Wednesday, December 24, 2003

TIM'S TV LIST / 39 reasons not to kill the tube

TIM'S TV LIST / 39 reasons not to kill the tube: "Forget about great. Never mind best this and best that. What this country wants most from its television watching experience is entertainment - if it's mindless, that's just a bonus. We are a weary, work-hard people. The Nielsens have historically borne out this fact: Difficult, smart and literate TV offerings are fine for the 5 percent of the people who've got that kind of brain power left at the end of the day. The Great Masses -- they'll take a groin thwack on 'America's Funniest Home Videos' over Bill Moyers pretty much any day of the week.
In that mindset, and because there's just no stopping our 'List Week Hootenanny,' here then the 39 most entertaining things on TV. And, of course, a couple of other lists. It's like a sickness: We can't stop.

1. "24." Fox. Didn't make our best dramas list because, let's face it, there's too much suspended belief here, too much ridiculous nonsense, too much Kim Bauer. But still, this is the ultimate plate-spinner drama. All adrenaline.

Wouldn't miss one ludicrous episode.

2. "Alias." ABC. A complete and utterly confusing piece of fluff. Which means, it's awesome in its own don't-take-it-seriously crusade. Jennifer Garner dressed to kill and kicking much bad-guy ass. What's not to like?

3. "SportsCenter." ESPN. The best highlights show on the planet. All day, every day.

4. "Survivor." CBS. Most reality shows could have made this list, given the American insatiability for them. But this franchise consistently delivers and is one of the best shot and edited series on TV.

5. "The Daily Show." Comedy Central. Jon Stewart is quite possibly the funniest man alive. Required viewing.

6. "MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge." Spike TV. You'd think the carnage would get old. But it never does.

7. "The Sopranos." A serious drama? Sure. Everybody waits breathlessly for this series like Jesus is going to reappear in the second act.

8. Pretty much any reality-based clip-show Fox airs. Honestly, "World's Worst Fill in the Blank" always makes you watch, no matter how inane or morally offensive. Just admit it.

9. "The Office." BBC America. OK, look. It's not for everybody. But there are only 12 episodes, not counting the forthcoming Christmas specials. This is something you rejoice in anytime you see it.

10. David Letterman. CBS. Never disappointing, always different. And now he's a dad and evolving yet again as we watch.

11. "The Simpsons." Fox. Fifteen years of genius. Period.

12. "Cops." Fox. Don't get all high-brow. You know it's fun. All these years and people still take off running. Have they learned nothing? Oh, well, it's better for us when they do.

13. "Late Night With Conan O'Brien.'' NBC. It's hard to believe he's been around 10 years. There's been so much brilliance in the decade, but in particular we are all indebted to him for giving Triumph the Insult Comic Dog exposure.

14. Anything on Nick At Nite. It's like comfort food.

15. "The PowerPuff Girls." Cartoon Network. Just the soundtrack gets our blood pumping, but the cleverness knows no bounds and it never gets old.

16. "Monday Night Football." ABC. A staple. One of the great ideas in all of television.

17. The History Channel. From the hangover-curing Hitler documentaries to the rest of the stuff you'd think would bore the tears out of you, but doesn't.

18. NASCAR. Dismiss it if you want, but people are insane for it. Plus, there's crashes. Not that anyone is supposed to like them.

19. "South Park." Comedy Central. Little cartoon cut-out kids swearing. Cartman alone has made life easier. This show proves we live in a great country.

20. "NFL Countdown/Primetime." ESPN. A gift to sports fans. Tremendous information.

21. "Monster Garage." Discovery Channel. Guys tearing up metal and creating art. It started a wave of industrial rampaging on TV.

22. "Spongebob Squarepants." Nickelodeon. There's no real educational component and for some people, no real allure. But for others, this is cartoon crack.

23. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Bravo. Overexposed? Sure. But with the country relentlessly fascinated with makeover shows, this one at least makes you smile instead of wince.

24. BET videos. Pretty much self-explanatory. And if MTV actually played videos, it might have been considered.

25. Almost anything MTV/VH1 does. That's not an endorsement, just fact. From "The Real World" to "Newlyweds" and on down the list, these channels tap into and feed our surface joys, our fixation on eye candy.

26. Jimmy Kimmel. Not everybody's guy. But a guy's guy, and a real emerging talent in late night.

27. "Pardon the Interruption." ESPN. It all works. From the yelling to the timer to the masks to the attention-deficit topic list. Makes time fly.

28. "Maternity Ward." TLC. A lot of non-fiction stuff from the Discovery brand networks could have been here. But this series is compelling and extremely well done.

29. Great commercials. Yep, advertising. Sometimes the best thing in any given TV hour. A current fave: The Miller Lite ad where people topple like dominoes. Inventive and funny.

30. "So Graham Norton." BBC America. A great late-night host. He's got a lightning wit and cutting sarcasm, all sheathed in a heart that kids.

31. "Primetime Glick." Comedy Central. Stupid and addictive, one of the best running sight gags in some time.

32. "Hardball With Chris Matthews." MSNBC. Yes, he yells and cuts off his guests and, well, yells. But he's smart and damn entertaining.

33. "American Chopper." Discovery Channel. Family discord, choppers, tough guys, yelling, strange comedy, cool bikes. Another winning formula.

34. The Outdoor Life Network. It's not often that you can watch fishing on TV. And the Tour de France.

35. "Adult Swim." Cartoon Network. Stupendous: Cater cartoons to adults who don't want to grow up. Weird and hilarious little treasures.

36. "The O'Reilly Factor." Fox. Liberals loathe him. Conservatives bow to him. He provokes everyone. Apparently he's doing something right and should get some credit for knowing how the TV game is played.

37. The Food Network. Hours can slip away, even if you can't cook and you're just hungry. But really, this is all about personalities.

38. The Travel Channel. Perhaps the single most bizarre lineup of shows on any cable channel. Zero focus, but loads of fun.

39. Foreign channels. From telenovelas to mind-bending Chinese soaps, sometimes you get sucked in for long chunks of time, never understanding a word. Now that's entertainment.

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