This weekend I served, for the second time, on the American Film Institute’s panel to pick the top 10 TV shows of 2008. (The AFI releases its 10 best films list, to greater attention, at the same time.) The list differs from my own top 10 list in that (1) I didn’t make it alone, (2) only scripted shows are eligible and (3) it is not ranked, only listed alphabetically. The envelope, please…
Clearly the list includes some shows I wouldn’t have picked (given that I left them off my own list for TIME) and some shows that I did pick. Overall, I’d say half the shows definitely should have been chosen, a couple probably should have been and a couple are… arguable.
And I’ll leave it at that, because the jury deliberations are confidential. But the AFI jury is always a fun, refreshing experience, because it’s not just a critics’ panel: there are a few critics, and the rest (a baker’s dozen altogether this year) are academics or TV-industry professionals. (The confidentiality, I guess, allows them to praise or trash their peers’ work with candor.) So it ends up being a dialogue among people with not only different experiences, but different criteria of what makes for great TV. You also end up with a less predictable list.
Above all, it’s educational for anyone who declaims about TV (or anything) for a living to spend a day debating and justifying your preferences with a room full of people who know a lot more about a lot of things than you do. Over the course of the cordial discussion—is it breaking confidentiality to say that it was cordial?—shows rocket up the list or plummet down on the basis of jurors’ arguments or strategic voting. Some of our choices, I won’t say which, made it by acclamation, others by tighter-than-Bush-v.-Gore margins. (Appropriately, since HBO’s Recount was one of the shows on the list.)
The other two critics on the jury, by the way, were the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara, whom I’d read but never met, and TV Guide’s Matt Roush, about whom I have a public service announcement: TV Guide’s blogs are temporarily down TV Guide magazine’s staff temporarily stopped blogging* after the magazine’s recent sale, so people have been asking if he still has his job, and he’s been unable to blog to tell them that yes, he still does.
* [Update: To clarify a confusing situation—the sale separated TV Guide, the magazine, and tvguide.com, the website (along with the TV channel), among different owners. Tvguide.com is still up and running with its own staff; TV Guide magazine intends to launch its own website, to which its own staffers, like Roush, will again contribute. So tvguide.com still exists, separately from TV Guide, the magazine; and Matt Roush, the TV critic, still writes for TV Guide, the magazine, but is not yet writing for TV Guide the magazine's new website, which does not exist yet. All of it raising the profound philosophical question of which is the "real" TV Guide. Better? I didn't think so.]