Highs And Lows Of Summer Tv


Mccartney, Watson Make The Top 10 List In What's Shaped Up As A Weird Viewing Season

August 23, 2009|By DAVID ZURAWIK

In my blog on Thursday, I called Fox's wretched Octomom special the official low point of summer viewing. Before making that call, I went back through the summer schedules and my posts to make sure I wasn't slighting some equally dreadful TV production. I wasn't.

In the process, though, I realized it's been a weird summer of TV. So I started writing down my highs and lows. Here are my seven highs and three lows - for a summertime Top 10 list. Notice the decided lack of dramas and sitcoms on my list of bests. The highs came from places that surprised even me.

Agree, disagee? What did I miss? What were your favorite and most reviled TV shows and moments this summer?

Best TV shows of the summer:

Paul McCartney visits David Letterman : McCartney was a delight. The marquee performance was fabulous. It made for one of the finest evenings of late-night TV that I have seen in years. McCartney was charming and funny as he talked about the Beatles' first American appearance on the same stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater 45 years ago, the group's first American tour and memories of Michael Jackson.

But it was the performance of two songs, the Beatles classic "Get Back" and a new one, "Sing the Changes," off his latest CD, "Electric Arguments," that really made this feel like one of the most special nights in the history of Letterman's CBS run.

Jay Leno's last "Tonight Show" : I wasn't expecting much, but Leno blew me away with his class. The closing segment was especially touching. In response to reporters asking him what he wanted his "legacy" to be, Leno brought onstage all of the children who had been born to parents who met while they were working on "The Tonight Show" during his tenure. There were 68 of them onstage as the program ended, and Leno said he hoped these children were part of his legacy. While it might sound corny, I thought it was a very moving and original moment. As for the rest of the hour, the best thing about it was how much it resembled the usual show rather than some kind of grand finale.

Michael Jackson memorial service : Again, I was surprised - this time by the emotion it evoked. Through all the media buildup, anticipation and pomp, the actual memorial service remained extraordinarily moving and elegant. The event closed with family members talking about Michael Jackson, and in the end, no one was more eloquent than Jackson's daughter, Paris.

"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could imagine," she said, breaking into tears. "And I just want to say I love him so much."

None of the many entertainers, politicians or civil rights leaders who took the stage at the Staples Center did better than 11-year-old Paris in honoring her father. With those few wrenching words, she helped us to see him and those he loved and left behind as human beings rather than celebrities.

MTV's coverage the day after Jackson's death : Brilliant remembrance through music videos. But it was the music videos, and Twitter comments from mourners rolling along the bottom of the screen, that really resurrected the greatness and spirit of Jackson's work. It was televisual collective mourning - and celebration - at its best.

As the music video for "You Are Not Alone" played, a tweet just moved across the screen saying, "I feel like part of my childhood died."

That encapsulated exactly what was happening in a shared-history sense on MTV that day: A generation that grew up with Jackson and his music videos on MTV returned for this day of remembering and mourning, and the artist's music and performance were at the heart of it.

Golfer Tom Watson's near-miss at the British Open : I am not a golfer, but I was glued to the set for two days and exhausted at the end. I know it's sports, but this heroic effort by the 59-year-old golfer was also about generations, aging and defying the gods. Whatever, it was one of the most intense viewing experiences all summer for me.

Return of the AMC drama "Mad Men" : I know a lot of viewers had mixed feelings about the episode last week. But I think part of the problem is that we hype ourselves into expecting perfection from dramas like these, and then we are either disappointed or lie to ourselves that each episode really is perfect. Relax, and just enjoy the series.

"Jon & Kate Plus 8" - The TV breakup : OK, this could also be a low. And I am sure for some viewers it will be. But the sociology of this show fascinates me, and seeing this marriage played out this way on TV is part of it.

And here are my three lows:

"Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage" : The reality TV special was two hours of film of Nadya Suleman, her 14 children, her parents and the birth of her octuplets - all of it in search of a story line or a reason for being on TV.

Anthony Bourdain visits Baltimore : Instead of exploring the city's food, Bourdain tried to show what a street-savvy character he was. He ignored any sense of the real diversity of Baltimore's rich ethnic mix to try and imitate a narrow slice of it found in a TV show. What viewers were left with was TV imitating TV and a hot dog host acting like he was getting down with the hard-core reality of urban America.

NBC News and anchorman Brian Williams go "Inside the Obama White House: ": I respect Williams and the top-rated "NBC Nightly News" broadcast he leads. But this two-night production came to represent the way the press at the time was letting itself be used by the Obama White House. The thing that most troubled me about the report was how eagerly Williams seemed to drop any critical distance between him and the scenes he was allowed into.

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