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Ellen Gray: What was nice and naughty about 2009

SOME OF my TV critic friends have spent the past several weeks working on lists. Best TV shows of the year. Best of the decade. Best lines of the best shows.

SOME OF my TV critic friends have spent the past several weeks working on lists.

Best TV shows of the year. Best of the decade. Best lines of the best shows.

And probably other bests (and worsts) too numerous to, well, list.

It's not a game I enjoy. Something about having to compare, say, Seasons 2-6 of HBO's "The Sopranos" to the first and third seasons of NBC's "Friday Night Lights" and come up with a ranking seems to diminish the achievements of both. Plus, there are more good television shows out there than I have fingers, and it's easy to leave something out by accident.

But as long as they're used to start a conversation rather than end it, lists have their place.

This time of year, though, I'd just as soon stick with the classics.

So, with apologies to Santa Claus - and songwriters J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie - here's a look at some of the nice (and, OK, mostly naughty) things we've seen this year:

* "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert's eyebrow-raising performance at ABC's broadcast of "The American Music Awards" might not have earned him any points with Santa, much less with the parents of some of the kids who championed him on "Idol," but it's the network's decision to disinvite him from "Good Morning America" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that seemed disingenuous, given his (admittedly pretaped) appearances with ABC's Barbara Walters, first as one of her "fascinating" people and then on her daytime talker, "The View." Verdict: Lambert might have been a little too eager to fly the "Idol" nest, but ABC shouldn't have tried to have it both ways. Naughty.

* The slow-motion train wreck that was TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8," in which not even the horrifyingly public dissolution of their parents' marriage was allowed to interfere with the use of eight young children as human billboards in a variety of all-too-obvious product placements. Verdict: Do you really have to ask? Naughty.

* The surprisingly dignified send-off for Michael Jackson at Los Angeles' Staples Center on July 7, including actress Brooke Shields' moving reminiscences about their early friendship. Verdict: Nice.

* A once-proud Peacock brought so low that in trying to get an audience for its a cappella competition "The Sing-Off," NBC promised a show that would combine elements of two Fox shows, "American Idol" and "Glee." Verdict: Pitiful and, yes - Naughty.

* The emergence of 47-year-old Susan Boyle, a woman from a small village in Scotland, as the first YouTube superstar, as her appearance on "Britain's Got Talent" spread around the globe in the time, it seemed, that it took her to sing "I Dreamed a Dream," a clip of which can still make me tear up. Verdict: Nice.

* The sad, and occasionally frightening, aftermath of Boyle's sudden stardom, in which the darker side of celebrity was starkly illuminated as the socially awkward singer became fodder for the tabloids and Boyle's dream briefly appeared in very real danger of dying (though a recent TV Guide Network special on the singer attracted a record number of viewers to the channel). Verdict: Naughty.

* The transformation of the History Channel into the Post-History Channel with its hit series, "Life After People" and its weekly speculations about the End of Life as We Know It. (And the deconstruction is not done yet - Season 2 launches Jan. 5. Assuming civilization survives 2009.) Verdict: Naughty, but no sillier than "2012."

* The ratings resurgence of CBS' "60 Minutes," which is drawing a crowd most weeks by telling the kind of big, important stories the news magazine was made to tell, even as some of its lower-rated counterparts - NBC's "Dateline," CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" - become ever more obsessed with the true-crime dramas that used to be the province of Lifetime. Verdict: Nice (and smart, too).

* The continued improvement at Lifetime, which hasn't completely weaned itself off crime, both true and false, but has branched out, with movies like Joan Allen's "Georgia O'Keefe" and Sigourney Weaver's "Prayers for Bobby," while stressing solid series like "Army Wives" and the new "Drop Dead Diva" (and "Project Runway," which it managed, after a court fight, to lure over from Bravo). Verdict: Nice.

* Bravo's decision, as reported by Broadcasting & Cable, to take a survey about the social-climbing Salahis before deciding if it'll reward them for gate-crashing a White House dinner by making them regulars on "Real Housewives of D.C." Coming on the heels of "balloon boy," in which former participants in ABC's "Wife Swap" claimed their young son was floating high above Colorado to drum up interest in their own "reality" show proposal, the Salahis' stunt, which brought them in contact with the president and vice president, calls out for a quick response. Or is Bravo network really that desperate for "housewives"? Verdict: Naughty. *

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