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A Breath of ‘Fresh Air’: Chatting with Terry Gross about the Year in TV
December 23, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 19 comments

Everyone has his or her favorite holiday traditions. Lately, among mine has been sitting in the Fresh Air studios to wrap up the year in TV and field questions by Terry Gross.

This year, my conversation with the host of NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross takes place Monday, on Christmas Eve, paired with Terry’s similar pop-culture debriefing with Fresh Air film critic David Edelstein. As they say, check local listings, or just visit the Fresh Air website after 5 p.m. ET Monday.

(The photo left, taken with my iPhone, is my POV show after Friday’s show. Executive producer Danny Miller is dead center — director Sue Spolan and engineer Kevin Griffin, blurry or obscured, but that’s my fault, not theirs. I don’t think I was supposed to take the photo in the first place.)

On the show, I’ll be playing a couple of clips, but mostly talking. With television, there’s always a lot to discuss — and this was not only a presidential election year, but a year of everything from Homeland to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

And though Fresh Air is the place where I’ll elaborate on, and explain and defend, my Top 10 TV Shows list of 2012, TV Worth Watching readers ought to be privy, in advance, to the TV I found most Worth Watching in 2012. So here’s the list, with a tie for 10th place to make it, in truth, a Top 11:


1)  Breaking Bad, AMC

2)  Mad Men, AMC

3)  The Colbert Report, Comedy Central

4)  The Good Wife, CBS

5)  The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

6)  Louie, FX

7)  Parenthood, NBC

8)  The Walking Dead, AMC

9)  Modern Family, ABC

10) Justified, FX

      Homeland, Showtime

For the Bottom 5 list — the most prominent or putrid Worst TV Shows of 2012 — you’ll have to tune in.  And it’ll be worth it, because Terry’s reactions to the worst TV I can find is one of my favorite elements of our annual chats.

My favorite thing of all, though, is just being there. Fresh Air has been a national radio program on NPR for 25 years now, and Terry and executive producer Danny Miller have allowed me to be there from the start. It really feels like family (in the good sense), and when Terry throws questions at me on the air, it’s very much like our conversations in the hallway: casual, inquisitive, and usually containing a burst or two of genuine laughter.

Capturing it on air, during the holiday season, is a present I don’t even have to unwrap. Producer Phyllis Myers is the one who talked my way into the starting rotation of the end-of-year on-air conversations with Terry — and that, too, is a gift that keeps on giving.

I hope you listen in, and I hope you enjoy it.

I also hope you also provide your own Top 10. This year, there are at least 25 shows that deserve to make it, and I suspect — in fact, I hope — you’ll champion ones that just missed my cut.


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Thanks for a wonderful share. Here is the great example related to you blog.
Nov 25, 2022   |  Reply
What about the absolutely edgy, weird and well played True Detective? Certainly enjoys its own drama, swampy pedophilia and odd personalities. Harrelson and McConaughey handle their roles with gusto and reserve depending on the lines. Harrelson has a very expressive face; McConaughey is stoic. Both well cast. In spite of the creepy central theme or because of it, TD compels completely.
Mar 5, 2014   |  Reply
Pardon the self-promotion, but take a look, if you will, at my basic-cable, mainly broadcast Top 10, which is also posted on TVWW. There is more good stuff on broadcast than you realize or acknowledge.
Jan 2, 2013   |  Reply
Patricia Golan
I was very surprised that "Boss" did not even merit a mention on your list.
Jan 1, 2013   |  Reply
What you were saying about the scarcity of good shows on broadcast TV, the way cable stations bristle at their formats, the availability of shows regardless of whether they are in syndication from the cloud, thus, the fact that 20 year olds won't stumble upon the Honeymooners, not to mention the difficulty that cinemas are having, and so many more shakeups in media-ingesting.... well have you read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace? His novel explores this as one theme of our so-called choosing of happiness. Much has been written about the prophetic nature of the novel, which by some accounts, takes place this year. Oh how I'd love to hear if you read it. By the way he uses MASH instead of Honeymooners to drive home a lament for the future generations..
Dec 31, 2012   |  Reply
Jim Gianakopoulos
I like most of your choices for top 10. I would also include Boardwalk Empire ,great season. Keep up great work.
Dec 28, 2012   |  Reply
I'm listening to the podcast of Fresh Air just now. I lament that Neighbors is on your 'worst' list. Comparing it to Mork and Mindy as a diss was...well, not effective for me. Give it another chance. My favourite line from the show so far, in an overheard clip from an alien video tape of how to take over the world "First, kill all the bees." 2 seconds more funny than in a whole season of Two Broke Girls (OK, Two Broke Girls minus Jennifer Coolidge).
Dec 27, 2012   |  Reply
tina miklos
Where is the love for Southland? VEEP? NurseJackie?
Dec 26, 2012   |  Reply
tina miklos
I just don't get the critics love for Parenthood! Don't you guuys find it soft, easy, soppy and Hallmark-y? I find it frustrating; the ensemble cast is good and Peter Krause often, with just a facial expression, can save an otherwise over-wrought episode, but the writers?? They seem to just choose the easy, predictable, feel-good plot lines and superficial characterizations. I cannot be the only who feels this way, can I?
Dec 26, 2012   |  Reply
Keith Robin
Have you been watching this season? It was anything but feel good-there were some genuine moments of real life nearly every week. I haven't watched a Hallmark tv special in decades and I usually get Shoebox cards which is as close as I get to their products. And finally, I've never felt so angry or frustrated with the behavior of tv characters as I get when I watch Parenthood. Strange as it seems, it's why I watch!
Dec 26, 2012
Keith Robin
Happy Holidays,
I heard the show live on Monday and I was happy that you chose Parenthood as on of the best shows on television (IYO). I also agree with everyone that said they thought Justified should have been ranked higher. I have found that a really good measure of the quality of a show is how much you enjoy it the second time you watch it...Justified is one of the only tv series I have ever purchased on disk and, believe me, it's just as good as the first I watched it, as are subsequent viewings. I also think Homeland should have been higher, and despite knowing what has happened, it holds up during re-watching.
But Professor, where is Fringe? This show has become everything it should be in its final season. And I must admit to my shock and utter dismay that after all the positive opinions expressed by you and your guest critics contributors about Borgen, there was nary even a mention of it on the show. Since you mentioned Ken Tucker from EW, I want to point out that their guest columnist and frequent contributor and author Stephen King (my personal favorite author) had a piece in their Best of 2012 issue, wherein he named Borgen the best show on television in 2012.
I hope it was just an oversight on your part and I know you can't include everything, but I'd much rather have heard about Borgen than the abominable Honey Boo Boo!

