Top 10 TV and media stories of 2010, Part 1: The war for control of your TV screen
As we count down the final days of 2010, there is a war under way behind the brittle glass of your TV screen. And 2010 may go down in history as the year the tide turned for good.
On one side stand those who always have provided your TV entertainment, serving up historically high-quality products. From HBO's ambitious mob-centered period piece Boardwalk Empire to ABC's rollicking family comedy Modern Family, the choicest bits of today's television are as good as we've ever seen.
And on the other side, stands you. Backed by 500 million of your closest Twitter peeps and Facebooking pals, you have wrenched increasing control of big media from the professionals who make it, redefining everything from celebrity and art to journalism and politics in the process.
This may be the biggest media story of the year, the moment that the people who consume television became at least as important to the future of the medium as those who build it.
In that spirit, here's he first half of my list tabulating the most important turning points for TV and media in 2010. Beyond a roster of the best stuff on TV, this tally recounts the moments when media moved the world, often nudged along by your power.
10. The rise of the millionaire reality TV star
Remember when networks used to brag that reality TV shows were great for business because the stars worked cheap? A decade later, knuckleheads known mostly for sex tapes and tight abs can rack up multimillion-dollar paydays (yes, The Situation's reputed $5 million salary is more than 12 times what President Barack Obama earns). Forget about 15 minutes of fame; these days, everybody has an hourlong episode of Intervention or Biggest Loser in them.
9. High-end TV soars
TV's flood of ambitious, morally ambiguous series brought new hope to actors left out of a film industry focused on the latest robot movie and rom-com. No wonder character actor supreme Steve Buscemi, whose face resembles a pinched nerve, offers the work of his career in HBO's lush period mob drama Boardwalk Empire. Ditto with Laura Linney in Showtime's The Big C, Jon Hamm in AMC's Mad Men, Glenn Close in FX's Damages and more. Anybody who still says there's nothing good on TV just isn't paying attention, or doesn't have cable.
8. War of the TV-bred political rallies
Once upon a time, politicians created the biggest political rallies. But Fox News Channel conservative firebrand Glenn Beck filled the National Mall in Washington with a rally originally intended as an attack on progressives, later morphed into a religion-filled platform for platitudes on restoring America's honor. Comedy Central host Jon Stewart responded with a joke-filled Washington event that drew twice as many people, turned by its own fans into a plaintive cry for liberal inclusiveness. Judging by the GOP's midterm election victories, not many were listening.
7. Fall of Tiger and Favre sparks rise of sports gossip
We now know the price for a star quarterback's head; snarky sports blog Deadspin admitted paying $12,000 for voice mails reportedly from married QB Brett Favre to a pretty sideline TV personality in 2008, along with texted photos of a naked man's naughty bits. Paired with the voracious coverage of superstar golfer Tiger Woods' stunning amounts of infidelity, TMZ and Deadspin pioneered a new level of dirt-digging for blog hits and bragging rights. Looks like John Madden got out of the sports media game just in time.
6. NPR makes Juan Williams a conservative martyr
NPR probably expected praise for severing ties with news analyst Juan Williams after he told Fox News Channel about fearing people in "Muslim garb" on airplanes. But Williams was ready, scoring a new multimillion-dollar deal with Fox News that turned the worst-handled firing of the year into an attack on the radio news outlet's impartiality and funding. NPR forgot the first rule of today's news media: Everything is political.
PART II COMES TOMORROW