Making a Case for Retiring TV Annual-Best Lists

Variety generally doesn’t approve of putting out “best” lists, and reading today’s year-end rosters from TV critics in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, I have to say I agree.

In fact, while I can see the obvious merit of (or at least rationale behind) year-end film “best” lists — everybody is focused on winnowing down candidates for the Oscars — trying to do the same for television seems every bit as arbitrary as the traditional September-through-May TV season was.

For starters, movies are movies. Sure, you pick 10 of them, and a lot of critics will throw in favorites that have absolutely no chance at (or aren’t even eliglbe for) an Academy Award. A little self-indulgence now and then never hurt anyone.

TV, by contrast, is a much more diverse animal. So you get lists mixing primetime network shows with cable dramas with latenight talkshows with Adult Swim confections with random moments, like the Karl Rove election-night meltdown on Fox News Channel or the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.

Do we really need another list of things that don’t naturally go together? We already have the supporting-actor categories at the Golden Globes for that, mixing performers from “Saturday Night Live,” primetime series and movies into one great big unwieldy gumbo.

The American Film Institute, notably, breaks its year-end movie and TV lists into 10 movies and programs, respectively, and then augments each with “moments of signficance.” Even that isn’t a panacea, but at least it keeps the apples away (mostly) from the oranges. (I haven’t forgiven the jury for including “American Horror Story: Asylum,” but let’s not digress.)

Admittedly, I understand the appeal of every discipline feeling compelled to get into the year-end spirit, but for most, this is really just the journalistic equivalent of a half-drunken argument in a bar. (Do people get into drunken debates over year-end dance or art lists, by the way? And does asking prove that the crowd I hang out with isn’t particularly refined?)

So for now, even if I had a year-end best list, I’ll be keeping it to myself. Or at least, you’ll have to buy me a couple of drinks first.



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