Let’s end the year with a look at standout performances. First up: AMC.
While established dramas Mad Men and Breaking Bad continued to rack up awards (including Mad Men’s third consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Drama), recent entry The Walking Dead posted record ratings (just under 6 million total viewers for the season finale).
Debuting the series—which also brought AMC younger demos that it never attracted before— on Halloween was arguably the smartest programming move of the season.
Also on cable, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Mallick, Jane Leeves and Betty White on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland proved to the best female ensemble cast since The Golden Girls.
TBS, meanwhile, deserves recognition for bringing Conan O’Brien to cable’s late night. The big three nets are no longer the only places to go for talk after hours. USA continues to find success with all of its original dramas—Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, In Plain Sight, Psych, Royal Pains and White Collar—by sticking to a familiar formula that works. Rivals on both cable and broadcast should take note: why deviate from the norm when you know the traditional audience will tune in?
HBO’s freshman drama Boardwalk Empire worked for the premium net by recreating the Prohibition era, via spectacular cinematography, meticulous period costumes and a polished cast led by Steve Buscemi. Also on HBO is ongoing half-hour In Treatment, a weekly therapy session with Gabriel Byrne that is so painfully real you may just have to seek out your own therapist after watching.
As for the broadcast networks, CBS took a huge risk and moved three-year-old The Big Bang Theory into the Thursday 8 p.m. hour, which has not housed a fall sitcom since Gilligan’s Island aired there in 1965. However, the shift worked, and TBBT is still a top 10-rated option, winning the half hour with ease.
While not its best season creatively, CBS was wise to move its ratings Methuselah Survivor into the Wednesday 8 p.m. anchor spot. And I also really enjoy recent entry Mike & Molly out of Two and a Half Men on Monday. There is nothing wrong with a straight-up family-focused sitcom.
At ABC, Emmy-winning Modern Family remains the best comedy on the air today, and after a spell in the wilderness, the net’s Cougar Town seems to have found its creative groove. However, I still don’t get the fan hysteria surrounding Fox’s Glee (or, for that matter, why the Emmys consider it a comedy).
Not as intense as the aforementioned Boardwalk Empire and In Treatment, but no less significant, are two dramas on CBS: The Good Wife and Blue Bloods, which deftly combine the thematic elements of crime with relationship. And you have to at least give ABC credit for trying something different with mid-level-rated Michael Chiklis drama No Ordinary Family.
Fox also attempted to break the mold with drama Lone Star, the story of a Texas grifter struggling with his conscience while juggling schemes, as well as two wives. The show seemed to have a lot of promise, and Fox promoted the hell out of it. But viewers showed no interest, and the ax swung after just two episodes. One entry in daytime, meanwhile, that must be mentioned is departing Oprah from CBS Television Distribution, which seems to top itself each day with a run of must-see themes and guest stars.
Sadly, and finally, we bid adieu to ABC’s Lost last spring. And, to be honest, I have no idea what really happened. But this unprecedented six-season dramatic roller coaster will live on forever online thanks to the die-hard fan base, and the network should be commended for trying something unique.
While there were more overall misses than hits this year as usual, the year 2011 will begin on a positive note thanks to a few gems in 2010. Here is to the next generation of hits.
Happy New Year.