Fifty things we love about TV
The Age's TV writers celebrate many of the things they love about TV ... as well as noting some of the things they don't.
The Age's TV writers celebrate many of the things they love about TV ... as well as noting some of the things they don't. We think television cops a lot of bad press. Some of it is warranted: there's a lamentable load of tripe on the telly. But what can be overlooked amid the howls of protest, the eruptions of snarky criticism and the condescending references to ''the idiot box'' is how much great stuff there is, too.Given the proliferation of stations following the arrival of pay TV and the more recent free-to-air digital channels, and the 24/7 nature of the modern medium, there's an abundance of space to fill. Some programs occupy it admirably; others, not so much.But for every banal, attention-seeking interlude with the Kardashians and every bitchy tiff between the Real Housewives, there's a reality TV show that more thoughtfully reveals the nature of our world. For every shabby and exploitative tabloid-TV story, there's a standout Four Corners, Lateline or Australian Story report, or an ambitious attempt to tackle a complex issue, such as Go Back to Where You Came From.There are innovative and absorbing drama series, inventive comedies and sparkling chat shows. There's a parade of talented and accomplished people, some working from well-crafted scripts, others operating on their wits.Today we celebrate many of the things we love about TV, as well as noting some of the things we don't.The Age's TV writers, all devoted couch potatoes, are an eclectic bunch with differing tastes: there are avid footy fans, reality TV show addicts, devotees of costume dramas and writers eager to engage in robust debates about Chris Lilley's work.This special edition comes at a time when Australian audiences are embracing home-grown productions. Many of the most popular programs are made locally and among them are not only polished reworkings of international formats - such as MasterChef Australia, Australia's Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, Grand Designs Australia and The Amazing Race Australia - but also original concepts: The Block, Offspring, Angry Boys, Talkin' 'bout Your Generation.We aim to recognise and applaud local talent in all its diversity, from the work of news and current affairs people such as George Negus and Sarah Ferguson to those in drama, comedy, reality TV and light entertainment.Of course, we also love our imports and what the best of them can offer, whether it's eccentric detectives such as Bobby Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent or standout shows such as Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, The Good Wife and Downton Abbey.We're happy to laugh along with 30 Rock, Come Fly with Me and repeats of Frasier. We enjoy the fact new digital channels reliably showcase programs that were treated shabbily by the primary channels, such as Supernatural, as well as providing an opportunity to indulge in a whole lot of nostalgia as we again enjoy I Dream of Jeannie.We wouldn't want to contemplate a TV world without Jon Stewart making a meal of current events, without David and Margaret and their passion for movies, without Pete Smith's voiceovers for Channel Nine or the ABC News theme music.However, some of us would be relieved not to have to devote another precious minute of our lives to enduring Peter Harvey's mailbag on 60 Minutes, Carbo on Packed to the Rafters, the ads on SBS or weatherman Mike Larkan waxing lyrical about ''our beautiful city by the bay''.In the best tradition of television, we hope there's something for everyone in this story.- Debi EnkerThe multichannelsFOR providing a free venue for our favourite niche shows. Getting the chance to rewatch Supernatural in a reliable fashion has been a highlight. We've also enjoyed reliving childhood viewing habits: The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Mork & Mindy and Green Acres. Like peering at an old photograph album, watching the faded footage of sitcoms of yore evokes sensory memories and a lost willingness to suspend belief.See also Sons and Daughters, Coronation Street, Murphy BrownDownton AbbeyAN EXAMPLE of why cleverly constructed storytelling never goes out of fashion. The series also features some good downstairs baddies. Lady's maid Sarah O'Brien and first footman Thomas both convey seethinghatred in the blink of an eye. Doctor Who has the Daleks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Spike (literally), Smallville has Lex Luthor; we think television in general could do with more characters we love to hate.See also Upstairs, DownstairsHBO/ShowtimeTHERE'S a reason why everybody raves about HBO, or, as we like to call it, Bloody HBO: it makes