The imminent return of FX's "The Shield" (Tuesday) and HBO's "The Sopranos" (April 8) reminds us how lucky we are to live in a cable-rich world.
The best network dramas, such as "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy," are lightweights in comparison.
That doesn't mean network shows can't compete, but to do so will require some serious bulking up, hard punches and fancy footwork. As part of the training, we'd strongly suggest spending time with "game film," dissecting knockout moments from the past. Here are the 10 that floored us -- and have the power to inspire a comeback.
"Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever": Kirk and Spock (William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) boldly go to 20th-century San Francisco, where the captain falls for an evangelist. A deranged Bones, a lovesick Kirk and femme fatale Joan Collins combine to make this the Enterprise's most compelling adventure. April 6, 1967
"The Paper Chase: The Pilot": Anyone considering a legal career needs to revisit the first episode of this underrated series about a law-school student facing the wrath, or even worse, the indifference, of a powerful professor played by John Houseman. Who would have thought a class about contract law could be the setting for such tense drama? Sept. 7, 1978
"Hill Street Blues: Trial By Fury": The murder of a nun ignites a rage in the usually unflappable Frank Furillo (Daniel Travanti) that's more explosive than a shootout. David Milch, who would go on to create "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood," wrote the verbal fireworks. Sept. 30, 1982
"St. Elsewhere: Sweet Dreams": St. Eligius was one strange hospital, never more so than when some of the residents took part in a sleep project that revealed some less-than-healing dreams. The most shocking moment, aside from a ZZ Top cameo, comes when Jack Morrison (David Morse) confronts his dead friend in purgatory. Nov. 14, 1984
"Miami Vice: Out Where the Buses Don't Run": Don Johnson's wardrobe could have lit up the Orange Bowl, but the show's story lines were as dark as it gets, none more so than this dead-end adventure with a retired vice cop (Bruce McGill) obsessed with a missing drug dealer. The final revelation - he actually murdered the kingpin years ago and stuffed him behind a wall - is chilling. Oct. 18, 1985
"Homicide: Life on the Street: Night of the Dead Living": The Baltimore detective squad faces a case of the blues on a steamy, quiet night in a squad room with no air conditioning. This hour, which plays out like a theater piece, proves that it's great writing and great acting, not car chases and whodunit twists, that make truly compelling TV. March 31, 1993
"My So-Called Life: So-Called Angels": If you like your Christmas specials sprinkled with good cheer, you'll want to skip this episode. For the rest of us Scrooges, this is an unforgettable gift in which Angela (Claire Danes) finds herself in a makeshift homeless shelter populated with sadness and spirits. Dec. 22, 1994
"ER: Love's Labor Lost": The long-running medical series too often operates like a soap opera, with waiting-room shootings, international heroics and visits from big-name stars dying ... to win an Emmy. This Season 1 episode scrapes off the extras and focuses on Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), who misdiagnoses a pregnant woman, then struggles to save her and the baby. His loss is drama's gain. March 9, 1995
"The Practice: Betrayal": Who is TV's greatest villain? J.R. Ewing? The one-armed man? Would you believe it's John Larroquette? The "Night Court" star makes the first of many guest appearances here as Joey Heric, a sardonic client who seems to commit crimes just to see if he can get away with it. Playing second fiddle to a guy named Bull for eight years will do that do you. Sept. 23, 1997
"The West Wing: Two Cathedrals": A crisis in Haiti. The death of a trusted secretary. An agonizing decision on his political future. No wonder President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) ends up ranting at God in church -- and no wonder "Wing" is the last truly great drama that network TV has created. May 16, 2001