Question: Once again, what an interesting list for the AFI TV Programs of the Year! I consistently use this list, rather than the Emmys or the Golden Globes, as a barometer of what I should be watching. I want to thank you, as a member of the jury, for including Friday Night Lights. In my completely unprofessional opinion, FNL is hands down the best new show of this fall season. It's not escapist TV, and it is fairly brutal in its realism (paralysis, steroids, social ostracism, financial responsibility); but each episode seems to make me smile, too. I really appreciate that balance. Also, I was surprised to see The West Wing on the list. I was a dedicated viewer of The West Wing, and I stuck by it through its long and sometimes uneven tenure. I felt it hit a creative high point once again just as it was ending. The finale left me wanting more, which I consider a great thing (as compared to, say, Alias, a narrative mess that couldn't end soon enough). Still, I was surprised to see WW, rather than, for example, When the Levees Broke.
Answer: For those who missed it, here are the AFI picks for the 10 outstanding programs of 2006 (in alphabetical order): Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, Elizabeth I, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, The Office, South Park, 24, The West Wing and The Wire. An awfully eclectic list of old and new, to be sure, and while the debates during balloting are confidential (to ensure freedom of expression in the room), I can assure you that no one on the panel — which included critics, academics, AFI trustees and industry professionals, this year including the legendary Steven Bochco — was completely happy with what was on the list and what was left off. Which makes sense given the messy nature of any democratic enterprise. To compare it to my own top 10, here's what I included that didn't make the AFI cut: Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, The Shield and Lost. (Fudging the rules a bit, my top-10 list also includes the rest of NBC's Thursday-night comedies beyond The Office and a roundup of great TV-movies, including AMC's Broken Trail.) The reason Spike Lee's remarkable Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke wasn't included in the list is because we are only allowed to include fictional narrative programming in our top 10. Next month, AFI will also release a list of "moments of significance" chosen by our panel, and this HBO film will be among those listed. You really can't sum up last year on TV adequately without making note of it.