500 CHANNELS AND NOTHING TO WATCH: One of the great things about writing a TV column without having to actually watch the stuff that comes down the broadcast pipeline is that you can appreciate the suffering of other – some might say “real” – TV critics who feel obliged to spend valuable hours watching prime time and quality cable that might otherwise be spent reading help wanted ads, perfecting your bread pudding recipe, or working on your aim.

With the end in sight, Adam Buckman of the New York Post was moved to write on Monday that “with a 15-week strike halting production, the 2007-08 season will be remembered as one of the most confusing messes in the history of TV,” just after definitively pronouncing it “the Worst. Season. Ever.”

The last year’s television was so bad, Buckman insists, that it literally drove viewers crazy, inspiring them to send in peanuts, light bulbs and birdseed to network executives in order to keep shows like Jericho, Friday Night Lights and John From Cincinnati on the air. “CBS actually acquiesced to the peanut campaign and brought back Jericho,” Buckman noted, “only to watch it sink like a stone.” Which goes to show that, truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

Buckman claims that there were was a point when people actually believed that the writers’ strike would turn out to be an “incubator for innovation,” though as far as I can tell this was more like actually knowing people who believe in Bigfoot – you’re sure such people must be out there, though it’s unlikely that you’re ever going to meet one.

“After the strike ended, the networks became desperate for something to promote,” Buckman writes. “And what emerged as the most-promoted stunt this season? Britney Spears guest-starring as a receptionist on How I Met Your Mother." This particularly irritates Buckman, who insists that “CBS's publicity in support of the Spears appearance was so overheated you would have thought Lucille Ball had been coaxed back from the dead.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Buckman for having what sounds like an intimate relationship with CBS’ publicity department, inasmuch as they’ve made Spears’ primetime cameo seem like a major event, and not the mere blog item or YouTube clip it seemed like to me up here in the frozen wastes of CBS-publicity-doesn’t-know-me-from-Adam-land. If this is a side effect of access, I consider myself grateful for outsider status.

This is, as I’ve mentioned before, my 500th Idiot Box column, and my 1000th as a TV columnist for Metro, a job I took on with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for the guy in the war movie who gets sent ahead to scout around a few minutes after we see him write a sweet letter to his girl back home. No surprise then, that the most fun I’ve had in the last few months was during the writers’ strike, when there was no obligation whatsoever to actually try and watch what, after all, wasn’t actually on TV, since this was entirely beside the point.