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TV’s fireworks and flameouts of ’08

A look at the year's televisual lowlights

The TV biz entered 2008 in the throes of a major industry strike — and ended the year with the threat of another.

In between, the biz also contended with much more chaos, from ratings dips and program lawsuits, to Rosie O’Donnell’s variety special. It was a treacherous year for TV — well, at least for the broadcasters — and 2009 may be even more brutal, as the biz contends with a weak ad market, a potential SAG strike and fallout from NBC’s primetime Jay Leno strip.

But whether it was Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, CNN’s Election Night holograms, NBC’s inexplicable decision to dust off “Knight Rider” or the constant stream of injuries from “Dancing With the Stars” contestants, at least 2008 was memorable.

A few more of the year’s lowlights :

  •  Network of the year: NBC kept the industry’s acid tongues wagging from January to December. When they weren’t gossiping about whether Ben Silverman would remain in the building, industry players were shooting down the Peacock’s decision to pick up series sans pilots. (How’d that work out, “My Own Worst Enemy?”)

    The net’s ballyhooed “NBC Experience” replaced its May upfront presentation, but got low marks as attendees wondered whether it made much of a difference in sales; then came a rough fall perf, which led to the decision to get out of the scripted game at 10 p.m. in 2009.

    Even the net’s brightest moment of the year — the hugely successful Beijing Olympics — wasn’t without controversy, given the faked fireworks (and cute girl/less cute girl switcheroo) of the Opening Ceremony.

    NBC topped off the year by axing a chunk of its top programming execs in a massive restructure — a day after Silverman was photographed hitting the slopes at the Deer Valley Celebrity Skifest.

  • Most in need of a history lesson: MRC, which attempted an entire night of programming on the CW, despite warnings that the upstart was attempting to do too much too soon on TV (shades of ATG’s earlier flameout).

    When the advertising marketplace collapsed, MRC wasn’t able to sell its Sunday primetime block. More insulting, “Valentine’s” fan(s?) failed to ignite any sort of “save our show” campaign.

  •  Most overdue cancellation: MTV’s “TRL” — a show that had long outlived its prime, a relic of the channel’s music past and a contrast to its current reliance on “The Hills” and its ilk. Speaking of “TRL” …

  •  Most ignored host: NBC didn’t exactly give a resounding vote of confidence to “Last Call” host (and former “TRL” star) Carson Daly when it announced the primetime Leno show. “The network will be home to three of the biggest names in TV: Jay, Conan and Jimmy,” NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chair Marc Graboff said in the release.

  •  Biggest “Oops, Never Mind”: The CW announced plans to develop “The Greysons,” based on the early, pre-Batman years of the Caped Crusader’s sidekick, Robin. When “The Dark Knight” helmer Christopher Nolan expressed alarm, Warner Bros. turned around and killed the project.

  •  Top “I thought we’d get away with it” moment: The Weinstein Co. sold “Project Runway” to Lifetime — while leading NBC U to believe it was in negotiations to keep the hit reality competish at the Peacock conglom. The move led to lawsuits and countersuits, as well as an injunction preventing Lifetime from airing the show’s next season, at least for now.

    Apparently Tim Gunn’s admonishment to “make it work” wasn’t heeded.

  •  Tackiest press releases: Tribune has filed for bankruptcy protection and appears to be in a state of chaos, but you wouldn’t know it from the company’s goofy announcements. A December release touting Ed Wilson’s promotion joked that he was working a second job at Starbucks. Company reached its low point in June, when a release touting Interactive sales exec Kim Johnson gagged that her resume included a stint at “Knockers — The Place for Hot Racks and Cold Brews.”

    Of course, Tribune is the same company whose innovation editor was stunned to learn that the company’s newspaper employs reporters overseas in such locales as Baghdad.

  •  “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl took her name out of Emmy consideration, complaining that her character hadn’t been given enough to do last season. Producers attempted to remedy that situation … by giving Heigl a storyline in which she was paired romantically with a ghost. Or a figment of her imagination.

  •  Biggest “High School With Money” moment: The Hollywood Radio and TV Society was forced to cancel its annual network presidents luncheon after NBC refused to put Silverman or Graboff on the panel — and other network chieftains refused to show up unless Silverman was there.

  •  Sharpest nail in the coffin of the awards show: The TV Academy’s decision to enlist five reality show hosts to emcee the Emmys probably should’ve killed that kudofest once and for all. 

    And that, perhaps, may be the best news of the year. If it happens, all is forgiven, Probst and Seacrest.

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