Dave on Demand: Fall TV pro: football, con: Neil Patrick Harris

Host Neil Patrick Harris performs at the 66th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday June 10, 2012, in New York. (Charles Sykes/AP Photo)

My favorite time of year officially begins this weekend. Among the splendors of fall: Football kicks into high gear, obviating the need to manufacture excuses for dicey weekend invitations.

Antiquing in Lancaster County? Sounds lovely but TCU is playing Boise State. Yeah, I'd love to come to dinner so your wife can seat me next to her recently divorced friend from Pilates class, but dude, it's Football Night in America.

One thing I'm not looking forward to this month is the return of Neil Patrick Harris as host of the Emmys (Sept. 22 on CBS3). He's perfectly delightful handling the Tonys (or I'm sure I would think so had I ever watched). But his catty vaudevillian act is a bad fit for TV's big night.

I especially dread the obligatory opening musical number, an awards show tradition that almost always falls flat. It's like a tortured Mad Libs game using the names of the nominees. "Give me something that sounds like 'Mel Gibson.' "

Think I'm exaggerating? Here's a representative couplet from the opening number the last time Harris MCed the Emmys:

Thank God "boob tube"

Rhymes with "Tony Shalhoub."

Sheer poetry. Why, you can almost hear a tuxedoed Harris warbling now:

Feelin' like life is drab and tacky?

The cure's an injection of "Nurse Jackie."

Work left you nothing but brain-dead and weary?

I'm telling you, friend: Try "The Big Bang Theory."

In pain from the dentist extracting that molar?

You need a big helping of Amy Poehler.


It doesn't take some sort of a genie

To tell you TV is pure, sweet, and dreamy.

The tube's guaranteed to put a smile on your lips

As broad and as supple as Sofie Vergara's hips.

Heard it on Fox News so there can be no mistake

TV's your dirt-cheap greatest escape.

And now to present our first award: Michael Weatherly and Patricia Heaton.

Time's winged chariot. The beauty of TV is that it lends us the illusion of timelessness. Michael Landon is eternally boyish. Miss Kitty will always be the hostest with the mostest at the Long Branch Saloon. And Robert Urich looks like he has at least eight or nine more series in him.

But every once in a while, this fantasy is cruelly shattered. You see Robert Wagner in a reverse mortgage commercial. Roseanne Barr in a logging camp. Or Sally Struthers - anywhere.

This week's rude awakening came courtesy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland. Moore, Valerie Harper, Betty White, Georgia Engel, and Cloris Leachman - I adore them, especially as an ensemble. Their chemistry and comedy chops are the primary reason The Mary Tyler Moore Show ranks, in my estimation, as one of the Top Ten in TV history.

Here's the remarkable thing: Almost all of them are still active in prime time - Leachman, White, and Engel currently in sitcoms, and Harper hoofing it on Dancing With the Stars in just over a week.

Yet for some reason seeing them all together now was a sad, startling reminder that it really has been 43 years since these Minneapolis minxes figured out how to turn the world on with their smiles.

All set? American Idol has righted the ship at last: Keith Urban is now the senior continuously serving judge on the contest and Randy Jackson has been brought back in a special role: mentor. Under his tutelage, a whole new generation of singers will learn how to attain Jackson's highest musical praise, "You could sing the phone book, Dawg!"

Let's start with the Yellow Pages, shall we, Randy?


Contact David Hiltbrand at dhiltbrand@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_TV. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/daveondemand.