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Tune in to the joy of TV's guilty pleasures

Some people think all television viewing is embarrassing. Others only watch the kind of programs that would pass muster among snooty British professors or refined grandmothers, the kind of shows that educate, edify, and make our world a better place.We are not those kind of people.At least, not all of the time. Sure, we like a good Ken Burns miniseries or PBS mystery as much as the next person. Bu
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Some people think all television viewing is embarrassing. Others only watch the kind of programs that would pass muster among snooty British professors or refined grandmothers, the kind of shows that educate, edify, and make our world a better place.

We are not those kind of people.

At least, not all of the time. Sure, we like a good Ken Burns miniseries or PBS mystery as much as the next person. But we're also not afraid to admit that we'll tune in and TiVo a few programs that we wouldn't want to discuss at a classy cocktail party. It's OK if we admit to loving them to you, though, right? We're among friends?

We thought so. Here, then, are just a few glorious examples of some of the shameful viewing habits of staffers. It's summer. We're not ashamed. Much.

‘Mister Rogers' Neighborhood’

True love only grows deeper over time. At least, that’s how it is for me and Fred Rogers.  He offered the world to me, with his puppet-populated  Neighborhood of Make-Believe, his kindly and inquisitive delivery man, Mr. McFeely, and, of course, his cardigans.  I was one of the lucky kids whose real life was idyllic: a house always overflowing with neighborhood kids, a mom who led us all in craft- and cookie-making, a dad who could solve any problem. It was really when I get older and life got harder that I fully appreciated the solace offered by Mister Rogers. Pets and people I loved died, I had a mortgage to pay and cellulite to fight , but he still  offered a refuge where unconditional love reigns and puppet cats speak in a language of meow that everyone understands. Even now, when the world seems off-kilter, I search for the channel where I can hear Mister Rogers’ soothing voice telling me he likes me just as I am, even if I haven’t showered in days. The man himself is gone now, but on TV, he still wants to be my neighbor.    —Linda Dahlstrom

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‘Ace of Cakes’

I want to be reincarnated with some smidgen of artistic talent. Oh, and I'd also need to be a Baltimorean who's friends with Chef Duff Goldman, so I can work with him and his happy band of crazy cake decorators at Charm City Cakes, the bakery featured on Food Network's "Ace of Cakes." They create amazing confections, from a Taj Mahal wedding cake to an "Exorcist" cake where Linda Blair's head really spins around. But best of all, they seem to have a blast doing it, what with a bagpiper strolling through the bakery (for a Scottish cow cake) and staffers burning sage to free their workplace of a cake-threatening curse. Ever-jolly Chef Duff is both a boss and a pal, and he's nicely balanced by his staffers, including wry general manager Mary Alice and uber-dry executive sous chef Geof. When other reality TV (ahem — "Real World" — ahem) makes you lose hope in America's future, the "Charm City" crew will bring that hope right back. I'm not ashamed to love "Cakes," I'm just ashamed I want to live in it.   —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

1970s shows set in New York

New York City in the 1970s was bankrupt, decaying and dangerous, the perfect inspiration for cynical, dark, anti-hero TV shows. Unlike cheesy, sunny programs set in L.A. (“Charlie’s Angels”) or the South (“Dukes of Hazzard”), settling in to watch a 70s show about New York is about getting caught up with an overwrought, self-serious slice of Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese realism. In NYC-based shows like “Kojak,” “Barney Miller” or “Taxi,” it was always nighttime and there was always a distinctive jazzy theme song to set the mood. Sammy Davis Jr. singing “Keep your eye on the sparrow” for “Baretta” is both cringeworthy AND genius.  When everyone on TV looks like an airbrushed, tooth-whitened plastic toy, it’s a relief to see actors — lollipop-sucking Telly Savalas or mopey Judd Hirsch — who looked like real people, characters you might actually pass walking down the dirty, pre-Disneyified Broadway. As Kojak would say, Who loves ya, baby? That'd be me.    —Jane Weaver

Pro bowling

Bowling has no complicated rules, no snotty superstars, no bench-clearing brawls. A four-year-old can understand the point of the game: Knock down the pins. Pro bowlers can actually make some big bucks at their sport, but most of them still end up looking like your doofusy science teacher who never bought new clothes after 1977. Sometimes ESPN even airs the Skills Challenge, a wonderfully goofy trick-shot event that I’m still not sure isn’t all done with mirrors and CGI. Want to join me and tune in? Bowling isn’t glamorous, it’s not hip, and your snacks shouldn’t be, either. Crack open a Bud, fill a bowl with Funyons and settle into the couch. Sttt-eeee-rike!    —G.F.C.

Stomach-turning food shows

I'd like to say that I watch my two favorite Travel Channel programs to educate myself on world geography and exotic cultures. I'd like to say that, but it would be a lie. Most shows on the cable station aren't much more than travelogues, or extended commercials. But the draw of Tony Bourdain's “No Reservations” and Andrew Zimmern's “Bizarre Foods” is definitely the ick factor. Who can resist watching these two grown men eat live worms or putrid raw pork? Bourdain’s snarkiness is always fun, but Zimmern’s honest and very descriptive reaction when he eats something that disagrees with him is what really makes his show special. It’s also interesting to see what edibles challenge them; durian fruit has bested Zimmern on two different episodes, Bourdain was amazed to find Spam dishes that were edible.    —Denise Ono

Japanese TV shows on DVD

One humid night on vacation in rural Japan, I happened to catch an episode of "Attention Please!", a show about a rocker chick, Misaki Yoko, who decides to become a Japan Airlines flight attendant. The episode ended when she saved the day by singing "Happy Birthday" to her entire plane — twice. (Don't ask.) Once I was back in the States, I sought out the show's entire season on DVD with English subtitles (thank you, eBay) and now I'm hooked. I went on to buy full seasons of Japanese shows I'd never seen before, including "The Queen's Classroom," about a severe grade-school teacher and the kids she terrorizes. Ordinary things in these programs seem so novel when compared to an American lifestyle, from the schoolkids (obedient!) to the makeup lessons undergone by the flight attendants (scarily intense!). Now if I could only get the discs to include the original Japanese commercials. That psychedelic trip down Willy Wonka's chocolate river's got nothin' on these ads.  —G.F.C.


Never seen ABC Family’s “Greek”? Think “Dawson’s Creek” minus the whining and faux-intellectual speak. This dramedy tells the story of Casey and Rusty Cartwright, a brother and sister navigating their way through college. Older sis Casey is the popular sorority girl who is torn between preppy Evan and slacker Cappie. Rusty is a former high-school nerd who decides to remake himself by joining Cappie’s beer-guzzling fraternity. Unlike a lot of teen shows, this one focuses more on the comedy than the drama, with side characters and zany plots, such as the time the charming Cappie tried to cheer Rusty up by taking him to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local strip bar. More froth, less angst. But if you ask me if I watch it, don't expect a confession. I'm hooked, but I'm ashamed.   —Paige Newman