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Tuned In: TV Land salutes '2,000 Best Things About Television'

Thursday, January 06, 2000

Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

For TV fans, there's a lot to love about television. But 2,000 things? To commemorate the new year, Tom Hill, TV Land's creative director for on-air promotions, came up with "TV Land's 2,000 Best Things About Television."

This nearly exhaustive list includes 25 categories (series, actors, specials, events, icons, commercials, running jokes, theme songs, etc.) and such entries as the ski jumper's crash on "ABC Wide World of Sports," the "Seinfeld" "Soup Nazi" episode, Luke and Laura's wedding on "General Hospital" and "athletes mouthing the words 'Hi Mom!' "

"It's highly subjective," Hill said in a phone interview. "In some ways it's comparing apples to apricots and oranges. But we did try to keep that it's about that emotional reaction: You say something to somebody and do their eyes light up?"

The Top 5 on the list include:

1. The situation comedy

2. "I Love Lucy"

3. Johnny Carson

4. Coverage of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon

5. Live news coverage

A slogan Bill Burns once used on KDKA-TV ("It's 11 p.m.; do you know where your children are?") landed at No. 653 on the list (with 10 p.m. in place of 11 p.m.). Mister Rogers changing his shoes came in at No. 675 and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was at No. 680.

Hill said he spent about a week working on the list, "hunched over stacks of books making sure I hadn't forgotten a key minor character in 'Star Trek' or the perfect 'Batman' villain."

Already though, Hill has realized some omissions, including commercials for the competing Quaker Oats cereals Quisp and Quake in the late 1960s. He also regrets leaving out the spot for Krazy Glue with the construction worker's hat glued to an I-beam.

Hill's complete list can be viewed on the Web at http://www.nick-at-nite.com, but he offered a few justifications for some of his choices:

No. 244. Tests of the Emergency Broadcast System. "It makes your TV come alive for a second. You get taken out of TV land and all of a sudden something else is happening."

No. 514. Test patterns. "Like many TV shows on today, its sole purpose was to show that the channel was still functioning, much like infomercials."

No. 631. That Jim did Marlin Perkins' dirty work on "Wild Kingdom." "They always had Marlin out front saying, 'At this point the female wild boar can be quite protective -- oh, look out Jim!' There'd be footage of Jim trying to get a closer look while Marlin was safely in the Mutual of Omaha studio."

Along with its list of TV's bests, TV Land named HBO's "The Sopranos" (returning for its second season at 9 p.m. Jan. 16) the second recipient of its "TV Land Future Classic Award." (Last year ABC's "Sports Night" was the winner.)

On its own channel, TV Land just added "The Honeymooners" (11 p.m.), "The Andy Griffith Show" (10 p.m.), "The A-Team" (midnight) and "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C." (1 a.m.) to the nightly lineup.

New weekend programs include "Open House" (4 a.m.), "Day by Day" (4:30 a.m.), "Hogan's Heroes" (9 a.m.) and "The Phil Silvers Show" (9:30 a.m.).

"Misfits of Science" (5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday) is my favorite addition to the schedule. This short-lived 1985-1986 series starred Courteney Cox as one of a group of young people with supernatural abilities (Cox could levitate objects). Critics hated it, but to a 14-year-old in the '80s, it was pretty cool TV.

GOOD SHOW ALERT: NBC's "Freaks and Geeks" returns in a new time slot at 8 p.m. Monday on NBC. The comedy-drama about life at a Michigan high school circa 1980 should not be confused with all the teen shows on The WB. "Freaks" won't appeal to teens, instead striking a chord with those who lived through the days of dodge ball and bullies.

In a letter to TV critics, executive producer Judd Apatow and co-executive producer Paul Feig said NBC only ordered a "back one" pick-up instead of the usual nine-episode order.

"They say if we do fairly well on Jan. 10, they will order four more new episodes the following day," the show runners write.

If you care about quality TV, tune in.

CLOSED CAPTIONS: This week WTAE began offering real-time closed captioning in its 11 p.m. newscast. Most stations' closed captioning comes off the script, so it won't display anything ad-libbed or not in the TelePrompTer. With real-time closed captioning, someone transcribes what is said as it is said.

WTAE's other newscasts will remain captioned the old way, but may switch to real-time in the future.

KDKA-TV also has plans to introduce real-time closed captioning to some of its newscasts soon.

BEST PITCH: A TBS publicist called last week and left a message encouraging me to consider writing about the new "Ripley's Believe It or Not" (8:05 p.m. Jan. 12).

"This first episode is very interesting," she said. "It features a woman that was born without a lower body, but she does give birth to a healthy baby boy. It also features treating human wounds with maggots."

Can't imagine why I'd pass on that ...

OFF TO PRESS TOUR: As you read this, I'll already be in Los Angeles preparing to report from the winter Television Critics Association press tour. Watch for dispatches from Pasadena during the next two weeks.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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