Talk about a heated race for last place. Since losing its quirky independent stations to those ambitious programmers at Warner Bros. and UPN (the latter of whom deserves kudos for airing the wonderful local absurdity that is Let's Bowl), this market bears little to distinguish it from every other media mediocrity in our great TV nation. Talk shows in the morning. Soaps at noon. Sitcoms in the evening. Murder, sports, and weather at 5, 6, and 10 p.m. Though it's taken a beating in these pages in recent weeks, Twin Cities Public Television has fought the brave fight against banality in local news, while airing the kind of documentary series--Frontline, The American Experience, P.O.V.--that commercial TV ran away from at least 30 years ago. To this extent, last year saw brilliant documentary premieres from the likes of Alan Berliner (Nobody's Business) and Ross McElwee (Six O'Clock News). Frontline also aired what was surely the finest program to hit the small screen, "Innocence Lost, The Verdict," Ofra Bikel's wrenching documentary about a sexual-abuse witch hunt in Edenton, North Carolina. And lest public television seem all gloom and doom, KTCA aired the best sitcom to hit American--or make that Canadian--television in years, a mordant (and laugh-trackless) comedy called The Newsroom, which was everything Al Franken's gutless Lateline aspires to be but isn't.


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