consistently good shows, such as True Blood, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, that inevitably include sex, death, blood and beheadings. Showtime is a tad more restrained but when it comes to quirkiness, there's no beating it for uniquely drawn characters (think pill-popping Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara and Weeds).See also TremeThe Good WifeAT A time when much of the exciting drama on American television has come from cable (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Justified), this legal drama has demonstrated that more traditional mainstream fare can still pack a punch. Playing the stoic, smart and strategic Alicia Florrick, the wronged wife of the title, Julianna Margulies is riveting. But she's not alone: one of the strengths of the series has been the chemistry of its core cast, including Emmy winner Archie Panjabi, eagle-eyed Alan Cumming and Chris Noth, who's never been better. Equally admirable has been the quality of the scripts, whether they're covering the politics at the law firm of Lockhart Gardner or the more private pressures affecting the Florrick family. This addictive series makes a compelling case that network TV isn't quite dead yet. Bring on season three.See also Many of the other popular network offerings (The Mentalist, Bones, Hawaii Five-0, various Law & Orders and CSIs) just make this one look betterProject RunwayWE CAN'T get enough of wannabe fashion designers scrambling to sew frocks fit for the runway. It's never too soon to hear Tim Gunn say, ''Make it work'', ''Use the Bluefly wall carefully'' and ''Thank you, Mood''. We love the runway challenges and the editing between designer and judges (Designer: ''I'm so winning this.'' Judge: ''It's a little Shirley MacLaine when she played a hooker with a heart of gold.''). And is it just us or does Heidi Klum get a sadistic buzz each time she says, ''One day you're in; next day [long pause] you're OUT''?See also Project Runway AustraliaGreat onscreen rapportWE LOVE At the Movies: Margaret's head tossing and throaty laugh, David's unflappable style and their combined passion for cinema. It's always just that little more enjoyable when a disagreement results in a firm head shaking from David and a haughty scoff from Margaret.See also The CircleThe great bands playing Letterman/Fallon late nightWITH Australian television almost devoid of music performances, the place to go to see the most exciting bands is American late-night television. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has one of the best bands in the world, the Roots, as house band and regularly draws acts such as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder. Late Show with David Letterman has a surprisingly adventurous band booker, so it's the place to see the Strokes, Arcade Fire and newer acts such as the Vaccines.See also Conan O'BrienRageTHIS music program is now an integral part of the Australian cultural experience. It doesn't matter who you are, chances are at some point since 1987 the weekend music clip show has been the soundtrack either to the start or the end of your night. Over the years, it has added celebrity programmers and a chart countdown for the younger morning audience but this ABC stalwart remains, in essence, a weekly music satisfaction for either the curious or committed. It can be equally educational or nostalgic.With its distinctive theme and eclectic sequencing, spending the night with Rage is a rite of passage.See also There's nothing quite like itThe ABC News theme music A GOOD musical theme is a landmark. It has presence and gravitas. The ABC's signature music has all of the above. Its main reference point is Majestic Fanfare, written by English composer Charles Williams in 1935, the final 18 seconds of which has served as the theme music for 30 years. The latest TV news theme was composed by Martin Armiger in 2005 and puts Williams through the electro-jiggery wringer. The trumpet's heraldic signature gives it snooty hauteur, while the drums could blow a hole in the subwoofer. This version has a pulse of excitement running through it - because what could be more exciting than the news? Hearing it makes you want to stand to attention. Turn it up and the walls could shake. See also The Seven News theme music LifeStyle's Australian editions: Selling Houses, Grand Designs WHEN the LifeStyle Channel tapped British property guru Andrew Winter to translate his immensely popular Selling Houses franchise to Australia, it quickly became Foxtel's biggest non-sport hit. Like much of what LifeStyle does locally, it chose smart producers and the right on-air talent to augment Winter's charms. However, when the group took on Kevin McCloud's Grand Designs with an untried TV talent in local architect Peter Maddison, he was a