On the occasion of feeling thankful.

plaid-pajama-bottoms9. Plaid pajama bottoms. Remember how Ricky Ricardo would wear the pajama bottoms and Lucy would wear the top? I wonder if Andrew and I could recreate that look in our home?















the-kennedys-portrait-of-a-family8. through 6. “The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family,” “Remembering Jack,” “A Time It Was.” I went on a real Kennedy kick in the spring and summer, reading a ton of books about Jack and Bobby. I added these photography books to my Amazon wish list and – surprise! – I got all three.











































brushed-cotton-blazer5. Brushed cotton blazer. I really like the way this fits. Of course, if I don’t quit eating the Christmas cookies, I’ll never be able to wear it.















lincoln-the-biography-of-a-writer4. “Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer.” This has made several critics’ year-end “best of 2008” lists. I hope it lives up to the hype.
















the-west-wing43. “The West Wing.” I’ve wanted to own the complete series since, well, the series ended. It’s about time someone got this for me.












canon-pixma-mp6202. Canon Pixma MP620. Truly an unexpected surprise. Now I can digitize my TV Guide collection and post it here! Imagine the storage room I’ll save.










big-ben1. Big Ben ornament. The ninth ornament Andrew has given me in our eight-and-a-half-years together. I hope this will become an enduring reminder of the time we spent in London this year.


On the occasion of President-elect Obama almost completing his real one.

cliff-barnes-28. Cliff Barnes, energy czar, “Dallas.” In the prime time soap’s 14th and final season, the failed congressional candidate revived his political career with an appointment as the president’s “energy czar.” (It was never made clear how energy czar differed from energy secretary. Oh well. Let’s assume it wasn’t a case of government redundancy.) What I want to know is what kind of president gives Cliff (Ken Kercheval) a job. During the course of the series, Cliff: was twice arrested for shooting members of the Ewing clan, acquitted for accidentally killing a New York mobster, accused (and not without merit) of using various government posts he held to pursue personal vendettas, carried on multiple extra-marital affairs, fathered an illegitimate child, almost ran his mother’s multi-million dollar oil company into the ground, attempted suicide and was embarrassed by the revelation that a girlfriend died after aborting his child. In the real world, this guy couldn’t get appointed assistant deputy dog catcher.

karen-hayes17. Karen Hayes, national security advisor, “24.” You can’t always count on this character to do the right thing, but she’s pretty good most of the time. As I recall – and “24” is so convoluted, you can’t blame me for having a spotty memory – Hayes (Jayne Atkinson) was at first suspicious of super agent Jack Bauer, but ended up becoming one of his most valuable allies. Her Wikipedia entry says she once fired her husband to save her own career. Come on, Karen! You know better than that!




james-heller26. James Heller, defense secretary, “24.” I love this guy for so many reasons. He’s an unabashed nepotist (his staff includes his daughter, Audrey Raines, and her boyfriend, Jack Bauer), his fathering skills are questionable (his son, Richard, is an anarchist who frequently participates in government protests) and he’s indestructible (after apparently dying in a car wreck on day five, he returns in fine form in day six). William Devane, my favorite actor from “Knots Landing,” portrays Heller with the appropriate combination of grit and humanity. He’d make a fantastic president in the “24” universe.



lewis-berryhill55. Lewis Berryhill, secretary of state, “24.” Hey, look! It’s William Devane again! He’s pretty much wasted as Berryhill – the character made just two appearances on “The West Wing” – but I so love the idea of him as secretary of state that I’m giving him a fairly high spot on this list. Aside from Martin Sheen, no one plays politics better than Devane. Both have dashing, Kennedy-esque looks, so it’s no wonder both have played JFK: Sheen did it in the miniseries “Kennedy – The Presidential Years,” while Devane did it in the made-for-TV movie “The Missiles of October” (which featured Sheen as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy!) In addition, Devane portrayed a U.S. Senate candidate on “Knots Landing,” the patriarch of a Kennedy-esque dynasty on “The Monroes” and an evil presidential campaign manager in the awesomely named TV movie “The President’s Child.” If Sheen hadn’t been available to play Josiah Bartlet on “The West Wing,” I think Devane would have made a fine second choice.

