Cult TV

Just got my copy of this week's Entertainment Weekly, and there's a picture of Matt Smith on the cover, talking about the global phenomenon of "Doctor Who."

In the wake of Comic-Con, the issue is devoted to the 25 top cult TV shows of all-time. (BTW, the "Doctor Who" cover is the first time a UK show has ever been featured on the cover of the magazine).

The issue also lists its picks for the top 25 cult TV shows of the past quarter-century. (Oddly enough, "Doctor Who" isn't on the list.)

You can divide the "DW" fans into two categories -- the old-school fans like me, who watched the original series when US PBS stations bought old episodes; and the new-school fans who picked up the show after its revival in 2004.

The old-schoolers I've known love the old show in spite of the poor special effects and costumes. To us, a Zygon was a Zygon, not some guy in a disturbing-looking green rubber suit.

The new-schoolers, mostly in this country, likely never watched the original series, so they're used to better effects and a different sort of storytelling -- most of the modern "Who" episodes are told in a single- or two-part-episode format, while the original stories were told in serialized form. So those of the new fans that have tried to watch the old-school episodes usually find them silly. That's OK, we still love you and welcome you to the cult.

For me, cult TV usually has a fantasy or sci-fi element to it. EW's list includes non-fantasy shows such as "My So-Called Life" or "The Wire," well-regarded shows that are set in the real world. People dress us as their favorite "Doctor Who" or "Buffy" or "Star Trek" character; no one dresses us as Omar from "The Wire." (Though maybe they should.) There aren't any "My So Called Life" conventions.

Sitcoms have a slightly more nebulous listing. "Community" seems to certainly qualify as a cult hit, given its tiny audience but mind-blowing themes, such as six alternate universes based on who answers the door for a pizza delivery guy.

There's also a sort of hidden language among the fans of these shows, many of which didn't last for more than a season, such as "Undeclared" or "Freaks & Geeks." One of my favorite sitcoms that could be classified as a cult show was Fox's "Flying Blind," starring a young Tea Leoni as a gorgeous bohemian named Alicia dating a nebishy guy. For anyone remembering that show, all I have to say is "Alicia with an egg roll" to the few people who actually watched the show, and it instantly brings back one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen.

To me, a show needs to have some staying power after it goes off the air to qualify as cult. For example, "Buffy" and "Firefly" have legions of fans who still talk about the merits of every episode years after both shows left the airwaves. But while "Twin Peaks" is generally considered cult TV, honestly, who really sits around and has conversations about the Log Lady or the Dwarf any more?

Anyway, you can check out for yourself what qualifies as a cult show in the current issue of "Entertainment Weekly."

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: There's a little thing called the Olympic Games that will be running for the next couple of weeks, beginning with the Opening Ceremony tonight (NBC, 7:30 p.m.) There's also a new episode of "Common Law" (USA, 10 p.m.)

On Saturday, given the theme of cult TV and the Olympics, "The Nerdist" (BBC America, 9 p.m.), led by uber-geek Chris Hardwick of "Talking Dead" fame, does a Comic Con wrap up, followed by a second episode about toys and games at 10 p.m. At midnight, it's the final two episodes of the hilarious mockumentary "Twenty Twelve." Based on all I've read, it may end up being more of a documentary for this year's Olympics.

On Sunday, while the networks offer up their various reality shows, cable rolls out new episodes of "Breaking Bad," (AMC, 10 p.m.); "Political Animals" (USA, 10 p.m.); "True Blood" and "The Newsroom" (HBO, 9-11 p.m.); "Weeds" and "Episodes" (Showtime, 10-11 p.m.).

There's also a new "Inspector Lewis" on "Masterpiece Mystery" (PBS, 9 p.m.)