The Year in Pictures

P.T. Barnum used fake science to validate his hoaxes, he pioneered the art of guerilla advertising, and he provided a national venue for the display of clowns. He would have loved 2007. Here are a few reasons why:

The Secret, a flaky movie/book phenomenon that claims the power of positive thinking is actually a mysterious and ancient scientific force known as “the law of attraction” that can cure your diseases and guarantee the best parking spaces, was selling like snake oil as the year began. It was a good thing that those battery-powered Aqua Teen Hunger Force ads that brought Boston to a standstill in January weren’t really bombs, since many of them had been in place in cities across America for weeks without comment or action. Before winter’s end, a dreamy teenager with remarkably versatile hair had become a temporary superstar on the highest-rated television series of the year. That Sanjaya Malakar could have made it to the final seven on American Idol led to a philosophical crisis for many Americans who were forced to confront the very real possibility that maybe the show isn’t all about talent.

As for the usual suspects: the epic of Anna Nicole Smith, the conceptual artist who did for celebrity what Andy Kaufman did for comedy, turned from farce to tragedy. Her death got the wall-to-wall treatment, as did Paris Hilton’s entrance and exit from jail and O.J. Simpson’s book and memorabilia-related arrest. From her haircut to her tendency to drive her car over the feet of people who are trying to take her picture, Britney Spears continued to venture further and further into the famous-for-being-mocked territory that Anna Nicole inhabited until her death.

In another year of breathless pronouncements that old-school TV is dead, Nielsen Media Research [like Adweek, a unit of the Nielsen Co.] revealed that in 2006-07 the average American watched only one minute less television than the year before, and the amount of time a TV set was on in the average American household didn’t change at all. For all the advances of the new technologies, none of them seem to have taken a nibble out of the old one.

Only 3,000 people submitted questions on YouTube for the Democratic presidential debate, only 5,000 for the Republican. This compares to more than 100,000 people (Sanjaya among them) who showed up to audition for the past season of American Idol.

Rosie O’Donnell spoke sternly to Elisabeth Hasselbeck; Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly appeared as guests on each other’s TV shows. Rosie followed in the footsteps of Star Jones and Meredith Vieira and left The View; Colbert followed in the footsteps of Howdy Doody and Pat Paulsen and ran a mock campaign for president. Many thought that, under the circumstances, Colbert’s candidacy wasn’t such a bad idea—or Howdy Doody’s, for that matter.

April was the cruelest month for Don Imus. His time-delayed firing gave him a chance to engage in hours of on-air self-flagellation, an exercise he continued when he returned to radio this month.

Late-night comedians made much of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, Michael Vick, Larry Craig and the outing of Albus Dumbledore. Thanks in large part to Comedy Central, late-night comedy also continued to be an important part of our national civic conversation, and the silencing of these satiric voices, during the presidential primary season no less, is surely the most disturbing result of the writers’ strike.

High School Musical II broke cable viewing records, and Hannah Montana was the hottest concert ticket in town, suggesting that hip ‘n’ wholesome might be the new rock ‘n’ roll. The DVD release of early episodes of Sesame Street, however, was labeled as “intended for grown-ups.” Fortunately, the release of Halo 3 presumably gave the kids something to do while the grown-ups were waxing nostalgic about the good old days when the Cookie Monster could be a monster and eat cookies.

Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize, an Emmy, and the film he was in won a pair of Oscars, all in the same year; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen turned 21.

To wear the trench coat or not to wear the trench coat? That was the question Dan Rather meticulously soliloquized upon during 20 minutes of “found footage” that appeared on YouTube. Katie Couric showed up a little later in a charming but equally narcissistic clip of her own. A surprising appearance by Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live threatened to upstage host Brian Williams. A not-so-surprising endorsement by Oprah Winfrey threatens to upstage candidate Obama. (Winfrey, it should be remembered, dedicated two February episodes of her TV show to the aforementioned The Secret.)

The retirement of Bob Barker and the deaths of Match Game alumni Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly reminded us that we are living in the end times for the daytime network game show. The Maytag Man was resurrected, but Mr. Whipple is no more. Same goes for Mr. Wizard.

The Big Donor Show, a Dutch reality series in which people were to compete for a kidney, caused much hand-wringing and turned out to be a fake. Kid Nation also caused much hand-wringing but turned out to be one of the most family-friendly network shows in prime time. Soft porn got the highbrow treatment on HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, World War II got the Ken Burns treatment on PBS’s The War, and the president just got the treatment on Comedy Central’s Lil’ Bush.

All of the words in the name of the new Fox Business Channel are spelled correctly. The same cannot be said for the new name that Court TV will assume at midnight on New Year’s Eve, truTV.

I don’t know what you’ve got planned for the finale of 2007, but I’m taking a cue from Tony Soprano. I’m going to listen to some Journey and eat onion rings ’til all is darkness and silence.