News Column

TV's Worst in 2012

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An annoyingly hyperactive young beauty-pageant contestant. A lab coat-wearing monkey. The continuing employment of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. And a horror show that scales King-Kong-on-the-Empire-State-Building-caliber heights of gratuitous tastelessness.

These were among the dubious achievements of the year in television. Let's take a moment to wallow in the Worst of 2012 TV, in all its multifaceted, tacky glory. You may not agree with my choices (fans of "The Newsroom," I can already hear the sound of your gnashing teeth), but let's think of this as a holiday cleanse. We'll feel so much better once it's out of our system.

Ann Curry's unceremonious exit: After joining the "Today" show as a news anchor in 1997, Curry got her dream job as co-host in the summer of 2011. So it was especially painful that NBC executives yanked her from that position in the summer of 2012, amid reports that Curry was being blamed for the "Today" show ratings decline.

In a tearful on-air goodbye, Curry left viewers with no doubt that this move was anything but her choice. Curry, who has deep Oregon roots, is still with the network, doing a vaguely defined mixture of domestic and international reporting.

But "Today" continues to struggle to regain its longtime morning ratings dominance. ABC's "Good Morning America" has gained viewers who perhaps didn't care for how Curry was treated.

Matt Lauer, who managed to escape blame for the show's ratings dip when Curry was left to twist in the wind, is still at "Today," but his rapport with Curry's replacement, Savannah Guthrie, isn't much of an improvement over his supposedly nonexistent chemistry with Curry.

Here comes stereotypes overload: The trend in reality TV for shows about rural, generally Southern, folks doing things that play off dated stereotypes plumbed new depths with "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," the TLC series that spun off the network's awful "Toddlers & Tiaras."

Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson -- a 6-year-old kiddie beauty pageant refugee from "Toddlers & Tiaras" -- and her rural Georgia family spent each episode behaving like cartoon redneck characters. Whether it was all for the camera's benefit I don't know. But I do know that exploiting young people for ratings makes TLC more classless than Honey Boo Boo's family could ever be.

Horror show: The first season of "American Horror Story" was so over-the-top, I gave up watching. When you begin at Level 10 on the hysterical scale, where is there to go? Now I know. "American Horror Story: Asylum," the impossibly offensive follow-up, is set in 1964 at a mental institution run by a monstrous doctor (James Cromwell) and a loony nun (Jessica Lange).

Co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and the rest of the creative team seem to have one goal in mind -- smash our faces in the most upsetting images and concepts imaginable. It takes world-class insensitivity to mix up Nazi medical experiments, serial killers, religion, Anne Frank, aliens and sexual torture and throw them at us like an assault, devoid of any meaning beyond "Gotcha!" If that was the goal, consider it achieved. And please, don't do it again.

Give me rewrite: Aaron Sorkin is a gifted writer, of that there's no doubt. He's done outstanding work on such past projects as "Sports Night," "The West Wing," "The Social Network" and "Moneyball." But with his HBO series, "The Newsroom," Sorkin gave in to his most self-indulgent tendencies.

Instead of creating character and drama, he lectured. Everyone on the show seemed to speak with the same voice. Jeff Daniels was very good in the role of Will McAvoy, a smarter-than-everyone-else cable news anchor.

But Sorkin's handling of the female characters was wrong from the start -- how can such ambitious, supposedly talented professionals behave like overgrown adolescents? And the setting, in the recent past, only added to the overall feeling of told-you-so smugness.

Train-wreck TV: What have TV viewers done to deserve more of Charlie Sheen? After years of perfunctory performances on "Two and a Half Men," a public meltdown and personal misbehavior, Sheen persists. His FX sitcom, "Anger Management," is opportunistic and drearily ordinary. And those are its best qualities.

Sheen's female equivalent, Lindsay Lohan, is, if anything, an even more distressing spectacle. Whatever it is that's wrong with her, there was precious little reward in gawking at her utterly inadequate attempts to host "Saturday Night Live" and portray Elizabeth Taylor in the hacky Lifetime movie, "Liz & Dick." At this point, watching Lohan flailing in public feels like rubber-necking at the scene of a terrible accident.

And the monkey was the highlight: The less said about the already-canceled NBC sitcom "Animal Practice" the better. When a trained monkey in a miniature doctor's lab coat is the comic zenith of your show, you know you're in trouble.

The case of the disappointed viewers: Local fans of "Perry Mason" reruns on KPTV (12) at noon were dismayed at this summer's news that the venerable courtroom drama was moving from its noontime berth on KPTV to a new, 8 a.m. slot on KPTV's sister station, KPDX (Channel 49/cable 13). It was the end of a four decade-long tradition. Taking the noontime KPTV spot was "The Rachael Ray Show." As a commenter on Oregonlive.com wrote, "Now that's really adding insult to injury."

I've heard of anti-heroines, but this is ridiculous: The promising NBC drama "Revolution" made the mistake of shortchanging its intriguing premise -- what happens when all the power goes out? -- and over-emphasizing its young, whiny female lead, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos). After the umpteenth scene of Charlie demanding her posse of survivors search for her missing brother -- "We have to find Danny!" -- I started hoping the power on my TV would go out, just to shut her up.

The "meh" factor: You know how Simon Cowell promised that "The X Factor" would be a big hit? And then it wasn't? And then Cowell booted his first-season cohorts, Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger, and replaced them with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, and he said the show was going to be better? And it turned out to be ... meh? Maybe Fox and Cowell can get the hint that this is one singing competition too many.

The "Community" disappearing act: The comedy "Community" has always faced an uphill battle. The offbeat tale of a misfit group of adult community college students has a quirky, self-aware humor that's off-putting to some but is adored by the show's fans.

2012 was an extraordinarily bumpy one for the NBC underdog. Creator Dan Harmon, whose vision shaped what makes "Community" special, was asked to take his leave. The Harmon-free "Community" was supposed to return to the NBC schedule this fall, but it got bumped at the last minute. Since then, co-star Chevy Chase, who had sparred with Harmon, announced that he's exiting the cast.

"Community" is supposedly returning in February. In the meantime, I'm giving NBC an "F" for how it's handled one of the most creative shows on TV.

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