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by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & Countdown with Keith Olberman


Weeknights, 5 pm (repeats at 9pm), MSNBC & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he evening news is a sinking ship, with Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson trying to bail water while viewers jump overboard. When Charlie Gibson has the most gravitas of the bunch, you know the format is wrecked. In trying to be everything to everyone, the network gurus have created a giant blob of flavorless dreck. Remember back when Anderson Cooper got ticked off about the (lack of) emergency response to Katrina? By all accounts, people loved it. Maybe people want newsreaders who have brains, passion and can articulate a basic understanding of what's right, what's wrong and what's totally idiotic.





Over on cable's long-suffering MSNBC, there's a guy who adds some definite spice -- along with wit and wisdom -- to the news. In fact, he treats politics like sports, and with Bush's daily debacles, America needs a good scorekeeper. It's a natural fit for Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, since he was a former sportscaster for ESPN.





Olbermann's a liberal, and that he's on TV at all is an accomplishment; that his ratings are growing proves he speaks for more than a few Americans. His show is now MSNBC's highest-rated program. But he and MSNBC are different than FOX News. Although he brings a certain perspective, Olbermann has a strong sense of fairness; he calls Democrats on the carpet on a regular basis. And MSNBC keeps a good balance, with Chris Matthews (kind of a Libertarian) and Tucker Carlson (conservative). FOX's no-questions-asked reading of GOP talking points has gotten pretty embarrassing and has created an opening for guys like Olbermann -- who takes FOX on with glee, badgering Bill O'Reilly on a nightly basis.





Olbermann's secret is his mix. He counts down the day's top stories, digging into issues others gloss over while featuring pundits who actually say something. Then he throws in some goofy stuff (his "Oddball" segment), and lists the top three "Worst Persons in the World."





Each night he winds up on celebrity news, which he mercilessly makes fun of. So you have to wonder why he spends so much time on it. Perhaps it's admitting that America's media appetite is not as pure as it should be. Viewers want some sweet, empty calories to go with their green vegetables. Olbermann and his producers seem to understand America's TV habits -- that's why they're adding viewers while the networks are losing them.





TiVo-Worthy??


Big Love


Polygamy never looked so normal as it has in this tale of a contemporary Utah businessman Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three lovely wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigney and Ginnifer Goodwin). Then there's Roman, aka the Prophet (Harry Dean Stanton, the creepiest guy on TV), who is out to get Bill. Essentially, it's a soap opera with a really crazy twist. (Monday, 6/18, 9 pm, HBO)





Rescue Me


Boston tough guy Denis Leary finally found the right role, and now he's in his fourth season as Tommy Gavin, a fireman with a five-alarm ego. He and his buddies put out fires and have dysfunctional love lives, but this season Jennifer Esposito gives Tommy a chance to get it right. (Wednesday, 6/20, 10 pm, FX)





Lil' Bush


Comedy Central was already lampooning our president with a show called That's My Bush when 9/11 hit. Wasn't too funny after that, but times have changed. Now it's a cartoon version of a prepubescent prez, making trouble with his pals Lil' Condi and Lil' Rummy. Could be funny, could be painfully bad. (Wednesday, 6/20, 10:30 pm, Comedy Central)

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