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See the 12 shows that combine brains with good looks

Shaun Harrison
1 of 12 Jessica Miglio/NBC

30 Rock

Why It's Smart: Each episode is part class-system study (Jack's rich 50 is a poor person's 38), part family drama (Will Tracy thwart his kids' murder plot?) and part sociology lesson (Jenna in blackface), all complemented by a liberal dose of non-sequiturs (Cat anus!). How Smart Is It? Smart enough to use huge guest stars to goose the ratings and stay afloat, but (almost) never compromise the quality of the comedy.
2 of 12 Carole Segal/Sci Fi

Battlestar Galactica

Why It's Smart: Strip away its sci-fi trimmings and Battlestar is as much about democracy and freedom as The West Wing was. Until last season's finale, the 30,000-odd survivors of the destruction of New Caprica were looking for Earth; in a clever reversal, their quest is now much deeper, challenging the very idea of "home." How Smart Is It? Forget global warming. As post-apocalyptic scenarios go, this one — as bleak as it is — seems likely.
3 of 12 HBO

Big Love

Why It's Smart: It's a tall order: to create a show about polygamy that is neither an attack on or a glorification of the controversial practice of taking multiple wives to ensure one's place in heaven. Ultimately, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his trio of spouses (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) live a normal suburban life; they just share it with additional people. How Smart Is It? It's made us see that polygamy in and of itself isn't the problem.
4 of 12 Adam Taylor/CBS

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Why It's Smart: Cops use science to solve crimes. Real science. How Smart Is It? Actual prosecutors cite "the CSI effect," in which juries won't convict unless all forensic measures have been utilized.
5 of 12 Comedy Central

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Why It's Smart: Stewart very easily could have made The Daily Show a leftist, "aren't Republicans fat and white?" kind of political comedy show. Instead, he is an equal-opportunity critic, handing out jabs to both sides of the aisle. Appearing on his show has become a shrewd strategy for anyone serious about raising their profile in Washington. How Smart Is It? Studies have consistently shown that more young people get their political news from Stewart than any network news program.
6 of 12 FX


Why It's Smart: Let's be honest: Season 1 could have been a hot mess had the multiple timelines and jigsaw-puzzle-like narrative been in less-than-capable hands. Instead, co-creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman crafted a mesmerizing work of art that kept us wondering who did what to whom and why until the very last elevator bell ding. How Smart Is It? The FX series is every bit as clever as Glenn Close's Patty Hewes – always one step ahead of every foe ... or friend.
7 of 12 Adam Taylor/Fox


Why It's Smart: Unsolvable medical mystery gets solved by TV's crankiest supersurgeon. And... scene. That's the basic blueprint for every hour of the Fox megahit. Yet almost every week, the story unspools in such a unique fashion – and is accompanied by just the right amount of the doc's personal lives – that it feels fresh. How Smart Is It? David Shore, Katie Jacobs and the show's other executive producers should get honorary MDs from House's alma mater, the University of Michigan.
8 of 12 Monty Brinton/CBS

How I Met Your Mother

Why It's Smart: TV has given us Friends who live and hang out together, as well as the gang at Cheers. CBS' Mother did not simply merge those winning set-ups but did them one better by shrewdly establishing a "finishing line" right in its title. So as awesome as Barney is, and as adorably Canadian as Robin is, and as hot monkey-sextastic as Lily and Marshall are, we are left to wonder every week: How did Ted meet his future kids' mother? And who is she? How Smart Is It? Like, Doogie Howser-child-doctor smart.
9 of 12 Dana Edelson/NBC

Late Night with Conan O'Brien

Why It's Smart: In addition to savvy, lighthearted takes on current events and pop culture, O'Brien's on-screen persona (let's call it Self-Deprecating Nerd) has won the hearts of many a starlet looking for a nice guy with a sense of humor. How smart is that! How Smart Is It? They don't hand over The Tonight Show to just anybody.
10 of 12 Will Hart/NBC

Law & Order

Why It's Smart: Any journalist worth his notepad will tell you that the most dramatic stories originate in the court system. Producer Dick Wolf knew that, and created a crisply written series chock-full of meaty New York lawyer-and-police stories, many of them inspired by true events. How Smart Is It? It has been on the air for 19 years.
11 of 12 Mario Perez/ABC


Why It's Smart: What started as a simple desert-island drama has morphed into a dense, kaleidoscopic serial that really bakes your noodle. For every question the show answers, it raises five intriguing others. Why did Oceanic Flight 815 crash? We're really not sure, but it has something to do with electromagnetism, time travel, redemption, absent fathers, fertility issues, an abandoned nuclear warhead, and some guy named Jacob… so far. It's a wild ride. How Smart Is It? Among the staggering number of books woven into the show's mythology are Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.
12 of 12 AMC

Mad Men

Why It's Smart: Its depiction of the cut-throat brutality of 1960s Madison Avenue educates us on the sins of our fathers. Its probing scripts use key historical events (for example, JFK vs. Nixon and the Bay of Pigs) to anchor discussions about honesty, temptation and patriotism. How Smart Is It? While the world of Sterling Cooper is at heart an old boys' club, producers had the wherewithal to flesh out the show's popular female characters in Season 2.