It was a strange and shape-shifting year for television -- the screen went flat, in more ways the one. The writers strike ended, but not before disemboweling the Golden Globes, throwing late night into an uproar and scattering way too many “Law & Order” reruns around the grid. And although the settlement was good news for those out of work, for viewers the nightmare was just beginning.
Many of the weaker new shows were given the cost-containment ax, while others, including “Chuck” and “Pushing Daisies,” retreated in the hopes of a fall relaunch. Because its format demands an entire season, “24" decided to just start over again next month, while “Big Love” vanished entirely, which is a crime against man and nature (it’s back in January also). The spring was a weird mishmash of new and old, with networks touting “a brand-new episode” of old favorites as if they had landed the Super Bowl. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Summer brought us the Olympics in Beijing, where commentators hacked through weeks of life in a non- EPA world, Michael Phelps seemed to win every medal but the javelin throw and Matt Lauer simply refused to wear socks.
The presidential primaries and conventions brought new meaning to the term “partisan politics.” MSNBC “liberated” Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann to wage a war of political blather with Bill O’Reilly and the conservatives at Fox News. Viewers lost, 2-0.
Still, there were bright spots amid the chaos, and it’s worth making a list just to remind ourselves of them. (EPA)
I am going to beat the drum for Rand Ravich’s show -- about a cop wrongfully convicted of murder who is now, Zen-like, stalking his adversaries -- until it becomes a hit or is canceled. And since it was recently moved from the dead air of Friday night to the balmier climes of Wednesday, I’ll take the former. Stars Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi are the hottest cop duo since ... well, ever. Throw them some magazine covers already.
Watch the video review here.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
This five-day-a-week series stars Gabriel Byrne as a wise but troubled therapist -- each day is a new patient, and on the fifth day he sees his own therapist, who is played, because there is a God, by Dianne Wiest. It is dark and funny and altogether wonderful. HBO renewed it despite its dismal ratings, and for this reason alone I will never stop subscribing. (HBO)
Especially Jimmy Smits. The show about a serial killer turns out to be the smartest, most human story on TV. This season followed Dexter ( Michael C. Hall) as he tried to find a friend in crime (Smits). Fabulous.
The role of modern-day mad scientist could so easily have been a disaster, but “Fringe” writers and the masterful John Noble have conspired to create a character that seems, as trite as it sounds, more Shakespearean than sci-fi. (Robert Caplin / For the Times)
Watching him figure out what worked -- an image of calm, a rejection of hysteria -- and what didn’t -- self-esteem that bordered on smugness, attempts at humor (“You’re likable enough, Hillary”) -- was a study in American politicking that will no doubt be used by generations. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)
Not only was this its best season ever, but its writers also proved you can take a big, fat, slippery mess of a show and turn it back into a must-watch-in-real-time hit. Now if they could share their secret with “Heroes.”(ABC)
Proof to every schoolchild that it is important to learn all that boring stuff in social studies because if you wait ‘til you’re unexpectedly nominated to run as vice president it may be too late to cram. (AP)
‘Bernard and Doris’ (HBO)
A movie starring Susan Sarandon as Doris Duke and Ralph Fiennes as her alcoholic butler. It didn’t get an Emmy, but the film is so good that in a just world, it would be eligible for Oscars. (HBO)
And now for the worst ...
‘Rosie Live’ (NBC)
Possibly the worst hour on TV that did not involve a horrific news event. Dancing food, lame jokes, Rosie in curls and lipstick -- it’s too painful to revisit. A clear-thinking cameraman should have just set fire to the stage. (Virginia Sherwood / NBC)
The firing of Brooke Smith, the regeneration of a sexually active Denny, the horrible addition of mad cutter Sadie, the strange ever-shifting sexuality of Callie -- given half a chance, the writers room inevitably chooses sophomoric silliness over character and plot. (ABC)
Her inability to conduct herself in television interviews would have been amusing, except that she was the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party, lifting her into the realms of national tragedy.
McNamara is a Times Staff writer.(Associated Press)