What was the top TV story of the year? The choice was obvious to all of us, and probably all of you, too: The election. The 2008 race for the White House was not only historic, it was dramatic and played out more on TV with recognizable star personas than any election in recent memory.
And like a great TV show, it was a season-long run of highs and lows, tension and release, defeat and victory. Along the way, Americans made a choice about who will run the country for the next four years, but they were also entertained by a near constant barrage of media coverage in the form of maximum cable news, thousands of commercials, daily political commentary both serious and comic, a plethora of debates, and -- naturally -- Saturday Night Live's take on it all.
It all started about a year ago in the cold of Iowa and New Hampshire...
Everybody's been boo-hooing the ongoing decline in the ratings of the broadcast networks for years now. Each year their numbers erode and the news outlets go crazy trying to figure out what's going on. But there's been a quieter story building during that same timespan, and it really came to the forefront this year. While the major broadcast networks have seen a drop in viewers, the cable networks have been busting ratings records all year, culminating with USA not only having the best year of any cable channel in 2008, but having the best year in the history of cable television.
But what does that mean for television, in general? Is it just the continuing evolution of a drastically changing medium? Considering the state of the economy and its impact on the networks, it's definitely worth noting that someone on the airwaves is apparently doing something right, and it's these cable channels. Ironically, many of those same success stories in cable are sister stations to the broadcast networks, even going so far as to lend them shows during that pesky writer's strike. But how can it be that while the Big Four are going down, the cable networks are on the rise?
It comes in just under the wire, but one 2008's late breaking stories might prove to be one of the most influential. About a month ago, NBC gave Jay Leno the 10 PM slot every weeknight starting next fall. That's a pretty bold move. If the NBC gamble works, it could mean significant changes for the television industry as we know it. It's also a sign that NBC is in deep trouble.
NBC has been in fourth place for awhile now among broadcast networks. While they have their share of returning hits (30 Rock and The Office), their new shows for 2008 have been a disaster. Even second season dramas like Heroes and Chuck have been hemorrhaging viewers. And with ER finally giving up the ghost this May, it's a brilliantly simple move to just shift Leno to 10 PM.
Suffice it to say, while it may have been for all the wrong reasons, Britney had once again captured the attention of the public at large. It's an important bit of this story, because it speaks to both why she was brought in to guest on HIMYM, and why I hated it from jump street. I certainly wasn't alone in that, as most of the TV Squad staff, and 36.9% of the readers that voted, named her for the What The *#@#%! Were They Thinking Award.
I'm sure that many of us could go round and round over the quality of the episodes in this latest chapter of Heroes. If you're following along with the weekly reviews, you've no doubt seen it play out in the comments. The thing that is a little harder to argue is the ratings. Over these last few months, the one time flagship NBC drama has seen its numbers drop to drastic levels. Put another way, if Heroes was a space ship, and dropping ratings signified an increase in speed, the show has gone plaid.
William Peterson is out and Lawrence Fishburne is in. That's the plan, anyway, over at CSI central.
Peterson's decision to say goodbye to CSI was one of the big stories of 2008. The actor's onscreen phase-out started earlier this month with the introduction of Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Raymond Langston, but he's not really saying goodbye. Peterson will remain on the hit CBS show as an executive producer and will likely appear as a guest star in future episodes. His final ep airs January 15.
Since CSI is one of those ever-lasting franchises, like Law & Order, I wouldn't rule out a complete return for Peterson a few years from now. Maybe he'll spin-off another show. I'm sure fans wouldn't mind seeing CSI: The Gil Grissom Chronicles.
Me, I don't really care. I don't watch CSI (I guess I'm not that intrigued by forensic science). So let's talk about the 2008 TV star departures that meant something to me.
Um, I don't know if anyone has told you yet, but the economy of the United States, and the world, is in the crapper. Seriously, I saw it one day while doing my business. It was just floating there ... one step away from being flushed into the world of depression. I had to get it out with a piece of toilet paper, and it's now drying on my bathtub ledge. Gosh, I hope it's okay.
Anyhoo, things are bad out there. And, not just for us working peons. This recession is affecting everyone, from the muckity-muck CEOs of the soon-to-be bankrupt corporations, to the hot dog vendor outside of Penn Station whose wieners are spending longer and longer amounts of time in their hot water bath. Somewhere in the middle of this are the television networks. Buffeted by both good and bad news, these former stalwarts of the economy are getting knocked around, as well. The meaning, for us poor schlubs, is a restructuring of television as we know it.
...Ew, not like that, you guys. Although, I'm sure if you did just a few minutes of Googling, you could find that too, in one form or another. What I'm talking about is Tina Fey's brilliant impression of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. How good was the impression? It was so good that the episodes featuring Fey, and the one that featured Palin herself, were some of SNL's highest-rated episodes in years. Tina Fey's brilliant but ratings-challenged sitcom, 30 Rock received a ratings bump, she scored a multi-million dollar book deal, and newspapers sometimes forgot that they were actually two different people.Not bad for a funny lady who had never been known for her impressions and a governor from a small town no one had ever heard of.
Obama may have been our first celebrity candidate, but Palin was our first beauty queen. Whether you loved her or hated her, it's hard to argue that she was a captivating figure.
2008 was a strange one for television. Not because of the intense political and economic coverage, or the 27000 hours of Olympic telecasts, or the fact that Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul held back from killing each other for yet another season. No, the reason for the strangeness was that, at the beginning of the year, the schedule was a bit disjointed. This was thanks to the lengthy writers' strike.
Lasting from early November 2007 until February and costing up to two billion dollars, the WGA strike did something that previous labor disputes had not done to TV in the past: it changed the face of television. These were not cosmetic changes that reverted back to normal once the strike ended. These were changes that altered television as we now it and set the stage for its very uncertain future.
What caused this explosion? Well, we can thank one of 2008's other big stories -- the writers' strike -- for a lot of it.
As we do every year, we here at TV Squad are reminiscing on the top TV news stories of the year. What has 2008 brought us? Well, while we were all complaining about the lack of quality shows that debuted this season, we may have missed the second-year shows going right down the crapper.
Let's start over at ABC. Three very promising shows premiered last season -- Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone, and Pushing Daisies -- to praise from the critics and buzz from the viewers. Dirty Sexy Money, with the cast that could be someone's fantasy cast, started off strong. There was a mystery, unique and complex characters, and some integrity. With the writer's strike went the integrity and the ratings, and recently, we got the news that no more episodes of Dirty Sexy Money would be ordered.
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