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CBS moves to head of class

Sit tight. The revolution is coming. It happens Jan. 9. That's when Charlie Rose and Gayle King begin their Occupy CBS Morning movement and officially give up all hope of ratings supremacy.

And that is the good news, believe me.

They can't tell anyone that, of course, but anyone who isn't dependent on publicity handouts and taking dictation from broadcast executives knows that's the case.

CBS, incapable of making ratings headway against those twin morning monoliths "The Today Show" and "Good Morning, America," has, at long last, taken the only sensible course: it has stopped trying to compete. Instead of continuing in a three-way Dumb Down for Dollars sweep-stakes, it has selected two people -- PBS' Rose and Oprah's BFF Gayle King -- who actually have a chance to smarten the show up every morning.

When, for instance, someone like Vaclav Havel dies, Charlie Rose is the one human being in all broadcasting who'd be able to tell viewers in depth who he was and why he mattered.

No one's going to get any quotes from CBS News honchos telling the world they've finally figured out that the flagship of excellence at CBS isn't "60 Minutes" with its still monarchic numbers, but "CBS Sunday Morning" which has steadily become the finest news magazine in all of television.

Putting together a morning news team with Rose and King at the center is a pleasant indication that they're trying to input some of what's so good about "CBS Sunday Morning" into morning news daily. An even more solid indication was the recent CBS hiring of Wynton Marsalis to be a cultural correspondent. The late jazz pianist Billy Taylor was a longtime fixture on "CBS Sunday Morning" and Marsalis was smart enough to realize that while he may share little of Taylor's lovable temperament, he could use his example in January to spring off into a place more outspoken, gutsy and challenging than network TV coverage has ever been. That of course remains to be seen, but CBS seems to have hired Marsalis knowing exactly how passionate and articulate and tough he can be, which is the mark of a news organization that has decided to stop being afraid of culture and intelligence.

What all this might possibly do is send the show upscale enough to find the audiences morning TV abandoned decades ago and please a lot of people that any advertiser in his right mind might like to talk to.

In other words, CBS, every morning, might find some of the loyal and growing audiences for "CBS Sunday Morning." They might exchange massive metric victory for a morning TV show that everybody at CBS News might actually be proud of.

Stay tuned. A small revolution may be on the way in 2012 morning TV. You won't want to miss it. Meanwhile, in the rest of 2011 TV:

Farewells: With heavy heart, to Andy Rooney, who died a few short weeks after signing off "60 Minutes;" to Meredith Vieira from "Today;" to Jeff Greenfield from CBS News and locally to popular Ch. 4 veterans Lorey Schultz and Mylous Hairston and, forever, to Frederick A. Keller, not only the very first TV program director in Buffalo at Ch. 4, but the proprietor of our greatest art theater. However Regis Philbin's departure leaves your heart, I, for one, am glad the whole exhausting "Goodbye Regis" pageant is over.

Katie Couric left CBS too, finally, but wound up at ABC and will eventually make a big afternoon talk splash in 2012. Harry Smith left CBS, too, but you'll find him now at NBC, sometimes on its Monday news magazine, "Rock Center."

As for Glenn Beck leaving Fox, Eliot Spitzer leaving CNN and "The Playboy Club," and "Charlie's Angels" leaving the airwaves, you have to rejoice in the fact that even TV executives sometimes get it right.

Hello, hello! Are you there?: Chelsea Clinton to NBC News? Really? And Howard Stern is on his way to "America's Got Talent?" That could really be something, let's all admit.

Prime-time transgressions of 2011: The most secretly radical show on television is the blockbuster "Dancing With the Stars," which does more for the acceptance of radically different minorities than any network show has ever done in prime time.

Maybe cable TV isn't a garden after all: Oprah Winfrey's OWN network isn't a fraction of the national presence her syndicated show was. And other than an initial flourish and ratings bump, Keith Olbermann hasn't exactly taken Al Gore's Current network to the place at the American water cooler he once occupied.

Ratings, shmatings, they're too good for TV sitcoms: Zooey Deschanel in "New Girl," Kat Dennings in "Two Broke Girls."

Kevorkian mercy killing of the year: Canceling "Criminal Minds: Suspicious Behavior" saved both Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo from the weekly spectacle of trying, in public, to figure out what on earth they were doing there.

Unlikeliest TV trend of 2011: Prime-time fantasies based on fairy tales. See ABC's "Once Upon a Time." And NBC's "Grimm." Or, better yet, don't.

The gift that keeps on giving: To move to TBS, Conan O'Brien wound up doing a Leno on George Lopez, who reacted with uncommon grace, deserving of long remembrance.

How nice for us all: To have an alternative to the local 5 p.m. news blandness as good as "The Rockford Files" on WBBZ.

How sad for us all: "Prime Suspect" -- a pretty good cop show starring Maria Bello -- couldn't get arrested in its time slot. Kudos to NBC for giving it as much of a shot as it deserved.

Hamburger Helper for tired old TV series: Just add Ted Danson, stir and the original "CSI" is ready to serve up all over again.

The trouble with new TV seasons is: For everything as watchable as Poppy Montgomery on "Unforgettable" and Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel on "Person of Interest," you get a dreary waste, like "A Gifted Man" featuring actors who ought to be elsewhere.

Network guilty pleasure of 2011: ABC's "Revenge."

Big promise for 2012: What was revealed in the pilot for David Milch and Michael Mann's HBO series "Luck," scheduled to start on Feb. 5.

Best TV shows of 2011: CBS' "The Good Wife," AMC's "Breaking Bad" and "The Killing" (until the ending went kerflooey), Showtime's "Homeland" and Starz's "Boss," probably the best of them all, despite its puzzling lack of impact.

But, without question, the greatest TV show we saw in 2011 was "The Charlie Sheen Show," that wild, crazy, careening, drug-addled ride on a Mercury surfboard that we all took for a few weeks but which ultimately ended with the return of Ashton Kutcher to prime time and a dirty mouthed roast on Comedy Central.

In other words, our Mercury surfboards went up to the attic, leaving us with remembrances of immortal flameouts past. The trouble with this particular show is that if it ever gets renewed, it might kill off its star.

For real.


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