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Surviving another year of TV

Take this as you wish as good news or bad news.

But the fact of America in 2010 is that it's a reality TV world we live in. Some of our best films ("Catfish") took off from reality TV into pseudo-documentary cinematic art. Some of our most reviled politicians (Palin, Paladino) sprang from a kind of Reality TV obscurity into a political process they transformed into a wholesale rabble rouse.

Sarah Palin had her own Reality TV show -- "Sarah Palin's Alaska" on TLC -- just like a Kardashian or "Jersey Shore" numbskull elsewhere, while her daughter Bristol went on the nation's most popular show, "Dancing With the Stars," and made friends for the Palin family that her caribou-killing mom never could.

Eliot Spitzer was voted into the governor's office, then voted off the island for excessive randiness, then hired as a CNN co-anchor. Tell me that's not a Reality TV show.

The whole NBC drama around Conan O'Brien and the network's monumentally incompetent (and departing) honcho Jeff Zucker was like an episode of "Survivor," full of Reality TV's favorite things -- backbiting, backstabbing and backward people putting themselves forward at others' expense, triumphing in a world of justice denied.

William Butler Yeats, obviously, knew a couple of generations ago that Reality TV was "slouching towards Bethlehem to be born" and already saw a world where "the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

A couple generations ago (after Yeats, it should be said), these annual Year-End awards were known as the Dumonts, in honor both of Margaret Dumont, the Marx Brothers' favorite patsy and one of the primordial TV networks. Let's rechristen them, for the moment, the "Survivor" prizes, named after the first great Reality TV show and still the best.

*Un poco loco: Now that the whole crazy business is over and Coco -- Conan O'Brien -- is on WTBS nightly, what was always apparent is still apparent: He isn't very good. Hip, smart, sometimes funny, all that and no more continually compelling than any other well turned-out exemplar of Harvard privilege would be.

*Barack Obama, talk show guest: He went on "The Daily Show" so that Jon Stewart could call him "Dude" to his face. He went on "The View" so that most of the cast could gush, but conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck could actually ask him a testy Rust Belt question a lot thornier than he usually gets from Washington news conferences. At least no one on "The View" walked off the show, as Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar temporarily did when Bill O'Reilly went a bullyboy bloviating inch too far.

*Stephen Colbert, congressional witness: The host of "The Colbert Report" actually testified "in character" at a congressional hearing.

*My mob is bigger than your mob: Fox's Glenn Beck, with guest agitator Sarah Palin, cluttered up the Washington Mall with fans. In response, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert decided to do the same. The memory of Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington remains undiminished.

*My coffee pot is bigger than your coffee pot: CBS created "The Talk" in the morning to be just like ABC's "The View," only without the politics and ideas and -- oh, you know -- smart stuff.

*Waving bye-bye: To NBC honcho Zucker when Comcast takes over; to the venerable "Law and Order;" to Larry King, five years past venerability; and, eventually, in 2011, to Oprah Winfrey, about to abandon daytime queendom to be the empress of her own network, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

*What Carrie Fisher did on HBO: Gave us one of the funniest shows on TV all year in "Wishful Drinking."

*What Martin Scorsese did on HBO: Gave us the less-than-stupendous "Boardwalk Empire." But then, on a much smaller scale, he made up for it by following Fran Lebowitz around on "Public Speaking" so she could be brilliant for 90 minutes and almost as funny as Carrie Fisher (though no one would ever call that an easy task).

*Most lamentable death in local broadcasting: The appalling, truly unforgivable removal of daytime and regular jazz programming from WBFO-FM radio in favor of NPR stuff already carried on WNED-AM.

*Most jaw-dropping moment in local broadcasting: The suspected shooter in the horrendous downtown mass murder outside the City Grill gave himself up to Rich Newberg. We understand Newberg negotiations are now under way with Osama bin Laden. Martin Bormann is still being kept on hold on Newberg's phone.

*How long does MSNBC consider a properly punitive suspension?: Two days. That's how long Keith Olbermann was suspended for contributing to political campaigns, one for a previous guest on his show.

*See the movie, then watch the morning massacre: In "Morning Glory," megaplex audiences saw an anchor fired and a basement-rated morning show overhauled for better ratings. In life, see the announced new CBS morning show in January, long bottom-rated against juggernauts "Today" and "Good Morning America."

*The right way to end a season: "Mad Men" on AMC did it brilliantly.

*The wrong way to end a season: "Rubicon" did it appallingly on AMC, thereby in effect killing off what had been, up to that point, the subtlest and most brilliantly chilling show on television -- and the one with one of the most unusual featured performances, as playwright Michael Cristofer played a devious, deviant intelligence mastermind with a smile more sinister than whole seasons of "24."

*Continuing casting coup on network TV: Whoever thought of having Richard Castle's mother and teen daughter both be flaming redheads.

*Runner-up casting coup on network TV: Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell on "The Defenders," a show that's a perfectly schlocky equivalent of its perfectly schlocky stars.

*Worst network show of the season that wasn't a completely unwatchable sitcom starring William Shatner: "Outlaw," in which Jimmy Smits played a Supreme Court justice who resigned to become a lawyer for the oppressed. Not the dumbest premise in the entire history of network television, but for the year 2010, it sufficed.

*Good junk: "Hawaii Five-O."

*Good sport: George Lopez, when Conan O'Brien's new WTBS show bumped him to midnight.

*Bad time slot: "Detroit 1-8-7," which always has to be on your DVR because it's opposite the best weekly show on TV, "The Good Wife," which is loosely based on the saga of Client 9 himself, Eliot Spitzer.

And now, over to you, Kathleen Parker.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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