Following last week’s column -- in which I singled out Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” AMC’s “The Pitch,” Syfy’s “Face Off” and Me-TV’s prime-time presentation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as deserving of special recognition -- here are more noteworthy series from 2012 that aren’t going to turn up on very many (if any) of this year’s Top-10 lists.
“The Glee Project” (Oxygen) – Oxygen’s low-budget but high-spirited talent show continued to prove more heartfelt and generate greater emotional connectivity than the big-budget Fox series to which it is tied. (Winners from “The Glee Project” are awarded significant guest stints on “Glee” that sometimes develop into recurring roles.) Blake Jenner was a fine choice, but I would have liked to see Ryan Murphy and mentors Robert Ulrich, Zach Woodlee and Nikki Anders offer the grand prize to one of the three talented female finalists -- Ali Stroker, Aylin Bayramoglu or Lily Mae Harrington – any one of whom could have brought something fresh to the increasingly stale mother-ship.
“Watch What Happens Live” (Bravo) and “Talking Dead” (AMC) – Two very distinctive live half-hour television shows this year became giant hits with their intended audiences: Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” telecast Sunday-Thursday at 11 p.m. most weeks of the year, and AMC’s “Talking Dead,” a Sunday-night nerdgasm that follows each new installment of “The Walking Dead.” “WWHL,” which began life in 2009 as a once- or twice-a week program, this year evolved into a five-night-a-week treat. Credit the network’s programming guru, Andy Cohen, who proved himself perhaps the smartest executive working in television by casting himself as the host of a talk show that largely promotes his own work! “WWHL” rocks when its guests are Bravolebrities, but it really cooks when famous folk from outside the network like Jane Fonda, Cloris Leachman and Meryl Streep join in the fun. It’s further enhanced by questions from viewers submitted via phone, e-mail or other digital means during each telecast.
Meanwhile, “Talking Dead,” hosted by the always affable Chris Hardwick, proved to be a scary-smart idea, in large part due to its simplicity: Guests talk about the episode that has just premiered and take questions from viewers via multiple media platforms. (I wonder -- would it make sense for ABC Family to run a show like this after new episodes of its endlessly twisty phenomenon “Pretty Little Liars”?) “Talking Dead” is so popular it will expand to one hour when it returns in February.
“Dallas” (TNT) – TNT this year revived one of the most popular television series in the history of the medium more than two decades after the end of its legendary 13-season run. Restarting old franchises is nothing new, but taking the care to ensure that they live up to and honor their pasts is something that almost never happens. (Think of The CW’s abysmal and mercifully short-lived “Melrose Place” or its abysmal and inexcusably long-lived “90210.”) The new “Dallas” is a fine continuation of the original that offers something for veteran fans and new viewers alike. It is especially touching that Larry Hagman was able to return to the role of dastardly businessman J.R. Ewing before his death last month. The inevitable passing of J.R. next season and the character’s funeral will resonate not only with Ewing family members and friends -- but with the tens of millions of television viewers who made “Dallas” a Friday night phenomenon in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s..
“Fashion Police” (E!) – Speaking of Friday night, who could have imagined that a night once dominated by such scripted sensations as “The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family,” “Dallas,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” “Falcon Crest,” “Miami Vice” and “The X-Files” would now belong to Joan Rivers? The seemingly indefatigable comedienne and her “Fashion Police” co-stars Giuliana Rancic, George Kotsiopoulos and Kelly Osbourne manage every week to deliver the evening’s most reliably entertaining hour of television. Rivers is developing a whole new generation of fans -- and rightly so. She has never been funnier.
The Fourth Hour of “Today” (NBC) and “Access Hollywood Live” (syndicated) – I think it fair to say that daytime on the Big Three was in turmoil these last few years, with sweeping changes at every network that cumulatively siphoned much of the excitement from what had long been broadcast’s most vibrant daypart. Now the dust is settling, for better (ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “General Hospital,” CBS’ “The Talk”) or worse (the first three hours of NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “The Chew”). But two shows have consistently stood out amid the chaos: The sparkling fourth hour of “Today,” featuring daytime’s most dynamic duo, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, and the syndicated “Access Hollywood Live,” featuring daytime’s most under-appreciated pairing, Billy Bush and Kit Hoover.
Also worth mentioning: ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” and “Bunheads,” FX’s “Archer,” Lifetime’s “Project Runway,” MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” BBC America’s “The Graham Norton Show” and TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.”