revelation. See also A local Relocation, Relocation makes its debut in SeptemberBrian TaylorLONG the premier Australian football radio commentator, first on Triple M and now 3AW, the man they nicknamed ''Bristle'' has come into his own on Fox Sports AFL coverage in the past two years. As sole caller in the matches he covers, Taylor is able to provide the right mix of information, bluster and humour. His call of Adelaide versus Collingwood earlier this year was a classic.See also Denis Cometti and Bruce McAvaney, AFL's A-list Friday night double actCraig FergusonTHIS is unlike any other late-night US talk show. First, he's not American but Scottish. And a recovering alcoholic to boot. Into his sixth year as host of The Late Late Show, the program begins abruptly each night with either an audience chat or Ferguson offscreen mimicking a voice. From there, things only get more unhinged. There are celebrity guests, sure, but they arrive knowing they need to be on their toes. A fiercely intelligent comic - since giving up the booze, he has become both a best-selling author and a pilot - Ferguson brings an irreverent energy to late night.See also The Graham Norton ShowDr PhilOPRAH has officially departed daytime chat and with her series about the lovely staff at her new network leaving lovers of lunchtime histrionics cold, it's reassuring to see her protege psychologist hasn't lost his zeal for the screwy. Whether it's a ridiculous case of obsessive compulsive disorder, nightmare in-laws or bickering mothers and daughters, Dr Phil dispenses just enough sensible advice to justify the spectacle. Sure, the constant cutaways to his frozen-faced wife in the audience are weird but, to employ his own lingo, he ''walks the talk''. His domestic violence campaign is bound to resonate with his large viewership.See also Dr OzErin (Ellie Kemper) in The OfficeREPLACING a beloved character on a sitcom is always tough. When receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer) got bumped up to sales, the show struck a fresh seam of comedy gold with Erin (Ellie Kemper), whose blank-slate personality delivers a delicious blend of naivety, straight-faced goofiness and a powerful desire to fit in. Erin gets Andy (Ed Helms) and thinks Michael (Steve Carell) is funny. Eager to understand the workings of the world, Erin has overtaken Kelly (Mindy Kaling) as Dunder Mifflin's most adorable dipstick.See also CheersFrasier, stillTHIS reliably screens four nights a week on TV1, a pay TV channel that also programs marathons of 30 Rock, Seinfeld and Cheers. It sounds like nostalgia heaven for baby boomers, yet the channel has a broad audience, which says something about the enduring, cross-generational appeal of these shows. The very notion of downtrodden shrink Frasier Crane - a regular drinker at the Cheers bar - inheriting his own show comes straight out of left field. With his unapologetically snobby opera and beaujolais-loving brother Niles, scolding former wife Lilith and dippy housekeeper Daphne, the show remains a giddy delight in reruns.See also RoseanneAndrew Denton and Anita JacobyANDREW Denton will always be known for his irreverent comedy-turned-current affairs shows and his thoughtful interview series Enough Rope. His other career is behind the scenes of his production company, Zapruder's Other Films, where, with long-time partner Anita Jacoby, he has initiated and overseen a handful of innovative and progressive shows. Though some didn't take off (David Tench Tonight), some so captured the Zeitgeist as to prompt you to wonder why no one thought of it earlier (The Gruen Transfer). Underpinning Zapruder's work is a willingness to push the boundaries of our risk-averse TV culture, give voice to rarely heard perspectives and treat audiences to work that challenges and informs.See also Cordell JigsawSBSTHE Eagle. Berlin Alexanderplatz. East West 101. Iron Chef. Insight. Inspector Montalbano. Rosa de Lejos. Annette Shun Wah. Silvio Rivier. Lee Lin Chin. Global Village. Les Murray. Inspector Rex. Eurovision. Wilfred. The Circuit. The Killing. Newstopia. Two short seasons of hour-long local dramas, which included Jewboy. RocKwiz. Countless documentaries with Hitler in the title. Sex and soccer. Cinema Paradiso on its 73,478th re-run. Go Back to Where You Came From. European movies. Quality subtitles. A world without SBS? No way.See also ABC1Top GearAKIN to buying Playboy for the articles, many watch Top Gear for the comedy of watching three men who at their age really should know better than making clowns of themselves in the name of reviewing cars. What it demonstrates is that on-screen chemistry can't be faked and that when it comes to witty dialogue on the hop, the Brits have it over the rest of us, a point sorely proved by local versions of the show by SBS and Channel