A few of my favorite things

At this time of year, when we should all pause to reflect on the things for which we’re thankful, can the TV guy get in on the action?

Unlike some TV critics who take their title far too literally, I love this medium. Always have. Long before the notion of an “electronic babysitter” was deemed a parental sin, my mom routinely plunked me in front of our black-and-white set (yes, I’m that old) while she went about her housework. I’m convinced that I learned to read by the age of 3 by hearing announcers intone the words I saw on the screen during commercials. Today, the dominant piece of furniture in my house is my beloved 50-inch Mitsubishi, which is never off when I’m in. You want to see a grown man go into a panic attack? Let me misplace my remote for more than 10 seconds.

Now there are a lot of TV people, productions and problems that bring out the crank in me, but let’s save those for another time. ’Tis the season to be jolly, right? So allow me to list a few of my favorite tele-things:

Dick Wolf: NBC’s Law & Order has been the best written, best acted franchise for so long that we tend to take it for granted. But Wolf — a Marine drill sergeant of an executive director — keeps three series (and sometimes four) churning at peak quality. How successful is his formula? Law & Order is the only show in television history to replace every member of its original cast and still remain a consistent hit.

Richard Belzer: For transferring his snarky Detective John Munch character from Homicide: Life on the Street to five other prime-time series, finally settling on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit without missing a wisecrack.

Huel Perkins: My main man. The classiest act on Detroit TV.

TNT’s Prime Time in the Daytime.

Jay Leno’s monologues — and “Headlines” on Monday nights.

Cheaters: Long ago replaced Jerry Springer as TV’s guiltiest pleasure.

The American Experience: A fascinating slice of our history every Monday, told with depth and flair. Because Channel 56 rebroadcasts its prime-time shows in late night, I sometimes watch it twice. It may be my favorite show.

Turner Classic Movies.

Glenda Lewis: It’s not customary for the camera to make love to a TV news anchor. Glenda glows.

Ted Talbert documentaries: Way too few and far between.

Channel 4’s “Night Cam”: What a great gimmick. And I can’t pinpoint reporter Tim Pamplin’s accent — is that West Side?

Deena Centofanti’s eyes.

Charles Pugh’s tailor.

Oprah: For all the reasons.

Judge Greg Mathis: For giving Detroit some solid props on the national stage, and for presiding over the most bizarre parade of litigants on any syndicated courtroom show.

Wentworth Miller: I interviewed him years ago when he starred as a young Anthony Hopkins in the movie The Human Stain, and I couldn’t be happier for his breakout success (no pun intended) this season in FOX’s Prison Break. What a nice, unaffected chap. (He is British, you know.)

Real Time with Bill Maher: Now there’s a news show.

Guy Gordon: For his market resiliency, longevity and consummate professionalism. Channel 4 has an embarrassment of riches by using him in the mornings.

Geena Davis: In her best role ever, this Commander in Chief gets my vote in any election.

Jackie Paige: The best traffic reporter in Detroit by a freeway mile (who is that high school senior they’re using on 7?), and her hair is the eighth wonder of the world.

Erik Smith: The epitome of Old School TV, casual and controlled. Handles the early-morning news like he’s rolling out of bed — which is great, since most of us really are — as smoothly as the Motown background vocals he used to sing.

Marilyn Milian: A smart, powerful, staccato-tongued redhead with Cuban roots and a smile that outshines neon. For my money, the People’s Court presiding judge is the sexiest woman on television.

Jennifer Hammond: There are only three football sideline reporters in America worth a damn: Michele Tafoya, Bonnie Bernstein and FOX2’s Hammond. Go, Hammer!

Kelly Ripa: For doing double duty in daytime and prime time, and for making Regis Philbin tolerable.

Chuck Gaidica: Chuck told me years ago that one of his secret ambitions was to be a game-show host — and wouldn’t he have put Pat Sajak to shame? As it is, he’s content to be the most charismatic and committed meteorologist on Detroit TV. Not bad for the guy who was forced to replace a living legend in Sonny Eliot.

Lee Thomas: There’s just not enough goofiness on local newscasts anymore. Thanks for the chuckles.

FlashPoint: A local Sunday morning news-and-politics series that’s a worthy running mate to NBC’s Meet the Press, the longest-running series on network television.

Al Roker: For giving me a TV celebrity look-alike. Why couldn’t Denzel have been a weatherman?


OK, I’m on a roll now. As long as I’m making a list (and checking it twice) of the things I like about television today, here are a few shows I wish TV would consider:


Pride of the Lions: A new ESPN original series following a talented, courageous NFL team as it steamrolls through a weak division and ends up playing the Super Bowl in its home stadium. It is, of course, a complete fantasy.

CSI: Detroit: The CSI producers often have claimed the cities where they shoot become integral “characters” in their series. What place could have more character (and characters) than the Motor City? I can see the first storyline now: Did that GM executive jump from the top of the Renaissance Center ... or was he pushed?

Wild West Poker: Since seemingly every cable channel is obligated to have a poker show these days, why not play for some real high stakes? Incorporating elements of HBO’s Deadwood, let the games include whiskey bottles on the table and six-shooters strapped on every player’s hip. In between the inevitable cursing, threats and smack-talking, if somebody’s caught dealing from the bottom, they’re shot between the eyes. (This would, of course, probably cut down on celebrities showing up to play, although Paris Hilton may ante up anytime.)

Survivor: East Side: Guatemala? Vanuatu? Palau? Child’s play! Make the players wait for the crosstown bus after dark, or try to drink and drive in Mount Clemens on a Friday night. Now that’s an immunity challenge.

Martha’s Missing: After appearing on every talk show and magazine cover in the country — not to mention hosting two series of her own with a third in the works — America’s most annoying ex-convict, Martha Stewart, suddenly and mysteriously vanishes. The nation breathes a sigh of relief. CBS’ Without a Trace team tries to locate the domestic diva as the number of hours she’s been missing appears on the screen. Foul play is suspected, and since there’s evidence that Stewart’s Apprentice may be dragging down the ratings of Donald Trump’s original version, the Donald is an early suspect. The problem? There are hundreds of thousands of other candidates.

A Well-Written, well-acted, sophisticated comedy with a cast of color: Bill Cosby literally saved NBC with this concept two decades ago, yet it hasn’t really been tried since. An Asian Frasier? A Cheers that’s urban as well as urbane? If Bernie Mac, George Lopez and Girlfriends are setting today’s standards, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Jim McFarlin writes about the boob tube for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

About The Author

Jim McFarlin

Jim McFarlin, former media and entertainment critic for the Metro Times and The Detroit News, is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in People, USA Today, Black Enterprise, HOUR Detroit, and many other publications. His latest book, The Booster, about the decline and fall of U-M’s Fab Five, is...
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