nancy-mcnally34. Dr. Nancy McNally, national security advisor, “The West Wing.” Tina Fey once said Condoleezza Rice speaks like she’s making a hostage tape, perhaps the most fitting description of Rice I’ve ever heard. Her nervous, halting cadence wasn’t very comforting during the first Bush administration, when she served as national security advisor. So it was nice to imagine stern, decisive McNally (Anna Deavere Smith) was really in charge of keeping the country safe.

catherine-walker23. Catherine Walker, chancellor of the exchequer, “The Amazing Mrs Pritchard.” Andrew and I were hooked on this BBC miniseries when it aired on American public television last year. When supermarket manager-turned-political phenomenon Ros Pritchard becomes Britain’s prime minister, Catherine Walker (Janet McTeer), a senior member of the Conservative Party, joins her team as chancellor of the exchequer, roughly the British equivalent to the U.S. government’s treasury secretary. Catherine is one tough broad, but McTeer makes her vulnerable – especially when she becomes pregnant after having an affair with a young aide. Go Catherine!

leo-mcgarry22. Leo McGarry, labor secretary, “The West Wing.” OK, we never actually saw McGarry (John Spencer) as labor secretary. When “The West Wing” debuted in 1999, it was explained his character – President Bartlet’s chief of staff – had served as labor chief in a previous Democratic administration. Still, you just know our beloved Leo was an awesome cabinet member.






laura-roslin41. Laura Roslin, education secretary, “Battlestar Galactica.” You know how one member of the cabinet stays behind when the president gives his State of the Union address, just in case some calamity strikes the Capitol and wipes out the entire administration during the speech? It’s a horrific thought, I know. But if it were to happen, you’d hope the person picked to stay behind would be someone like Laura (Mary McDonnell). Yeah, I know. She isn’t perfect. She’s a little too eager to toss Cylons out the airlock, and her whole preoccupation with religion is a little creepy. But you gotta give her credit: When the Cylon attack wiped out most of humanity – including President Adar and the rest of his cabinet – Roslin rose to the occasion with graceful determination. Thanks to flashbacks, we also know she stood up to Adar when he tried to fire her for being too chummy with the teachers’ union. She’s wonderfully human (or is she?), and the fact that McDonnell doesn’t have an Emmy by now is a frakkin’ shame.

On the occasion of the handoff from William Petersen to Laurence Fishburne on “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation,” beginning tonight.

Worst things first:

5. Valerie Malone (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) replaces Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty), “Beverly Hills, 90210,” 1994. “Omigod, have you heard about the new girl at school? You know, the one staying in Brenda’s room? She smokes pot! And she sleeps with boys! And she doesn’t do her homework!” Whatever. Look honey, you want to replace my beloved Brenda? Kill yourself and hope you get reincarnated as Shannen, because that’s the only way it’s gonna happen.

4. Cousin Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison) replaces Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers), “Three’s Company,” 1981. Just as all cute rednecks aren’t the same (see No. 1), neither are all simple-minded blondes. I know what you’re saying: Chrissy was dim, Cindy was klutzy. Totally different, right? Wrong. If you think that was the only distinction between these two, you weren’t paying attention.

3. Cousin C.J. Barnes (David Spade) replaces Paul Hennessy (John Ritter), “8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” 2003. I never watched a single episode of this show, but even I know you don’t replace John Ritter with David Spade.

