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The Feed: TV is still must-see

The next time someone complains there's nothing good to watch on television, ask them to pick up a Sunday TV book (like, perhaps our own TV Times elsewhere in this edition). • Because one flip through the pages shows so much high-quality, challenging television on tap, if you're not wallowing in wonderful shows these days, you're just not trying. Or you're too cheap to buy cable. • Already, HBO's The Pacific offers an explicit, expansive look at World War II's battles against the Japanese, godfathered by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. ABC's Lost pioneers new levels of storytelling — in two universes! — while the network's Modern Family artfully disproves all those stories about the death of comedy on network TV. • My roster of must-see shows these days also includes: FX's Damages, CBS's The Good Wife, FX's Justified, Syfy's Caprica, NBC's 30 Rock, ABC Family's Secret Life of the American Teenager and, as always, Comedy Central's The Daily Show. • And that list is about to get WAY bigger. Check out why your DVR is about to go into serious meltdown mode:

Breaking Bad, third season debut at 10 tonight on AMC: At times, this series about a cancer-stricken high school science teacher financing his family's future by cooking up methamphetamines can feel like a modern-day Book of Job. This season picks up as Bryan Cranston's supremely tortured Walter White struggles to cope with indirectly causing a deadly airplane crash (he let an addict die; her grief-stricken father happened to be an air traffic controller) and his soon-to-be ex-wife's discovery of his, um, unorthodox side job. And did I mention the Mexican hitmen looking for revenge? Choices and consequences are grand themes here — sizzling performances and the further curdling of a good man's soul are the compelling specifics.

Life, debuts at 8 tonight on Discovery Channel: From the moment you first hear the voice of narrator and media queen Oprah Winfrey (who asked for the gig after she was blown away by predecessor series Planet Earth), it's obvious this is a landmark bit of nature TV. Bursting with crystal clear, close-up footage of predator and prey struggling through life's endless cycles across the globe, this show is a wonder of filmmaking patience and detail. More proof the drama of real life beats any nonsense cooked up on a so-called "reality TV" show.

Nurse Jackie, debuts second season at 10 p.m. Monday on Showtime: Sopranos alum Edie Falco is still magnificent as the pill-popping, take-charge nurse working a busy New York emergency room. But her lives are converging — her husband is friends with her suicidal boyfriend, though hubby doesn't know she's been cheating — and a new nurse in the department suspects her secret addictions. The only problem here is that Falco's Jackie, who holds to an unyielding moral code in her work, doesn't begin to explain why she leads such a duplicitous life everywhere else. So what happens when the boyfriend insists on hanging with the husband?

United States of Tara, debuts second season at 10:30 p.m. Monday on Showtime: Toni Collette gets beyond the gimmick of being an Oscar-nominated actress playing a woman with split personalities, as her struggling mom Tara Gregson deals with super-macho "alter" personality Buck beginning an affair with a bi-curious woman. The affair signals a re-emergence of Tara's alters after a period of dormancy — including a new woman who believes she is Tara's own therapist.

Media trends from 2009

The Project for Excellence in Journalism last week released its exhaustive State of the News Media report for 2009, collecting a massive amount of data to analyze trends and issues.

Here's a few eye-popping numbers from their report:

5,900

The amount of newspaper jobs lost in 2009.

1/3

The amount of newspaper jobs lost since 2001.

22%

Decline of local TV ad

revenue in 2009.

19%

Increase in profit for Fox News Channel in 2009.

22.3

million

Number of people still watching the three network evening newscasts each night.

1,650

Number of jobs lost in

2008 and 2009 in local TV news industry.

Ti-No

Kirstie Alley's Big Life, debuts at 10 tonight on A&E: Lately, the only relation A&E's new shows have to the arts is their stars' past careers in show business. Case in point: tabloid queen Alley, who leads an unscripted show supposedly documenting efforts to create her new weight loss program, Organic Liaison. While some critics allege her company and ideas are secretly connected to the Church of Scientology (which Alley has denied), I wondered why the second episode centered on her hiring a personal trainer to lose weight. If her program actually worked, why would she need someone else's help? Yet another so-called "reality" show that reveals its celebrity star as an attention-starved eccentric looking for an easy payday.

Ti-No

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, preview at 10 tonight, two-hour episode at 8 p.m. Friday on WFTS-Ch. 28: Cheeky British Chef Oliver brings his crusade for improving food in schools to America, starting with Huntington, W. Va. But the unscripted show that resulted feels forced and fakey, as overweight cranks live down to the worst stereotypes about obese Americans while Oliver carps about breakfast pizza and chicken nuggets. The message about the evils of processed food is wonderful, but Oliver's methods — offering overly contrived confrontations in a city where half the population is obese — could use a bit of an upgrade, too.

The Feed: TV is still must-see 03/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 6:19pm]

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