These days, whenever you open this or any other newspaper, you get smacked with a great big misery pie in the face. Layoffs. Foreclosures. Wall Street meltdowns. The Oakland Raiders. On and on it goes.
And turning to television doesn't often ease the gloom. The season so far has been a clunker. Ratings are down and viewer unrest is rampant. Meanwhile, quality shows such as "Pushing Daisies" get killed off, while dopey debacles like "Knight Rider" inexplicably live on.
But why continue to dwell on failure and mediocrity? After all, the holiday season is upon us — a time for comfort and joy. And so we've decided to put the depress-o-rama temporarily on hold and devote a column to nothing but positive vibes.
Here, then, are some reasons to smile and to hope — some reasons why we continue to love TV: The good guys still prevail. And in difficult times, that's apparently what we want to see. Thus, while other networks struggle, CBS is thriving with its "comfort-food" menu of basic procedural cop shows both old (the "CSI" franchise) and new ("The Mentalist"). HBO has put the complete seasons of "The Sopranos," "Deadwood" and "The Wire" out on DVD in snazzy sets with plenty of extras. These shows represent some of the best television ever — and, yes, they would look great under the tree. The value of sitcoms may be plunging faster than the stock market, but "The Big Bang Theory" is proof that the genre still has plenty of pop in it.
n Aussie actor John Noble continues to make Walter Bishop, his loopy-yet-creepy mad scientist on "Fringe," one of the most entertaining new characters of the season. "Lost" returns to ABC next month. Three words: We can't wait. College football bowl season is just around the corner. Three words: Bring it on. East Bay native Rachel Maddow has developed into a fresh, brilliant and witty force on the cable-news scene. As one writer put it: She's a TV pundit for folks who think they don't like TV pundits. The Emmy voters this year showered their love on "Mad Men" and "30 Rock," proving that the television academy actually can recognize quality programming. "American Idol" will introduce new judge Kara DioGuardi in its eighth season, which — cross your fingers — should mean less screen time for Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. Heat Miser and Snow Miser, those scene-stealing goofballs from "The Year Without a Santa Claus," get their own cool animated special Saturday (8 p.m., ABC Family). "NCIS," Mark Harmon's military drama, has defied typical television trajectory by actually expanding its audience in its sixth season. No wonder CBS is reportedly mulling a spinoff. Apparently, it pays to jump forward in time. "One Tree Hill" not only avoided a fan revolt when it had its characters skip past college, it actually experienced a ratings growth at a time when Nielsen numbers for most shows are waning. Now it has a bigger audience on The CW than its buzz-laden lead-in, "Gossip Girl." "Bones," with its witty banter and sexually charged pairing (David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel), is proof positive that procedurals can be lighthearted and character-based. And in Season 4, it's finally enjoying the buzz it long has deserved. Just as most network shows get set to go into winter reruns, cable gives us the slick new caper series "Leverage," with Timothy Hutton starring as a high-tech Robin Hood who sticks it to corporate scumbags. Truly a show for our times. Jack Bauer of "24" soon will be back on the clock, kicking bad guys in the head and blowing things up. NBC's disastrous year might be on par with the Big 3 automakers, but the Peacock can take pride in "Chuck." The hilarious spy spoof, with its likable nerd (Zachary Levi), is simply a joy to watch. Forget all the talk about "90210" star Shenae Grimes being an anorexic diva. We've got a non-stalkerish crush on her. As charming, yet steely, Annie Wilson, she ranks among the top newcomers of the season. After more than 40 years, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (8 p.m. Dec. 16, ABC) continues to warm our hearts.
Reach Chuck Barney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out his "TV Freak" blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tvfreak.