Boxing gifts 

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible ... who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time ... who still questions the power of our democracy ... tonight is your answer."

And if anyone questioned the power of television to still deliver amazing images and skin-tingling moments, 2008 provided dramatic evidence. On a chilly night in November, before more than 125,000 enthusiastic supporters in Chicago's Grant Park and millions of TV viewers around the world, Barack Hussein Obama spoke the words above in accepting the 44th presidency of the United States and changed the course of history forever.

In a year that began with a messy writers' strike and ended with the announcement of Jay Leno taking over NBC's 10 p.m. prime-time block, our presidential election and its spinoff developments — the contentious debates, Sarah Palin on SNL, Katie Couric's questions, the anointing of Tina Fey as the coolest woman in America — kept television fascinating and newsworthy throughout '08. That's a good thing because, as seems to be the case in most years, it feels like TV lost (The Wire, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, Boston Legal) more than it gained (The Mentalist, Fringe).

I can't recount all TV's triumphs and tribulations in a single Metro Times article — hey, I'm only one man! — but like Bernie Smilovitz likes to say, we've got highlights.

•  University of Michigan stud-ent Michael Phelps kept America waterlogged and sleep deprived for a solid week in his quest for eight gold medals during the best Olympic Games in memory. NBC's coverage was phenomenal. And how many swimmers get to guest host Saturday Night Live?

•  After the 100-day writers' strike clunked to a resolution, CBS raced to restore its full primetime lineup with new episodes while the competition postponed the return of many shows for months. The result? Double-digit audience losses at FOX, NBC and the CW, the death of promising ABC sophomore series like Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money and Eli Stone, and the unquestioned dominance of CBS as America's No. 1 network.

•  TV execs steal programming ideas from around the world, with largely disastrous results. The Ex List (an Israel original) was quickly yanked by CBS, NBC's Kath & Kim (from Australia) is dreadful, and Worst Week, Eleventh Hour and Life on Mars (all from the UK) are holding their own at best. You know, they can't all be The Office.

•  Some guy named David was a lock to win the 2008 American Idol finals. But when it was the slow-but-steady underdog Cook and not the angelic Archuleta, a nation was stunned. And the reaction of one basement full of preteen female fanatics became an instant YouTube classic.

•  Other long shots rule: The Giants upset the unbeatable Patriots in Super Bowl LXII and a regal beagle named Uno wins Best of Show at Westminster.

•  Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), President-elect Obama's favorite character on The Wire, is murdered in the acclaimed series' final episode. Must be true what they say: Smoking will kill you.

•  Hosts from five TV reality series are recruited to co-host the Emmy Awards. Hello, those shows aren't scripted, remember? Reality blows. Does the genius who came up with that idea still have a job?

•  Who woulda thunk a seven-hour miniseries about the president who followed George Washington could be so compelling? HBO's John Adams, based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, was a revelation — or is that a revolution? — featuring incredible ensemble performances by Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin and David Morse as Daddy George.

•  Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) confesses to everything but kidnapping the Lindbergh baby after gaining immunity in the final two episodes of FX's The Shield.

• The debut of True Blood, a frighteningly addictive vampire drama, reinvigorates HBO's original lineup while taking a bite out of Twilight.

•  Bryan Cranston — yes, Bryan Cranston, one-time Malcolm in the Middle daddy — wins a Best Actor Emmy for his starring role in AMC's Breaking Bad. And he deserved it.

•  Mad Men, AMC's singularly remarkable period drama, ushers in a whole new incestuous relationship between TV and advertising agencies. Watch for a new agency-based hour, TNT's Trust Me, in early 2009.

•  Wanda Sykes marries Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The New Adventures of Old Christine, then comes out in real life, revealing that she's gay. We've heard of art imitating life, but hokey pete!

•  Laurence Fishburne joins the cast of TV's top-rated series, CSI, as William Petersen's replacement. Didn't see that one coming, any more than Gary Dourdan dying in Grissom's arms or Jorja Fox resigning the show.

•  Oprah guest stars on 30 Rock, and she's funny! Who knew?

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to

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