The year in TV: From LeBron James to Betty White
2010 produced a lackluster fall TV season (and it did), the year was at least eventful in terms of, well, events. And I'm not talking about the lackluster event "The Event," NBC's uneventful and muddled stab at event television (but I will be; read on).
The year saw the end of the latest round of the late-night wars and an increase in the skirmishes between cable and satellite providers and the networks that feed them. Retirements and returns, cancellations and suspensions, rebranding and rumors ... these were the days of our television lives (oh, yeah — soap opera "As the World Turns" got the ax in September).
Here are some highlights of the year in TV.
Most annoying trend
Carriage disputes — the tug-of-war bouts between content creators and providers. This year, retransmission fights threatened major sporting events and hotly anticipated premieres.
Best letter from outer space
When host Conan O'Brien learned that NBC planned to move "The Tonight Show" to a midnight Eastern time start to accommodate the return of former host Jay Leno after a disastrous prime-time run, he penned an open letter that began, "People of Earth." In the missive, O'Brien noted that "The Tonight Show" after midnight wasn't exactly "The Tonight Show." And he ended with an apology: "I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way."
Best return from outer space
Good news, everyone! "Futurama," canceled by Fox in 2003, returned to Comedy Central in June with new episodes. While the results were uneven, it was great to see the Planet Express crew back on a weekly basis.
A great rebranding idea ... 20 years ago
In February, MTV dropped "Music Television" from its name, but forgot to replace it with "Home of ‘Jersey Shore.' "
Best, heh-heh, rumor
Speaking of MTV, word spread this summer that new episodes of "Beavis and Butt-Head" were in the works. "B&B" creator and Austinite Mike Judge refused to comment on the return of the crass, animated duo who mocked music videos on MTV while the network actually still showed them, but the pair appeared on big screens in an introduction to "Jackass 3D."
Most overstayed welcome
Betty White. A Super Bowl commercial, a "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig, guest shots on a million shows including "Community" and "The Middle," plus "Hot in Cleveland" — her own series on TV Land — still haven't spawned a horrific backlash. Why the wait?
Best quote from the Television Critics Association summer tour
"I'm so sick of Betty White. Never liked her." — Cloris Leachman
Worst social media/TV mashup
"$#*! My Dad Says," the CBS William Shatner vehicle based on a Twitter feed, is just awful.
Least successful pledge drive
Waco's PBS affiliate, KWBU-TV, signed off in July after 21 years because of owner Baylor University's funding problems.
Most frightening technology
3D TV. Now all those faces that look so scary in high definition will be comin' right at ya.
Most optimistic reactionto a series cancellation
"I'm incredibly grateful that we were given an opportunity to try a premise that, as the numbers seem to confirm, was perhaps a little riskier than I estimated." — Austinite Kyle Killen, creator of Fox's "Lone Star," the first casualty of the fall 2010 season.
Most pessimistic reaction to a series cancellation
"Television is over. ... If television is going to prosper, it needs to find a new paradigm." — Noah Hawley, creator of ABC's Austin-set and -shot "My Generation," the second casualty of the fall 2010 season.
Least surprising retirement
Larry King announced that he would leave his CNN show. Leave? We always thought he'd be — wait for it — "suspended."
Least surprising tour cancellation
Presumably because of a horrible season that spurred the departure of three of the show's four judges, the American Idols Live! Tour 2010 canceled eight September dates, making the Aug. 31 show in Indianapolis the last chance anyone would ever have to see and hear Tim Urban again.
Most charitable flip-off
Basketball star LeBron James reportedly raised more than $2 million for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America while simultaneously ticking off the entire city of Cleveland via a one-hour, ESPN special in which he revealed his decision to sign with the Miami Heat.
Most annoying sound coming out of your TV's speakers
The honor goes to that ubiquitous World Cup prop, the vuvuzela. Second most annoying? Rachael Ray.
Best local reporting
Local television affiliates stepped up in February when an angry Austin man set his house on fire and crashed a small plane into an Internal Revenue Service office. On-air talent provided feeds and reports to network and cable news channels for hours.
Least noticeable retransmission dispute fallout
Hallmark and Hallmark Movie Channel were dropped from AT&T U-verse in September when a carriage agreement could not be reached. In other news, Hallmark has two TV channels.
Best example of a show exemplifying the title of a song it declined to air
"Sesame Street" was hot and cold on Katy Perry's performance of her song of the same name, which it yanked from the show in September when parents complained about the pop star's prominent cleavage. Perry later appeared in a questionably appropriate (but funny) live-action sequence on "The Simpsons."
Best use for a backpack
Carrying loads of money. The voice of Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer," 14-year-old Caitlin Sanchez, sued the kids network for $7 million in a contract dispute. A settlement was reached this month, and the suit was withdrawn. Terms were not announced.
Shortest suspension ever
Pundit Keith Olbermann, sir, enjoyed a long weekend after his MSNBC overlords discovered that he violated network policy by making donations to a trio of Democratic congressional candidates but failing to inform the network in advance. He missed just two nights and then returned, vitriolic as ever.
Most anticipated, least impressive debut
Conan O'Brien began his TBS nighttime talker with a lazy November outing featuring stoner Seth Rogen and "Glee" star Lea Michele. A taped bit by Ricky Gervais was good for a few laughs.
Best 'stache dash
Critic Gene Shalit and his lip fuzz left the "Today" show in November after 37 years during which, it seems, Shalit never shaved it.
Best Keith Olbermann impression
MSNBC suspended "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough for contributing to Republican candidates in Florida.
Most improved bowler
Anna Torv went from playing one character in a wooden and uninvolving fashion to bringing remarkable depth to a pair of alternate versions of her character on Fox's "Fringe." It probably won't be enough to save the ratings-challenged show, which moves to the Friday network graveyard in January.
NBC's "The Event." The show had a polished and intriguing pilot, but its "plane vanishes in midair" ending left me feeling uneasy. The show quickly became so bad it was good, but then became so bad it was just bad. Fans looking for an heir to "Lost" didn't find it here; "The Event" is more the evil spawn of the failed "Flash Forward."