How can dumbed-down TV be fascinating?

It's time to glance back at 2010. If you think about it, it was a year marked by landmark legislation, economic hard times, contentious politics and what has been called the largest man-made natural disaster in history. It was a year when a volcano in Iceland stopped international airline traffic. A year when it seemed that half of Russia was on fire for weeks at a time. A year when Brett Favre managed to annoy even more NFL fans. And a year when hundreds of thousands of Americans served on two different battlefields.

But the key words in that paragraph are, "if you think about it." The Barbara Walters Special "The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010" (9 p.m., ABC) would not tax the mental faculty of a person whose reading habits are confined to a supermarket tabloid. Make that a tabloid dumbed down for those who find the articles in People magazine just too long.

The round-up includes the venerable actress Betty White; young singer Justin Bieber; "Idol" judge-to-be Jennifer Lopez; royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton; LeBron James, the NBA star who turned his decision to change teams into a reality-TV spectacle; actress-turned-tabloid fodder Sandra Bullock; Alaska governor-turned-reality star Sarah Palin and MTV's resident vulgarians, the cast of "Jersey Shore."

By the time we've gotten around to finding Snooki "fascinating," many will have sat through the first of Walters' back-to-back specials, "Oprah: The Next Chapter" (8 p.m., ABC). Isn't it fitting that the "fascinating" folks get one-tenth of an hour, while Oprah gets one all to herself?

The daytime talk show host will discuss her decision to leave her afternoon syndicate perch and start her own cable venture. We're also promised some insights into her relationships with special friend Gayle King and her long, long, longtime fiance, Stedman Graham.


Whenever I hear about Oprah, Stedman and Gayle, I'm always torn between contradictory thoughts that roughly translate as, "Who do you think you're kidding?" and "Why do you think I care?" But there I go, thinking again. That's just no way to approach these "fascinating" specials.

Holiday highlights

• Holiday specials include "Shrek the Halls" (7 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) and "Disney Prep & Landing" (7:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG). ABC Family offers a half-hour adaptation of the picture book "The Gruffalo" (6 p.m, ABC Family, TV-G), featuring the voices of Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, James Corden, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson.

• "Community" (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14) presents its Christmas episode in stop-motion animation.

• On an hourlong "Office" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) holiday episode, Michael dreams that Toby's leave-of-absence may pave the way for Holly's (Amy Ryan) return. In a sign of remarkable versatility, Ryan also appears on this season "In Treatment" on HBO, as Paul's (Gabriel Byrne) therapist.

• Jack's mother looms large around the holidays on "30 Rock" (7:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), and a murdered Santa puts the ho-ho-ho in homicide on "The Mentalist" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

Other highlights

• A murder victim seems eerily similar to our heroine on "Bones" (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).


• An agent's wife and child endure a molester's wrath on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• Losing heart in all the worst ways on "Fringe" (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Camera crews take dangerous dives amongst Nile crocodiles on "Into the Dragon's Lair" (9 p.m., Discovery).

Cult choice

Decades before "Glee," spunky teens (Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland) put on a show and sang and danced with uncanny professionalism in the 1939 musical "Babes in Arms" (8:30 p.m., TCM).

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