2. Jack Ewing (Dack Rambo) replaces Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), “Dallas,” 1985. When Duffy announced plans to quit the show, producers quickly brought Rambo aboard as the Ewings’ long-lost cousin. Like Bobby, Jack wasn’t afraid to stand up to resident bad guy J.R. (Larry Hagman), but Hagman and Rambo lacked chemistry, severely undermining the show’s Cain-and-Abel dynamic. Rambo stuck around for awhile after Duffy returned, but what was the point? To paraphrase another famous Texan: “I knew Bobby Ewing. Bobby Ewing was a friend of mine. You’re no Bobby Ewing.” A footnote: Rambo, a closeted homosexual, died of AIDS in 1994. Rumor has it he was subject to much homophobia on the “Dallas” set. He was a fine actor (and possessed possibly the most obscenely large bulge in prime time history). Too bad he was given the unenviable task of replacing Duffy.

coy-and-vance-duke11. Coy and Vance Duke (Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer) replace Bo and Luke Duke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat), “The Dukes of Hazzard,” 1982. It turns out countrified pretty boys with feathered bangs and tight jeans aren’t interchangeable. Who knew?

And now the best:

5. Aunt Sandy (Sandy Duncan) replaces Valerie (Valerie Harper), “Valerie,” 1987. Harper famously quit her self-titled sitcom in a contract dispute after production wrapped on its second season. When the third season began in September 1987, it sported a new title – “Valerie’s Family – and a new lead actress: Aunt Sandy, who moved in to help the family deal with Valerie’s off-camera death. (At the time, TV Guide reported producers considered renaming the show “Who’s Valerie?”) Eventually, “Valerie’s Family” became “The Hogan Family” and moved to CBS before completing its six-season run in 1991, but it didn’t earn the top spot on this list because of its resilience. Instead, it’s here because it was a lame show, and Harper, one of the great sitcom stars of the ’70s deserved a better material than what she was given here. She was smart to leave when she did.

4. Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) replaces Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), “Cheers,” 1987. I’ll always prefer Diane, but Rebecca wasn’t a bad replacement. Alley exhibited admirable fearlessness in the role, although her performance occasionally ventured into shameless scenery chomping.

3. Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) replaces Leslie Vanderkellen (Jennifer Holmes), “Newhart,” 1983. Hey, “Three’s Company” producers: This is how you replace one cousin with another. Spoiled Stephanie was infinitely more interesting than dull Leslie and one of my all-time favorite sitcom characters.

the-west-wing32. Rep. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) replace President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), “The West Wing,” 2005. OK, this is kinda cheating. Sheen never really left the show, but in the final season, Bartlet appeared much less frequently as attention shifted to the race to succeed him. I am the first to admit that “The West Wing” suffered whenever Sheen wasn’t on screen, but credit the producers with crafting two compelling characters – Santos and Vinick – that almost filled the void created by his absence. I’m particularly fond of the Vinick character; why can’t Republicans like this exist in the real world?

1. Jon Stewart replaces Craig Kilborn, “The Daily Show,” 1999. OK, another cheat; this isn’t a scripted show. But are you going to argue with it?

On the occasion of my wanting to dispel the notion – being perpetuated in the wake of Jay Leno’s move to prime time – that good TV drama won’t succeed in earlier time slots.

the-defenders5. “The Defenders,” CBS, 1961 to 1965. For most of its run, this classic drama aired Saturday nights at 8:30. Original drama on Saturday nights? Those were the days.

4. “The X-Files,” Fox, 1993 to 2006. Never aired at 10 p.m. How could it? It was a Fox show.

3. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 2000 to present. The venerable crime drama – TV’s top-rated show this season – has been a fixture on Thursday nights at 9 since 2001, when it vacated its original Friday-nights-at-9 slot.

2. “The West Wing,” NBC, 1999 to 2006. The most literate commercial series on this list. It aired Wednesday nights at 9 until its final season, when it moved to Sunday nights at 8.

1. “Masterpiece Theatre,” PBS, 1971 to present. Thirty-eight (!) seasons in the same time slot: Sunday nights at 9.


On the occasion of it being that time of year.

10. “The Voice of Christmas,” “The Brady Bunch,” Dec. 19, 1969. Cheesier than a Hickory Farms cheddar ball. Selfless Cindy doesn’t want toys for Christmas; she wants Santa to restore the voice of her laryngitis-inflicted mother so she can sing in church. The entire episode has been compressed into a nine-minute version on YouTube.