I also think Awake was worthwhile watching, as are Revolution, Elementary and Person of Interest...but those are my choices. To be continued...
Dec 26, 2012   |  Reply
I'd have to add New Girl, a masterfully executed show from writing to performance, the underrated and competent Suburgatory, and half a vote for The Newsroom.
Dec 25, 2012   |  Reply
Greg Hardigan
Man, did no one else see Awake? Or am I just the only one in the world who thought it was by far the best show on network TV?
Dec 24, 2012   |  Reply
Greg Hardigan
"We read to know that we are not alone." I sure felt that way after reading your posts about Awake, EG. I wish there was one TV exec anywhere who felt the same way.
Jan 2, 2013
(Greg - there was a loud, er, desperate, chain of rants by -- ahem -- one of the TVWW writers about the ingenuity and heights of 'Awake', in complete agreement with you. See links below. –EG) http://www.tvworthwatching.com/post/A-Wake-for-Awake.aspx http://www.tvworthwatching.com/post/The-Pentultimate-Wake-for-Awake.aspx http://www.tvworthwatching.com/post/NoMoreChristmasColors.aspx
Dec 26, 2012
It was a good show, and extra points are awarded for wrapping it up after cancellation. Too many shows let their fans hang on for months, but the crew at Awake showed us a lot of respect by tying it up.
Dec 25, 2012
I teach a film and literature class at TCNJ, and I was interested in what you said about how few 20-year-olds know The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy. I am beginning to think, as a teacher, that those shows (and others like them) will not stand the test of time for much longer. When I watch them with kids now, I see that the shows have lost their humor precisely because so much of the humor was actually predicated on the times (women can't work, husband earns the money, women aren't as smart as men). So while Lucy is physically funny, the whole set up is just gone; it doesn't exist anymore. When I screen those shows (I taught a class about wit and humor a few years ago) those shows weren't funny to the kids. Neither was Richard Pryor (drugs aren't funny, the word nigger isn't funny, almost setting yourself on fire isn't funny to them). They did love Sleeper.
Dec 24, 2012   |  Reply
Stephen Truhon
Two shows that often make your today's best: The Middle and How I Met Your Mother
Dec 24, 2012   |  Reply
I like the list but would also have bumped Justified to 3rd and added Copper from the BBC as well as Scandal. I thoroughly enjoy your website and wish you all a blessed Christmas
Dec 24, 2012   |  Reply
Mr. Bianculli, I listened to the broadcast interview with Terry Gross and as always, enjoyed it. I like most of your top (11) you listed, particularly the 11th, Homeland, despite the...awkward last couple of episodes. I am curious, however, where you would place ABC's Scandal? My own excitement and affinity for the show makes it a shock to not see it ranked on the list of a professional television watcher like yourself. What do you think of it? Also, do you consider Revolution, an attempt to recreate the LOST experience? Thanks, I appreciate your work. Happy Holidays!
Dec 24, 2012   |  Reply
Great list and interesting that there's not one show from the new tv season on it. What does that say...
Thanks for your continuing guidance as we all navigate the world of television. Really looking forward to the Bottom 5, although I'm quite surprised you were able to narrow it down to ONLY 5; among MTV, E!, Bravo and TLC there's a whole lot of "worst" going on!
Best wishes, as always, for a Joyous Holiday Season.
Dec 23, 2012   |  Reply
You were doing great there until I saw that you had put Justified at the end. I'd have made it 3rd. Either way, I look forward to your show, as always.

Merry Christmas and a very, very Happy New Year to everyone at TVWW.
Dec 23, 2012   |  Reply
Perfect list, David! I checked it twice and the only thing I would've added would have been Dexter, but then I watched this season's questionable finale. Oh, well.
Thanks for the great reviews this year.
Dec 23, 2012   |  Reply
couldn't agree more!!!!!!!!
Dec 27, 2012
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