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DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, ABC. GREY’S ANATOMY, ABC. EVERWOOD, WB. 24, FOX. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, CBS. HOUSE, FOX. GILMORE GIRLS, WB. THE AMAZING RACE, CBS. NYPD BLUE, ABC. WEST WING, NBC. The O.C., FOX. LOST, ABC. JOAN OF ARCADIA, CBS. EYES, ABC. BBC AMERICA. ELLEN. THE DOG WHISPERER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL. THE TODAY SHOW, NBC. THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON. CBS, OPRAH. SELL THIS HOUSE, A&E.

As the 2004-2005 television season draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate how we’ve spent our time, and whether or not it was worth it.

I’ve learned a few things since last Fall, thanks to my TiVo. I’ve rhapsodized about this digital recording device, and yes, I am still in love, but aside from being my faithful companion, always there for me and expecting only minimal input on days when I have nothing left to give, I have noticed TiVo has also begun to function as a barometer.

TiVo lets me know what’s hot and what’s not on my list. TiVo told me what I barely knew myself. Sorry, The Shield, even with the addition of Glenn Close, I’m just not that into you. Alias, I have no idea what’s going on half the time, but I really do dig Jennifer Garner’s presto change-o charisma, so I’m sticking with you a bit longer, but how much longer, I’m not sure. Joey and Law & Order, you’re on life support. (And by the way, if you’re VCRing it, I’m sure you know what I mean. Those unwatched, unlabeled tapes are growing mold; why bother?)

On the flip side, what shows do I watch so quickly after they are recorded that I never have to worry about TiVo deleting them when I am not looking? House, Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy…sometimes I watch them an hour after they’ve been recorded, so I can fly through the commercials and get my uninterrupted fix.

Some shows, like The Apprentice and American Idol, shouldn’t eat up an hour of anybody’s time, and TiVo knows that. The three-hour Today Show? I like Katie, Matt, Al and Ann, but it’s amazing how much air there is in that three-hour broadcast. With TiVo…I decide what’s important each morning.

So, as May sweeps in, with all the networks stunting, all the shows rushing pell-mell to their finales, here’s what I’m still loving…or not.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, ABC

Maybe I’m not so excited about it that I’m watching DH in real time as I did at the beginning of the season, but I am still very impressed with how skillfully this show is written. The balancing act between soapy, silly and scary is very hard to do, and creator/executive producer Marc Cherry chose the pitch-perfect cast to hit all the right notes, no matter what he asks of them. Here’s hoping that all the rumored in-fighting among the cast doesn’t hurt the show. And what about that scurrilous Vanity Fair cover story-even though I suspect where there’s smoke, there’s fire? What’s better than writing about the hottest show on the tube than attacking the hottest show on the tube?

GREY’S ANATOMY, ABC

My new favorite show. It’s got humor, sex, medical dilemmas, back-biting and bitching, witty snap-crack-pop dialogue, a real guilty pleasure. And on top of all that, you care about the characters – all 9 of them. I made note of Ellen Pompeo when she made her feature film debut; she’s one of those actors you can’t take your eyes off. Patrick Dempsey…how cute is this guy? I don’t remember him being this cute. The best villain ever? Chandra Wilson’s Dr. Miranda Bailey, the chief resident known to the surgical interns as “the Nazi”. It is also worth noting that all of the top docs are played by black actors and Sandra Oh is Korean; nice to see, and the hope is, truly diverse casting won’t have to be noted as something unusual or exceptional.

EVERWOOD, WB

The only thing that concerns me about this show is how depressing the Ephram/Amy arc is becoming, but more alarming than that, it is starting to feel repetitive. Madison left, had Ephram’s baby, Andy and Amy knew, didn’t tell Ephram, so he skips his audition at Julliard, hates his Dad (again) and breaks up with Amy. I expressed my concerns to the Everwood panel at the July Television Critics tour, and was told not to worry, but the season didn’t allay my fears. I’m not really loving Scott Wolf – he really is the third wheel doctor in town, and he seems superfluous for that reason and in his development, or lack thereof. Having said that, it is still beautifully written and performed. Treat Williams is terrific, and kudos to Tom Amandes, the prickly but multi-layered Dr. Harold Abbott – the man is a magician of an actor, and just gets better and better. Chris Pratt as the sweet, confused Bright is sensational. Everwood also boasts the best kid actor anywhere – Vivien Cardone as Delia, who with all the Amy/Ephram drama has been MIA.

