Creativity stood out on TV in 2006

Whittling down my TV favorites to a mere 10 shows isn't easy, and the networks - both broadcast and cable - aren't making things any easier. Not that I'm not complaining.

As I peruse the shows that made the cut, one idea jumped out at me: A whole lot of these programs never would have been commissioned even a few years ago.

A prime-time show about a Hispanic woman from Queens - who gets by on her smarts and spine, not her physique or a stereotypically "spicy" personality? A series about a physician so abrasive that he's nearly sent to jail, more or less for being a jerk? A program about the humdrum lives of the drones at a paper company - a comedy, no less?

If there's one thing TV executives realized this year, it's that the same-old, same-old won't cut it any more. If you want to be a hit - on cable, on the networks, on iTunes or Yahoo TV, on DVD or even on YouTube - your show has to stand out.

Television is a risky business, but all the more so if risks are gingerly avoided. Kudos to the creative people behind the shows on the list below. They've raised the bar yet again.

(Shows are listed in alphabetical order.)

• "The Office," NBC: Thursday is must-see TV night on NBC again, and this sensational series is one big reason for that. Laugh-out-loud comedy is hard to come by, but laughs anchored within a minutely realized character study - that doesn't exist, except at Scranton's Dunder Mifflin paper company. Long may it provide copy paper to the Pennsylvania business community, and belly laughs to the rest of us.