Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Top 10 TV Moments Of 2008

Top 10 TV Moments Of 2008

By Tom Rose

The year 2008 will go down in history for having more than its share of memorable moments, but a few stand out so significantly that this year may be recalled as the most eventful since the new millenium got its start with the joy of a defeated Y2K bug and the sorrow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Both events left their mark in 2008. Personal computing and the World Wide Web became even more user friendly, finally reaching the long-dreamed potential for easily produced, more easily shared video content, with YouTube leading the revolution. And The War On Terror saw its leader, George W. Bush preparing to relinquish his vision of a safer world into the hands of a man with a decidely shorter timeline for a final resolution.

And TV was there for it all. Even without television's role in, and responsiblity for, reporting earth shaking events, there were plenty of significant moments that rocked the TV world itself. None left their mark deeper than the end of the Writers strike in February. After-shocks are still being felt as new shows were rushed to the screen without benefit of a pilot, prime-time scheduling became harder to follow than the shaky stock market and droves of viewers flocked to content they had expressed little interest for in the past.

Cable TV was the clear winner in the 2008 battle for ratings, and it was reflected in the revolution that swept its way through the Prime Time Emmy Awards, with breakthrough shows like Mad Men reaping the benefits and a jump in popularity for "unscripted" Reality TV.

Still, the networks tried valiantly to strike a blow against the barbarians at the gate with new life being breathed into old favorites. Saturday Night Live has never been more popular in its 33 year history, largely due to the turbulently historic presidential election and the rise of Sarah Palin/Tina Fey. And shows like CSI, The Office and 30 Rock more than held their ground with heartstopping, cliffhanging season finales, sweet romance and memorable turns by old and new TV guest stars.

In the end, TV did the job it does best in this or any year: opening all our eyes to the vastness of the wide world and the significance of a single beating heart. And we were watching. From the highest highs, to the lowest lows, we kept score for you.

And so I present The Top 10 TV Moments Of 2008:

10. 90210

If the new millennium on TV is defined by the migration to the Internet and the new found popularity for reality, the '90s can be recalled for the Teen TV revolution and the emergence of the "coveted 18-49 demographic."

And no other show exemplified the trend towards youthful domination of the airwaves than did Beverly Hills, 90210. Debuting in the doldrums of dead-zone summer in 1990, by series' end in 2000, BH blazed a trail that is still burning out in the wilderness, and spinning off brushfires like 90210 and the rumored Melrose.

And it all started with a good old-fashioned feud, acted out on and off the set between the series' two biggest stars, Jennie Garth (Kelly Taylor) and Shannen Doherty (Brenda Walsh) as they battled at the top of the teen cultural revolution. Fueled by petty jealousies, both real and imagined, and a mystifying arrogance on the part of Doherty that ultimately led to her suddenly leaving the show in 1994, the intervening years since were filled with rumors of undying hatred, and ultimately, never ending respect for each other.

That's why the news of their on-screen reunion in 2008 led to so much anticipation and unusually high ratings for the debut of yet another spin-off, the new series 90210. Unfortunately, much like the original, the new incarnation is falling victim to its own bloated self-indulgence, barely registering a blip on the radar screen after the tepid, even dull moment finally came to pass. Proving yet again "you can never go home."

And having the most desirable zip code on the planet is no guarantee.

9. American Idol

The rags-to-riches Pop Star machine American Idol has seen it's share of controversies over its seven seasons so far, so it's natural to assume that Simon Cowell would be at the center of most of them. But as it turns out, the sweet-natured, positive re-enforcer Paula Abdul has actually caused the most trouble for the image conscious franchise. Viewers can put up with Cowell's tart tongue, since he generally gets it right. But cheating? Never.

The first serious incident occurred in 2005 when Corey Clark claimed he had a romance with the cheerleading judge while a contestant on the show and her influence pushed him through much further than he had a right to go. Viewers never really made up their minds as to whether or not the story was true, and Paula denied it, mostly. But Corey never really had a chance at making the finals anyway and the whole thing eventually blew over, chalked up as a plot by an opportunistic schemer taking advantage of his new found fame. Still, doubts lingered.

