From the coverage about Sept. 11 to Rachel's pregnancy on ''Friends,'' Ken Tucker counts down the year's biggest events
David Schwimmer, Friends, ...
Credit: Friends: Warner Bros Television

Here are TV’s best moments of 2001

As the year winds down, here’s my list of TV’s most pivotal moments — serious and amusing — all of which kept us glued to our sets.

5. The benefit telethon for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks The performers weren’t introduced; the stage set was stark and candlelit; it was both a memorial and an artistic assertion that the nation would persevere. Not bad for a motley bunch of musicians ranging from Stevie Wonder to Neil Young to the Dixie Chicks, and actors such as Tom Cruise and Goldie Hawn reciting graceful anecdotes and testifying to the memory of lives lost.

4. Rachel’s pregnancy on ”Friends” The news that Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel was pregnant from a tryst with Ross (David Schwimmer) was the catalyst for the sitcom’s new season. And rather than coming off as a stunt or a gimmick, the deft writing and subtle acting turned the plot device into a richly emotional theme. This show is often credited with delivering solid laughs; it also deserves praise for handling tricky, delicate situations with witty aplomb.

3. ”The Sopranos”: Dr. Melfi’s rape This nightmare of a subject was handled with all the stark realism you’d expect from ”The Sopranos,” as Lorraine Bracco’s psychiatrist was brutally attacked and then left to grapple with the crime’s emotional aftermath. For all the criticisms leveled at this series for its supposed exploitation of violence, here was an example of showing a violent act for the repellent, permanently wounding phenomenon it is. Its repercussions rumbled through the rest of the season.

2. ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: The Musical Episode The most audacious move of the season was creator Joss Whedon’s composition of a complete musical, right down to a pop-rock libretto that both moved the plot along and also gave every cast member, no matter how strong or shaky his or her voice, a chance to shine. Once again, the most underrated show on TV demonstrated that a weekly series need not be bound by any creative constrictions.

1. TV coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks From the first, unbelievable live images of the World Trade Center being hit by planes to the ongoing reporting that immediately geared up and still continues, television once again served as the nation’s primary source of information. Generally speaking, the work done on both broadcast and cable networks has been first-rate. The flaw built into the medium of TV — its demand for instant ”content” eclipses the development of complicated, nuanced analysis and ideas — was largely transcended by television’s ability to communicate grief, anger, confusion, and comfort during a time of immense agony.

Here are TV’s women of the year.

Here are TV’s men of the year.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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