The year went out with a lotta Lott, yes, but also in a burst of Gore. While Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott initially avoided TV cameras after uttering a horrendously offensive remark, it seemed you could hardly turn on the tube without running into Al Gore, the man who beat George W. Bush in the popular vote for president in the year 2000 and now, in the weeks before Lott's strife, appeared to be reinventing himself with a glorious political future in mind. Gore fielded questions from Barbara Walters and from Tim Russert. He was such a jokester and josher on "The Late Show With David Letterman" that Letterman appeared to become annoyed.

And then came the big one-two punch: Gore hosted the last first-run "Saturday Night Live" of the year and the next day shockingly rang down the curtain on his own political revival by announcing on "60 Minutes," which is a very good place to announce things, that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2004.

But -- huh? Hadn't all these appearances been a buildup to the big announcement that he would run? Weren't most of them designed to declare that "Al Gore is back," lean if not mean, cleanshaven and ready to kick Bush butt? Apparently those appearances -- some featuring Tipper as well as Al -- were mere larks and frolics. Gores just want to have fun.

Or else Al Gore wants to be the Democratic candidate but wants to be begged to run. There's always that possibility.

Whatever, Gore's year-end whirlwind was a dazzling telepolitical event, and it did show him being lighter and lither than usual -- quicker on his feet and with his quips, a big, amiable Gore-next-door. He certainly didn't do "Saturday Night Live" any harm; his appearance helped boost the season's otherwise laggardly ratings by 2 million viewers.

Some observers have been saying that what "SNL" so painfully lacks this season is an all-around utility player like Will Ferrell (who left at the end of last season) -- an alpha male to energize the rest of the cast. Well, if Al Gore doesn't want to be president, maybe "SNL" can use him. He certainly brightened up the show, and the writers and other performers seemed, with a few embarrassing exceptions, to rise to the occasion.

An occasion is exactly what the big Gore Tour was, and it also produced some of the year's best "reality" television.

-- Tom Shales

What a character: The former vice president as Trent Lott on "Saturday Night Live."