Parsing Palin, Oprah, 'Idol' and Emmy

Wow, is it really only a year ago since “Avatar” was coming off an unspectacular opening weekend, Conan O’Brien still worked for NBC and nobody yet knew all the names of Tiger Woods’ mistresses? How time flies.

December’s closing gasp inevitably produces a parade of year-end lists — particularly among critics — offering the opportunity to provide additional strokes to that which delighted us and final slaps at that which didn’t. The only equally reliable rituals around this time are resolutions about losing weight, which tend to be equally productive.

Looking back, however, is for amateurs. With the entire media landscape seemingly on amphetamines and racing toward an uncertain future, the real challenge lies in glancing ahead to predict what excitement and horrors the entertainment world holds in 2011. Let’s see, where’s that old crystal ball….

• CBS will launch a spinoff of its daytime show about motherhood, “The Talk,” featuring the toddlers of celebrities. Working title: “The Ba-baba-ba-ba.”

• Eager for attention after strong initial ratings begin sagging, all the judges on the new-look “American Idol” will be accused of sleeping with contestants.

• Sarah Palin will host a reality show set in Iowa. She will then lambaste the “lamestream media” for suggesting the location might have something to do with her political ambitions.

• Faced with declining ratings, CNN will create an entirely new metric to measure its success against Fox News Channel, running full-page ads that read, “Fewer of our viewers fall asleep in front of the TV.”

• Some time this summer, somebody will write a story about the disappointing ratings for the Oprah Winfrey Network, reminding us that do-gooder TV is a tough formula. Around the same time, a random woman who once idolized Winfrey will experience a belated epiphany, realizing that sitting on the couch watching her and eating isn’t really a prescription to “live your best life.”

• The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline and the Wrap will merge into a single online entity. Leadership of the combined venture will be settled by a pay-per-view cage match.

• Disgruntled Fox News staffers will leak more memos revealing how management pressures them to parrot Republican talking points, and nobody except liberal blogs will be the least bit excited or surprised.

• Amid the requisite grousing, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will sign a deal in which the Emmys continue to rotate among the major networks, which will once again demand that TV movies and miniseries be either booted from the main ceremony or seriously downplayed.

• Dr. Laura Schlessinger will say something stupid, irritating and ill-informed, but with her new show exiled to satellite radio, no one will notice.

• Investigation Discovery will air programming featuring prostitutes, priests and pawn brokers — hopefully not all in the same hour.

• Kathy Griffin will say something outlandish while emceeing CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage with an uncomfortable-looking Anderson Cooper. This will prompt an immediate apology from the network, which will wait a few months before designating her as Eliot Spitzer’s new co-host.

• The “Glee” cast and their agents will go caroling at Fox, singing several choruses of the time-honored classic, “Give us more of that damn merchandising money, Rupert.” Raises will follow, albeit after the obligatory threats to replace everyone with “American Idol” finalists.

• With Charlie Sheen having run out of places to abandon cars, I will awaken one morning to find helicopters circling my house and the “Two and a Half Men” star asleep behind the steering wheel in my driveway, wearing only a hotel bathrobe.

• No matter how many times I joke about it, somebody will earnestly approach me at a movie screening or industry event and say, “I really enjoy your books, Mr. Maltin.”

• New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley will write something that makes most of her journalistic brethren collectively go, “Huh?”

• Major news organizations will squander precious resources that ought to be put to better use chasing salacious items posted on TMZ.

OK, those last few are pretty safe guesses, but in unpredictable times, it’s nice to know you’ll be right about something.

brian.lowry@variety.com

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