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TV/media critic's crystal ball: Moments to look forward to in 2011

Looking back with a bit of year-end hindsight, 2010 feels like the year of almost.

Google TV almost redefined the link between television and the Internet . . . until it turned into just another clunky misstep. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien almost redefined the network TV business . . . until NBC finally realized it might not be a great programming strategy to tell the world you're selling them a cheaply made product at 10 p.m. just to keep an aging star.

And we almost climbed out of our crushing recession this summer . . . until we didn't.

Which means that 2011 is bound to be the year we actually close the deal, the moment when all these things that felt on the precipice of reality last year finally come to pass.

In that spirit, here's one last list: my roster of memorable media moments yet to come this year.

1. 'American Idol' lives or dies

One year past its most disappointing season in years, TV's highest-rated series returns without its biggest star and with untested new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. With ripoffs and challengers salivating in the wings, Idol faces a do-or-die season starting Jan. 17. It will either soar to new heights or go down in a pile of lackluster singers and awkward judging moments. Either way, we'll be watching.

2. The 'Friends' return to TV

More alums from NBC's blockbuster sitcom Friends will return to the small screen this winter than ever before: Matt LeBlanc will appear in Showtime's Episodes; Matthew Perry will star in a comedy he co-created for ABC dubbed Mr. Sunshine; Lisa Kudrow is behind the camera producing NBC's unscripted celebrity genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?; and Courteney Cox lights up ABC's Cougar Town. Makes you wonder why Ross and Rachel don't at least have a development deal at Fox or something.

3. Comcast seals the NBC-Universal deal

With support from civil rights groups they, um, encouraged with key diversity initiatives, cable giant Comcast seems a lock to win approval for buying a controlling interest in NBC-Universal. But after deposing the man who singlehandedly destroyed the network's prime time, Jeff Zucker, what can they do for an encore? Turn NBC into a cable-only network? Merge Versus and NBC Sports into a rival to ESPN? Make every Peacock Network series an on-demand title for Comcast subscribers? The only sure bet: They probably didn't buy the network to do nothing.

4. CNN enlists Piers Morgan to find success beyond partisan cable news

Tabloid-news-king-turned-reality-TV-judge Piers Morgan tries proving there's life beyond red state/blue state politics Jan. 17, when his interview show debuts where Larry King held court for 25 years. CNN bet heavily that he and disgraced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer could turn around their channel in prime time. But the guy who made that bet, CNN U.S. president Jon Klein, has already been ousted, and Spitzer's ratings are sinking faster than the Gosselin kids' chances of avoiding extensive therapy. Who knew the future of objective TV news would depend on the guy who keeps insulting Sharon Osbourne on America's Got Talent?

5. 'Modern Family' clones finally arrive

Since TV is the sincerest form of imitation, you knew it wouldn't be long before the knockoffs of television's most lauded new comedy began filling schedules. So when you watch the three sets of couples bouncing off each other in ABC's Happy Endings, NBC's Perfect Couples and Fox's Mixed Signals, bear in mind that nothing says "I love your work" in Hollywood like an attempt to rip it off.

Mini TiVo and Ti-NO

Southland, debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT: As Regina King's L.A. police detective unravels the mystery of a woman raped and murdered in an office building, and Michael Cudlitz's acerbic training officer overcomes his crippling back pain long enough to save an officer in a shootout, you find yourself awfully glad TNT rescued this series from NBC's boneheaded short-sightedness. TiVo.

V, returns at 9 p.m Tuesday on WFTS-Ch. 28: ABC keeps promising that this sci-fi series will get better. But as the new Tron movie is literally jumping off the screen in 3-D, this well-meaning invasion movie comes back for its do-or-die second season with the villainess from the original '80s miniseries as — wait for it — a lady stuck in an alien basement for 15 years. Seriously? Ti-No, unless you're such a fanboy that skipping is just not an option.

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TV/media critic's crystal ball: Moments to look forward to in 2011 01/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 3:30am]

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