He forgot "Ding Dong School"!
Now, it just wouldn't do for one TV critic not to second-guess another. So here goes: How could David Bianculli fail to mention bell-clanging Miss Frances and her 1950s kids' show?But I would be a ding-dong to nitpick any further. In compiling his new book, "The Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses and Events" (Continuum, $29.95), Bianculli, TV critic for New York's Daily News, has performed a monumental task.
Covering the half century from 1945 through 1995, with entries spanning from "ABC World News Tonight" to "Zorro," his book cinches its stated purpose as "a compendium of our shared television memories - programs and events that have stood, or are likely to stand, the test of time."
Belying its textbook-dreary cover, Bianculli's "Dictionary" combines scholarship with tasty readability - and brazenly refuses to spare the puns. ("When it's a big, thick, serious-looking book like this," he chuckles, "you don't expect the jokes to be in there, or to be this bad.")
Which - echoing his entry on TV's second-longest-running drama, "Lassie" - is nothing to bark at.
What else besides "Lassie" is in here?
All the fundamentals, of course. "The Ed Sullivan Show," Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech, the Challenger disaster ("one of the most indelible, emotional TV images ever").
There are valuable reminders of the not-so-well-remembered. "The Great American Dream Machine," a rollicking PBS magazine of the early '70s. The pioneering 1974 docudrama, "The Missiles of October." "The Defenders," the splendid legal drama for which Robert Reed should have been remembered instead of "The Brady Bunch." "That Was the Week that Was," whose live satire beat "Saturday Night Live" to the punch by a dozen years, even originating from the very same studio.
TV's biggest turkeys are also on the menu. "Pink Lady." "The Gong Show." Jackie Gleason's "You're in the Picture," a game show so bad that the week following its Jan. 20, 1961, premiere, the Great One took to the air and apologized for laying "the biggest bomb."
Of course, little did Gleason know about megatonnage. Regarding the awful but long-running "America's Funniest Home Videos," Bianculli slyly observes, "It's official: 15 million people CAN be wrong."
Bianculli has been a TV critic since reviewing the 1975 debut of "SNL" (he liked it).
In 1992 he published his first book, "Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously," which was supposed to conclude with a listing of the medium's most important shows and events.
"But that final chapter got so big so fast," he recalls, "that I realized it would have to be another book."
Now it is.
Bianculli has wisely reined in his "Dictionary" to exclude commercials, music videos and sporting events (besides World Series and Super Bowl telecasts). Otherwise, he says, the operative rule was, "if I found it interesting, I put it in there.
"Just thumb through it," he recommends, "until something stops you. Then flip to something else. By the time you've read any 10 entries, you've got a pretty good idea of how much fun you're gonna have."
But writing it wasn't so much fun. Reflecting the nights-and-weekends regime that governed him for four years, Bianculli's book is not only exhaustive, but painstakingly researched.
One of his proudest achievements was determining that Woody Allen did not, as is commonly reported, write for the 1950s series "Your Show of Shows" (among other sources, Bianculli tapped the Woodman himself).
Writing about Presidential Debates, he pulled together memorable sound bites from 1960 up through '92.
The entry on Jerry Lewis' 30-year-old Muscular Dystrophy telethon reaches all the way back to 1952, when Lewis and his then-partner Dean Martin did a fund-raiser on local TV for a New York hospital.
And one of the longest entries details "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," which, Bianculli notes, "paved the way for a new generation of American TV comedy."
Among the more obscure entries is "Rootie Kazootie" (1950-53), a kids' show whose main legacy may be rock 'n' roller Little Richard's refrain "Oh, Rootie!" in his hit song "Tutti-Frutti."
Other inclusions are goofier than that. Even Bianculli is now asking himself how "Fireball XL-5" and "Clutch Cargo" made the cut.
Relax, Dave. Your book is a pip. And now that it's finished, why not kick back and watch a little TV?