Nine.See also QI - make that anything with Stephen FryGreat interviewsTV IS usually acclaimed for its bells and whistles but hand a good interviewer a topical subject and the conversation that unfolds can be as gripping as the next airport novel. Think Tracy Grimshaw's breathtaking interview with disgraced footballer Matthew Johns, Andrew Denton's interview with Richard E. Grant (or should that be Grant's interrogation of Denton?) and countless encounters Kerry O'Brien had with evasive politicians while he hosted The 7.30 Report.See also Tony MartinJon StewartAFTER the 2008 election of Barack Obama - and the departure of George W. Bush - there was quiet consensus among many media pundits that Jon Stewart was about to lose his mojo. Incorrect. Today, Stewart remains as vital and hilarious as ever. His smart criticism of the media and the hypocrisy of American politics is riveting. If you have any interest in American politics, this is essential viewing.See also Stephen ColbertAmerican dramaTHE rise of premium cable channels in the US ushered in a golden era of American TV drama, one that dissolved the barriers between TV and cinema and took enormous risks with shows that didn't worry about how they would play in Peoria. Every few years, seemingly out of nowhere, came The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, The Wire, Big Love and Deadwood - shows that made you think you were watching the invention of a new medium. Courtesy of our late-blooming digital multichannels, many of these shows have even been rescued from late-night obscurity on the mainstream channels for discerning viewers without Foxtel.See also Boardwalk Empire ABC 4 KIDS on ABC2APPARENTLY, it's wrong to plonk small children in front of the television at all hours of the day and night, but this marvellous channel packed with top-quality programs for developing minds makes it rather tempting. Unlike dedicated kids' channel ABC3, which tends to provide for the bigger little person, ABC2's offerings, right up until 7pm, when Spicks and Specks takes over on weeknights, are mostly for those who have yet to grasp the meaning of language, let alone motor co-ordination.See also ABC3Jonathan Holmes on Media WatchAS THE ABC's media watchdog, Holmes is closer to a quietly alert German shepherd than a snarling Doberman, bringing a wry humour to his 15 minutes on Monday nights. But that doesn't mean he can't get savage (take that, Alan Jones). Bullying shock jocks, hacks with conflicting loyalties and all manner of media miscreants come in for scrutiny. Each Media Watch host brings his or her distinctive style to the show; Holmes has the required intellectual toughness and gimlet eye for ethical transgressions but he's also adept at shifting the tone with a silky smoothness. Holmes's Media Watch has the necessary bite and he's also not averse to a chuckle.See also Bill MaherDanno (Scott Caan) in Hawaii Five-OGOOD TV cops question authority. Great TV cops question everything. Plus, they love to rumble. Always spoiling for a fight, Danno struts about therebooted Hawaii Five-O with a hair-trigger twitchiness that offsets the relative calm of his boss Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin). Taking his fish-out-of-water appeal to extremes, Danno is an old-school wise guy from New York whose powder-keg personality searches for sparks at every turn. Sprinkled with great bursts of improvised comic banter, Caan - whose stride, build and jawline echo his dad James - brings a breezy, crim-hating energy to all that sun-drenched action.See also Burn Notice Anger at Angry BoysTHE outrage that has erupted in the media over Chris Lilley's darkest comedy series, about a group of young men about to crack under adult-imposed pressures, is almost as amusing as the show itself. Offended by dick jokes, unsavoury rooting scenarios and coarse language, Lilley's critics have slammed the series as gratuitously rude and, what's worse, unfunny. Perhaps expecting the more obvious humour of some of his previous work, they have missed the beauty of Angry Boys, which is a searingly honest take on some deluded personalities that are frequently funny but ultimately scary, simply because they are everywhere.See also Wilfred Family Guy and The Cleveland ShowFAMILY Guy is now, astonishingly, into its 10th season. It remains as perverse as ever, frequently crossing the line with a depraved sense of humor. And when the show stretches itself, such as on this season's epic, almost cinematic opening episode, it frequently achieves moments of greatness. Then there's its perverted cousin The Cleveland Show, set around the family of the ludicrously hilarious Cleveland Brown. Like Family Guy, Cleveland is outrageous and rich with pop culture gags. Most often it's just plain wrong.See also The Simpsons which