Even critics get warmer and cuddlier at this time of year, and that includes those precious few who seem warm and cuddly (and, indeed, precious) the rest of the time, too.
You know who we mean.
And so now, in the season of giving, let us give unto television something other than the usual brickbats, catcalls and Bronx cheers -- not that it doesn't deserve them, of course, and more besides. What we should remember is that TV isn't all tabloid titillators, junky talk shows, unfunny sitcoms, suggestive smutcoms, obnoxious commercials, airheaded local news droids, shouting sportscasters, insipid imbecility and coldhearted violence. Almost all, yes. But all all, no.
Imagine for a moment if you will (please, please, play along) what the world would have been like for the past 50 years if television had never been born. Okay, that's enough imagining. No sense torturing ourselves with cheerful, rosy might- have-beens. Television is here and we're stuck with it. And it's stuck with us.
So let's pause and take stock, though not in Westinghouse-CBS of course, and try to be positive and think about some of the good things TV brings us regularly, as a matter of course, day-in and night-out, with nary so much as a by-your-leave or a fare-thee-well, whatever on Earth those are.
Here is a list, thoughtfully compiled and by its nature personal and subjective, of one mean old critic's Top 25 Things on TV, be they programs, be they personalities, be they cable networks, or be they whatever they be. These are 25 reasons why in spite of everything, yours truly would hate to see TV go. Besides which, if it did, he'd be out of a job. And he has several bad habits to support. One of which is eating. And another of which is overeating. And another of which is watching television. But that brings us back to Point A.
Just for fun, you can make up your own such list. Cut it out on dotted lines, attach it to a cashier's check for 25 big ones (no little ones, please) and send it on in. We'll do our best to get it published in a newspaper, though not necessarily this one.
Don't expect to agree with all the choices. No no no. Nor perhaps even to stay awake until the end of the list, if indeed you are awake now. But at least during this brief holiday period, this season of heavenly peace, this teeny-tiny lull in TV's usual punishing din, try to think lovely thoughts about the medium. Be like us: Look for the silver linings behind the Geraldos and the spiels by pseudo-psychics and, oh yes, the Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas specials.
Herewith and forthwith, Le Grand List des Vingt-Cinq:
No. 25: "The Simpsons," still fresh and funny after all these years. Plus not one member of the cast has aged even a day.
No. 24: NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street," a better cop show than ABC's "NYPD Blue" but bare-buttless and therefore less talked about. Andre Braugher is really too good to win an Emmy.
No. 23: "Columbo" reruns on the Arts & Entertainment Network. That rumpled oaf in the rumpled coat still puts most other TV sleuths to shame.
No. 22: Dan Rather, the best and hardest-working anchor of them all, and he has the best hair, too.
No. 21: Lynne Russell, the cheeringest, friendliest, easily most affable newscaster on the CNN Headline News Network, which is in many ways better than CNN because it has no talk shows or panel shows or "Show Biz Today."
No. 20: MTV's Beavis and Butt-head, though not in that order. Butt-head is funnier and has a certain je ne sais quoi. They've outlasted Wayne and Garth and Bill and Ted and Mike and Maty, too.
No. 19: David Brinkley. He's dependable, solid, venerable, smart, wary, sly, savvy and sagacious, and he talks in nice short sentences. "This Week" with him is still the best of all political talk shows.
No. 18: Mentos commercials. I've never tasted a Mento, never even seen one, but those hokey, corny ads with the smiley-faced Eurokids are always a pick-me-up. The ads are so unhip they're hip, so uncool they're cool, so dorky they're groovy.
No. 17: "Seinfeld." Jerry Seinfeld & Co. are not as good as ever, they are better than ever, with a batting average that's among the highest on TV. Smart, persnickety and oddly complex, at least for a situation comedy.
No. 16: Jennifer Aniston, by far the cutest cutie on "Friends" and the only one who looks as if she'd make a good friend in real life, too. She must be the reason for the popularity of this otherwise humdrum and tiny-minded show. And she seems the star most likely to survive the egregious overexposure everybody in the cast is going to be getting.
No. 15: "The Larry Sanders Show." Its short season on HBO is over again, and it's in reruns and sometimes re-re-reruns, but it's still the tartest and smartest of TV comedies.
No. 14: "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a shadow of its former self, not quite as inventive and wisecracky as it used to be, but still mad and magical in the way it turns bad old movies into good new sarcastic entertainment. "MST3K" may, however, be in its waning weeks on cable's cretinous Comedy Central, whose execrable executives have announced plans to cancel it.
No. 13: Hootie and the Blowfish, and all the videos thereby. A viewer-friendly and listener-friendly rock group in the grand tradition of, yes, Weezer.
No. 12: Mary Matalin, who talks without moving her lips but whose mind is never at rest on CNBC's "Equal Time."
No. 11: O*P*R*A*H, now and forever goddess of talk, leader of the pack, exception to the rule, class act among crass acts, and perhaps America's real first lady.
No. 10: Conan O'Brien, who has gone from being a joke to being truly funny, one of the greatest examples of a self-makeover in television history. He's wry and winning and worth another look.
No. 9: Barbara Walters, the undisputed champ among network interviewers. She's as restless as a shark, as tireless as the Energizer bunny and as unstoppable as molten lava. Admit it: You love her.
No. 8: Katie Couric, biggest asset of NBC's "Today" show, perky and winsome without ever seeming false about it. The best part of waking up is not Folger's in your cup. The best part of waking up is waking up. And the second best part is Katie Couric.
No. 7: Wendy Kaufman, the Snapple lady, not just another pretty face and not just another facile pitchperson. Sadly, she is soon to be phased out as company spokesmodel, thus depriving viewers of one more sure-fire sight for sore eyes.
No. 6: "I Love Lucy" reruns on Nick at Nite. It turns out you can go home again. Loo-cey, I'm home!
No. 5: "Talk Soup" with John Henson on the E! channel. More likable and inventive by far than previous host Greg Kinnear, Henson has the perfect attitude for rooting through the grisly detritus of scrappy, crappy daytime talk shows. Consistently spins straw into, well, better straw.
No. 4: Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the best cable channel in the known universe, with nothing (almost) but old movies, uninterrupted, uncolorized and for the most part uncut. It's Channel No. 1 on the cable system in Heaven. QVC, incidentally, is Channel No. 1 on the cable system in Hell.
No. 3: Quite simply: Regis! Regis! Regis! (Philbin, Philbin, Philbin, that is.) He's the same every day: Great.
No. 2: The DSS home satellite dish, because it brings all of television's inanity and banality into your home in crystal video clarity and super stereo sound. Finally one can fully appreciate how magnificently stupid most television is.
And finally, the No. 1 Top Thing on Television, the single most reliable source of edification or at least amusement available on a frequent basis, the personality whom television would seem the most lonely and barren without, the icing on the cake or the icing on the icing as the case or the cake may be.
Who is it? Haven't you guessed already? (Didn't you see the lovely artwork on the front page of this section? What's the matter with you?) Well, in spite of everything, no matter how ornery or giddy or giggly he is, or how often one may feel like giving him a jab in the ribs or a poke in the chops, it's the one, the only, the ineffable, the inimitable, the sometimes insufferable, but the never dull . . . Da-vid Letterman!
And to all, a good night. CAPTION: Oprah Winfrey: Queen of talk. CAPTION: Garry Shandling of "The Larry Sanders Show": Smart TV. CAPTION: Jennifer Aniston: The best of "Friends." CAPTION: "The Simpsons": Still a draw after all these years. CAPTION: Walters and Rather: Broadcast news's best interviewer and anchor.