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2006 Year in Review: TV Makes a Comeback

This has been a banner year for TV, with 2006 reinvigorating the medium in ways we didn’t think possible. While our favorites shows come and go, this year’s quality programming from the cablers and major networks seems to have made a difference. Hollywood.com has compiled a list of 10 Top reasons why TV has kept our butts on the couch in 2006:

1. Cablers steps up the game: In 2006, we had HBO’s The Sopranos, Deadwood, Elizabeth I and Entourage; Showtime’s Weeds; the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica; Bravo’s Project Runway; USA’s The 4400; TNT’s The Closer; Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor—and so much more from the bevy of cablers. These guys just keep upping the ante, producing stellar entertainment—and giving the major networks a run for their money. Pay cablers have a slight advantage to edgier stuff, but any show in which an uncle can give a two-minute dissertation on the art of masturbation (“There’s no such thing as polishing the raised scepter of love too much. It reduces stress, it enhances immune function…”) to his pubescent and extremely curious nephew—as demonstrated in the brilliant and highly underrated Weeds—tops our list.

2. Breeding a new kind of creative genius: J.J. Abrams (Lost, Six Degrees); Aaron Sorkin (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip); David Chase (The Sopranos); David Milch (Deadwood); Tim Kring (Heroes); Jenji Kohn (Weeds); Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (The Office); Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives); Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy); Jon Stewart (The Daily Show); Doug Ellin (Entourage); Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica), to name just a few. Oh, and those guys who thought up Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance—brilliant!

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3. Big screen to the small screen: Have you noticed how many film stars are crossing back over into what once was considered the Dark Side? Budding acting careers use to start–and later end–in television. Not anymore. Big screen stars Sally Field (ABC’s Brothers and Sisters), James Woods (CBS’ Shark), Ray Liotta (NBC’s now defunct Smith); Amanda Peet (NBC’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Anne Heche (ABC’s Men in Trees) all joined new series this year, as did indie film darlings Campbell Scott and Hope Davis (ABC’s Six Degrees). The reason for the change? We’re guessing better writing and juicier roles. Peet told Entertainment Weekly she was frustrated with the movie roles she was getting and just couldn’t resist Studio 60’s crisp dialogue, courtesy of Aaron Sorkin (see above).

4. Twisty dramas are the rage: Lost, Heroes and other dramas of its ilk have tapped into something dark and mysterious for its avid viewers, providing a sort of Twilight Zone sensibility with otherworldly consequences. This season, Lost continues its trend of weaving an intricate web of confusion, keeping TV audiences guessing and theorizing. Newcomer Heroes—a comic-bookish mind-bender about a bunch of seemingly every day people with extra special powers—caught on like wildfire, while multi-layered, character-driven shows like Kidnapped and Smith didn’t make the cut (word is still out on The Nine). Let’s just hope Lost and Heroes can keep up the momentum when they return from hiatus.

5. Crime pays–and doctors and housewives don’t hurt either: We’ve lost count on how many variations of Law and Order and CSI there are these days, but these shows—along with the ultra-popular 24—have some kind of strangle hold on the American masses. On the flip side of seediness, political intrigue and high-profile crimes, however, there’s also just old-fashioned love and sudsy dramatics from returning hit shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, with newcomer Men in Trees, the Northern Exposure-esque dramedy starring Anne Heche, quickly joining the ranks.

6. We say goodbye to the traditional sitcom: Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond were great, but they’re gone now, and frankly, we are glad to see them go. The sitcom formula of set up, punch line, laugh track is tired. Thankfully, many of those half-hour comedy show creators out there feel the way we do, paving the way for alternative, yet just-as-hilarious comedies such as My Name Is Earl, The Office, The Class, and How I Met Your Mother. Even somewhat more standard sitcoms such as Two and a Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine veer off the beaten path more often than not. But of all the new comedies this fall season (of which there were a scant few), only Ugly Betty—an hour-long comedy format, mind you—has hit it big, while the Tina FeyAlec Baldwin laffer 30 Rock is just hanging in there.

7. They just keep pushing the envelope: The Simpsons made fun of Fox News, South Park made fun of Tom Cruise—and The Daily Show and The Colbert Report made fun all those political wack-a-doos. Without some of these highly controversial but scathingly funny shows, who regularly bait the FCC, we wouldn’t be able to hold our hands over our mouths and gasp, “I can’t believe they just DID that!”

8. Reality TV wasn’t just a phase: Along with the aforementioned dancing phenomenon sweeping the airwaves, there was enough reality programming this year to satisfy all walks of life. We had hot trainers flexing on Bravo’s Workout, discerning musical tastes onFox’s American Idol, and knock-down, drag-out battles on MTV’s Road Rules/Real World Challenge. And if it’s game shows you want, the latest deal to make to win loads of cash is on Deal Or No Deal. Popular returning reality shows included Speed’s Pinks, TLC’s Little People, Big World and Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing.

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9. New technology makes it all so much better: High Definition—or HD, as its lovingly called—satellite television, pay-per-view, universal remotes, flat-screen TVs, surround sound, TiVo—everything at our fingertips to make the viewing experience that much more pleasurable.

10. There’s more choices than ever:
TV nowadays caters to just about every imaginable type out there. You’re a history buff? There’s History Channel for you. Science freak? We’ve got the Discovery Channel. Videogame nut? G4’s the best. If your looking to fix your dog’s behavioral issues, to find the right earrings, to watch every college football game, or yearning to Welcome Back, Kotter, it’s all there, all for you, all the time. It’s getting to the point we won’t ever have to leave the house. Wait, that’s actually a scary thought.

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