has just enjoyed another outstanding seasonThe JestersAUSTRALIA has become adept at successfully producing many types of television shows. In some cases, we're even trendsetters but our eternal failing is the half-hour comedy; it sometimes appears we'll never get the sitcom even half right. However, tucked away on Foxtel's Movie Extra is the hilarious exception to the rule. The story of an irreverent comedy troupe mounting a network television show, The Jesters is a quick-witted comic triumph from writer-producer team Kevin Brumpton and Angus FitzSimons.See also The show's star, Mick Molloy, who finally has a role fit for his talentsNorm BeamanSOMETIMES the tanned faces and precisely styled hairdos of television news reporters merge into one amorphous 29.2-year-old whole. It's as if the news directors just buy a new model every year or two when the current one is worn out (or simply in their 30s). Then there's Seven's Norm Beaman, whose pugnacious presence reminds you of a bygone era when reporters were expected to bring some worldly experience to their rounds. It's a welcome change to realise you're watching a reporter you remember doing the same job when you were a kid.See also ABC finance commentator Alan Kohler just gets betterOffspringIT'S a rare series that improves in its second season but this year Offspring is exponentially better. And that's largely thanks to the rebooting of its central character, Nina Proudman. Gone is that curse of 21st-century television: the neurotic professional woman who can't get herself a man. This year, Nina's got her head screwed on (while still being pleasantly daffy when occasion requires). This means not only are we spending far less time wanting to box her ears, the plot can run in all kinds of directions.See also Dexter, which improves with age thanks to its constantly evolving lead characterRatings for Australian showsIT'S one thing to produce cracking local content. It's another to get people to watch it. But in 2011 we finally seem to have found the magic formula for quality programming that also draws the crowds. Look at the ratings for just about any night and the big winners will be not the glossy imports but the home-grown shows, whether that's MasterChef or Australia's Got Talent, Underbelly or Packed to the Rafters. It makes you feel that maybe, finally, the cultural cringe is behind us. It's tremendous for the local industry, not just in keeping old hands in work but in breeding up a new generation of actors, writers, directors and technicians. It encourages the networks to keep ploughing resources into local projects and take a few risks.See also The torrent of kick-arse local production on pay TVAFL coverageWHILE delayed broadcasts remain the bane of a footy fan's life (see page 16), live broadcasts on free-to-air TV are our increasingly regular reward. Channel Ten has delivered pretty consistently this year, especially on the interstate games, and even Channel Seven has bowed to public pressure twice. A live game doesn't just mean it's not midnight by the time you hear the final siren. There are few things on telly so visceral as an AFL match and a live broadcast lets you give yourself over to the game knowing it's really, actually happening and not yesterday's news. Bring on 2012.See also Wimbledon coverage. Live. At lastAmazing Race competitorsWORKING with formulas and stereotypes is an under-appreciated skill, especially in a reality show. Don't do it and you blow the format. Do it too much and you bore everyone to tears. In our local version of The Amazing Race, the team at Seven and Active TV have given us a masterclass in how to get it right, choosing contestants who tick all the necessary boxes while giving us characters who delight us and defy our expectations. Mo and Mos blew the "angry Arab" Muslim myth out of the water. The models have proven more than pretty faces. The surfer dudes may present as slackers but have we ever seen more ferocious competitors? Plus, the cinematography and editing is mind-blowingly good. Dare we say it? Better than the original.See also MasterChef Australia: great talent, great production, great televisionTalking footyFOR AFL fans who not only want to watch the game but also have it dissected, this is the Golden Age of Footy Talk. Dimly remembered pioneers such as Wide World of Sports' panel have given way to a plethora of shows, from the affectionate gags of Channel Ten's Before the Game through to the opinionated insiders of Nine's Footy Classified and Foxtel's disarmingly emotive AFL 360.See also The indigenous perspective of recent ABC pick-up The Marngrook Footy ShowThe Soup on E!TELEVISION is capable of great deeds but it's also susceptible to scraping the bottom of the barrel. If there's a consolation to the medium's lowlights, it's that they