9. “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” “Happy Days,” Dec. 17, 1974. Mr. C. only wants family present on Christmas Eve, then Richie discovers the Fonz has no place to go for the holidays. I bet I don’t need to tell you how the story ends.

family-ties8. “A Keaton Christmas Carol,” “Family Ties,” Dec. 14, 1983. At some point, every sitcom does a version of “A Christmas Carol,” in which the show’s resident Scrooge learns the true meaning of the holiday. The “Family Ties” version is a cut above the rest, primarily because of the climactic scene, in which Alex, having found the spirit on Christmas morning, goes on a shopping spree at the only place open: 7-Eleven. He gives Jennifer a six-pack of cough syrup. Watch it here.

7. “Santa Goes Downtown,” “Night Court” Jan. 11, 1984. Hey, what’s Alex P. Keaton doing in Judge Stone’s courtroom, and why is he acting like such a punk? Wait, that’s not Alex; it’s Michael J. Fox guest starring as Eddie, a troubled teen arrested for shoplifting on the same night a man claiming to be Santa is arrested for trespassing. This episode is a rarity: a Christmas story set after Christmas. Watching it on YouTube reminded me how much “Night Court” suffered after the death of Selma Diamond, who steals both her scenes in this episode. YouTube offers “Santa Goes Downtown” in three parts; here’s one, two and three.

6. “A Merry Little Christmas,” “Knots Landing,” Dec. 20, 1990. This episode ends with star Michelle Lee’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” playing over a montage of scenes showing the characters observing the holiday. It isn’t all sap and pap: In a moment that captures the bitchy tone that distinguished “Knots’” final seasons, we see down-on-her-luck heiress Anne Matheson (Michelle Phillips) rip off a Salvation Army-style Santa. (Here’s a crummy YouTube version of the scene, apparently made when someone pointed their camcorder at a SoapNet rerun of the episode.)

5. “The Strike,” “Seinfeld,” Dec. 18, 1997. The Festivus episode. What more do I need to say?

4. “The Draft Dodger,” “All in the Family,” Dec. 25, 1976. Yes Virginia, there really was a time when the networks drew big audiences by scheduling original programming on Christmas night. Clearly, this was an era when our nation had its priorities straight – why waste time with your family on a holiday when you can watch TV? The highlight of this episode is a powerful scene in which Archie’s old war buddy gives an impassioned Christmas dinner speech defending Mike’s draft dodger friend, a fellow guest. CBS aired a terrific “All in the Family” retrospective in 1991 in which a disgruntled viewer expressed his belief that this episode gave “aid and comfort” to America’s enemy in Vietnam. Can you imagine any sitcom today stirring such emotion?

3. “Afternoon Delight,” “Arrested Development,” Dec. 19, 2004. At Christmastime, Michael visits his mother, Lucille (the incomparable Jessica Walter), who suspects someone tried to break into her home. “I have a surprise for whoever it is if he comes back,” Lucille says, holding a rape horn and a fire poker. “First I blow him, then I poke him.” Read the whole script here.

2. “Mary, Joseph and Larry,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Nov. 10, 2002. At the height of its popularity in our house, “Curb” made Andrew laugh until he cried, and “Mary, Joseph and Larry” was no exception. Here’s how the New York Times described my favorite scene in this episode: “Larry absently ate a cookie shaped like ‘Baby Jesus’ that his Christian in-laws had baked for their Christmas nativity scene. Larry defended himself by saying it looked to him like an animal cookie. ‘I thought it was a monkey,’ he stammered. His sister-in-law was unforgiving: ‘You swallowed our Lord and Savior.’”

the-west-wing21. “In Excelsis Deo,” “The West Wing,” Dec. 15, 1999. Toby (Richard Schiff) arranges a homeless veteran’s funeral at Christmastime. This is the episode that helped Schiff earn his supporting actor Emmy, but if you ask me, Kathryn Joosten steals the show. She’s terrific in the scene in which her character, Mrs. Landingham, movingly tells Charlie (Dule Hill) about the death of her twin sons in Vietnam. A nice example of what made “The West Wing’s” first season so special. The only “In Excelsis Deo” scene on YouTube is a charmer: President Bartlet entertains a group of youngsters at the White House.