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Terry Gross and I Talk TV Today on NPR's 'Fresh Air'
December 20, 2011  | By David Bianculli


[UPDATE: Melody Kramer, our associate producer and online guru at Fresh Air, just posted her coverage of my appearance today -- which, in her hands, includes all sorts of info, and links to previous radio reports and web articles, that aren't even on this site or on the radio. So, thanks, Mel! Here's the link -- but (Spoiler Alert) read the column first! - DB]

Today (Tuesday, Dec. 20) on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I once again get to enjoy one of my favorite annual holiday rituals: talking TV with Terry.

We cover the Top 10 shows on TV, of course -- but also, in a conversation spanning everything from politics to Snooki, we cover a lot of other ground as well.

Including my favorite moment, as Terry listens in amused disbelief as I provide aural proof of what I consider the worst TV show of 2011...


-- Terry didn't even have the benefit of seeing what she was hearing, but, in this case, hearing was believing. And as a special treat for you here at TV WORTH WATCHING, here's an accompanying image: the cow's-blood vat of NBC's Fear Factor.

(I wrote about Fear Factor here just a few columns ago, linking it to the animal-wastes vat at the end of the 1969 satirical film The Magic Christian.) But on Fresh Air, I let Fear Factor host Joe Rogan make the case against his show himself, merely by reciting the rules and requirements of the bloody challenge.

Also on today's show, you'll hear other clips from the year in TV, including these:


-- From the year's Top 10, one of the top-ranked shows, Showtime's Homeland. It's the scene where Claire Danes' Carrie, still hospitalized after surviving a terrorist explosion, describes her theories to her boss, Saul (Mandy Patinkin).

In the picture at right, you can see the deep agitation, as well as the superficial wounds, in Carrie's face. But even without the picture, in the audio clip, you can hear how intense she is. And that's because she's off her meds, and bipolar, and spinning out of control. And yet, at this point in the investigation, she may be right...


-- From the discussion of other shows worthy of being called the year's best, in various subcategories, I include Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report -- and play a clip from the former, from the earliest days of the alleged Penn State child sexual abuse scandal.

It's not very funny. But it does represent everything I love about Stewart and his show. It's more direct, more honest, more timely, and more on the nose than most "real news" shows on television.

-- And finally, my very favorite TV moment of 2011. As I tell Terry, I don't expect it to be anyone else's favorite moment of the year, but it's definitely mine. It's from NBC's Parks and Recreation, and is shown in the photo at the top of this column, with Dan Castellaneta playing a public radio host interviewing Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope.

Somehow, the idea of playing that clip, which makes fun of public radio, on public radio, sort of made my year. Just like sitting down, once again, with Terry Gross...

Listen to the show today on the radio -- or, after about 5 p.m. ET today, hear it on the Fresh Air website HERE.




Aram said:

Caught you on NPR today and I'm very surprised that you didn't include two great shows in the top 20 that I believe belong there.

HBO's Game of Thrones and AMC's Mad Men. The level of writing and story telling in both above not only the normal (which isn't very good) TV but I would put them up against the best in the last decade.

A surprise 21st for me at least is Once Upon a Time. The writing isn't great but I have found myself waiting for all week. Maybe it's the lack of SciFi on the air, and I'm drawn to the fantasy but I think it can be great.

[Mad Men would have been there for sure as one of the best of 2011, except it didn't SHOW any new episodes in 2011. That's how long it's been...

As for Game of Thrones, I ended up liking it more and more as it went on, and it did end up ranked among the Best New Cable Shows of 2011 list I just compiled for Multichannel News. But the problem with making an overall top 10, or even a top 20, is how many good shows there are, period.

But thanks for only questioning two. That's damned near total agreement, in my book. - DB]

Comment posted on December 20, 2011 12:50 PM

Marye Anne Boyd said:

Hi David.

You missed two of my favorite shows, besides Dexter. I don't have time to watch much, but "BOSS", with Kelsey Grammer, was some of the most riveting television on all season (for me), with Kelsey Grammer who played the mayor of Chicago. I never thought that he could scare me, but the DID as he pushed and pulled anyone and anything he had to, in order to keep his position of power. The imaginings of its writers painted a stark picture about what might be actually be happening in the halls of the powerful.
The other show I had to watch was Boardwalk Empire. Being a history buff, I like to see history brought to life via characters who were real (Al Capone) or otherwise. Even though artistic license is taken, the idea comes through clearly.
Keep up the good work! And thanks for your time.
Merry Christmas...--MA

[Boardwalk Empire JUST missed my list -- and my, did it end with a bang this season, both literally and figuratively. So I agree with you there; maybe I should have been more ruthless about another choice. Boss, on the other hand, I thought got a little weaker, and more shrill, as it went on. I still watch it, but I'd rank Boardwalk high above it. And Boardwalk, as you pointed out, was ranked below many, many others. - DB]

Comment posted on December 20, 2011 12:53 PM

tinica said:

Thanks for turning me on to Justified, after I heard fresh air, I started watching. I didn't think this season of "Breaking Bad" was up to its own high standard, and would definitely put "Boardwalk Empire" or "Boss" in its place. I've already seen Season Two of "Downton Abbey" which will be on PBS in January, I think.

True Blood got boring this season.

Love, love, love "American Horror Story"!

Comment posted on December 20, 2011 5:11 PM

Sara said:

Hi David,

Really enjoyed your lists today on Fresh Air. I had a couple of questions I wanted to run by you.

You mentioned 30 Rock slipped from your top 10 this year. I'm an avid fan of the show. Do you think season 5 wasn't as good, or did all other programming step it up this year? Also, was Community close to any of your lists? Despite it currently being on the rocks, I find it to be one of the best comedies on television. Clearly I'm a Thursday night NBC gal.

Have a great Holiday,

[Dear Sara: It was much more of an "others stepping up" than 30 Rock slipping down. And both Community and Parks & Recreation just fell below the Top 20, for the same reason. So few spaces. So much good TV... - DB]

Comment posted on December 20, 2011 11:09 PM

Mac said:

While not paying too much attention to current TV (I tend to watch something after its initial run, and still got burnt while falling in love with "Men Of A Certain Age" in real time), I still like to keep up with what the hip, young folk with Tivos and pay channels are into today. But the best part of the segment was the chat itself. Terry didn't have to be so "on" 'cause you're a colleague and you two just talked, not unlike when you visit Radio Times (folks outside of Philly/south NJ WHYY's listening area can review online archives).Terry's laugh is a joy! No TV needed (even for the clips), no talking heads to watch, just good conversation. Why radio should still matter.And David, you have Twain. I have Thurber. God bless American Humor.

[Oh,wow, thanks so much. Yes, I love just talking, with both Terry and Radio Times' Marty Moss-Coane -- they certainly get the best out of me, though I can hardly claim the reverse. And I have Thurber, too, by the way. First editions. And if you know where the line "that's your radio dial, Mac!" comes from, you'll know how big a fan I am, and why that's one of my favorite literary laughs of all time. - DB]

Comment posted on December 22, 2011 9:36 AM
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