The Year in year-end specials.

The Year in year-end specials.

The Year in year-end specials.

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Dec. 28 2007 3:37 PM

The Year in Year-End Specials

Barbara Walters picks the most fabulous people and Perez Hilton names the best sex tape of 2007.

Barbara Walters hosts The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2007 
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Barbara Walters hosts The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2007

If it weren't for year-end lists, how would we know that the year was ending? Just as custom obliges every critic in the country to proffer a 10-best list, ritual—not to mention the need to fill holiday airtime—demands that every producer in TV land oversee a December recap of the year's highs and lows and mediocrities. Perhaps, dear viewer, you have permitted the Science Channel's Best Science Moments of 2007 to catch you up on new developments in nanotechnology and stem-cell research, or maybe you've allowed the folks at Access Hollywood and its ilk to offer fodder for even loftier discussions—the 10 biggest baby bumps and messiest breakups and such. Comedy Central aired Last Laugh '07—a stand-up concert film whose topics ranged from Larry Craig and global warming to stem-cell research and messy breakups—and, as in years past, it featured rather too much of Lewis Black's unmodulated bellowing. The guideline of year-end anthologies is this: from each media franchise according to its abilities, to each living room according to its needs.

Thus did Barbara Walters swan onto the tube to present The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2007 (ABC), surely the only hour of prime time where Hugo Chavez might share space with J.K. Rowling. One of the honorees, actress Katherine Heigl, demurred at being labeled fascinating, protesting that she was, on the contrary, quite boring, and getting no argument from me. Heigl's modesty existed in opposition to the attitude of Mr. and Mrs. David Beckham, who glowed with the confidence of precisely how fascinating they were, or else just an excess of beauty products. Their presence was a reminder that one function of year-end anthologies is to remind viewers of exactly how sick they had been, just a few months before, at the overexposure of such figures as Posh and Becks and of precisely how grateful they should be that they've faded into the celebrity-culture wallpaper.

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Barbara being Barbara, her list was comfortingly stale, rather in the manner of an Olive Garden crouton. She included Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Hudson on the strength of products that dropped in 2006, and, lagging a year behind Time magazine, allowed her mind to be boggled by MySpace's Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe. The boys were kind enough to create a profile for the host—favorite movie: Gigi—and she was gracious enough to be astounded by this feat, and now Barbara's MySpace friends leave her messages along the lines of "you may be old (no offense) but you are still cool." Thx for the add.

The people at VH1 are notably more with-it—horribly more with-it, in fact. The channel's Best Year Ever—a special installment of its Best Week Ever, wherein snarking heads analyze popular-culture eventlets—offered a stern rebuke to civilians arrogant enough to believe that they'd been keeping abreast of trash. The knowledge of its on-air talent was so profound that it was sometimes impossible to tell if their wisecracks were witty, depending as they did on intimate familiarity with the love lives of E-list celebrities and the biographies of viral-video stars. At its conclusion, having built the shakiest edifice imaginable—a memorial to ephemera—the show charted the activities of famous substance abusers and decided that "rehab" had had the best year ever, a 2007 even more noteworthy than Daniel Radcliffe's or Al Gore's. Of course, rehab couldn't be there to accept the award.

For a companion piece, VH1 then wheeled out gossipmonger Perez Hilton to present What Perez Sez About 2007. This column has previously declared a weakness for Hilton's TV presence, which is only fractionally as repugnant as it ought to be, and was, again, shamefully amused by the genial cavorting of this oily person. The host doled out trophies to a number of figures who have wafted in the tabloid breeze over the past 12 months; for instance, awarding his Best Sex Tape prize to the gentleman who hit it with the callipygian Kim Kardashian. The dude, an R&B singer named Ray-J, seemed duly honored, and the segment seemed an appropriate way for television to ring out the old year—passing a moment with a new acquaintance who will soon be forgot and never again brought to mind.

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.