24, FOX

Okay, I have to say this. Jack Bauer and CTU are the biggest bunch of incompetents in prime time and should have been fired as many times as they’ve let the bad guys get away in the course of a single day. But since we know they will prevail, I guess I can live with the constant screw-ups. (“Marwan’s not here.” “ Marwan’s gotten away!” “Marwan’s on to us!”) No one plays “driven” and “urgent” better than Kiefer Sutherland, and no show can do a cliffhanger better than 24. Still fun. But guys, killing off the incandescent Shoreh Agahdashloo? Booooooooooooo…

EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, CBS

The only sitcom worth watching in the past decade. I will miss the Barones and their neuroses. I will miss laughing outloud. I will miss the nugget of truth about who we are that each episode was built around.

HOUSE, FOX

I’m in love with Hugh Laurie. I love everything about his character Dr. House, from his craggy stubbly face, his burning blue-eyed stare, his slice-and-dice sarcasm. He is the quintessential misanthrope, Scrooge with a Scalpel. The conflict between him and the rich philanthropist (Chi McBride in a bravura turn) who gave millions to the hospital was the best relationship in prime time…but don’t you know that House’s talent outlasted the administrator’s vendetta? The British Laurie recently told me he had not worked with a voice coach to get the American accent down, he just got it. His biggest challenge? Ignoring the last voice he hears before the start of the scene — the clapper guy, who just happens to be British.

GILMORE GIRLS, WB

After 4 seasons, we finally get what we want – Lorelei wakes up and smells the gallons of coffee she’s been drinking and realizes that LUKE IS IN LOVE WITH HER. He really, really loves her. And now what does Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show-runner do? She gives us virtually nothing about their relationship. She is being so stingy with the love that she’s leaving me parched. When Taylor Dose gets more screen time than Luke and Lorelei together, something is rotten in Stars Hollow. I also understand that the too perfect Rory had to go down, but really, why can’t being good be enough? And what’s with this icky Logan guy? Am I the only one who wants to smack him? And enough with the boring Dean. Meanwhile, every actor on this show is delivering Emmy caliber performances, the writing swoops and swirls, and Kelly Bishop as the scary Emily zeroes in on the woman’s heart and hurt in every scene. (And if you happen to have seen the original production of “A Chorus Line” and own the recording, check out “At the Ballet,” as sung by Carole Bishop. Yup, Carole and Kelly – one and the same.)

THE AMAZING RACE, CBS

Still the best reality show on TV, even though the last two installments’ contestants have left me cold. It really helps if you care about who wins. The current version saw an older couple Meredith and Gretchen make it all the way to the Top 4, amidst so much sniping from their younger teammates, it made me angry. Ageism is alive and well, and is just as ugly as the other “isms” and the people who think it is all right to talk the way they do when someone is different than they are. Shame on the contestants.

NYPD BLUE, ABC

Andy Sipowicz silenced? I’m just can’t comprehend this, and even though the final Blue packed a whimper rather than the anticipated wallop, the loss of Dennis Franz’s weekly exploration of the flawed detective still hurts me. Tuesdays will never be the same.

WEST WING, NBC

This year, they got it right. The primary pitting savvy conservative candidate Alan Alda against the less-polished idealistic Jimmy Smits made for some fine viewing. And to me, it made perfect sense that’s someone would nominate John Spencer’s Leo for VP. Richard Schiff hasn’t had a lot to do, and the Donna and Josh thing is gone with the wind, which I find annoying, but Bartlett is making his last days in the Oval Office count, and the creative force behind the show made the season count too.

THE O.C., FOX

Fun, fun, fun. And adding Billy Campbell (Once & Again) doubles the pleasure. One quibble – the lesbian storyline with Marisa. C’mon, guys.

LOST, ABC

Am I the only one getting a little bored here? Once it became the Oracle show (Look Ma, aren’t I clever?), it started losing me, and that John character is creeping me out. I don’t care about hidden meaning and symbolism – I just want good drama. Is that so wrong?

JOAN OF ARCADIA, CBS

So beautiful in its first season, now the show that has Joan talking to God is in an inexplicable rut. Surely the writers realize that Joan has to grow and can’t keep making the same mistakes? Steenburgen and Montegna still smoking, and Chris Marquette’s Adam is sweet and real. Amber Tamblyn has been mouthing off in the press recently about how unhappy she is; sour does not become her.

