Recently, I was attacked in The Washington Post by Martha Bayles for sneering, in my elitist, New Criterionish way, at those who would claim any artistic value for TV dramas such as “ER.” Miss Bayles’s counterexample was a recent episode of that same program (the top-rated series on television) in which its hero (George Clooney), an emergency room physician with depressive tendencies who guiltily smokes marijuana and sleeps with women he doesn’t care about, rescues a boy from drowning in a culvert. Or hypothermia. Or possibly both.

In an extraordinary hour of televison [writes Miss Bayles], he rescues and resuscitates the boy. And he does so in a way that is dramatically consistent with his obviously flawed character—thereby putting a human face on at least six of the virtues celebrated in [William] Bennett’s Book of Virtues:...

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