By FRAZIER MOORE
No, last week's Emmy broadcast wasn't the most dismal sight on television lately. Nonstop TV coverage of the economic crisis has made sure of that.
In fact, the Emmys even packed an illuminating upside. (Don't you wish you could say that about your fiscal picture?) It might have left a stale aftertaste the night it aired, but, thanks to unusually smart choices this year, the broadcast should have whet your appetite to take a new look at these winners:
As Election Day nears, ''The Daily Show With Jon Stewart'' (best variety/comedy series for the fifth year in a row) becomes more valuable than ever as a newscast that's nearly as demented as the news it lampoons. Same for ''The Colbert Report'' (best writing for a variety/comedy series, on top of a Peabody award scored earlier this year), which stars Stephen Colbert as a blowhard commentator.
They air back-to-back at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central, with episodes also available for viewing on their respective Web sites.
''Mad Men,'' which won six Emmys, including best drama series (besides its pair of Golden Globes and a Peabody), is in the home stretch of its second season, with the 10th of 13 episodes airing on AMC at 9 p.m. Sunday.
A magnificent exploration of modern life through the lens of a 1960s-era New York advertising agency, ''Mad Men'' has proven itself a worthy successor to ''The Sopranos'' for its rich, textured drama (granted, no one gets whacked, but serious emotional wounds are inflicted, and wry humor is also on the bill). Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm heads up its splendid cast.
Newbies can sample this season's opener on the AMC Web site. Or they can catch up with the 13-episode first season on DVD (and through Netflix). Both seasons are on iTunes.
''Breaking Bad'' aired just seven episodes in its first season, which was cut short by the writers strike. Even so, it packed a punch from its first moments last January.
The AMC series' hero: an average guy who is forced by circumstances into making and selling an evil drug, crystal methamphetamine. Bryan Cranston, once the goofy, distracted dad on the comedy ''Malcolm in the Middle,'' was the surprise Emmy winner for best actor in a drama series, and the timing couldn't be better: ''Breaking Bad'' is now more chillingly relevant than anyone could have imagined.
Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who learns he has terminal cancer. He and his family already are barely scraping by. To leave his wife and kids provided for, he must put his chemistry know-how to a more lucrative purpose than lecturing to apathetic teens. He realizes he can make big money fast by cooking meth.
For growing numbers of viewers alarmed about the future, Walt's plight is easy to identify with -- and, as ''Breaking Bad'' unfolds, Walt's plan seems uncomfortably acceptable. This is the saga of an ordinary American taking a header through the social safety net that has failed him and his family.
Season two of ''Breaking Bad'' won't begin until early next year, but the first season's episodes air at 11 p.m. Sundays, and AMC has a first-season marathon this Wednesday starting at 7 p.m. The pilot is available on the AMC Web site, and it all can be purchased on iTunes.
Glenn Close, a 2005 Emmy nominee passed over for her remarkable performance on ''The Shield,'' has now won a much-deserved trophy as best dramatic actress for ''Damages.'' On this FX legal thriller, whose first season wrapped last fall, Close plays ruthless, borderline-maniacal lawyer Patty Hewes. The series has an innovative storytelling structure that whipsaws between the ''present'' and a past that initially is labeled ''6 Months Earlier,'' but by the end of the season converges into a single real-time narrative. And the conclusion is a corker, devilishly cunning as it sets up the action for season two.
That won't start until January, but in the meantime, the first season is available on DVD, through Netflix, and on iTunes.
What's left? NBC's ''30 Rock,'' of course, which already this year had reaped a Golden Globe and a Peabody before cleaning up at the Emmys with four major trophies, including best comedy series, and best comedy actress for Tina Fey, its star and creator.
''30 Rock'' can be summed up in one word -- funniestshowontheair -- but judging from its not-so-spectacular ratings, a lot of viewers still aren't getting the message.
Past episodes are as close as the NBC and Hulu Web sites, your Netflix subscription, or iTunes. It returns to NBC for its fourth season Oct. 30. And (how cool is this!) the premiere episode will be online Oct. 23.
''30 Rock'' is one of several awesome shows Emmy says you should be watching. And if you're already planning to skip next year's Emmycast, that's OK too.