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In Movies & TV Commentary

Conan O'Brien is the top TV story of 2010.

OnMedia: The year in television

No, history doesn't unfold in annual groups of 10. But in a chaotic world, we like to create some sense of order by creating lists, and 10 is a nice round number.

So looking back on the year in television, I came up with 10 stories important enough on their own, or as representative of a trend, to merit a little discussion:

1. Late night wars -- The launch of Conan O'Brien's TBS show last month completed a bizarre little interlude that begin with Jay Leno's prime-time flop and forced return to the job he gave on "The Tonight Show."

Conan's move to cable is a sign of the continuing diffusion of TV viewing to various platforms. He won't have as big an audience as he would have had on broadcast TV. But broadcast TV doesn't have the crowd it used to.

2. The end of "Lost" -- I wasn't part of the "Lost" cult, but its finale at the end of the last TV season was one of those events that brought people together to watch TV in a group. As such events usually go, the audience was divided between whether the ending worked or it didn't.

But like top 10 lists, that's the real point of such finales -- arguing about them.

3. Oprah Winfrey's departure -- She's not gone from broadcast TV until next year, but the queen of daytime television has acted like she's already gone, and her audience has been slipping away.

Her new Oprah Winfrey Network launches next week and it remains to be seen if her audience will migrate over there. It's another example of that whole "diffusion of TV viewing" stuff I talked about in number one.

4. The "death" of the sitcom -- Remember a couple years back when there was the latest talk about how TV sitcoms were a dying genre. Well, there are some fine ones out there, like ABC's "Modern Family," CBS' "Big Bang Theory," and NBC's "30 Rock."

CBS has a new one that's doing well, the improving "Mike and Molly" and Fox's "Raising Hope" is a success. NBC's "Community" has had a strong sophomore season.

So, there.

5. From Twitter to TV -- Not all the sitcoms are great. There's CBS' unpleasant "$#*! My Dad Says," which is notable only as the first show derived from a Twitter feed.

It won't be the last. And, ultimately, may not even be the worst.

6. Simon Cowell's departure -- It's not likely that Fox's "American Idol" will completely tank in the new season that launches next month. But this year's departure of Simon Cowell to host his own "American Idol"-like show on Fox next fall will likely be marked as the end of what may be the last network show to draw audiences as consistently for as long as "Idol."

7. Betty White was everywhere -- The resurgence of 82-year-old Betty White's career peaked in May when she hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

She's not going anywhere in 2011, with her TV Land show, "Hot in Cleveland," coming back for a second season.

8. AMC as the new HBO -- The success of AMC's six-episode zombie drama "The Walking Dead" is only the latest hit for the cable channel, which hosted successful seasons this year of "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."

The failure of the complicated "Rubicon" is a rare misstep by the most creative source of new programs these days.

9. The rise of "Glee" -- I'm still shocked that a scripted musical show actually survived on network TV. But "Glee" is a definite pop-culture force, with its young cast consistently pumping out top-selling cover versions of old songs on iTunes.

Season two of the Fox show has a more adult tone than the first, which has turned away some of the younger viewers (and their parents). But it's big enough to start spawning copycat shows.

10. Larry King's departure -- His audience had shrunk along with CNN's, but the departure this month of Larry King from the 8 p.m. weeknight slot is generational change long overdue.

King's non-combative style never yielded shocking revelations from his guests -- unless they went on the air to make those revelations. But he was able to get guests unwilling to go anywhere else. Who else could host "Dr." Laura Schlessinger and Bill Maher as regulars?

On Milwaukee TV: There were the usual comings and goings of TV news folks this year, but 2010 saw few dramatic developments on Milwaukee television.

A couple things are worth noting, starting with Channel 12 -- dominant in the local news ratings -- did a partial upgrade in its newscasts by broadcasting in widescreen. It's not HD, but it's a step towards the high-definition newscasts on Channels 4 and 6.

Channel 6 launched an hour of local programming at 9 a.m., "Real Milwaukee," in September. The show's already showing ratings growth, which is a good sign for the future of locally produced non-news shows.

As that "diffusion of TV viewing" continues, local stations will need more local programming if they want to give local viewers a reason to watch and, more importantly, local advertisers a reason to spend money.


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