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THE TINY SCREEN: Turn it Off:

For some reason, it has become tradition to “watch the ball drop” on New Year’s Eve. But does anyone stop to wonder — is that all there is? Because, seriously, if that’s all there is, my friends,we have not evolved as far as we have previously thought.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to do with the ball dropping at all but rather the initiation to a celebration that welcomes the New Year. But couldn’t it be something a little more spectacular?

Either way, Dick Clark will be there a few hours before the stroke of midnight to usher in 2006 on ABC. In his mid-seventies, Clark is still the best ABC can muster for a traditional, if a bit dull, New Year’s. But wait, there’s more. In order to up the ratings and draw in the younger set, none other than rising star Ryan Seacrest will join Clark. Can’t you just wait for Seacrest’s snarky comments that will likely sail right over Clark’s head? Somewhere, Brian Dunkleman is kicking himself: “If only I could have stayed on American Idol. I too could be New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

Not to be outdone, Fox is putting Regis Philbin on the air to counter Clark. Do you suppose it would be overkill to TIVO one and watch the other? Mostly, audiences will be flipping back and forth to see what willing singer will be performing for all of America on that fateful night. Of course, Carson Daly will be on NBC and more hosts will be on MTV. Somehow I doubt Regis is going to be getting any real hot names. But hey, it isn’t only the target demo who will be watching; old people like to welcome the New Year too.

Apparently, Mariah Carey will perform on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve, as will Hilary Duff. Mary J. Bilge will perform for Carson Daly and the Kanye West and Shakira will be on MTV.

But here’s the thing. Surely there are better ways to spend the holidays than including television in your most precious moments. Have you noticed that events on TV hog up the holidays like never before? Christmas happens when Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life air. New Year’s is the ball dropping or various and sundry rock performers adding up to a whole bunch of people celebrating while you watch it on TV. And on New Year’s Day there is the Rose Parade and some football games.

From now to the end of time, is it going to be our fate that every holiday will be shared on television rather than lived in our private lives? Really, watching it on TV sometimes means gathering around your loved ones and never having to say one word to one another. Or, if you’re like my family, no one really watches TV at all but rather has the must-see programs humming silently in the background.

Not to sound paranoid, but isn’t it a bit much that this has become part of our culture for no other reason, really, than for advertisers to find a way into our lives on a regular basis? Because if these shows are on in the background, so are the commercials. We then associate hearth fires with TIDE laundry soap, Campbell’s soup and Miller beer.

The only way out of this paradigm is to just say no. Switch off the tube and realize you can rent Rudolph any time you want. You can have a party and celebrate New Year’s with your friends. It doesn’t have to be a moment where the advertisers are counting how many eyeballs were watching. It is only our real lives, after all.

Notable TV This Week

Thursday, December 29

Madonna: I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, 8 p.m., VH1.

Death Wish (***), 8 p.m., AMC.

Shallow Hal (***), surprisingly funny Jack Black/Gwyneth Paltrow movie, 8 p.m., FOX.

Mommy Dearest (***), 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Friday, December 30

You Only Live Twice (***), 7:30 p.m., SPIKE.

The Usual Suspects (****), 8 p.m., AMC.

Dr. No (****), 9 p.m., SPIKE.

U571 (**), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

Saturday, December 31

The Godfather (****), 7:30 p.m., NBC.

The Sweetest Thing (***), 8 p.m., Comedy.

Thelma & Louise (***), 8 p.m., OXYGEN.

Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Even 10 p.m., ABC.

Sunday, January 1

Ghost (***), 9 p.m., FAMILY.

Surrender Dorothy, original movie with Diane Keaton, 9 p.m., CBS.

My Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet with Baz Luhrmann, 9:30 p.m., KCET.

In Justice, to debut after Desperate Housewives, 10 p.m., ABC.

Monday, January 2

117th Tournament of Roses Parade, 8 p.m., KTLA.

Narc (**), 8 p.m., AMC.

In the Edges: The Grizzly Man Sessions, 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Medium, 10 p.m., NBC.

Tuesday, January 3

8 Mile (***), 7:30 p.m., VH1.

Duel (***), 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Frontline: Is Wal-Mart Good for America? 9 p.m., KCET.

Law and Order SVU, 10 p.m., NBC.

Wednesday, January 4

Solaris (**), well-intentioned but horrible Steven Soderbergh movie, 7:30 p.m., IFC.

The Biggest Loser: Special Edition, families compete to lose weight and win, 8 p.m., ABC.

The Good Girl (***), with Jennifer Aniston, 9 p.m., OXYGEN.

Yesterday (****) 9 p.m., KCET.

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