Summer provides a bit of a breather between the end of one TV season, the random summer shows that come and go, and the new fall season. Looking back, we've seen some encouraging trends, and some that need to be squashed faster than "Wipeout" contestants.
Best performer: ‘American Idol’
Could it be? An “American Idol” season that actually didn't suck? The auditions didn't oversell the crazy, costumed fame-seeking singers (except for Bikini Girl), the finalists were pretty good (except for Megan Joy "Rockin' Robin" Corkrey), and two solid finalists produced a pretty acceptable winner. Sure, you can argue about whether Adam Lambert should have beat out Kris Allen, and Kara DioGuardi doesn't seem to be adding a lot to the judges’ panel, but there was no Sanjaya this season, and that alone was a high note worth hitting.
Grade: B+. Get rid of the stupid finale song and rethink the fourth judge and we'll really have something.
Most disturbing trend: Exploiting your multiple spawn
Jon and Kate had eight, the Duggars have eighteen (so far), Jenny and Bryan in "Raising Sextuplets" have, well, six — duh. But why does anyone who's not related to them care? Not only that, but these bountiful baby bunch shows can lead to disaster. Jon and Kate's impending divorce is now splashed across tabloid covers that their kids will someday see, and there's also the scary possibility that this national attention inspired Nadya Suleman, who decided being a single mom to six kids wasn't enough, and delivered octuplets.
Grade: D. This needs to stop. No kidding around!
Most long-awaited graduation: “ER” treats its last patient
Like students who stick around school long after the others in their class have graduated, "ER" just stayed and stayed and stayed. Other shows that debuted with it in 1994 included Margaret Cho's ill-fated "All-American Girl," "The Cosby Mysteries," and an animated show based on the movie "Free Willy." Those all vanished, but "ER" lived on, surviving even while numerous doctors and nurses came and went. George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Eriq LaSalle, Alex Kingston — all had mememorable plotlines and characters that felt so real viewers could almost imagine a life for them outside County General. It wasn't the first medical show by a long shot, and it won't be the last ("Grey's Anatomy" has picked up the scalpel of primetime medical soap), but it will be remembered.
Grade: A. Even with bomb threats, hostage takeovers and other adventures, Chicago's County General was a good place to be on Thursday nights.
Most sure-to-be-missed misfit: Earl Hickey
Earl Hickey isn't exactly Mr. Most Likely to Succeed. He's a petty thief, he lives in a motel with his even-more-doofish brother Randy, and he's probably spent more time behind bars than he has spent dutifully employed. But he and his Camden County pals, especially ex-wife Joy and her new husband Crab Man, reliably delivered a half-hour of hilarity on Thursday nights via NBC's "My Name Is Earl." The fourth season finale in May promised that it was "to be continued," but then NBC dropped the show and Fox, TBS, ABC and TNT all refused to pick it up. Let's hope Earl and Randy snuck around and stuffed potatoes in all their exhaust pipes.
Grade: F. This terrific show bites the dust, and yet the "Real Housewives" series just keeps cranking out episodes? Let's see, how would Joy say it? Oh snap, network dummies, what the hell?
Most confusing and drawn-out change: Digital TV
Could it have been more confusing? There was a date for it to happen, then there was a different date. People were told that it wouldn't affect them if they had cable TV, then learned that they may need a converter box. And after the transition, the quality was still mixed. Why did we do this again?
Grade: D. Because no matter how much you sharpen the picture and sound on a show like "Big Brother," it's still just a bunch of ignorant people yelling racial slurs at each other.
Best preview: "Glee"
Quick, name any of the new TV shows coming this fall. If you can name even one, it's likely you thought of "Glee," the new Fox comedy focusing on a glee club full of misfits at an Ohio high school. The show drew lots of attention for airing after part one of the "American Idol" finale, but it's not just the time slot that earned it fans. The songs were catchy -- it gave "Don't Stop Believing" a twist that's miles away from its use in "The Sopranos" finale -- and the characters had wide appeal. Who hasn't felt like the uncool kid in the uncoolest activity at high school?
Grade: A. Between "Friday Night Lights" and now "Glee," high-school activities are proving fertile ground for great shows.