make rich fodder for The Soup, the clip show on Foxtel'sE Entertainment. Hosted by the acerbic Joel McHale - now also the star of the wonderfully off-kilter sitcom Community - the veteran show spotlights the bizarre and the dreadful: it's funny but with an undercurrent of moral vigilance. Whether impersonating vapid Bachelor contestants or dryly noting the staged nature of many reality shows, McHale is an amusingly vituperative guide.See also The show's tough treatment of E's C-list stars, including the Kardashian clanAn Idiot AbroadALTHOUGH Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant come across as vindictive schoolboys as they snort in the face of their stooge during the concluding episode this coming Monday, there is so much joy to be had hearing the stunningly simple reflections of this reluctant traveller. Sent by the machiavellian practical jokers to experience the Seven Wonders of the World, Karl has remained staunchly stupid when confronted with cultural oddities and spouted some classic statements. He's embarrassing, devoid of political correctness and says what most of us wouldn't dare.See also The Amazing Race AustraliaThe Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and Atlanta and DC)BRAIN atrophy settles in for a night of fish lips, tiny dogs, Christian Louboutin heels and big hair as tasteless, cashed-up women bitch fight on private jets. We know. We can scarcely explain it ourselves. We don't like any of these people or envy their lifestyle so why can't we turn away? Part of the appeal is the fact we can't believe people like this really exist. We call it an anthropological quest to understand the unbelievable.See also Bethenney Ever AfterSarah Ferguson on Four CornersSINCE joining the team of journalists on the venerable current affairs program in 2008, the former Dateline, Insight and Sunday reporter and producer has covered the dramatic fall from grace of former judge Marcus Einfeld, the codes of behaviour in the NRL and Malcolm Turnbull's leadership of the Liberals. More recently, her report on the shocking treatment of Australia's live cattle exports in Indonesia resulted in changes to government policy. The story is always the star in Ferguson's work and her game-changing, agenda-shaping documentaries vault their subjects into a spotlight, grabbing headlines around the country. They have helped to elevate the ABC's 50-year-old Monday night institution to the place it needs to be: must-see current affairs TV.See also Belinda Hawkins on Australian StoryMal WaldenHE'S a consummate TV newsman who recently celebrated his 50th year in broadcasting. Widely liked and respected by his colleagues in the industry, the seemingly unflappable former reporter brings an authority, authenticity and warmth to his anchorman role, where, occasionally, his good humour and geniality also shine through.See also Ian HendersonGay charactersWHILE the straight characters on Melrose Place were busy playing musical beds, gay Matt Fielding (Doug Savant) rarely got any action - and had an onscreen kiss edited out at the last minute, lest it hasten the downfall of Western society. Instead, Fielding's main storylines involved getting gay bashed, being discriminated against at work and getting gay bashed again. In fairness, the 1990s drama reflected a tougher era for gays and lesbians, when the coming out of Ellen DeGeneres prompted America's ABC to slap a parental advisory warning on her sitcom. Now, however, it's a different story, with many shows not only featuring gay characters but gay characters with more rounded, multidimensional lives (Brothers & Sisters, Glee, Modern Family, House, Desperate Housewives). Perhaps the greatest sign of progress is in United States of Tara, in which gay teenager Marshall Gregson (Keir Gilchrist) is simply accepted by his family, skipping the usual protracted ''coming out'' plot arc entirely.See also Nurse Jackie, WeedsTalkin' 'bout Your GenerationSOMETHING for everyone in this delightful blend of nostalgia, trivia and parlour games. There's the different-yet-complementary comic stylings of three panellists - Amanda Keller, CharliePickering and Josh Thomas - the rotating stable of guests and the unique, almost avant-garde humour of host Shaun Micallef. Add to that a certain indefinable X factor and you have a show that just works.See also Letters and NumbersQ&AFOR some, it's the way Tony Jones jabs his pen in the air; for others, it's the tweets scrolling across the screen. There are the guests we love to hate and those we simply adore. Nervous audience members stammering questions, panellists cutting each other off and politicians trying to stay ''on message'', prompting Jones to pepper them with questions until they give a straight answer. Not to mention death stares, airborne shoes and Christopher