So when, in April, the singer became embroiled in a different kind of scandal, fans were not so quick to dismiss the idea that funny things may be going on behind the scenes. When Abdul flubbed her judging of Jason Castro, critiquing two songs when he'd only sung one, it seemed like just another one of Paula's (increasingly) hare-brained moments. But when she, and the producers, later tried to explain that her confusion was caused by seeing an earlier rehearsal of the show, a firestorm erupted over the internet, calling into question whether or not the contest was rigged. How can a judge be objective if they already know the score? As it turned out, it didn't really matter. The final came down to the two Davids and the best man won.

Poor Jason Castro. Maybe he should've flirted more.

8. America's Next Top Model

Teenage girls, young ladies, and a heaping helping of reluctant boyfriends, husbands and "significant others" tuned in to the ANTM final in May when Whitney Thompson won the chance to become America's Next Top Model. What made the win so significant was the fact that she had beaten out the other girls despite being a non-stereotypical, plus-sized woman. Or, as Tyra Banks called her, a "full-figured" girl.

But Whitney proved to be the right choice, reigning with a poise, dignity and down to earth beauty that more than compensated for her lack of the classic glam qualities found on every newsstand magazine cover. Indeed, her win signified hope for women of all types that they too, someday might dare to dream of wearing the ANTM crown. It didn't take long for the next untraditional hopeful to take her best shot.

In August, Isis Tsunami won a spot on the new season and caused a sensation when it was revealed that "she" was technically a "he" and the world would have to prepare itself for the possibility that America's NEXT Top Model might just be a pre-op transsexual.

While Tyra Banks' sincere wish that we all just get along was a noble one, to say the least, Isis Tsunami washed out of the contest pretty quickly. The world will have to wait a little longer for the next taboo to be broken on national television.

Beauty is still only skin deep, with or without the scalpel.

7. The Office

With all the news of recession, out of touch CEOs and the collapsing stock market, it's nice to know that a simple love story about a couple from Scranton, PA could rivet TV audiences in 2008.

When season 5 of The Office premiered in September, we knew that Pam (Jenna Fischer) had finally gotten through to Jim (John Krasinski) and, despite the many setbacks in their flirtatious relationship, and the missed chances at happiness, the time was ripe for consumation.

So when Jim has a moment of clarity and rushes to be at Pam's side at all costs, this time for good, it doesn't matter to him that a raging thunderstorm is passing through at the very same moment. When he finds his love, by chance, just as she's about to pull away from a gas station on the first leg of a trip that will carry her away, maybe forever, he kneels at her feet and begs for her hand. She accepts. And they kiss. In the pouring rain.

Sweet. Simple. Timeless.

6. The Jimmy Kimmel Show

Recently rumors that America's Sweethearts, Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel, had broken up were confirmed. But soon after, we all breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced they had reconciled. There are many reasons why we love the pair together. They seem like the perfect match. And for 5 years, nothing could break them apart. Then along came Matt Damon.

It's a running joke on the Jimmy Kimmel Show that Matt Damon is bumped every night. But when Sarah appeared on Kimmel in January to promote a new music video, the perennially neglected guest got his revenge. The video turned out to be the only way Sarah Silverman could admit her heartbreaking secret.

"I'm F*ing Matt Damon" became an instant YouTube sensation, virally reproducing on millions of PC screens. And after Jimmy Kimmel got over his initial shock, he recovered enough to enlist the only man who could exact a measure of justice. If possible, "I'm F*ing Ben Affleck" became an even bigger viral hit. Together they took over the online video universe in 2008.

It's great that Sarah and Jimmy are back together. They're due for a seven year itch in 2010.

5. Saturday Night Live

Once in every decade, a TV comedian emerges from the wings to take center stage and become the iconic figure who defines that span of years. By combining tremendous talent, perfect timing and lots of luck, the moment comes along when all other pretenders fall away.

The '70s had Caroll O'Connor, the '80s Bill Cosby and the '90s Jerry Seinfeld. Although the end of 2010 is still two years off, a case can be made that the face of this decade is Tina Fey. And 2008 is the reason why.

