In a normal week, I would probably find myself writing something on the order of thanking America for coming to its senses and finally sending the classy but inert Clyde Drexler packing from Dancing with the Stars. And then I'd tack on some snarky thought about how maybe America could be similarly inspired tonight to send the "utterly horrendous" (Simon's words) Sanjaya Malakar and his bandanna home from American Idol after Tuesday's feeble attempt at Bonnie Raitt insouciance.

But this is hardly a normal week. Between Monday's instantly infamous tragedy at Virginia Tech, and the natural disaster of the floods in the Northeast following last weekend's torrential storm, my TV has been a bearer of bad news for the last couple of terrible days. Reality TV has been thoroughly overshadowed by reality on TV.

In times like these, especially as the nation tries to come to grips with the senseless horror of the Virginia Tech shootings, TV serves an essential purpose: not only to disseminate information and seek answers as best it can (a messy process, especially on 24-hour news channels), but to unite a shocked, grieving nation. There's no better example of that than poet/professor Nikki Giovanni's rousing address at Tuesday afternoon's convocation, in which it could be said that we were, for a moment, all Hokies.

And silly as it sounds, TV also serves a necessary function as an outlet for escapism when we're overwhelmed by an incident as ugly and random as the Virginia Tech tragedy. Network TV made room for the story with expanded nightly news broadcasts and prime-time news specials Monday and Tuesday night. (On CNN, Larry King postponed special episodes commemorating his 50th anniversary in broadcasting to do his job.) But network TV also carried on, more or less, with business as usual. And that included showcasing their big-ticket "reality" hits.

Did I feel sheepish turning away from the grim coverage for the splashy/cheesy diversion of celebrity dancing and amateur-night country crooning? A bit. But especially after the catharsis of Tuesday's convocation, there was something comforting about bearing witness to a more feel-good form of TV that is bringing everyone together in a mostly positive way. (I tend to fast-forward through Dancing with the Stars, so I didn't notice if that show made any reference to the tragedy. Whereas American Idol did, in Ryan Seacrest's introduction, and later with comments by Chris Richardson and Simon Cowell, in moments that, however well-intentioned, felt awkward.)

Side note: I even enjoyed the hour spent in the company of 24 this week, watching Jack and Co. contend with the usual roller-coaster of twists and reversals. (Look, Ricky Schroder has a gun on Jack! Look, Jack has a gun on Ricky! Wayne Palmer: "I demand the VP's resignation, but first let me see if I can make it through the hour without collapsing. Oops!") Taking comfort in the show's dark rhythms, if not its increasingly daffy content this season, I was pleased to realize that even when I'm not enjoying the show, I still like the idea of the show. And for its ability to take my mind, for even an hour, off the actual madness of an awful day, I was happy to bask in its wackiness.