EYES, ABC

Love it when a show fits an actor like a glove, and that’s what happened with Tim Daly as the smooth wiseguy of a private eye. Stylishly executed, solidly written.

BBC AMERICA

If you can afford to expand from basic cable, this is the reason to do it. Can’t say I am as much a fan of the comedies, but the dramas are unparalleled. Check out Mystery Mondays – and if you missed Robson Green and Hermione Norris in Wire in the Blood, you missed a doozy. Coming up: discover Oscar nominee Clive Owen in a rerun (but new to BBCA)of the sizzling, moody cop drama called Second Sight. Don’t know if Steven Bochco ever saw this series about an inspector going blind, but sorry to say, it makes Blind Justice look even sillier. Or maybe it’s just that the intense Clive Owen trumps the wan Ron Eldard every time. What I like about the British approach is that they are never afraid to take us to dark places, and they never cheat it because they are afraid to offend.

THE DOG WHISPERER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL

Cesar Millan is a miracle worker. This show, on the National Geographic Channel, is about happy endings – frustrated dog owners put out the SOS to Millan, who says he’s a therapist, and he helps them work it out. He’s very big on establishing who the pack leader is, while correcting mistakes that loving owners make. I’ve learned a lot about how dogs think, and how sometimes, pet owners don’t. The important thing is Millan doesn’t give up on the real tough cases – and that’s admirable – because too many owners do.

ELLEN

The best daytime talker since Rosie (before Rosie decided she wasn’t happy). DeGeneres is hysterical and buoyant and inventive and just plain entertaining. Good for her. Added bonus – she appreciates our service men and women, their families, teachers, and she donates her time to animal rescue groups. What’s not to love?

THE TODAY SHOW, NBC

Whoa…some mornings I can get through the 3 hours one-third the time. Why? The features have suddenly gone boring, Matt and Katie seem like they’re always gone, and frankly, Al and Ann can’t do all the heavy lifting. Lose the cheesy graphics too – hey, doesn’t this show have a network budget? Love no-nonsense legal expert Dan Abrams and plain speaking financial expert Jean Chatzky though. And if it’s true that Today canned Cojo after he went on Oprah to talk about his kidney transplant, someone needs to be taken to task. That was really small-minded, even for NBC. And by the way, speaking of NBC, does anyone there ever monitor the West Coast feed of the show? That’s what I get, and it plays like a chop shop version of the East Coast version. Interviews cut off, repeated…it’s a disgrace. Why do I still tune in, you might ask? Because The Early Show and GMA are unwatchable, even for 5 minutes, never mind Sixty.

THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON, CBS

CBS got it right with this raffish, likeable Scotsman. He’s lived here for 14 years, of course, but that’s OK- how many guys can play the Glaswegian card anyway? Truth is, if the accent didn’t set him apart, I would hope his intelligence and ease behind the desk would. The man actually throws away the cards and listens to people! Recently, Ferguson threw off his tie, but kept the suit, in a “Freedom” cry worthy of William Wallace. But Craig, you have to go all the way. Lose the suit, go with a sweater under a sports coat or some kind of jacket, and wear jeans if you want, but…lose the suit. Right now, it looks like you can’t quite make the commitment, and that’s not you, my cheeky monkey.

OPRAH

I really only care about Nate Berkus and making people’s wildest dreams come true. Really. And when Oprah cleaned out her closet, and auctioned off designer clothes that she had never worn, it actually bothered me. Can Oprah spend her money any way she wants? Of course? Was it an excessive dispay of what happens when you have the ability to do that? Yes, good cause or not.

SELL THIS HOUSE, A&E

As someone who has made my living doing TV publicity, and now find myself on the receiving end of the telephone pitch, I recently took a call from a publicist who was pushing this A & E show. I was politely dismissive, initially telling him I wasn’t a big reality show fan. But when he started talking about the show, I realized not only had I seen it, but thought it was pretty impressive and informative and has a practical premise. Host Tanya Memme with Roger Hazard – Frick & Frack – are there to help. You put your house up for sale, the house you love, and get nary a nibble. “Q’uest que c’est,” you think. The team comes in, tells the truth to you, the earnest but clutter-blind homeowners, and then politely repositions your furniture, ditches the knick knacks, slaps on a coat of paint, landscapes, all within an affordable budget, and voila! They sell this house! This show may just give reality a good name.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 46 - September 0167
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