Pat Clark

Listless? Administer one dose of convoluted

Yes, kids, we have another entertainment-related list this week to beat and badger.

Good times.

The 50 Greatest TV Icons list was compiled by TV Land network and Entertainment Weekly and released Tuesday for all to behold and scold.

The thing about it, though, is that it came off kind of, well, flat. The list of actors and talk-show hosts -- along with a couple of cartoony additions -- is more shrug-worthy than interesting, let alone scorn-inducing.

How disappointing is that?

It took a few minutes, but the problem finally jumped out: How do you separate the iconic actors from the iconic characters?

Let's face it, Calista Flockhart, even near the bottom at No. 49, is no TV icon. Allie McBeal, the character she played? Now that's an icon.

Same goes with Bea Arthur at No. 38. Her character, Maude, is an icon. But Bea Arthur herself? I don't know. She was also one of the "Golden Girls," but her role on that show was nothing compared to the breakthrough character she played on "Maude."

If you hear the name Bea Arthur, what's the first thing that goes through your head? Iconic actress or simply "Maude"?

But Bill Cosby (No. 4) presents a totally different issue. Bill Cosby the actor has been associated with television in a number of ways. Cosby the comedian and actor is more than the sum of his television roles. That makes the man an icon, even more so than any TV characters he's played.

Johnny Carson at No. 1 makes sense on the surface. But he didn't play a role. So how do you mix him with Henry Winkler? Fonzie is an obvious icon. Winkler? He's just a decent actor who was handed the role of a lifetime. That doesn't make the actor, himself, an icon.

And, seriously, as much as I love George Clooney, to put him anywhere on a list of TV icons (No. 37) is just silly. He played a solid character on "E.R." and as an actor made the jump to movie star. But neither his "E.R." character nor his television credits make him an icon in this category. (Sorry, George. You're the tops on almost every list I can think of. Just not this one.)

Ditto Jennifer Aniston (No. 39). Of all the "Friends" characters, her's was by far -- by f-a-r -- the most bland. There was nothing iconoclastic about her role on that show. It took me several minutes to even remember her character's name (Rachel). She's made a few movies and was jilted by Brad Pitt in favor of a more glamorous and more talented actress. That makes her a person who deserves sympathy, but nothing even remotely resembling a TV icon.

The problem with the list is you have actors and nonactors all jumbled together and they just don't mesh. Barbara Walters (No. 23) and Walter Cronkite (No. 5) are icons for completely different reasons than Roseanne (No. 11). They're icons for different reasons than fellow nonactors David Letterman (No. 16) and Jon Stewart (No. 41), too.

And then there's the whole Kermit (No. 21) and Homer Simpson (No. 9) issue. I'll give you that these are TV icons. But then do you say the characters are the icons, or is it the talented actors who voice them, in the same vein as James Gandolfini (No. 42), whose talent made Tony Soprano an icon?

It's all just a mess.

So my beef with this list isn't so much the actual choices -- with a few obvious exceptions, a la Aniston -- as the way it compares apples to oranges.

There are iconic characters. There are iconic actors. There are iconic hosts and iconic news anchors.

OK, so you can shove all the categories together and give it a generic label like "TV Icons" -- but just because you can doesn't make it right.

That's why I just love these entertainment lists. No matter how shrug-worthy they appear on the surface, I can always find something to lambaste.

Scene editor Pat Clark can be reached at pclark@modbee.com.

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