If talent, timing and luck are the signs written in the stars, then when a little known Governor from the state of Alaska was nominated for the Vice-Presidency, all the planets aligned in Tina Fey's favor. She has the talent for perfect mimicry along with a brilliant comedic sense, the timing to be on two of the hottest shows on TV (SNL and 30 Rock), and the great luck to be a double-taking lookalike for Sarah Palin.

The video says it all. Voting starts in 2011.

4. The Miss Universe Pageant

In 2007, during the sink or swim evening wear competition at the Miss Universe Pageant, Miss USA Rachel Smith took a step out of the wings for her statuesque, elegant promenade across the runway and promptly fell on her lovely derriere.

For the ladies who've toiled tirelessly all their young lives toward the crown that is every little girl's dream, this moment is the most important of all. Sure, the swimsuit competition leaves the most lasting impression. But Miss Universe rarely appears in a bikini. Rather, she is nearly permanently ensconced in a glittering evening gown. So Miss Universe better know how to walk the walk.

As humiliating as the incident was, it passed. After all, it had to happen sometime. But when the moment of truth came again this year, all eyes were trained upon the new Miss USA, Crystle Stewart of Texas. And whether we admitted it or not, there was one nagging thought lurking in the back of every mind: would it happen again?

Well, the rest as they say is history. The video clip tells it all. No words could possibly describe the anguish she must have felt. But in typical Miss USA fashion, Crystle Stewart gathered herself up, smiled bravely, and cheerfully waved to the adoring crowd.

Falling down never looked so good.

3. Battlestar Galactica

After years of false hope, broken dreams, endless intrigue and mostly pointless death, the last survivors of the 12 Colonies have nearly wiped out their Cylon enemies and within their grasp is the fabled, elusive myth: Mother Earth.

Thanks to a lucky accident (or was it fate?) Captain Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) realizes the missing coordinates they have been seeking all along are locked within her Viper's computer. And although Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) fears a trap, he bows to diplomacy and consents to a return with the last of his deadly enemies in tow.

Appearing instantly outside the window is the big blue marble, swathed in its protective atmosphere, cradling the future dream of re-colonization. But when their ships finally touch down on sacred ground, and they walk the soil of their ancestral home, there is nothing left but desolation and despair. All life has been wiped out and the dream is dead as well.

At least until January 16, when Part 2 of season 4 resumes.

2. Lost

In a season, indeed an entire series filled with exciting twists, and great, mystifying story arcs, no character stood out more prominently on "Lost" than Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) the former monastery drop-out who met the love of his life, Penny Widmore (Sonya Walger) at his lowest moment. For the soul mates at that time, there was no hint of the trouble to come, or the wasted years that would pass between them when they later parted over, as it turned out, rather inconsequential problems.

When Desmond's saga neared its end, and the true reason for his presence on the island was revealed, only his newly acquired powers over time and space would turn the tide against universal destruction because of the one "constant" in his life... Penny's true love.

And true love prevailed, thanks to the unexpected phone call Penny received from Desmond, years after she'd lost all hope, and imploring her to save him again. Despite the doubts and the absurdity of it all, she came to rescue her beloved. When the humble raft littered with the exhausted survivors from the island is lifted from the sea and the lovers reunite, this time forever, the old saying gained new meaning.

"All is right with the world."

1. The Presidential Election

As in every year, 2008 was filled with important, history making events. But perhaps none other summed up the magic of this year better than the moment in February when Oprah Winfrey intoduced Barack Obama to the crowd rallying for the Iowa caucus. A poor child, raised by a single mom (at a time when the term had not even been invented yet) goes on to worldwide fame, standing next to a relatively unknown fellow African-American who, at that moment, had no way of being sure he could achieve the impossible dream he had set for himself.

But he had the right words. "Me being here is so unlikely. Just like Oprah being where she is. The odds are so small."

And on the night when the dream became reality, when the odds were soundly beaten, President-elect Barack Obama had the right words once again. "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

2008 proved that TV is more vibrant, compelling - and controversial - than ever before in its 60-year history. And all the signs point to the trend continuing in 2009.

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