Reasons for skipping sitcom simple enough

They just don't build sitcoms like they used to, and thank goodness for that. But those of us who thought the trite, laugh-track driven inanity of comedies like "Who's the Boss?" was dead and buried have to worry and wonder about the frightening, inexplicable success of the dreadful new comedy "8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter" (7 p.m., ABC). I reviewed this series when it premiered last fall, and it was loathing at first sight. But millions of Americans had the temerity to disagree with me and make this "comedy" one of the few hits of the season.

Driven by curiosity and a nagging concern that I might have been hasty in my judgment, I braced myself for another helping. In tonight's episode, Paul (John Ritter) agonizes over the fact that his pretty daughter Bridget's (Kaley Cuoco) boyfriend, Kyle (Billy Aaron Brown), cheated on her at a party by kissing his snarky and less attractive daughter, Kerry (Amy Davidson). The ensuing catfight between feuding teens makes for an onslaught of one-liners and canned laughter. I kept reminding myself that, unlike my gentle readers, I get paid to watch shows like "8 Simple Rules." They could pay me Bill Gates' salary to watch this sitcom and I'd still feel cheated.

  • We interrupt America's love affair with "reality television" for some harsh reality. President Bush makes his State of the Union Address (8 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CNN, Fox News and CSPAN) before a joint session of Congress. And boy, does he have his work cut out for him.

For the past month, while TV viewers have become besotted with distractions like "Joe Millionaire," "American Idol," "The Bachelorette" and "The Surreal Life," our nation has prepared for a war that seems more inevitable with each passing day. Tonight, in what may be the most important speech of his tenure, President Bush must make his case why an attack on Iraq at this time is in the best interests of the United States.

Just how will television cope with a possible war? While cable news outlets will offer round-the-clock coverage, how much will networks alter their schedules? Will silly reality shows lose their appeal when the shooting starts? Or will they continue to provide idle distraction for a nervous nation? Stay tuned.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Lorelai fishes while Rory weathers a political storm on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).
  • The auditions continue on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Clark has his own theories about Lionel Luthor's shooting on "Smallville" (8 p.m., WB).

Series notes

A failed jet's maintenance worker stands trial on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) ... A student is burdened with a terrible truth on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m., UPN) ... Jim's doll scheme takes shape on "According to Jim" (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Late night

Michael Caine and boxing legend George Foreman are on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Colin Farrell, Santana and Musiq on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Ellen DeGeneres, MC Hammer and Simple Plan are booked on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Jeff Goldblum and Trista Rehn ("The Bachelorette") chat on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).

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