What could these shows possibly have in common? (Besides rats, that is.) Debuting in 1999 and 2000, each defined a major theme of the decade to come. Survivor brought reality TV from MTV to a mass audience, with an engrossing competition that was equal parts sports event, soap opera and human chess game. Other reality shows would get bigger (American Idol) or win more awards (The Amazing Race), but Survivor was the back-stabbing, button-pushing gold standard. Meanwhile Tony Soprano’s own human jungle (which might rank higher if its first, best season weren’t in the ’90s) signaled the rise of HBO and the creative shift to cable. Free of content restrictions and commercials, The Sopranos used the mafia to tell a bleak but humanistic story of family and business, self-interest and self-deception.
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