By Adam B. Vary
Updated July 02, 2010 at 02:00 PM EDT
Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Fox; Ray Mickshaw/; NBC

Image Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Fox; Ray Mickshaw/; NBCAt about 2 a.m. on Tuesday night, while I was writing my So You Think You Can Dance recap, it hit me: I really, really miss Mary Murphy. This is not a conclusion I ever expected myself to come to — I mean, I am the intrepid journalist who physically held a decibel meter up to Ms. Murphy’s mouth two years ago to measure just how loud her trademark scream really was, and my eardrums are still bleeding ringing. And yet this season I’ve found Mary’s replacement on the SYTYCD judging panel — Mia Michaels, the Emmy-winning choreographer with a history of terrifically cutting commentary as a guest judge on past seasons — to be a shocking bore. She’s polite and constructive and articulate. She thinks about what she’s going to say before she says it. And she’s never, not once, done this.

It turns out you actually do need a double-dip banana boat of crazy on the judging panel to make a successful reality competition show, and SYTYCD is but one example. America’s Got Talent with bland Howie Mandel instead of barmy David Hasselhoff? A snooze fest. And no matter how much we may personally adore Ellen DeGeneres, she was an excessively cautious dud as an American Idol judge. Paula Abdul did at times speak in accidental haiku when delivering her critiques on Idol, but that’s just it: We never had a clue what was going to come out of her mouth from one moment to the next, and that tension resulted in some truly fantastic television. Was Mary Murphy going to start inexplicably wailing about her hot tamale train? Would the Hoff struggle to articulate an entire sentence? Is Paula even paying attention? Yeah, we’ve tuned into these shows to see the breathtaking talent on display, but what’s also kept us riveted — especially in the face of the occasional lackluster episode — was our not-so-secret itch to see just what Paula/Hasselhoff/Mary would do next.

Now that itch is gone, and what are we left with? Humdrum platitudes and the sporadic nugget of practical advice. Woo hoo. Please, reality show producers, please don’t overlook the value of eccentric wardrobes, rambling metaphors, and jackhammer laughter. This could very well be a sign of the apocalypse, but it would appear they’re a big part of what made your shows true must-see TV. They’re the real X factor.

Do you agree, PopWatchers? Are there other loopy reality show judges you miss now that they’re gone? And did I hear “Janice Dickinson” just now, or was that just my sputtering air-conditioner?

Episode Recaps

America's Got Talent

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