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The following article is reprinted from the internet-based Jack Myers Report of December 21, 2001. It is reproduced here with permission of the publishers. The photos are from the We Love Lucy archive.


The Best of 2001

By Ed Martin

December 21, 2001

Easily overlooked amid hindsight reflections on television's response to the events of September 11, and all that has followed, here are the top ten entertainment programming accomplishments of 2001.

HBO Ascendant. As much as the media loved HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" during the mid-Nineties, it never really established itself as populist entertainment. So who could have anticipated this network's dramatic rise to the forefront of scripted series success at the dawn of this new millennium? The debuts this year of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Six Feet Under" proved that "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" weren't lucky strikes.

And speaking of "The Sopranos," what with all the critical crabbing about a sub-par third season? Will we ever forget the rape of Dr. Melfi and her maddening decision not to turn to Tony for revenge? Or Paulie and Christopher's terrible night in the wilds of New Jersey? Carmela's devastating realization of her complacency regarding her husband's criminal ways? The short life and fast times of Jackie Jr.? Tony's hot-headed, steak- wielding mistress Gloria Trillo? This series' third season was undeniably challenging, but infinitely rewarding, especially in it ongoing exploration of the parent-child relationships. People everywhere are grumbling that they have to wait until next September for new episodes of "The Sopranos." Now that's viewer loyalty. And, before we move past HBO, let us acknow- ledge "Band of Brothers," which wasn't an ongoing series, but will nevertheless have an ongoing impact on the quality of future historical dramas.


"Friends" Forever? Critics and other observers credit the resurgence of NBC's eight-year-old comedy to a need among viewers for feel-good familiarity following the horrors of September. But sublime comedy writing has to count for something. So, too, does the subject matter. In all likelihood, "Friends" is delivering higher numbers than it has in recent seasons because it has returned its focus to the love story of Ross and Rachel, this time via an unexpected pregnancy.

America loves a good love story -- we saw the proof two years ago when Niles finally declared his love for Daphne on NBC's "Frasier," and that series' ratings soared. Hell, a few years ago America became obsessed with a love story played out through a series of Taster's Choice coffee commercials. At the moment, "Friends" is the only series on television that understands this simple need.


America Still Loves Lucy. As "I Love Lucy" celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on October 15, TV Land winningly marked the occasion by presenting the series' very first episode at 9pm that night - fifty years to the minute that it first aired and with its original animated opening restored (minus a logo for orginal sponsor Chesterfield cigarettes (sic)*). Our unending appetite for the collective craft of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley, not to mention the writers, producers and directors of "I Love Lucy," was further sated in November, when CBS aired a two-hour tribute to the show and scored a Nielsen hit.



America Still Craves Carol. The happiest surprise of the season, if not the year, was the ratings victory of CBS' nostalgic Carol Burnett special in November. A whopping (and wholly unexpected) thirty million people tuned in, sending executives in the Big Three scurrying into their programming vaults in search of additional nostalgic Nielsen Viagra. More a goofy blooper special than a thoughtful retrospective, Burnett's show nevertheless proved that Americans - even those within the ever-prized 18-49 demographic - will still respond to well-crafted comedy and variety programming in prime time.


CBS' Must-See TV. Who would have thought that CBS could mount the first significant challenge to NBC's Thursday night supremacy, which dates back almost twenty years? But the network did exactly that in February, first by scheduling the second season of "Survivor" opposite "Friends" and whatever lousy sitcom NBC loaded in after it, and then by slotting sophomore sensation "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" opposite "Will & Grace" and "Just Shoot Me." All that remains is for CBS to mount an effective offensive against "ER." How about repeats of "The Carol Burnett Show"?

The "Survivor" Switcheroo. We've had our problems with some of the content of the "Survivor" series, but we'll give credit where its due. Executive producer Mark Burnett's surprise decision to split the Samburu and Boran tribes apart and remix the players, several weeks into "Survivr: Africa," reinvigorated a show that had begun to feel routine. We took particular pleasure in the aftermath of this change, as Silas, Lindsey, and Brandon -- three of the four scheming young Samburians who had been systematically voting off the older members of their tribe -- were in turn tossed out in subsequent tribal councils. The possibility of further unexpected moves gives us all a new reason to watch.

Comedy Central's Rebound. The high point of Comedy Central's year was supposed to be last spring's poisonous sitcom parody, "That's My Bush!" from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But that show sucked ass, as "Park's" caustic Cartman might say. No matter. The network had subsequent triumphs to spare, including the ongoing popularity of "Battlebots," the only series on any network for which a father and son might share equal enthusiasm; the debut of "Primetime Glick," arguably the funniest new television series of the year; the long-awaited return of "Absolutely Fabulous" (photo, left), which has lost none of its legendary sweetie darlings; and a resurgent "South Park," funnier and more ferocious in its fifth season than ever before, particularly in takes on network programming standards, homophobia in the Boys Scouts and a war on terror.

Slayer Supreme. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" became one of the rare shows to survive cross-network transference, moving from The WB to UPN this season without missing a beat. In addition, it delivered two episodes that would stand as the year's most memorable were it not for several installments of "The Sopranos" and last spring's two-part "West Wing" season finale on NBC: The episode last winter which dealt with the death by natural causes of Buffy's mother, and the recent "Buffy" musical, which advanced each character's storyline through song and forever immortalized "Buffy" creator Joss whedon as a creative genius. One quibble: aren't the Scoobies getting a bit old for all that cutsey talk? In fact, aren't they getting a bit old to be called Scoobies?

It's Got Game. The boffo ratings for those Ball and Burnett specials speak to nostalgia, which The Game Show Network serves up every night in its Black and White Overnight franchise, a two-hour block of game show repeats from the Fifties and early Sixties including "I've Got a Secret," "What's My Line?" (photo, left) and "To Tell the Truth." The look, the pacing and the genteel sophistication of these shows are utterly mesmerizing. The hosts, celebrity panelists and contestants are dressed up and generally well spoken. The audiences applaud without wild whooping. Dignity prevails. Was television ever like this? Were we ever like this? We would insist that TGN has intercepted transmissions from aliens, were it not for the other noteworthy pleasure of these shows: spotting very young earth-bound celebrities who are still in the limelight today. One especially memorable edition of "What's My Line?" for example, featured author Gore Vidal as a panelist and a dewy Barbra Streisand as the mystery guest. Now if TGN would return this block to primetime on Sunday nights, where we first found it.

ABC's "Alias" and FOX' "24." Both critical pick hits of the still-young 2001-2001 season, these shows haven't lived up to ratings expectations. But creatively, they're both quite strong, and certainly uncommon in their ambition. "Alias" whips its young heroine - a CIA operative who is working as a double agent to bring down a covert organization - around the world and in and oout of perilous pursuits every week. "24" explores a narrower narrative, drilling hour by hour into a single fateful day in the lives of CIA agents seeking to prevent the assassination of a presidential candidate by terrorists in Los Angeles. Both shows speed along so fast, viewers who weren't there at the start might choose not to watch. That makes them both vulnerable to early cancellation, long the bane of broadcast's existence. The good news is, they have both been granted full-season orders by their respective networks. Perhaps all is not lost.


Ed Martin can be reached at ed@jackmyers.com




*Lucy once modeled for Chesterfield cigarettes, and she smoked them for 20 years, but her original TV sponsor was, of course, Philip Morris.

Article © 2001 by Jack Myers LLC. www.jackmyers.com. Subscriptions: 212-794-4926. Publisher Jack Myers (jack@jackmyers.com). May not be reproduced or distributed in any form without written permission from Jack Myers, LLC, subject to penalty.





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