a gigantic pile of money to do it. I give you my 10 Best (and one Worst) TV shows of 2006.

I did something slightly different this year, which to do my list the way most other TV critics do, judging new and old series side by side. There was a tradition preceding me at TIME magazine of including only new shows or series on the year-end list, which made sense in terms of putting new faces on the list every year but little sense in terms of actually honoring the best TV. I finally realized that a list that made it appear as if, say, Dexter, was a better show than The Wire–because the former debuted this year–just seemed a little crazy.

That said, I’ll admit to a little jiggering to give credit to some deserving new shows. If I just wanted the 10 best series in absolute terms, I doubt there would be any new ones except Friday Night Lights (#3). Continuing series have a chance to develop depth, rhythms and resonances that even most great series can’t after only a few episodes. The 10 plain-old best series would probably include, every year, whichever HBO series aired, plus South Park, and FX show or two and a couple network tokens, year after year until they went out of production.  It would be correct, justifiable and boring.

So, reader, I fudged it; returning shows needed to clear a higher bar, thus making room for new blood. If pressed, honestly I could probably name 10 series better than Heroes–as I’ve written before, the show is exciting and creative on a story level, but badly in need of cliche-removal surgery. But it’s trying something worthwhile, and that ought to be noted, and it’s not like The Shield and The Sopranos need another top-ten credit on their resume. 

That means plenty of perfectly deserving shows could have made the cut and didn’t, and later this week I’ll give you my Next 10 list: shows 11 to 20, any of which might have been on my list had I gotten out of the other side of the bed in the morning, or had they sent me better bribes. In the meantime, feel free to peruse my list–which will be gussied up in a web-friendlier version on time.com later–and revel in the idiocy of my choices.