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Never-ending countdowns fail to add up

By Mary Fischer
CNN Headline News

Franklin
Singer Aretha Franklin topped VH1's "100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll" list.
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Richard Pryor
Patsy Cline

(CNN) -- I think that The Count from "Sesame Street" is in charge of programming all the cable networks. They just can't get enough of ranking things and then counting them down.

The music networks are the biggest proponents of this kind of programming, but it's not exclusive to them. With the passing of time, the themes of these lists have degenerated.

VH1 sorted out the "100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll" That's fine. A while later, Country Music Television compiled the "Best Country Songs." OK. Then somehow the Animal Planet came up with "The 50 Greatest TV Animals." (I didn't watch a lot of that one, but it seemed to mostly consist of cartoon characters.) And recently E! presented "101 Most Starlicious Makeovers." Why?

The more, let's say worthy, a list is, the less interesting it is. As it turns out, the top female country singer is Patsy Cline. Richard Pryor was crowned best comedian. "Citizen Kane" is the greatest American movie. As soon as you hear the title of these lists, you know what No. 1 is going to be. So I can see the attraction of countdowns that make you wonder why anyone bothered writing the list down; at least their outcomes aren't a foregone conclusion.

I'm no expert -- I've never even taken a psychology class -- but I think it's a fear of death that's responsible for all the countdown shows on TV these days. And there's something very pleasing about lists. We start at a high number, and we get all the way down to No 1. We've accomplished something. We've created order in a disorganized world.

It all started during the millennium craze. There was a frenzy of lists from the decade, from the century and of course from the last thousand years. We just couldn't stop ourselves. The problem with much of the last millennium is that there aren't photos from most of it, and nearly all of it went by without movie or television cameras recording it. That probably made the prerequisite countdowns difficult for TV.

So once they had caught the countdown bug (and after 2000 they could choose whatever subject they wanted for the most part), TV producers wanted to choose subjects that had been photographed extensively. That, of course, means celebrities.

Now that all these celebrations of our base ten way of life have gone as far as they can go, I think the producers should challenge us with the math.

For instance, they could do the square root of sitcoms. Say "I Love Lucy" is the square root, and sitcoms squared is "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and so on and so on until you get to "Full House." Not only is it so much more than just counting, it goes from best to worst and well known to relative obscurity. Now that would be exciting.

Sadly, VH1 seems to be taking the easy way out. They seem to admit they've counted everything they can. But instead of using more challenging math, they're just listing things about celebrities alphabetically. And they seem to skip Q every time because it's too hard. Well, I say Q is for quitters, VH1.


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