Hitchens silencing Anne Henderson's interruptions with: ''I'll get to the end of this sentence if it kills you.'' Best of all, it's live, often veering from a shouting match to a thought-provoking argument to an illuminating slip of the tongue. Q&A is the current affairs show that has it all: politics, passion and a genuine diversity of views.See also Meet the PressChannel Ten's news and current affairsMUCH like The 7PM Project's early days, 6PM with George Negus felt rushed and uneven when it launched in January. Fortunately, Channel Ten had the sense not to axe it, instead shifting it to 6.30pm and letting it find its feet. As an increasing number of viewers are discovering, it's a great show: smart but accessible, sharp and punchy and a genuine alternative to the tabloid offerings of Seven and Nine. But the best thing about the show is Negus himself, who's lost none of the vigour that made him a star on 60 Minutes in the late 1970s. Combined with the 90-minute News at Five, which provides a depth of coverage not afforded by the half-hour bulletins of rivals, Ten deserves full marks for doing something new.See also News BreakfastHelen RicheyTHE doyenne of Dancing with the Stars. Sonia Kruger has the sass, cover-girl glamour and cheeky post-performance cracks. Todd McKenney relishes his role as bitchy bad-boy judge, a title courted by newcomer Joshua Horner. But for 11 seasons, sitting at the centre of the judges' table, Richey has been an oasis of calm amid the razzle-dazzle, a thoughtful assessor who can be critical and compassionate. Richey knows a sizzling tango or a passionless paso doble when she sees one and she'll call it that way but she never lets a snappy line trump a considered judgment. She's a welcome touch of class amid the sweat, sequins and disco balls.See also Tim Gunn, Project RunwayFoxtel's investments in Australian drama and comedy seriesCLOUDSTREET, Love My Way, Tangle, Spirited, Small Time Gangster, The Jesters (for the purposes of this celebration, we'll strategically overlook Satisfaction). Foxtel has brought us engaging, original, distinctive and lovingly crafted shows that make watching television feel like an event and a pay TV subscription seem like a worthwhile investment. The honour roll of actors whose work can be enjoyed on these shows is substantial enough to give anyone faith in the depth of talent in our industry: Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart, Sacha Horler, Steve Le Marquand, Matt Day, Don Hany, Claudia Karvan, Geoff Morrell, Stephen Curry and Essie Davis, to name just a few. Special mention to the consistently clever casting in ensembles of series produced by John Edwards: Love My Way, Tangle and Spirited.See also Rush, Ten's well-cast and entertaining local dramaAlec BaldwinIT'S hard to imagine now but by October 10, 2006, Alec Baldwin's career was over, leaving him as an ageing leading man who'd never found a signature role. On October 11, 2006, that all changed when 30 Rock made its debut in the US and Baldwin's comic brilliance became apparent. As Jack Donaghy, the alpha-male corporate executive forever trying to improve a weekly sketch show, Baldwin fuses impeccable technique and assured timing.See also The gloriously deranged Will Arnett as Donaghy's nemesis, Devon BanksThe CircleTHE bouncy chat that enlivens this budget production almost makes you forget that the point of this morning show is to fill the gaps between advertorials. Gorgi Coghlan, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes and Denise Drysdale have a rewarding chemistry. As they reflect on news stories, chat to guests or don aprons for cooking segments, they provide a warm and playful spark in the wasteland of morning TV.See also The ViewCharlie PickeringA SHINING light in the emerging generation of stars on Australian television, the self-described current affairs nerd and stand-up comedian landed the perfect gig as the anchor of The 7PM Project, Ten's comically inclined, news-oriented chat show. Blessed with an agile, inquisitive mind and a comedian's quick wit, Pickering has a genuine curiosity about how the world works and gives the impression he would prefer to linger longer on most topics than 7PM's determinedly snappy format might allow (confessions of Kim Duthie aside).See also Hamish & Andy, Sam PangNine's cricket commentary teamBILL, Tony, Tubby, Richie, Slats, Heals and the impeccably presented Mark Nicholas remain something of a throwback, presenting Australia's national summer pastime. They have their knockers, sure, and we could do without the live advertisements but this lot have clearly endured.See also Billy BirminghamWritten and compiled by FRANCES ATKINSON, LARISSA DUBECKI, DEBI ENKER, MELINDA HOUSTON, PAUL KALINA, MICHAEL LALLO, BRIDGET McMANUS, ANDREW MURFETT and JIM SCHEMBRI